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Organ Voicing

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  • Organ Voicing

    Greetings: Since June of last year I have been playing a Rodgers Trillium Masterpiece 928 in a roughly 400 seat sanctuary. A technician is coming on Thursday to do some badly needed voicing but wants me to tell him what I want the instrument to sound like. I have some ideas, but it is the first large instrument of my career and I want to do it right and not necessarily what I personally would like. So.. some questions:
    1. How much louder than the rest of the Swell Division should the Swell Reeds be? At present they aren't really much louder than the Swell Principal.
    2.Should the Pedal Principals be louder than the Great Principals? These are. Quite a bit so. In fact for general all around playing I use the 16' Lieblich and 8' Gedeckt and that furnishes plenty of bass for hymns!
    3. How much louder than the rest of the Pedal Division should the (4' Choral Bass, IV Mixture and 32,16,8,4 Reeds be? Should the 8' and 4' Reeds be more prominent than the other two? At present they are tear your head off loud and I cannot use them at all.
    4. How much louder than the rest of the Great should the Great Trompette 8' be? At present, like the Swell Reeds it isn't all that loud at all.

    Thanks for any opinions, ideas, or other input.

    Edit: bonus question: when there is a 16' Sub Bass in the Pedal, where does it fit volume wise in the tonal scheme?

  • #2
    It sounds like your pedal division is a bit too loud. Do you have the pedal channel speakers right next to the console? How similar is the sound at the console to the sound in the rest of the sanctuary? IMO, you want the principals to be the middle-of-the-range stops (not the flutes). That makes it so you can go a bit softer with the flute registrations and a bit louder with the mixtures and reeds.
    1. depends on how you want to use them. I'm leaning more and more toward the prominent reeds of romantic era organs. The american classic voicing seems to be more even (the reeds are louder but not enough to make them stick out too much and the flutes are softer but not too much).
    2. Usually the similar stops that occur in different divisions should be similarly loud. That being said, I have set my home organ so that the pedal is voiced with more bass than the manuals which makes the 16' pedal stops slightly louder than the 16' manual stops while the other stops are about the same.
    3. They need to be usable but the actual setting will depend on what you want to use them for (add a little support, add some crunch, stick out enough to highlight an interesting pedal line, shake the building, etc.).
    4. See 1.
    If it's possible to set the different manual reeds to different levels independently, I would set up one that could do a convincing "En Chamade" (above a full principal chorus) and the rest at different levels so that a reed could be used to add color to (or solo over) various ensemble registrations.
    Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
    Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.


    • #3
      A couple of more thoughts: As a rule, the swell principals are somewhat softer than the Great principal chorus, yes.

      The 16' pedal Bourdon (Subbass) is moderately loud, (mf to f) but is mostly fundamental, so it cuts through most of the ensemble. It is loud enough for a chorus of manual stops, but soft enough to work well with quieter registrations, too.

      Home: Johannus Opus 370


      • myorgan
        myorgan commented
        Editing a comment
        To add to what Tony has said, the 16' Lieblich Gedackt should not be loud enough to support any of the manual choruses (i.e. Gt. Diapason Chorus, Sw. Flute Chorus, or Reed Chorus). That's the job of the 16' Bourdon or 16' Diapason. The 16' Lieblich Gedackt should be just soft enough to accompany the softest combinations.


    • #4
      @Leisesturm, when it comes to voicing, I'm probably the least knowledgeable guy on this thread, but I will risk a comment: As I have been studying how to voice my organ I found the manufacturer had placed a bar chart inside that shows the recommended relative volume levels of each rank. I suppose that is a starting point and it will have to be adjusted from there. In my case it is a theatre organ, so it would be a distraction for me to post that here; however, perhaps such a chart exists for classical organs or for your model in particular. I hope that helps.


      This thread did inspire me to go read up on voicing.
      Eric Mack
      Rodgers 340 S/N 34341
      Los Angeles, CA


      • myorgan
        myorgan commented
        Editing a comment
        Great idea, Eric. Does anyone know if a bar chart for stop comparison exists for Classical organs?


        P.S. Eric, you could post the bar chart in the theatre Forum, if you feel so inclined. I'd be very curious to see it for reference purposes.

    • #5
      Michael, I posted the Theater Organ Voicing chart as requested. I'll also post to a Facebook group and see what others say.
      Eric Mack
      Rodgers 340 S/N 34341
      Los Angeles, CA


      • #6
        Thank you all! I was able to see @samibe's reply last night and literally slept on the advice. The rest I saw this morning on my phone as I was headed to the appointment. Great stuff. It looked to the technician like the organ was back to factory defaults and was in no way voiced to the church at all. It is unknown whether this happened after an initial voicing or whether it was never voiced at all. The instrument was installed in 2008. We have decided to take on the voicing in stages. Today's stage involved lowering the level of the entire Swell Division, reeds and all. This also lowered the level of the Pedal 16' Lieblich Gedeckt since it is borrowed from the Swell. I never noticed before how faithfully it responds to the Swell Pedal. It can get quite soft now and still have some presence with the expression shoe open. The entire Pedal Division was lowered even more than the Swell was. The Great and Choir were left alone. These changes are on top of an earlier lowering of the master volume of the entire organ that I had made shortly after taking the position.

        Interesting about the role of Swell Reeds in Romantic vs American Classic tonal schemes. This is a decidedly American Classic instrument. I'll live with it this way for awhile and see what happens. There is an independent Festival Trumpet that functions as the En Chamade Trumpet. It's volume was lowered as well. I had a Memorial Service with lots of music following the voicing so I was able to test out some combinations. Tomorrow I will have some time to really listen to what has been done. First impressions:
        I see the logic of what the technician has done. I can live with it as it is better than how it was. The 16' Subbass and the 8'Gedackt in the Pedal are now identical in level with each other and also to the Great 8' and 4' flutes. I don't know if that follows some sort of convention but IMO it makes both Pedal Flutes just that bit uncomfortably loud still. Before today the flutes of the wide open Swell and the Great Flutes were equal in level. Now the Great Flutes are a step above the Swell Flutes at their full expression. Swell and Choir are about equal in level.

        I can see why large organs take many months to voice. I think the St. Thomas organ is set to take a year or more of finish voicing. Just the gross changes we were making took over an hour.


        • #7
          I have had my instrument for nearly a year and I am still making adjustments. One thing that I find helpful is playing a wide range of literature. As I play pieces I know what changes need to be made. I find it difficult to find everything just by going through each stop from top to bottom. Also, after doing this for a while, we get aural fatigue. I am fortunate to be able to make changes myself at the console, but if you cannot do that, I suggest having a notebook at the console to make notes for your next session with the voicer.

          When I began playing at my last church, I disliked the Great mixture. The guy who had been servicing the organ wanted to replace it. He was really a hack, so I brought in someone else with more skills. There were just a few notes in the mixture that were too loud. When the new guy adjusted them, the mixture was perfect. Sometimes just one or two notes need to be tweaked to make things better.

          Best wishes to you, Leisesturm, on your journey to improve the sound.

          My home organ: Content M5800


          • #8
            Voicing any large organ OUGHT to take a lot of time, as it is a very detailed and grueling process. Your ear needs time to rest between sessions, and trying to drill down to too many details in one sitting may result in not paying enough attention to the nuances. So be patient and let this work out over a period of time.

            There are many opinions about stop to stop and division to division balances. I have a general plan in my head that I tend to apply to most any organ I voice, but sometimes I find that a given organist will want something done that doesn't quite fit in my neat little plan. It's obviously important to consider the organist's preferences, but you also don't want to create a "quirky" organ that a visiting organist might find frustrating or un-musical.

            As to the 16' and 8' primary pedal flutes, I tend to voice them a tad softer than some people do. I'm of the opinion that the primary 8' flute in the pedal needs to be soft enough that it can be combined with the Lieblich Gedeckt when used as a pedal underpinning for a soft celeste or string. This means I set it quite a bit softer than the 8' flute on the great, which is usually a fairly weighty stop, second only to the 8' principal.

            This is harder to do when dealing with a unified organ. In many analog organs, both Rodgers and Allen, there might be only a single flute rank, and it was not possible to make the pedal 8' flute softer than the great. Surprisingly, this is also true with my current organ, the Allen Renaissance R-230, because the pedal flute is simply borrowed from the great, therefore must be the same level. Best I can do is to use DOVE software to roll off the loudness of the pitches below middle C quite rapidly. This lets the stop work as a manual stop, with sufficient body in the middle of the keyboard, and as a pedal stop in softer registrations.

            This is only one example of the detailed pondering that may go into doing a truly artistic job of voicing a large digital organ. So keep at it. At least you have tamed it enough now that you feel a little better about it. It will only get better and better as you spend more time working with it.

            Keep a notebook at the console and write it down every time you find a certain stop to be too loud or too soft for your purposes. Then have the voicer work on that in subsequent sessions until you get all the bugs worked out.
            Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
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