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The Longwood console and its almost silent capture action

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  • The Longwood console and its almost silent capture action

    I recent went to one of the preliminary sessions of the Longwood organ competition. One interesting thing I noticed is that the console's mechanics were as darn close to silent as I've ever...not heard. In a place like Macy's, during the normal mid-day performances at Wanamaker Organ Day for example, you're not going to hear even the noisiest of actions because the background noise floor of the store is vastly higher. So I can't really speak to how it compares to that console. I will say the National Cathedral's mid-century Skinner console emits a very noticeable, heavy thump sound that can easily be heard throughout the choir. At Longwood they were recording a documentary so all extraneous sources of noise were turned off. At one instant when the noise floor from audience rustling randomly dipped, I could just make out the stopttabs moving for the next song. But most of the time you saw them moving and heard nothing.

    On a theater organ, designers wouldn't have worried about this either, because the ambient noise floor would always be fairly high. Are such practically silent mechanisms a recent innovation, developed specifically for this console because it's positioned in a relatively intimate 100'X30' space, or has the ability to make capture actions silent always been around, just seldom required? I wondered, for example, about the theater organ I know was once installed in a southern California recording studio...that was used to provide "ghoulish" music to various old Hollywood soundtracks. (can't remember more details, but I'm sure someone will know what I'm talking about) Maybe its action was muffled somehow too?

    I had never heard the organ before. It obviously has a wondrous array of sounds, although its almost slightly disorienting to hear a very large instrument in such a confined, barely reverberant space. The sounds are much more visceral than the Wanamaker's because the pipe are about 30-60' away from you, instead of 100-200' away. In contrapuntal passages there's a swirling spacial echo effect because your ears can discern the sounds coming off different places in the pipe chest. I think I could get used to it but my initial impression was to wonder whether it would sound better if the ballroom were 2X as large; but of course it was partly conceived of as a provider of sound for the entire giant conservatory space in front of the ballroom, and that's where the audience used to sit for performances, apparently. (many huge french doors can be opened between the spaces) I met a couple who remembered when Longwood was free to the public and going to hear the organ was a hot "date option" for young couples in the early 1960s!

    On a non-pipe side note, I will say that it seems to me that recent Allen drawknob consoles are noticeably less noisy than the ones of the ADC era, and I wonder if the slightly smaller, lighter drawknobs were part of that progression. Oddly the Allen Organ Company was thanked in the excellent program notes; presumably they provided one or more practice instruments to the contestants at their hotel, who were only given 5 hours to familiarize themselves with the organ and console. Michael Barone, the M.C., thanked local churches who had provided access to their instruments for contestant practice.

  • #2
    Circa,

    Thank you for sharing. I saw this organ some time ago while it was being renovated, but never had the opportunity to play it or see it in use. It will be interesting if I am ever able to attend a concert on the instrument.

    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

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    • #3
      Yeah, it's frustrating this question seems too off the wall to get a response...but maybe it's not something that's been at the forefront of console design, other than steady improvement over the years.

      One thing notable is that they have the old Moeller console on display, with a side panel removed and replaced with plexiglas. Unlike a modern console where the drawknobs have a small, discrete magnetic driver, there was a lever action leading back to a huge electromagnetic assembly. I suspect the A-S console at the Cathedral works the same way. And that would be why it is so loud. Those things were huge.

      Let us not forget that IIRC, Rodgers marketing lit. used to extol the silence of their illuminated tabs & drawknobs.

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      • #4
        Back in '60's when I was first becoming an organ fanatic, I used to spend a day at Radio City Music Hall every time the movie changed, sitting through multiple showings and stage shows to hear the organ during the intermissions. The twin consoles are on either side of the proscenium and they're on platforms that roll out from an alcove hidden by a curtain. As the final film credits rolled, the organist, usually Ray Bohr or Jack Ward, and less frequently Ashley Miller or Dick Liebert, would step out from the corner of the main stage and slip behind the organ's curtain. Then from behind the curtain I would hear a succession of loud thumps, which I imagined was the organist kicking the organ for some unknown reason. As I hadn't been exposed to many consoles at the time, it wasn't until after several months that I realized that what I was hearing wasn't organ abuse, but rather the organist setting up the combinations!
        -Admin

        Allen 965
        Zuma Group Midi Keyboard Encoder
        Zuma Group DM Midi Stop Controller
        Hauptwerk 4.2

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        • #5
          Originally posted by circa1949 View Post
          Yeah, it's frustrating this question seems too off the wall to get a response...but maybe it's not something that's been at the forefront of console design, other than steady improvement over the years.
          [snip]
          Let us not forget that IIRC, Rodgers marketing lit. used to extol the silence of their illuminated tabs & drawknobs.
          This thread makes me hearken to the tracker instruments and the sound of their actions as a drawknob is engaged or dis-engaged. How far we've come, yet we're still not satisfied.

          On topic, though, I would imagine that with the chemical analysis going on today (i.e. kevlar and the like), a product already exists that would provide a silent/quieter backfall for the drawknobs as they are pushed or pulled. My guess, though, is that they're too cost prohibitive and/or no one has thought of applying them to organ construction for acoustical silencing purposes.

          Good topic, but the discussion may exceed the expertise of those on this Forum. The only present means I know of is to use thicker felts at both extremes of the point of impact for a moving drawknob. I'm sure that has its limitations too.

          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


          • #6
            As far as Allen's drawknobs, they are definitely smaller and lighter than they were 25 years ago and they make a little less of a thump. Maybe other builders are also using a streamlined knob that is quieter as well.

            The first moving drawknob console that I played regularly was a big old Baldwin C-601 and it made a very loud WHUMP when a lot of knobs moved simultaneously. You would've thought somebody had whacked it with a 2x4. I dared not press a piston during a quiet moment such as a prayer. Did a lot of hand registration during those moments!

            Lighted actions, while silent, can actually be just as distracting if the knobs or tabs are visible to the congregation in church. My current church organ, Galanti Praeludium II, has lighted tabs and the console is angled so I can see the choir but also see the congregation and the ushers (so I'll know when to start the Doxology). Because of the angle, nearly half the congregation can see the tabs, so I have to avoid running through the pistons during the sermon or a scripture reading because I'll be putting on quite a light show!
            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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            • #7
              Firstly, congratulations to Ben Sheen for winning the competition today on this organ (just heard from him)!
              Secondly, all it takes is some foam. It's a simple job to do, just dissipate a little energy. The quietest drawknobs I know of have foam backings.
              As of 7/16/2013, no longer active on forum.
              Practice hard, practice well.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by douçaine View Post
                Firstly, congratulations to Ben Sheen for winning the competition today on this organ (just heard from him)!
                Secondly, all it takes is some foam. It's a simple job to do, just dissipate a little energy. The quietest drawknobs I know of have foam backings.
                Not completely on topic, but since Ben Sheen and the organ at National Cathedral are both mentioned in this thread, I'll just add that I recently heard Ben in recital at the National Cathedral and one of the pieces he played was his own transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition. He utilized every bit of color the big Skinner could produce and created such wonderful echo and "call and response" and stereo effects by taking advantage of the different locations of various stops. He is a brilliant musician and a very gracious young man. If you get the opportunity to hear him play you should definitely take advantage of it.

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