Friday, August 29, 2014

A Young Person's Guide to the Organ

While we wait with fear and trembling for our organ console to arrive, let's go over the wealth of wonderful noises the organ will make when we've gotten it installed in our sanctuary again:

Organ stops come in six families.

There are the flute stops. Their sound is pretty obvious. There is more variety about them than you might think. Our organ has four of these customers, and they are all of a slightly different hue. Here are is a flute stop with the pipe capped at the top, called a bourdon:

[listen]

There is also a chimney flute, or in our case a rorh flute (the Germany equivalent), and a nice spitz flote which is an octave higher.

We've covered those already in a previous blog. We've also talked about foundation stops, which are the heart of the organ sound, and usually much louder than the flute stops (you'll hear the difference when each section is repeated on a flute stop instead of a principle stop), though they are still relatively vanilla compared to what comes next.

[listen]

...which are the reeds. Those are the trumpets and the krummhorn. Besides the Christmas piece I played for you a couple of weeks ago, I take particular delight in the impolite low flatulence that is our 16 foot tuba trombone stop, here interjecting a low C into the proceedings:

[listen]

What we haven't discussed yet are the strings. What these are generally good for are sustained, misty chords that hint at ethereal things. But you can do scales and arpeggios on them, too:

[listen]

Then there are the mutation stops. We've got two on our organ, and I'll let you hear both of them. They actually sound an octave and a fifth--or a third--higher than the note you are playing. The mutant aspect is no accident; by themselves they sound really strange. But when you combine them with more bland stops, they add a nice, if slightly exotic, color:

[listen]

[listen]

Most ranks of pipes contain one pipe per note. But there are also compound stops. Our mixture stops play three, or four, pipes per note. That means for each note you strike, you are hearing the fundamental note, the one you actually ordered, plus a fifth above that, and the octave above it. Two of our three mixture stops stop at three pipes; the one on our lower keyboard adds a fourth (a fifth above that, I think).

Mixtures don't do well by themselves, but added to a healthy chorus of foundations, give the organ that awesome sound that reminds some of us of Halloween. But they don't have to:

[listen]


Flutes, foundations, reeds, strings, mutations, and mixtures. And all of them had been invented by around the 15th century! That part of the organ is definitely NOT modern technology. But in a couple of weeks I'll show you what is.

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