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Pushing the boundaries of classical pipe organs

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  • Pushing the boundaries of classical pipe organs

    Organ builders have pushed the boundaries of pipe organs and organ consoles for as long as they have been built. As the art of organ building and technology progressed, tracker organs were joined by pneumatic then electro-pneumatic and finally direct electric actions. Tracker organs gained Barker machines as they grew in size and modern tracker instruments can have electronically controlled combination actions and remote electronically connected consoles.

    Organ relay systems began with mechanical and then electro-pneumatic switching mechanisms. Now they are now sophisticated microprocessor controlled devices. Performance aids, synthetic mixtures, trick couplers, etc. are all possible with a few lines of code. Consoles grew, having five, six and then seven manuals. The Atlantic City Midmer-Losh organ has two 85 note manuals and one 73-note manual in addition to the four 61-note manuals.

    Symphonic and theater organs brought in actual tuned and untuned percussion instruments as part of the ensemble. MIDI made it possible to add external synthesizers for virtual and sampled voices. Rodgers and Allen developed add-on devices with electronic voices for their consoles that could play both wind-blown pipes and electronic organ voices.

    That morphed into things like integrating remote Roland Integra-7 synthesizers into the console controls and then, as we have seen with the most recent Allen and Rodgers instruments, the synth voices, along with orchestral and pipe voice samples, are an integral part of the tonal palette of the organ. Listeners may have no idea of the source of the sound they are hearing. It could include winded pipes, sampled pipes, sampled orchestral instruments or a totally synthesized voice.

    So I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise to see this replacement console for a German pipe organ include an 88-note piano style keyboard controlling a synthesizer integrated into the console. But it is still a bit of a visual surprise. I guess I had relegated that type of experimentation to days gone by.

    Of course even that is not a new concept. The Choralcelo, an early 1900s electrical musical instrument, featured a physical piano keyboard on the lower manual and an electric keyboard for the upper manual. What is old is new again.

    The link below takes you to a segment of a Fraser Gartshore video where he visits an organ factory in Germany. Along with the console mentioned above, they were building his new Hauptwerk console.

    For those who have never heard of the Choralcelo I offer the following information. Some of the information about this instrument that you will find online is not correct.

    The Choralcelo console seen in the photo below is in a home in Colorado. Note the upper manual has three extra keys at the bass end. The piano keyboard has electrical contacts in addition to the mechanical connection to the piano hammers.

    This fascinating and incredibly unique instrument still exists. I've spent many hours examining it. Other than the mechanical action of the piano, the rest of the instrument has not been playable for many decades. The complex electrical control mechanisms and pulse generators, which are now over 100 years old, slowly failed. There used to be a paper roll player spool box in the open hole above the keyboards. I actually have a Choralcelo roll in my extensive collection of material about these instruments.

    The only other Choralcelo console extant in its original home (Ruthemere Mansion in Elkhard, IN) was re-purposed to play a pipe organ that replaced the Choralcelo mechanism when it failed. Unfortunately they claim it is a Choralcelo but the original sound producing mechanism is long gone.

    The other known surviving Choralcelo parts are at the National Music Museum in Vermilion, South Dakota. After a building expansion is completed that museum will reopen in the summer of 2022. Their Choralcelo parts will be on display but it will not be restored to working condition.

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    Last edited by AllenAnalog; 09-04-2021, 03:40 PM.
    Larry is my name; Allen is an organ brand. Allen RMWTHEA.3 with RMI Electra-Piano; Allen 423-C+Gyro; Britson Opus OEM38; Steinway AR Duo-Art 7' grand piano, Mills Violano Virtuoso with MIDI; Hammond 9812H with roll player; Roland E-200; Mason&Hamlin AR Ampico grand piano, Allen ADC-5300-D with MIDI, Allen MADC-2110.

  • #2

    Thank you for sharing this. Who knew 100 year-old technology would come full circle and be revived in today's world.

    I well remember the discussions about pipe vs. digital organs as little as a decade ago. What I don't remember is anyone predicting the two would gradually merge in the manner they have. Of course with any new device comes the discussion of whether it's a "flash in the pan" (old camera reference) or if they'll stay the test of time.

    What a great post, Larry!

    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


    • #3
      Back in the 60's, my parents took us to visit an uncle and aunt who had just gotten a brand new Starck Organo. The upper manual was the organ keyboard and a full sized piano keyboard was the bottom manual. There were also 13 organ pedal sticks. There was no expression shoe. The volume of the organ was controlled by a roller just below the organ keyboard. I found a picture of one, included below.


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      My instrument: Allen MDS-65 with a New Century Zimbelstern
      Former instruments (RIP): Allen ADC 420; Conn Minuet 542