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theatre vs. church

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  • theatre vs. church

    What exactly is the difference (besides the looks) between a church organ and theatre organ?

  • #2
    Re: theatre vs. church

    Theatre organs (also known as Wurlitzers) were used in cinemas and theatres a long time ago to give a recital to the audience before shows and in intervals I least in the UK they were I think. Church organs are used to accompany singing hymns in a Church. A Wurlitzer has bells and drums and things added to it, and does not give quite the sound that a church organ does.


    • #3
      Re: theatre vs. church

      A theatre organ has a wider range of tone colors than a classical organ. Ernest Skinner describes this in his book. The theatre organ also has almost all suitable stops available on all manuals and pedal at the most useful pitches. The effect is that each rank has its own individual couplers. The wind pressure is usually (but not always) higher. All the ranks are enclosed in chambers so that all ranks are under expression. This control system allows for the maximum degree of flexibility in registration.

      Various tuned and untuned percussions are usually added.

      It is sometimes said that a classic organ is a theatre organ with all the fun things left out!

      The voicing of a typical theatre organ is warm and the pipe ranks do not have noticable chiff or extreme start transients. The voicing is usually designed so that each rank is the same intensity throughout the pitch range rather than increasing in volume as the pitch increases.

      The smooth tones are smoother, the strings are stringier, there are more reeds to give color and accent. A theatre organ will always have the basic tone colors of the classical organ such as

      Stopped flute (Tibia in a theatre organ, stopped diapason in a classical organ).
      Diapason at 16, 8 ,4
      Flute/Bourdon 16, 8, 4, 2 2/3, 2, 1 3/5 (the first 30 notes stopped, the rest open)
      Trumpets (varies from Harmonic Tuba to a bright post horn)
      Color reeds (Vox, Orchestral oboe, etc.)

      A theatre organ can play most classical music well, but the strictly Baroque sound is not usually available, the tone is more middle-of-the-road. Electronic theatre organs often have a more restricted range of stops (even expensive Allen's) which restrict classical music registration ability. The original pipe organs always had at least a minimal range of classical sounding stops.


      • #4
        Re: theatre vs. church

        Not all theatre organs are Wurlitzers, although most Wurlitzers are theatre Organs.
        You had Robert Mortons, Comptons, Mollers, Reuters, Kimballs, Wicks, Hope-Jones....and so on.

        Yes the main differences are the higher wind pressure, more orchestral and extreme voicing, and large gaudy consoles. Ahhh, how I love'em!


        • #5
          Re: theatre vs. church

          A TPO is usually highly unified obtaining many pitches with few ranks. A Church or classic is usually straight, that is one rank per stoptab or drawknob.

          A church organ is to praise the Lord whereas the TPO was to raise the profit. Hope-Jones/Wurlitzer developed the "unit orchestra". With this one organist could replace an entire orchestra greatly improving the theatre's bottom line. Of course Talkies changed all that.


          • #6
            Re: theatre vs. church

            I think the answers thus far written have left a lot out, but that's understandable, because the theatre organ is a difficult beats to describe in words.

            Essentially, the "Unit Organ" or "Unit Orchestra" was the brain-child of a certain Mr Robert Hope-Jones, who lived and worked as a telephone engineer in Birkenhead (nr. Liverpool), in the UK.

            Being a telephone-engineer, Robert Hope-Jones designed a system of electrical-relays, derived from his work with telephones, which enabled a few ranks of pipes to be duplicated, extended upwards and downwards, and made available in more than one organ department at the same time. So, for instance, a Diapason at 8ft pitch would be heard on three or four different manuals using the same pipes, and extended downwards to the 16ft pitch on the Pedals.

            In this respect, the "Unit Organ" idea was embraced with enthusiasm by American classical organ-builders, which is why American organists often refer to the number of ranks rather than the number of stops in a specification.

            After what appears to be a sexual scandal, Robert Hope-Jones fled from England and took up residence in the USA, where he peddled his idea for the unit organ, with some success. He met up with the Wurlitzer company and the rest is history.

            Wurlitzer were a company renowned not only as music-traders in instruments, sheet-music (etc), but they were interestingly world renowned authorities on old and valuable violins. They made their first pile of dollars selling drums to both sides, during the Civil War!!

            The company had a very long history, which stretched back to Germany and to either the 16th or 17th century, as violin-makers!! The Wurlitzer violin authentication label or mark, is still honoured as proof of historic status in international auction-houses to this day.

            Wurlitzer also made "band organs" (called Fair Organs in Europe) similar to those made in Paris by Gavioli, and by other builder in the European Low Countries such as Belgium and Holland. These lovely instruments were an attempt at providing something resembling a substitute-orchestra, and working from automated folded-cards based on the principle of the Jacquard Loom, but using pneumatics rather than mechanical-action.

            The Band Organs were divided into different section to those found in a classical organ, such as Solo, Counter-melody and accompaniment, with a bass-section which corresponds to the organ pedal. In addition, tubular-bells, drums and other percussion instruments were fitted, and the effect is certainly interesting and not a little strident.

            So when Robert Hope-Jones patented his idea for a unit organ as described above, it was the Wurlitzer company who immediately recognised the potential for creating an entertainment instrument, using many of the ideas they had incorporated into the band-organs. In effect, it is perhaps useful to consider the theatre-organ as a "band-organ" under the control of a single player, from an alactric console, using a telephone-exchange mechanism to control it.

            However, the one big difference bwetween a classical organ and a theatre organ is the lack of Diapason chorus-work. Instead, the sound of the theatre-organ is based on a very wide-scale, high-pressure flute known as a Tibia, which Robert Hope-Jones and the English company Norman & Beard co-developed. Producing an attractive flood of sound, this is the sound most associated with the theatre-organ when the Tibia stops and Tremulants are combined.

            More complicated still, the "voices" of the theatre organ sought to imitate orchestral-instruments; thus it is common to find Saxaphones, Clarinets, Oboes, French Horns, very potent flared brass Trumpets (similar to those found on band-organs), gentler flutes, Vox Humanas and acid-toned Kinuras and Violes. In effect, there was never an attempt to create a classical sound as represented by a noble diapason sound. Instead, the voices have to be mixed and matched artistically by the performer.

            In the hands of rank amateurs, the theatre-organ gained a poor reputation as "artless" in the extreme, but was useful for the accopmpaniment of silent-films, for which purpose all sorts of special effects were added, such as Gongs, Sirens, Bird-Whistles, Claxons, Tom Toms, Car Horns and so on.........

            The console layout is unconventional, but a visit to the ATOS (American Theatre Organ Society) website allows one to investigatre these marvellous instruments more thoroughly.

            In the right hands, the theatre-organ is not only beautiful, it is a unique and worthy addition to the organ sounds we experience.

            The really great performers were showmen and musicians of the highest order, and one should look out for names such as Jesse Crawford, George Wright, Sidney Torch (UK) and
            Quentin Maclean (UK).....the latter taught by Karl Straube and Max Reger, no less!!

            Go and hear one! Go and marvel at one! Grow to love one and then support it financially!!



            • #7
              Re: theatre vs. church

              >>A theatre organ has a wider range of tone colors than a classical organ

              I don't know that I'd buy that, if for no other reason than the rank count of your average Theatre organ vs/ a traditional instrument doesn't match up. On a Church instrument you might have four different 8' Flute ranks for instance, plus independent flutes at 4', perhaps a 2' on the Choir or Swell. Then you'd have a full Principal chorus on the Great, maybe a 16' 8' 4' reed chorus on the Swell, etc... The point is that these independent ranks present considerable opportunities for color change if you will; particularly if they are under expression.

              I can see that being true if one compares a theatre organ to say, an unenclosed baroque organ, but certainly not the average Skinner, Austin, Moller, etc...