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Difference between great, swell, and choir manuals

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  • Difference between great, swell, and choir manuals

    Is each one usually used for certain sounds? When there are two manuals, is it just great and swell? What about if there are four manuals? What is the fourth one called?

  • #2
    I'll make a quick stab at this, but will defer to the "real" organists on this Forum for more details.

    When there are only 2 manuals, they are almost always the Great (lower) and Swell (upper) manuals. The Great organ is generally "unexpressed" (does not have an expression pedal and the pipes are in the open with no shutters); the Swell organ is called that because it is enclosed in a chamber with "swell shades" or shutters controlled by an expression pedal--it is "expressed".

    The Great organ contains a solid set of strong choruses of different types of pipes and is the backbone of the instrument. The Swell often contains some foundation stops but tends to have most of the solo voices when there are only 2 manuals. There are instruments that have expression on the Great as well as the Swell.

    When there are 3 manuals, the third one is often called the "Choir" or "Positive" (or some German name that means about the same). In most organs, the manual for the Choir organ is the bottom one, below the one for the Great; some European instruments have the Great and Choir manuals reversed (and some instruments have a switch that allows the organist to decide which is on the bottom). The Choir organ contains stops well suited for accompaniment or light solo work, especially when working with the vocal choir. The Choir organ can be expressed or not expressed, but I think most of them are expressed.

    When there is a 4th manual, it can have any of several designations. The one at my church is called "Antiphonal/Solo" and controls stops mostly in the remote balcony pipes, plus a couple of selected solo voices. A pure "Antiphonal" manual would probably only control pipes in a remote location, but a pure "Solo" division manual might control voices located in many places.

    On some home 2-manual instruments, the manuals are labeled "Solo" (upper) and "Accompaniment" (lower), and their functions are given by their names. They can roughly be equated to "Swell" and "Great" in that order, but there are some minor differences.

    And now I've exhausted my knowledge and will defer to the many better-qualified people here.

    David

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    • #3
      Theatre organs and home organs are very different to their classical brethren, as David has hinted.

      Lower manual could be Lower or Accompaniment. The next manual up could be Upper or Solo or Great. A 3rd manual could be Solo or Orchestral or Synthesizer! As for a 4th, that's rare outside of an electronic theatre model but it could be Orchestral or Solo! And of course there are a couple of Kawai instruments that just go I,II,III and IV for the four manual T30 console, and from I to VIII for the eight manuals of the T50, plus then two extras named Solo and Portamento.
      It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

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      Current instruments: Roland Atelier AT900 Platinum Edition, Yamaha Genos, Yamaha PSR-S970, Kawai K1m
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      • #4
        Originally posted by davidecasteel View Post
        I'll make a quick stab at this, but will defer to the "real" organists on this Forum for more details.

        When there are only 2 manuals, they are almost always the Great (lower) and Swell (upper) manuals. The Great organ is generally "unexpressed" (does not have an expression pedal and the pipes are in the open with no shutters); the Swell organ is called that because it is enclosed in a chamber with "swell shades" or shutters controlled by an expression pedal--it is "expressed".

        The Great organ contains a solid set of strong choruses of different types of pipes and is the backbone of the instrument. The Swell often contains some foundation stops but tends to have most of the solo voices when there are only 2 manuals. There are instruments that have expression on the Great as well as the Swell.

        When there are 3 manuals, the third one is often called the "Choir" or "Positive" (or some German name that means about the same). In most organs, the manual for the Choir organ is the bottom one, below the one for the Great; some European instruments have the Great and Choir manuals reversed (and some instruments have a switch that allows the organist to decide which is on the bottom). The Choir organ contains stops well suited for accompaniment or light solo work, especially when working with the vocal choir. The Choir organ can be expressed or not expressed, but I think most of them are expressed.

        When there is a 4th manual, it can have any of several designations. The one at my church is called "Antiphonal/Solo" and controls stops mostly in the remote balcony pipes, plus a couple of selected solo voices. A pure "Antiphonal" manual would probably only control pipes in a remote location, but a pure "Solo" division manual might control voices located in many places.

        On some home 2-manual instruments, the manuals are labeled "Solo" (upper) and "Accompaniment" (lower), and their functions are given by their names. They can roughly be equated to "Swell" and "Great" in that order, but there are some minor differences.

        And now I've exhausted my knowledge and will defer to the many better-qualified people here.

        David
        There can also be five manuals on some organs. What would the 5th one's designation be, and what would be its function?

        Comment


        • #5
          There are lots of different names that could be assigned to a fifth manual. I think when one gets beyond 2 or 3 manuals it's pretty much a builder's choice what to name the other ones. There are organs with "Bombarde" divisions and others with "Echo" divisions, for example. I'm sure others here can come up with more names.

          Here is a web site I found that discusses the various Divisions of the organ (and its associated manuals): http://www.agohq.org/guide/pages/pag...15/page01.html. Page to "Next" to go through all the various Divisions.

          David
          Last edited by davidecasteel; 05-12-2013, 04:39 AM. Reason: add

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