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    Adjusting Overall Volume of Pipe Organ

    Is it possible to adjust the overall volume of a pipe organ through a manipulation of the blower or some other aspect of the instrument? I ask because the organ in my church recently had some blower work done, and now it sounds much louder. Is this possible, or maybe it's just my imagination? Thanks for any information you can share.

    #2
    Thatdarnfish,

    Yes, the overall volume of a pipe organ can be changed by the organist using the swell boxes. The methods, to which you refer, would change the overall timbre of the organ, as it was originally built and voiced on a specific amount of wind. Less air could cause the organ to be anemic in tone, while a greater pressure could cause it to sound harsh, and some pipes would not speak their intended pitch because they would be overblown.

    Would the blower work make it sound louder? Of course. However, I suspect the organ had reservoir issues, which could also cause the pressure to be greater to the pipes because all the holes and leaks had been plugged.

    Are you the organist?

    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)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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      #3
      While I am an organist, I am not the regular player of this particular instrument. However, I am usually situated in the nave, and the sound of the mixtures and reeds are almost intolerable. I took a decibel reading today, and the instrument is clocking in at around 85 dbl in the nave with the crescendo pedal fully open. Is this normal?

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      • Guest's Avatar
        Guest commented
        Editing a comment
        My residence organ is around 85db, I have no swell shades, I don't find it loud, 85db is not abnormal at all for a pipe organ on full, you have to remember that near the organ its going to be very loud to you but 75 feet below in the pews it's far less db

      #4
      Originally posted by thatdarnfish View Post
      Is it possible to adjust the overall volume of a pipe organ through a manipulation of the blower or some other aspect of the instrument? I ask because the organ in my church recently had some blower work done, and now it sounds much louder. Is this possible, or maybe it's just my imagination? Thanks for any information you can share.
      Could you tell us what exactly was done to the blower and/or any other part of the wind system? Or, what was the problem that caused the blower work to be done?

      Comment


        #5
        With the crescendo pedal and swell pedals fully open and full chords being played, I would expect at least 85 dB, perhaps even more. The organ should be very loud under those circumstances.

        As Michael suggests, repairs were likely done that brought the organ up to the intended sound.

        That said, my parents' home church had a pipe organ that always sounded too loud to me. It screamed. And it wasn't large enough to have many soft stops. Part of this was the registration that the organist used, and part of it was a building that was full of echoes but not reverberation. Subtlety of sound was not part of its design.

        Comment


          #6
          Originally posted by thatdarnfish View Post
          I took a decibel reading today, and the instrument is clocking in at around 85 dbl in the nave with the crescendo pedal fully open. Is this normal?
          That's about right. Keep in mind the organ will sound louder in an empty space than with bodies to absorb the sound. Exposure to 90dB for a period of time can cause hearing loss, so it makes sense the organ would be set to be just under that threshold.

          The organ is probably now working as intended, but people are so used to hearing a compromised organ, they don't know any better.

          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)
          • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

          Comment


            #7
            Certainly opinions are all over the place as to "how loud should an organ be?" ... I used to think the louder the better, and seemed to enjoy the overwhelming effect of a very loud organ in church, and would never have called an organ "too loud." Nowadays I'm not as enthusiastic. I attended a service a few months ago in a church I'd not visited before, and the roar of the pipe organ was quite deafening to me, as fine an organ as it is, and as much as I love good organ sound. But I was sitting there wondering how the people stand it every Sunday. I feel your pain.

            But it is probably as others have said up above -- the wind has probably been abnormally weak for a long time, and the recent repair job restored it to its original spec, which makes it seem considerably louder. The organist may need to adjust registrations and not use a full open crescendo, or large numbers of individual stops all at once. He or she may be in the habit of doing that to compensate for the sagging wind, but that compensation will not now be necessary.

            Conveying that to the organist may or may not be easy
            John
            ----------
            Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
            Home: Rodgers Allegiant 677 with expanded four-channel audio
            Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
            Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
            https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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              #8
              Thanks, all, for your very helpful comments. I spoke with our organists about their registration choices (fun!), but they took it well. It helped that I also took dcbl readings to prove my point.

              Comment


                #9
                Originally posted by thatdarnfish View Post
                Thanks, all, for your very helpful comments. I spoke with our organists about their registration choices (fun!), but they took it well. It helped that I also took dcbl readings to prove my point.
                I have restored a few organs that had been tampered with and were on the wrong pressure.

                Changing the pressure to other than that which the original builder intended usually plays havoc. Reeds are probably the most drastically affected. They won't hold their tuning. You may be able to get them in tune, but it will not hold. Flues (as already stated) may overblow and some may not speak properly otherwise- particularly strings.

                Lowering the pressure on an electro-pneumatic instrument may cause problems with the action. Remember, EP action works better as the wind pressure increases.

                Often the cause of dropped wind pressure is due to the blower turning in the wrong direction. I have come upon this several times. This happens with a three phase motor when someone reverses two of the legs and this usually happens when electricians come in and work on the buildings electrical system. Usually they are correcting mistakes that someone made years or decades ago. Blowers will still produce plenty of wind when turning in the wrong direction but the pressure will be lower.

                Holes in the gussets of a regulator bellows have to be pretty big to cause a drop in pressure. They can usually regulate around it. However a more frequent cause of pressure problems is a broken or jammed curtain valve or butterfly valve. Skinners will do this; the chain will break or get stuck on the pulley race.

                Suffice to say that any organ needs to be on the right pressure. One needs to check and see if the builder marked it on the regulator bellows. It needs to be checked with a water gauge ( I have found Magnahelics inaccurate) and the organ needs to be thoroughly tuned. You cannot just use wind pressure like a volume control.

                Comment


                  #10
                  Other posters more knowledgeable than I have already addressed the more technical aspects in this thread. I would like to share something that I learned from one of my teachers. Years ago I sought the help of a great musician to prepare for an organ concert. Not only was she an good organ teacher, she also was a string player and taught me a great deal about playing musically. Like many young organists, I loved to hear full organ. She gave me some great advice. She said, "if you play full organ too often, it looses its impact."

                  As we worked together on my concert, I began to think about registrations not only for each individual piece, but we also thought about the arc of registration for the concert. Which piece would use the full resources of the organ and which pieces would be held back. We decided to save the fullest registration for Franck's Chorale No. 3 in A Minor, which was the last piece on the program. Because I waited until the end to feature the tutti of the organ, it had much more impact than if I had used it on a couple of earlier pieces as well.

                  I use this approach even for registering a church service. I decide what is going to be the arc of the service. I also look at each hymn and try to let the text of each stanza determine the registration. Sometimes I have the congregation sing a verse a capella. Earlier in my career, I would sometimes get complaints about the organ being too loud. When I started using this subtler approach to registration, I almost never heard that complaint.
                  Bill

                  My home organ: Content M5800

                  Comment


                    #11
                    Originally posted by thatdarnfish View Post
                    Thanks, all, for your very helpful comments. I spoke with our organists about their registration choices (fun!), but they took it well. It helped that I also took dcbl readings to prove my point.
                    I've played organ professionally for a long time. In the early days I couldn't play loud enough. Congregations couldn't get enough rompin and stompin on the pedals with the 16' Bombarde for the last verse of 'And Can It Be'. These days, not so much. I've been given lists of stops by name, that are not to be used, ever, during job interviews in recent years. I've negotiated the right to use whatever registration I want during Postludes. If no, I won't take the position, there are limits by gum. It makes no sense in my opinion to insist that an organist use only half of an instrument that is undersized as it is!

                    Here is the problem: in the 20th and 21st Centuries all churches of more than ~30 congregants have invested in 'Hearing Assist' systems and a good portion of the congregation of any church of any size already invest in personal hearing assist systems. The primary function of both systems is to boost higher frequencies that carry vital information about the sibilants used in speech to the hard of hearing. Anything higher than a 4' stop is rich in these frequencies and make most music but especially organ unpleasant to listen to with hearing aids in.

                    I wouldn't bet on it but I'm fairly confident that those churches with massive pipe organs and 50 piece orchestra accompaniment are packing them in. If you do not learn to adjust your hearing assist devices you will not enjoy service at these churches because they are not catering to a minority of the congregation even if it is a significant minority. I can't prove it, but I don't think that the fact that many organists in mid-size churches have been brow-beaten to never using anything more powerful than an 8' Diapason. Some places not even that! I don't think that makes for the most stirring of Worship experiences and most of the young and middle age congregation leave. The left behind wonder what would 'bring the young people back'. Hmmm.

                    Personally I do not think the repairs to the organ restored things to optimal pressure (and volume). More likely they restored a previously inoperative 2' stop or maybe Mixture or Reed. That's all it would take to increase the overall sound level by many decibels. Organ pipes are very resistant to volume change by pressure. They are more like Recorders, the pitch rises as the pressure increases but not so much the volume. Then at some threshold the pipe 'overblows' and you definitely know it. The volume goes way up but also the pitch breaks to a different octave altogether and the pipe(s) would be unusable. Skilled organists usually do not go in for excessive volume in registration. Unskilled ones usually err towards too little volume. FWIW.

                    Comment


                      #12
                      Great discussion going on here! Confirms some things that I'd been suspecting at my own church. A few years back a nice guy who is very supportive of the music ministry but not a musician himself came up to me after the service and remarked that the organ had been hurting his ears. He wondered if I'd changed anything. I had in fact just recently tinkered with the voicing and upped the volume of some high-pitched stops because I thought the organ needed the "definition" or something. I re-worked it during the following week, rolling back the treble boosts, and he told me the next Sunday that it was fine. He does wear hearing aids!

                      As has been said above, and as I admit to having done in the past, the LOUD registration of the organ has been overused, and is best left to the absolute climax of a program or service. I used to think that just about every hymn needed to end on a near-tutti, but now realize that was counter-productive and indeed made my tuttis less impactful.

                      In order to be able to use fewer stops and still effectively lead my congregation, I recently RAISED the volume of some stops. I raised the great principal chorus quite a bit because I realized that it has not been strong enough to stand alone, and consequently I have been tacking on everything but the kitchen sink just to get a mezzo-forte. Then I was piling on the mixtures and reeds at the end of many hymns to get that big ending I wanted. I now find, with the principals of adequate volume, I can sometimes play a hymn with just the 8' and 4' great principals and a balancing pedal, thus leaving far more avenues to a crescendo than just piling on the whole works!

                      I made it LOUDER so I can play SOFTER!
                      John
                      ----------
                      Church: Allen MDS-45 with Allen MIDI-DIVISION-II expander
                      Home: Rodgers Allegiant 677 with expanded four-channel audio
                      Shop: Bunch of organs in varying conditions, some good, some not...
                      Half of an incredible two-man organ service team -- servicing all the major digitals in Arkansas churches
                      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

                      Comment


                        #13
                        I wear hearing aids because of some noise-induced hearing loss as well as an overall loss of sensitivity, probably congenital. The noise induced loss causes a drop in sensitivity between 1,000 Hz and about 4,000 Hz, but by 6,000 Hz my hearing is back to the same sensitivty as below 1k Hz.

                        So my hearing aids are digital and have several "programs". The best for music is one that has generally flat overall response with a boost for the noise induced loss. So the higher pitches don't cause me problems with music if I use the appropriate program. If I use my normal speech enhancement program with background noise reduction, then music is a little dull to my ears. I can also set the overall gain of my aids, all this by a couple of push button switches on the aids themselves.

                        But I suspect a lot of people don't buy the best hearing aids for their particular situation, and they may not be able to afford what would be best for them. There are no technical specifications available to purchasers of hearing aids to help them decide what is best--purchasers are at the mercy of their audiologist. I happened upon a really good group of audiologist, so I guess I am lucky. My hearing aids were about $3500 for the pair. I suspect a lot of purchasers go for lower cost devices without the potential for customization. My audiologist doesn't think I should upgrade until a newer model can provide a significant "wow" in the improvements.

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                        • cham-ed
                          cham-ed commented
                          Editing a comment
                          You are sure right in regard to hearing aids. I don't have that kind of money for hearing aids. So I am switching them on and off. On for speech and off for music. Fortunately I don't have a large hearing loss so it is not too bad. And with the right person speaking and our audio system, I can leave them off. And it sure would be nice to have a real good pair.

                        #14
                        Originally posted by thatdarnfish View Post
                        Is it possible to adjust the overall volume of a pipe organ through a manipulation of the blower or some other aspect of the instrument? I ask because the organ in my church recently had some blower work done, and now it sounds much louder. Is this possible, or maybe it's just my imagination? Thanks for any information you can share.
                        I'm still curious to hear what work was done on the blower and what symptoms made it seem necessary or desirable.

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                          #15
                          Well like many have noted, the best is to try readjust your stops settings a bit. Watch that for a while and notice if there is any difference.

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