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The Monsters in our Midst

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  • The Monsters in our Midst

    In another thread we are (were?) discussing organs that have a sumptuous ensemble from the blending of many different kinds of organ tone. The Wanamaker instrument was mentioned by name. I would put the instrument at Longwood Gardens in that category. These instruments usually have what is called a "String" division. Smaller instruments can also have floating String Divisions. How are they used? How, for that matter, are three or four Open Diapasons in a well appointed Great Organ used? There is no literature that I have ever seen that provides clues to the management of more than one 8' Diapason. How are multiple 4' Octaves used? Which diapasons will the mutations and mixtures be voiced to work with? There have to be some... guidelines in the absence of any actual rules, yes? No?


  • #2
    The guideline is always "use your ears". The key with big Greats is to find what unison blends with what octave (the octaves all have their preferred unison and vice versa), what flute blends with what diapason, how the foundations build up, and how to make a good crescendo, andthen to start registering, same goes with every other chorus in the organ. This comes from experimentation at the console, and is very time consuming. Using all of the diapasons simultaneously is only for unusual circumstances (full fonds to French tutti, when you want two principal choruses at once, and English music, but rarely for mixed or Germanic ensembles), same with octaves. Generally, the strings in the string division are keener, louder or more extroverted than those in normal divisions. They are used when a massive string sound is necessary. On organs with that many strings, a crescendo/decrescendo on the strings alone is totally possible, though this involves a lot of pistons and boxes; the effect can be sublime. Often some of these strings are good on their own as well.
    There are no actual rules, though as you play more huge organs, you will learn what to expect, in particular from other organs by the same builder (well... there are often some rules, and your best bet is to ask the house organist for advice, they tend to be really nice; as for general rules, you'll make your own list eventually). Usually the best strategy is to take some time to "play around" and get a sense of what to expect before making decisions. When I performed at St. John the Divine, I took an hour (out of six offered), and just tried out stops and combinations, all before setting one piston or playing one piece on my program. That was a good use of time. Wanamaker would be significantly more challenging.

    Also, on big organs, tuning is more of an issue than on small organs, and will often influence your registrations significantly. This is unpredictable. You can usually expect the chamades, tubas and principals to be pristine, as well as the workhorse oboes, flutes and mixtures, but there is the occasional 2' flute, scharff or pedal reed with major issues.
    Last edited by Ryan the organist; 01-26-2015, 12:52 PM. Reason: Also


    • #3
      Originally posted by Leisesturm View Post
      In another thread we are (were?) discussing organs that have a sumptuous ensemble from the blending of many different kinds of organ tone. The Wanamaker instrument was mentioned by name. I would put the instrument at Longwood Gardens in that category. These instruments usually have what is called a "String" division.

      I would also put the Wanamaker organ in that category for obvious reasons. Their string division is voiced so one can go from softest to loudest strings with one swipe of the hand across the division. How to use them? Obviously, with most smaller organs (except the most recent that can be individually customized) you're stuck with what you have. However, with larger instruments, the Diapasons at various levels within the same division are used to "customize" the ensemble--but with different ranks of pipes available. I'm sure the organs worldwide that have several of each stop in the same division could be counted on one's hands and toes. When one is fortunate enough to have access, more power to 'em. It certainly makes registration of pieces more difficult--so many choices--so little time!

      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


      • #4
        So far as diapasons are concerned I have two 8' Open Diapasons on the Great. The Open Diapason No. 1 is more widely voiced than the Open Diapason No. 2. This is actually very helpful. Often when playing Bach for example, it is desirable to use a more narrowly voiced diapason as that sort of music requires a sound that allows each individual voice to speak clearly and to be discernible amongst the others. Since I have only one 4' Principle that is more narrowly scaled (as is typical) the Open Diapason No. 2 is very well blended with the Principle as well as when the Fifteenth is added also.

        Sometimes one still requires a more widely voiced diapason, which is necessary to achieve the typical sound of the French 8' foundation pitch (and the sounds that can be built up on top of that). With an English trumpet/tuba tune sometimes you will want diapasons from 8' (or even 16') all the way up to mixtures on the Great to contrast with a solo reed. In these cases combining the two 8' diapasons (as with the French foundations) will provide a stronger foundation that will prevent the accompaniment from being too top-heavy.

        Of course many of these kinds of principles also apply when you have multiple mixtures to choose from, albeit from a completely different standpoint. However in many cases your 8' tone and the kind of repertoire being performed will dictate what mixture is chosen too.

        As a final word, Liverpool cathedral has three (I think) diapasons on the Great. I believe it also has at least two 4' Principles, two Fifteenths and many mixtures. I believe the Open Diapasons that I have correspond to the Open Diapasons No. 2 and No. 3 on that instrument. I believe the Open Diapason No. 1 and Principle No. 1, etc. are on higher wind pressure. They could be combined with the other diapasons and principles, but help give extra support to the basic diapason chorus when required as it is a massive instrument after all.

        But, as always, use your ears to determine what's best.


        • #5
          The York Minster has three 8' Open Diapasons as well as an 8' Stopped Diapason in the Great. I'm sure the Brits find some use for them.



          • #6
            While the Wanamaker and Longwood organs were mentioned. I have a funny observation about them.

            I haven't been to one of the formalized, evening Wanamaker concerts where the store is closed. I've been to 3 organ days though. As impressive an organ as it is, it's got acoustic issues holding it back from greatness. If you're on the ground floor, the combination of over-reverberant muddiness and general department-store din in the background makes it difficult to listen to. Obviously the latter improves when the store is closed, but I'm not sure how the former can be helped. I'm not the only one who thinks this - an organist I met in person who was older than me and had probably listened to more organs overall, said he didn't like the experience of hearing the Wanamaker. I told him that you have listen to it from one of the upper floors. Being up there does help. If you imagine being a pop record producer at a mixing board, you get more of the "dry" signal and less of the "wet". The sweet keenness of the strings, for example, is less effective when the sound becomes blurred by hundreds of reflections. (precisely because the beauty of the ensemble is based on having so many sources that are slightly detuned. Too much reverb wipes out the magic)

            The Longwood organ in essense has the opposite problem. When you're in the ballroom, you find yourself wishing they'd made the space about 2X as big. It seems a little too dry sounding to me. Overall, however, it's a much more favorable listening environment. At the Longwood organ competition the winning contestant probably won for many reasons, but I noticed he used the smallest, quietest registrations for most of his orchestral transcription. Compared to the other semi-finalists. He seemed to realize that these smaller sounds "fit" the intimacy of the room better, and/or made for a more dramatic sense of scaling when he did open up the organ a bit. It seemed that he was creating more interesting sonic spaces to make up for the lack of a physical one.

            But, if you're in the area you certainly shouldn't miss a chance to hear either one. My favorite pipe organ to listen to, however, remains that National Cathedral's. The string division is smaller than the other two organs, but seemingly just the right distance from the ears if one is seated in the choir. There's plenty of reverb, but the "dry" signal properly overcomes it. Quite easy to find their tone spine-tingling in certain passages. EDIT: though it doesn't have a formal string division, it has swell string ranks on either side of the choir. When all are used together the effect is quite marvellous.
            Last edited by circa1949; 02-13-2015, 12:33 PM.