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Why do organists use stop-knobs instead of preset buttons?

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  • Why do organists use stop-knobs instead of preset buttons?

    This question is as much about large electronic church organs with stop-knobs as it is about virtual organs with touch-screens.

    This question is pretty naive. Please keep in mind that I'm still fairly new to playing the organ and haven't even begun yet to learn about registrations. I practice every day using pretty much the same setting on my organ, regardless of the piece I'm working on.

    I've seen YouTube videos of organists playing large electronic organs with many stop-knobs ... as well as virtual-organ enthusiasts who are using touch-screens. In both cases, it always seems to me that it's awkward to change registrations during a performance. They've got to look around for the knob they're after (while still playing) and then have good aim as they reach over and punch a knob or touch a touch-screen.

    Assuming someone is the regular organist at a church, and assuming he/she knows in advance the registrations he/she wants to use, and has all access to programming preset buttons, why would anyone use knobs or touchscreens during a performance? Is there any advantage to this? I do understand that visiting performers or people brand new to an organ's stop-list don't always have all these options, but I'm talking about someone who is on a particular organ on a regular basis. Why would they still use stops during a performance and not preset buttons?

    Doesn't it seem like knobs and touch-screens are what you use during practice to set up the preset buttons and, during a performance, an organist would only be using preset buttons to change registrations?

    Please excuse the naive question. Can anyone enlighten me?

  • #2
    Originally posted by Neumie View Post
    Assuming someone is the regular organist at a church, and assuming he/she knows in advance the registrations he/she wants to use, and has all access to programming preset buttons, why would anyone use knobs or touchscreens during a performance? Is there any advantage to this? I do understand that visiting performers or people brand new to an organ's stop-list don't always have all these options, but I'm talking about someone who is on a particular organ on a regular basis. Why would they still use stops during a performance and not preset buttons?
    Neumie,

    Assuming the person is the regular organist at a church, they probably do have their registrations worked out in advance, but sometimes things change. Now, to the person who isn't the regular organist of the church.

    If a person is practicing an organ for a performance, they can set all the pistons they wish, but they will never really know what it will sound like until the performance. While empty, the church would be highly reverberant. When the audience arrives, so do the sound absorbers. People will absorb high frequencies more than low, consequently the sound will change and generally lose clarity with the high frequencies reduced. In such a case, the organist knows what (s)he wishes to hear, and will make an on-the-spot registration change to either improve the tone, balance the manuals (being absorbed at differing levels), or because (s)he just doesn't feel like the original registration works. At that point, the organist probably knows the organ well enough to make a change on-the-spot without having to change a piston or stop the piece to make the change. That would be unprofessional.

    Such a case happened to me just last year, but nothing I could register would help because the organ was so highly unified. It was also disconcerting because the sound changed so much when the church was 80% full vs. empty. I just had to continue and realize that the majority of the people present were used to hearing the organ that way, or didn't know the difference.

    Hope this enlightens somewhat.

    Michael
    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

    Comment


    • #3
      Thank you, Michael. You're always a fountain of experience when I post questions.

      I'll tell you why I asked this. I am looking at buying a pre-MIDI organ, a three manual with plenty of stop-knobs. (You can read the details if you wish in another thread I posted a couple days ago.) If I come to buy it, which is looking pretty good, I would convert it to a MIDI console, MIDI'ing the keyboards and the pedals and the preset buttons. I'm just not sure about the purpose of spending all the extra dough to MIDI up the knobs. It seems I can set my registrations on my laptop (running the virtual organ software) and then assign them to the organs preset buttons.

      I don't expect to run into the situation you described anytime soon, so it seems to me that I would make little use of MIDI'd knobs. They are probably a tad more convenient than mousing around on a computer screen, but every extra item I would MIDI on an old organ is another very expensive MIDI board to buy. I just don't see the big advantage to having MIDI knobs over just setting up registrations on the computer and using presets, do you? I'm guessing I would eventually find ten or twelve favorite registrations and then mostly stick with those - hardly adding registrations at all anymore after that.

      But again, this is a total lack of practical experience talking.

      Comment


      • #4
        Neumie,

        You probably could get by just fine if you ignored the knobs for now. Later on, if you began to want more subtle control of the organ, you could go back and add the extra equipment to MIDI the knobs.

        As you say, one can set up a plethora of preset registrations on the pistons and generally get through a practice session (or worship service) without having to pull a knob at all. A lot of organists I deal with have little or no knowledge of what the individual stops do anyway, and rely completely on some presets that someone else created for them and stored on their pistons long ago. If their capture action were to fail (or the battery go down) they would panic! Of course, your capture action won't fail you if you are using a modern organ software that stores all such things on the hard drive.

        When playing in church, I frequently add an individual stop to my preset combination, and I know the organ so well that I don't ever have to hunt for the knob I want. I know where they are without looking in most cases. I may add an individual stop (or take one away) for several reasons. Perhaps I just want to make a small change in the organ sound for one stanza of a hymn, so I reach over and push or pull a knob. Maybe I just want to change it for variety, change for the sake of change!

        Sometimes, and I do this quite a bit, I'll begin a hymn with a rather mellow registration -- the 8' and 4' flue stops of both divisions coupled together, with a sturdy 16' pedal and the swell to pedal coupler. This works well for the first stanza of the hymn, but I want to build ever so slightly as the hymn progresses. So at some point, I reach over and pull out the 2' superoctave, brightening the ensemble somewhat but not changing the volume much. For a third stanza, I'll reach over and pull out the swell's mixture, which is bright but not as full as the great's mixture. When I reach the refrain, I decide to pull out the great mixture for a bit more brilliance, and on the last phrase I add the 32' pedal stop. Finally, on the last stanza, I add the swell trompette for a little more fire, and on the final phrase I pull out the 16' reed in the pedal.

        So, you can see that I've used seven different registrations as I've progressed through that one hymn. If I'd set up each of these on its own piston, I'd have used 7 of my 10 general pistons. Moreover, it's actually easier for me to reach for a knob than to find a piston or toe stud. So that's why having the individual knobs to work with is important to me. But this may not be important to you at this stage of your career, and as I said, you can always add this capability later.
        John
        ----------
        *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

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        • #5
          Wow, John. Very insightful post. It never occurred to me that you can have seasoned church organists who still have never gotten around to learning the stops. It made me laugh because the first thing the gentleman who is showing me some stuff on the organ did was introduce me to the presets that were set by someone else long ago ... with the exhortation to never change them. And, he added, I don't even need to understand yet how they're created because they increase in intensity from left to right!

          It also hadn't occurred to me that to want incremental changes in the music requires burning up a lot of your preset buttons. I can see myself eventually wanting those incremental steps you talked about ... but that's a long way away. I can't even see myself using ten presets for at least a couple more years. (Criminy, this learning-the-organ business is moving along slow.)

          Thanks for helping me out with this question. This will help me make an intelligent decision about what to MIDI and what not to in this organ I want to buy.

          Comment


          • #6
            I'm old school, I know, but the first thing I always do, given the time, is to try out everything on its own, see what each stop sounds like, make some mental notes and then go on experience and gut instinct to see how they will blend.

            This springs from the days when 1) most electronic organs didn't even have settable presets 2) I wasn't permitted to change the church organs' presets (and many of them were set up pretty badly at times!) and 2) when starting to play theatre organ concerts the 'star' at the top of the billing would maybe let me have two pistons, so I had to hand register my first concerts.

            Old habits don't die! I'd start trying to do something similar.
            It's not what you play. It's not how you play. It's the fact that you're playing that counts.

            New website now live - www.andrew-gilbert.com

            Current instruments: Roland Atelier AT900 Platinum Edition, Yamaha Genos, Yamaha PSR-S970, Kawai K1m
            Retired Organs: Lots! Kawai SR6 x 2, Hammond L122, T402, T500 x 2, X5. Conn Martinique and 652. Gulbransen 2102 Pacemaker. Kimball Temptation.
            Retired Leslies, 147, 145 x 2, 760 x 2, 710, 415 x 2.
            Retired synths: Korg 700, Roland SH1000, Jen Superstringer, Kawai S100F, Kawai S100P, Kawai K1

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Neumie View Post
              Wow, John. Very insightful post. It never occurred to me that you can have seasoned church organists. . . .
              ROFL @calling John "seasoned"!O:-). I resemble that remark!

              Neumie,

              In general, the arrangement of stop-tab organs is by volume and family of sound. Thinking from left-to right, the arrangement goes:
              • By pitch footage (i.e. 64', 32', 16', 8', 4', 2-2/3', 2', 1-3/5', 1-1/3', and 1'.
              • In each footage, the stops will generally go by family:
                • Diapason
                • Flute
                • Strings
                • NOTE: all Mixtures will be listed together on the right, between the flue stops (on the left), and Reed stops (to the right).
                • NOTE: all Reeds will be listed together on the right, just before the couplers and/or tremulant.
              • In general, within each pitch the stops go from loudest to softest (i.e. Open Diapason 8', Violin Diapason 8').
              • Celestes will be listed adjacent to the stop they should be paired with.
              You can check out some of these stop tabs in my gallery (http://www.organforum.com/gallery/di...um=36&pid=1175).

              On a drawknob console, however, the stops are generally listed with the lowest pitches on the bottom and highest pitches on the top. Generally, the Diapasons/Diapason Chorus will be in the left column, Strings and Celestes in the middle (sometimes mutations), and Flutes/Flute Chorus will be listed on the right. The idea is to make it so an organist can quickly locate the stops and pull one or more together (i.e. Diapason Chorus 8', 4', 2' or Flute Chorus 8', 4', 2') with one motion. Again, Reeds are listed together at the top and are generally indicated by red letters (as are stop tabs for Reeds on the right of each Division).
              You can check out some drawknobs in my gallery (http://www.organforum.com/gallery/di...um=36&pid=1241). In that example, you'll notice that some "liberties" were taken with stop placement, and I (personally) find it annoying because I can't pull the 2' Flute along with the rest of the Chorus--I have to contort my hand to get it all (harumph).

              Now, if you're talking about terraced consoles, then the rules change, but you probably won't have to deal with that for a while. To date (30+ years now), I've only played one console that could be considered (loosely) as terraced, and I still haven't figured out how they were listed. It was an old, mid-19th century Hook & Hastings.

              There is a much better treatise on how organ stops are placed elsewhere on this Forum, but I've given the basics here. Hope I haven't confused you.

              Michael

              Try these links:
              http://www.organforum.com/forums/showthread.php?21897 (highly recommended)
              http://www.organforum.com/forums/showthread.php?6017
              Last edited by myorgan; 04-19-2014, 07:13 PM.
              Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
              • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
              • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
              • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

              Comment


              • #8
                myorgan, wouldn't the flue 1 3/5' be placed between the 2' and 1 1/3'? (Rather than to the right of the 1 1/3'.)

                David

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by davidecasteel View Post
                  myorgan, wouldn't the flue 1 3/5' be placed between the 2' and 1 1/3'? (Rather than to the right of the 1 1/3'.)
                  Good point, David. Depends whether you're American, English, French, German, or just plain wrong. Sorry I mixed up the fractions and made such a grievous mathematical mistake. Can't say I've seen them on the same manual lately because I don't get around the big ones very often. 3 manual is the largest I've ever been around or played. I guess I'm guilty of the sin of envying those who are regularly around others with money enough to get good instruments. It'll never happen here. We just get the cast-offs. I've resigned myself to that. Sorry for the mistake.
                  Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                  • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                  • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                  • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Hey! I wasn't trying to put you down, myorgan! I've just always figured the stops went in arithmetical sequence and wondered if I'd gotten it wrong. A lot of organs (especially small electronic ones) don't even have a 1 3/5'. (Mine doesn't, because even-tempered pitches don't simulate them very well.)

                    David

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                    • #11
                      Another consideration regarding adding MIDI to the stop knobs/tabs: Are there enough for the virtual organ you plan to use? How about the NEXT one? And what about the existing markings vs. the ones you'll want for the computer? I see this as an additional, although not compelling, argument for omitting that MIDI board. It is generally the same board used for the manuals so the cost is about the same as adding an additional manual. If, as is the case on some MIDI interfaces, the pedal board is 61 notes too, than you may have 29 extra notes to use for SOMETHING. You could equip just a few knobs such as those jbird refers to: the mixtures and a couple of reeds for instance. Don't have to do them ALL, after all.
                      Roland Atelier AT-90s, AT-80s, AT-70, 30, and 15. Roland VR-760 combo
                      Yamaha S-90, Kurzweil PC-3x, Casio Privia PX-330, Roland E-80, G-70, BK-5, Leslie 760, 820
                      Moved on:
                      Allen 3MT/Hauptwerk, Technics GA1, Yamaha HX1, AR80, numerous Hammonds, including 2 M's, an L, 2 A-100's, XP-2, XM-1/1c, & an XK-3. Roland Atelier AT-30, 60r, 80, & 20r(2 units), and a slew of Leslies (147, 142, 760, 900, 330).
                      Korg Triton Le-61, Casio Privia PX-310 & 110, and Kurzweils: PC-2x, SP-88, Pro-III, K1000

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