North Suburban HAMMOND ORGAN Society

General Pipe Organ Info

The operator interface or console is really where "man meets machine," or where the musician plays the instrument. At the console you will find 2 or more 61 note keyboards, generally referred to as manuals, and also a 32 note pedalboard. Also at the console you will discover a number of controls, called stops, by means of which the musician can select which rank or ranks of pipes shall play from a particular keyboard. In addition to these stops, you will also find couplers. In a typical straight or standard pipe organ specification, each manual will control a kind of "mini-organ" or a specific section or division, to use the correct term, of the total instrument. Within each division will be a number of different ranks of pipes, each with a particular tonality. In order to play, the musician must select at least one stop in order to complete the connection so that the playing of keys on a particular manual will sound pipes.

In a typical straight specification, each division is a separate entity. Couplers, however, make it possible to play one division from the keyboard of another. These particular couplers are referred to as inter-manual couplers because they couple one division to another, or couple one division to the keyboard of another division. In other words they work between different manuals. Other inter-manual couplers may also couple one or more manual divisions to the pedalboard.

In addition to the inter-manual couplers, there are also intra-manual couplers. Here a comparison to a typical piano is useful. In a typical piano, if you play, for example, the note Middle C, you'll hear the pitch of Middle C and nothing else. If you want to play the next C along with Middle C, you must actually play both keys. However, if you play the Middle C key on any manual of a pipe organ, it is possible not only to sound pipes that have the pitch of Middle C, but by means of an octave coupler, you can bring in the next octave up. It's also possible to couple pipes an octave lower. Couplers which work on the same manual but bring in pitches an octave higher or lower than standard are referred to as intra-manual couplers.

Another control which you will find on most pipe organ consoles is at least one and sometimes several volume control pedals, usually referred to as Swell pedals. These will be very similar in appearance to the volume pedal on a typical electronic organ and they do the same thing but they work on an entirely different principle. Also, on most pipe organs there will be a separate swell pedal for most of the different divisions. Also, on most pipe organs, you will find another pedal, to the extreme right of the volume pedals, and that is the crescendo pedal. This you will not find on most electronic organs. The crescendo pedal also varies the volume of the pipe organ but it does so in an entirely different way. The crescendo pedal will add stops, beginning with the quietest and as you advance the crescendo pedal, it will add more and more stops (or ranks of pipes in a straight specification pipe organ) so that it produces a gradual increase in the sound level but it does so by adding tonal resources instead of controlling the volume of whatever is in use at any moment. Associated with the crescendo pedal is another control, but it is usually in the form of either a pushbutton, or else a foot operated pushbutton usually called a toe stud. This control is called the Sforzando control, and its function is to turn on all stops and couplers simultaneously. This is often referred to as full organ, and in most cases, with a few notable exceptions, hitting the sforzando control is the same as turning every single stop and coupler on at once. Both the crescendo pedal and the sforzando control accomplish similar results, but the crescendo pedal does so gradually and can do so very slightly if the musician advances it just a little instead of the full amount. Sforzando, on the contrary, is either off or on, and when on, just about every tonal resource of the instrument is available. Crescendo pedals and sforzando controls are found on some very eleaborate electronic organs that are meant to imitate classical, concert or theater pipe organs, but not usually found on typical electronics although the X66 Hammond does have a sforzando button which will add full organ registrations to both manuals and also the pedals.

On some instruments, however, there is one notable exception to having a sforzando that turns everything on, and that you would find in a very large instrument which may have a few special solo reed stops on extra high pressure. In instruments where such special stops are found, they can in some cases compare favorably to the air horns on trucks in power, and in the worlds' largest pipe organ, there is a rank of pipes that compares favorably to train horns. Because these special ranks are so much louder than anything else in an instrument, it is considered not wise to have them included on either crescendo pedals or sforzando controls. If for a special effect, the musician wants to use such a stop, he must do so specifically, and generally there will be a bright red lamp that will turn on to warn him that such a powerful sounding rank of pipes is active. Because the sudden unexpected sounding of such stops could be very startling or jarring, the combination action also will frequently not turn on these stops. We'll have more to say about these later, and such stops are not found in the average church organ or even many typical theater organs.

Most pipe organ consoles also contain a combination action, which is likewise not usually found on most electronic instruments unless they are specifically designed to imitate pipe organs. On most pipe organ consoles, you will see a set of numbered pushbuttons just below each manual on the front rail of the manual. These buttons are presets, and they are very helpful in making a number of stop changes simultaneously. On a large pipe organ console, which may have several hundred stops, it would be extremely difficult; no, not just difficult, it would be impossible for the musician to make sudden changes in the tonality of the instrument by turning on or off several dozen stops simultaneously. However the combination action allows the musician to set up "combinations" of stops ahead of time and assign these combinations to the individual buttons under each keyboard. Then during a program, the musician only has to push one of these presets. The combination action then instantly turns stops on or off depending on what the musician has set up ahead of time. On most pipe organs, the combination action physically moves the individual stops so it is very easy to see exactly what has been turned on or off.

As you may infer from a lot of this preceding information, the modern pipe organ has a number of features which make the musician's task quite easy. Although a large pipe organ console appears to be very daunting and imposing, it presents a lot of useful features for the musician. The radiating and concave pedalboard is very easy to play. Independent volume controls for various divisions allow lots of musical flexibility, and a combination action makes the manipulation of dozens of stops literally as easy as pushing a button. When many musicians state that they'd rather play a large direct-electric or electropneumatic pipe organ than a typical spinet electronic, there really are some very good and practical reasons why this is true! On the following page are several pictures of various pipe organ consoles.

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