We get tourists, sometimes. Or visitors. In any case, a young woman walked into our sanctuary one afternoon while I was practicing the organ and decided to ask the question that was pressing on her mind: which is harder to play, the piano or the organ?
She did not, it seems, want a complicated answer.
I've become proficient at both instruments, and I don't like to disparage either of them. And I like to get people to think, which usually requires a longer answer, which is something for which patience is required.
The piano, I explained, has a sustaining pedal, and an organ does not. So you can play a group of low notes and hold the sound of them while your hands are in the air leaping to notes far away. This is impossible on the organ where the sound ends the moment your hands quit the keys (depending on the building's reverb, I guess) and generally tends to sound stupid on an organ. Therefore, leaps are one of several things that abound in the piano literature but do not in pieces written for the organ. Also the piano tends to emphasize hand crossings, and rapid runs more than pieces written for the organ do. So in that way, the piano requires something that the organ usually does not. It is also an instrument that rewards or punishes according to the subtlety of the touch, where an organ has a little more room for error. There the articulation matters, but a heavier attack on one note in a group will not produce a distracting bang like it will on the piano, ruining the phrase.
I said all this to set it in counterpoint to the next part, which is what most people would assume I would say, namely that the organ has all kinds of buttons and knobs that the piano does not have, and notes to be played with the feet on top of that, and is therefore a more complicated machine than the piano, case closed.
Actually, I didn't close the case, but my interlocutor did. She decided the organ was way more complicated and that was that. And therefore, I suppose, better. Or more praiseworthy as a pursuit, anyway. After all, the technical difficulty score counts big, just ask the Olympic judges.
And considering that the organ at Third Church has 175 ranks and about 188 knobs, with 4 manuals, two rows of couplers which I haven't counted, probably around 40 toe studs and 50 thumb pistons, 4 expression pedals, two kinds of crescendo, and a magic drawer with multiple features I would need several paragraphs to begin to describe...well, it's a large organ. I don't know that it is really fair comparing it to a piano since it isn't really an average organ. It is complicated. And difficult. And maybe I should get a gold star for being able to play it. And maybe, when people simply want to be really impressed by something I should leave well enough alone and let them be impressed.
But I still like to think. And I think that life is not about being impressed by something that is difficult if your appreciation stops there. Admiration is only a start. And though I've noticed people at dinner parties would rather hear about the organ than they would the piano that nobody is playing organ music on the radio. Not even the classical station. People aren't lined up to come to organ concerts either. I hope I can do something about that.
Meanwhile, the piano in our sanctuary is out of tune. The tuner comes next week. I'm looking forward to that. I've been missing the piano. It does only have one manual, and only three pedals for the feet, no knobs, no buttons. But it is a wonderful instrument. Many feel a closer connection to it than they do the mighty organ. I can understand that. I'll be making more pianonoise very soon. Until then, Hector and I are going to make some wonderful music together.
What, I can't give the organ a name?