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  • Straight vs. Unit pedal ranks

    I was thinking- maybe this is kind of a dumb question, but is there a real advantage to straight ranks in a pedal division versus unit ranks? Like an independent principal chorus at 16, 8, and 4 versus a single unit rank extended to play at all those pitches.

    In a manual division, straight ranks eliminate note robbing in chords and allow more precise scaling and voicing balances between the various pitches and across their compass. In the pedal, the only time you'd encounter note robbing (it seems) is if you were playing octaves with two feet, which is possible, but somewhat rare, and especially rare in polyphonic music where this sort of thing really matters a lot. Obviously, a pedal unit rank is more limited in terms of scaling and voicing variance, but once again, with the possible exception of the 16' rank, this seems relatively less important.

    The only other thing I could think of is that straight EP or tracker actions are cheaper, less complicated, and easier to construct than unit actions. But in an electric action organ, this is not an issue, and in many EP organs, a large portion of the pedal ranks are on unit chests anyway due to space.

    So what am I missing?

  • #2
    Well said!
    I agree that this may be about diminishing returns. If you are an idealist with enough money and adequate space, then why not have a 100% straight organ?

    If Henry and Arabella Huntington were able to build a palatial mansion to wander around in alone (with a staff, or course), then why not - more power to them, I say.

    http://www.huntington.org/

    One may need to choose between two good wines from a restaurant wine list. One bottle may be $60 and the other bottle $140. Prudence may choose the $60 bottle realizing that while you would be able to tell the difference with the $140 bottle, it is a small enough difference to not be worth the extra $80. Again, diminishing returns.

    One could think of numerous such examples.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Menschenstimme View Post

      One may need to choose between two good wines from a restaurant wine list. One bottle may be $60 and the other bottle $140. Prudence may choose the $60 bottle realizing that while you would be able to tell the difference with the $140 bottle, it is a small enough difference to not be worth the extra $80. Again, diminishing returns.

      One could think of numerous such examples.
      A further extension of your analogy: you can get two $60 bottles of wine for less than the cost of a single $140 bottle of wine. In an average pipe organ, you can squeeze more stops in with the space and funds freed up by not using straight pedal ranks. I think it was J.B. Jameson who said that you can basically get a unit 16-8-4 principal and a 3-rank pedal mixture for the same cost as 3 straight ranks and no mixture.

      But of course, if funds and space are no object, who cares? Bring on the expensive wine!

      Comment


      • #4
        Sen. Emerson Richards reportedly said that "if he had a chance to do it over" he'd have made a larger Pedal Organ in ACBH- it was/is mostly borrows and unit stops. And GDH pushed heavily for an independent pedal division in Aeolian-Skinner organs (except manual to pedal borrows of 16' stops). And the designer of St Mary's Cathedral SF reportedly insisted in ALL straight stops- even the 32's are 32 pipes. But in the real world where most of us live and finances are a factor, I don't see anything wrong with unit pedal stops- since they can be scaled to blend properly. As you said, missing notes wouldn't be a problem.
        R, Bill Miller, Phila PA

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        • #5
          This thread could easily segue into my constant lament that ALL organs should have some kind of 4-foot reed stop in the pedal division, whether it be straight and independent, borrowed from another pedal stop, borrowed from a manual stop, if even one of a different pitch in its home division.

          I see new relatively large and expensive organs being built with NO 4-foot reed in the pedal. And these are organs that are otherwise of the most excellent quality and tonal design. GO FIGURE!!

          Comment


          • #6
            There are some compositions that can use a four foot reed in the pedal. For most purposes, this s is a specialty addition that is not necessary for most music. Coupling a four foot stop to the pedal for occasional use sho u leave be sufficient for most purposes.

            EM Skinner used what he called an augmented pedal which is actually a unified pedal. The augmented pedal is actually a unified pedal. The unification allows for more versatility in pedal registration than otherwise be possible. Since playing more that one pedal note at a time is rare, the pedal unification is not a problem.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by AllanP View Post
              There are some compositions that can use a four foot reed in the pedal. For most purposes, this s is a specialty addition that is not necessary for most music. Coupling a four foot stop to the pedal for occasional use sho u leave be sufficient for most purposes.
              What comes immediately to mind is one of Bach's Schübler Chorales that has a 4' Pedal solo. I've always used a reed for that, but it cannot be coupled on a 2-manual organ because the manuals are very clearly separated with 2 other registrations. I'm a firm advocate for an independent 4' Pedal solo stop.

              That said, of course, there are always sacrifices that need to be made on a smaller instrument. Perhaps this is one of the sacrifices that must be made.

              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


              • #8
                Originally posted by myorgan View Post
                What comes immediately to mind is one of Bach's Schübler Chorales that has a 4' Pedal solo. I've always used a reed for that, but it cannot be coupled on a 2-manual organ because the manuals are very clearly separated with 2 other registrations. I'm a firm advocate for an independent 4' Pedal solo stop.

                That said, of course, there are always sacrifices that need to be made on a smaller instrument. Perhaps this is one of the sacrifices that must be made.

                Michael
                Yes. However, what really makes my mind reel is when I read the specification of a newer, obviously high-quality organ that probably cost at least $1 million and there is no 4-foot pedal reed, not even a borrowed one. And I refer to organs that are not speciality trackers, but organs with electric action where borrowing is not difficult nor expensive.

                When I think about this, I start getting bizarre ideas, such as the influence of some form of purism or luddite-ism that is anti-4-foot pedal reed.

                Oh well . . .

                Comment


                • #9
                  On most organs, I actually use the 4' choral bass or flute for Kommst du nun Jesu; often it speaks more clearly, and the balance problems are simplified... However, on a certain large AS in New York, I run into a significant problem with Demessieux's Te Deum, because there is no reasonably soft 4' reed; I play the first phrase on the soft 2' reed an octave down, and the second on the 4' principal at pitch. Still sounds nice.
                  Unless you're going to be playing chords or double stops on the pedals, unification is probably fine from a polyphonic viewpoint. That means venturing into French Romantic or German Romantic music becomes fiddly (in Widor, the balances change somewhat because he uses octaves as an orchestrational tool, and in Reger, the polyphony can become very muddy).

                  A personal gripe: the pedal should have a soft 8' string, which could easily be borrowed, and often never does. It would be extremely versatile; you can use it in trio sonatas for color, or in soft Romantic-era passages for clarity, or for any number of other uses. Disabling the Swell every time I want extra soft pedal stops is frustrating. Thankfully, 16' strings are often present on big organs, which might be more useful.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Thank you, Ryan, for your well-considered and professional response. I agree that there are certain organs where a 4-foot Choral Bass or Octave, etc., will balance adequately with the manuals to render Kommst du nun Jesu quite well. However, I must have at least a dozen different recordings of Kommst du nun Jesu on CDs and all of them use a 4-foot pedal reed.

                    ADDENDUM: I hope that this thread does not segue into one regarding artistic decisions in registering Kommst du nun Jesu rather than one about organ specifications and tonal design. However, it might be interesting to discuss why some historical organs have pedal reeds at 16 - 8 - 2, but not at 4?
                    Last edited by Menschenstimme; 02-14-2015, 11:01 AM. Reason: ADDENDUM

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Menschenstimme View Post
                      I hope that this thread does not segue into one regarding artistic decisions in registering Kommst du nun Jesu rather than one about organ specifications and tonal design. However, it might be interesting to discuss why some historical organs have pedal reeds at 16 - 8 - 2, but not at 4?
                      Menschen,

                      Hopefully, this won't take the thread off track, but the registration of the Schübler (as Ryan well-knows from his recent Bach performances in NYC) is just one example of where an organ can use a suitably-voiced 4' Pedal Reed as part of the ensemble. I believe many times, however, in the design of an instrument, that particular stop is sacrificed because of its expense in favor of a 4' Octave--which I agree should probably be a first choice. Then there are more modern composers (i.e. Paul Manz) who specify 4' Pedal Reed soli as well.

                      When deciding whether to use a straight or unified 4' Pedal Reed borrowed from a manual, or extended, it is extremely unlikely the particular pedal note one would be playing would also be required in the other manuals at the exact same time. That said, I am always an advocate of straight ranks over unified/duplexed/borrowed stops on any instrument. It makes an organ much less quirky to play when one finds a stop is suddenly missing one note while you're playing.

                      Why someone would include a 2' Pedal Reed is beyond me, because the lack of range on a Pedal doesn't allow much use of it unless you have octave couplers (or a sub coupler) to move it into the correct octave. In that case, you run into voicing considerations.

                      Originally posted by Ryan the organist View Post
                      On most organs, I actually use the 4' choral bass or flute for Kommst du nun Jesu; often it speaks more clearly, and the balance problems are simplified.
                      On most 2-manual instruments, I've found the Octave or Flute 4' in the Pedal are not sufficiently clear or powerful to carry themselves against the remainder of the registration, usually some sort of 8' w/Mutation in one manual (or 8' + 2') with an 8' Diapason or lighter Prinzipal in the other manual. Of course larger organs have those resources, but smaller ones don't. :-( The exception to this is when the Pedal is unenclosed, the Great has a very soft voiced stop like a Dulciana or Erzähler, and an expressed Swell.

                      It's all a question of which stops to include/exclude when building an instrument, and how that stop will be derived based on the opposing demands of price vs. tonality. If I'm not mistaken, the OP's points (Michael Hoddy's) are intended for a home-built organ. In that case, space is definitely a significant consideration.

                      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


                      • #12
                        Not necessarily a home built organ, but definitely the kind of mid-level compromises that you encounter in any reasonably well balanced organ of, say, 50 ranks or less. In those cases, I would almost always be much happier with unification on the main pedal chorus registers, and additional independent registers that bring color and completeness, rather than straight stops throughout the pedal and less to choose from. The cost of those big pipes in the bottom octaves adds up quickly. The trade-off in certain literature just seems to be worth it. I just wanted to make sure there wasn't some glaring thing I had overlooked.

                        The reason some stops like strings don't get borrowed to the pedal from the manuals is because, at least in EP organs, which seem to be much of what we are discussing, the requisite duplex or unit actions aren't provided on those stops. I have always been a big fan when I encounter a unit choir or swell string which can serve both as a much more useful manual unified double, and can be borrowed into the pedal at 16 and 8 foot pitch for all the reasons discussed.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I would like to say a few things on this thread.

                          Firstly, I'm a purist, and I hate borrowing of any kind. I however understand that sometimes it must happen. I just think that it can subtract from the tonal fidelity and fulness of the sound. There is a reason I don't ever bother to play extension organs. Twelve stops from three ranks is just ridiculous.

                          4' reeds - I have the opposite problem. I have a 4' Bassoon on the pedal (not borrowed in any way) and it is so fiery! I just wouldn't use it as a solo because it's too big. This being said, it's great for French repertoire when you have all the reeds out and the theme is in the pedal - it cuts through the sound so well.

                          8' string on the pedal - yes, very useful, sometimes more than a 16' string (I have a 16' Violone and 16' Gamba borrowed from the Great).

                          But what frustrates me the most? When you have an instrument of around 20-something stops over two manuals and it has an 8' Oboe and/or 8' Trumpet and at most the Trumpet is duplicated on the pedal. For the sake of 12 extra pipes, with half-length resonators if necessary, EXTEND IT DOWN TO 16'!!! This can add so much more tonal fulness and grandeur to the organ. I would always want a 16' reed before getting the 4'. There is a city near me with two cathedrals - one has two manuals and about 20 stops. The other has three manuals and about 40 stops. The smaller one has a 16' reed in the pedal, the much larger one has no reeds in the pedal and not even a 16' reed on the Swell! I assure you, the larger one does not interest me remotely as much in terms of sound.

                          /End rant.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I agree that no reeds in the pedal on anything resembling a complete organ- one that's big enough otherwise that there's no real excuse of limited space or budget- is a significant limitation.

                            That said, the "why don't they just extend the reed" part is sometimes a poor tonal design choice, but often, it's a space and cost choice. That bottom 16' octave can cost almost as much as the rest of the stop does, and if it's extended off a swell oboe, takes up a LOT of space in the box. Adding unit actions to an otherwise straight stop so that it can play in other places adds a chunk of cost as well.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Sathrandur View Post
                              I would like to say a few things on this thread.

                              It has an 8' Oboe and/or 8' Trumpet and at most the Trumpet is duplicated on the pedal. For the sake of 12 extra pipes, with half-length resonators if necessary, EXTEND IT DOWN TO 16'!!! This can add so much more tonal fulness and grandeur to the organ. I would always want a 16' reed before getting the 4'.

                              /End rant.
                              I could not agree more!

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