Before I get into some of the buttons that are on our new console, I want to talk about all of the buttons that were there already.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, there are lots of intriguing sounds that can be made on an organ. There are six basic families of sound (flutes, foundations, reeds, strings, mutations, and mixtures) and within those families lots of different kinds of specific ranks of pipes, some wooden, some metal, some long, some short, and having a number of different properties that contribute a specific sound to the organ. Each organ is different--no two diapason stops sound quite alike, even though you can find diapason stops on just about every organ, since that is a basic foundation stop (though it might be labelled principle or montre).
Some of those stops don't sound very good by themselves, and need to be combined with others for full effect. This is where the art of organ registration comes in; the knowledge of how to combine different sounds effectively takes practice, and practical knowledge, some trial and error, historical awareness, and so on.
And what if you want to change your registration in the middle of a piece, like between verses of a hymn, or between sections of a piece, or in the middle of a tricky page turn?
If you've ever seen a Youtube video of an organist playing with a person or two standing beside her pulling knobs and turning pages, you've seen one of the solutions.
I don't usually employ an assistant; part of the reason for that is that the organ is relatively small and all of the stop knobs are close enough I can get to the them from the bench. I have pretty fast reflexes so I can grab a couple of them during the pause between verses of a hymn, reaching out to snag them like a frog catches flies. However, if there is a major change to be made, involving the turning on or off of several stops, particularly if the change involves both keyboards and the pedals all at once, there is another solution on most modern organs.
They are called pistons. Below each keyboard is a row of buttons--we have six of them. Each of those buttons can be programmed with the combination of stops I want to use, and, if I have a free hand, I can reach over and press the button and all of the stops will be changed instantly. This is quite a bit better than having to pull 15 stops out manually, as I once saw in a video from St. Sulpice in France where they have an amazing and venerable old organ which apparently does not have this system. As the organist reached the end of the first section there was a long pause while both assistants frantically pulled and pushed dozens of stops while the reverberation slowly died away. It was fun to watch. It's too bad I can't find that video anymore so you can watch it.
Now, below each keyboard on our organ is a group of pistons for that particular division of the organ: the upper keyboard (the swell) has one, the lower keyboard (the great) has one, and the pedals have one row--six pistons each. And, the entire organ all at once has a row of six, called generals, which will change all three of those divisions of the organ, swell, great, and pedal all at once, as pre-programmed.
Now suppose you don't have a free hand.
They've already thought of that. They are called toe studs, and there are just as many of those as there are buttons. In fact, they are a duplicate set, so that every button I've just mentioned has an equivalent toe stud so that you can perform all of the same operations with whatever appendage happens to be available. If you are an organist, you know that it may be all you can do to buy half a second with any hand or foot. I've even push a stop in with my nose, which I don't recommend for several reasons!
By my count we've just covered 48 buttons and toe studs on the console. There are more buttons, knobs, and levers, of course, but we'll get to them next time.