Blog/Archive

Mar. 9, 2019

(con't from Part I)
History has shown that the Hammond B-3 (photo) console organ was the most popular and most widely used among the older Hammond models.
In this photo the bottom octave preset keys are visible in reversed colors on both the Swell (upper) and Great (lower) manuals; these have a locking spring action when depressed to indicate that they are engaged; they may be released, or cancelled, at any time by depressing the (black) low C preset key.
Closer examination reveals that both the A# and B preset keys on the Swell manual have been depressed two-at-a-time, allowing both banks of Swell harmonic drawbars visible above the top manual to sound together.

Mar. 7, 2019

Certain windless electric or electro-mechanical organs employing Hammond ToneWheel technology present a special situation for organists; these instruments are not provided with conventional drawknobs or stop tablets for organ voices, and the older Hammonds have a starting procedure that's different from simply turning on a switch or pushing a button.
A significant body of contemporary organ music has been published "registered for Hammond Organ" which is specific to this, and only this, brand of instrument -- and there could come a time where a suggested Hammond registration might need to be translated for performance on a conventional pipe organ.
There could also come a time when the new organist could be asked to sub at a venue where the only instrument in working order there is an older Hammond.
All of this can be an utter mystery -- even humiliating -- for otherwise highly trained organists who happen to be, through no fault of their own, unacquainted with how this type of instrument works.
It would be naive for today's organists to convince themselves that such a state of affairs could never happen to them anywhere on this side of the Great Beyond.
Never is a long time.
As with so many other things encountered in this life, at first what may seem difficult about some thread in the fabric of learning, once learned, never changes -- and we find this true with all of the older Hammonds; around 2 million of them were built and, while they may not work like a pipe organ, they all work the same way.
Some of the later ToneWheel organs have just a simple "On" switch, but for those which have both "start" and "run" switches the starting procedure would be as follows:
1) Hold the "start" switch on for about 12 seconds (if you're in a quiet room, you should be able to hear the ToneGenerator spinning up);
2) While continuing to hold the "start" switch on, turn the "run" switch on;
3) Continue holding the "start" switch on for 4 more seconds (the "run" switch should stay on by itself).
4) Let go of the "start" switch (it should spring to the "off" position); with the start motor off, things should get much quieter; the ToneGenerator should now be running, but you'll have to wait a little while longer for the vacuum tubes to warm up before you'll get any sound out of the instrument.
"Console" Hammonds have 2 manuals named Swell (upper) and Great (lower); both are 5 octaves long (61 notes) with an additional bottom octave of 12 chromatic keys reversed in color (i.e. naturals are black, sharps are white); these color-reversed keys are used for selecting the default presets for the Swell and Great manuals, respectively.
The manual keys are "flat front" profile, commonly known as "waterfall" keys, and the de facto standard pedalboard is of 25 notes with a compass of 2 octaves (low C to middle C); the so-called "Concert" Hammonds, for all practical purposes, are identical save for a pedalboard of 32 notes (low C to middle G) constructed to AGO standards; a whole generation of professional organists practiced at home on these concert models.
All Hammonds are specially equipped with a distinctive row of metal sliders above the top manual which control individual harmonics of the harmonic series; these sliders are called harmonic drawbars and are grouped in banks and marked with the numbers 1-8 controlling 8 different positions which permit volume adjustment of the particular harmonic each one controls; when the drawbar is pushed back until no number can be seen, the sound of the drawbar is not heard; when it is pulled out to its fullest position (which reads "8" on the slider), the sound level is maximum; the numbers thus indicate the volume of sound to be produced and serve as a guide to remember drawbar settings.
The Swell and Great are both furnished with 2 banks of 9 drawbars each; the Pedal is arrayed with 2 drawbars only; all these are arranged in a row above the top manual, and tones generally become higher in frequency from left to right in each drawbar bank; when all drawbars in a bank are pulled and middle C is depressed, the ear hears every note marked in green (photo); the footage marked on the handle end of each drawbar originated with the length of pipes on a pipe organ.
When we pull the fundamental (8') drawbar, the 3rd harmonic (2-2/3') plus the the 5th harmonic (1-3/5'), completely out, we find the sound resembles a clarinet; then, if we push the 8' drawbar halfway, we notice the sound becoming more high pitched and a bit "harder"; if we were then to pull the 8' drawbar back out fully and push the 2-2/3' and 1-3/5' in halfway, the sound becomes mellower.
The bottom octave of keys on both manuals are loaded with a default library of presets (pre-defined drawbar settings) allowing the organist to play the instrument immediately; default settings may be selected individually or mixed by pressing 2 preset keys at a time; the low C preset key produces no sound but releases the preset key previously selected and is called "Cancel" -- easy enough to remember because it's the "C" key.
Drawbar registrations are recorded to the A# and B preset keys on the far left side of each manual; the preset keys for the Swell and Great are independent of each other; these may also be used singly or two-at-a-time by pressing the A# and B preset keys simultaneously.
There are 5 banks of these drawbars arranged in the drawbar row from left to right in this order: Swell A# drawbars, Swell B drawbars, Pedal drawbars (center), Great A# drawbars, and Great B drawbars; these are used to adjust the harmonics of each manual and the Pedal.
The preset keys (A# and B) are special presets called "Adjust Presets" directly connected with A# drawbars and B drawbars, respectively; selecting these keys becomes helpful when the organist wants to create a new registration or manually operate the drawbars while playing.
For example, by depressing the black natural B key in the bottom octave of the Swell, the B bank of harmonic drawbars for the upper manual become operative; the B Swell drawbars may now be pulled to any length while playing on the Swell manual; the drawbars create the fundamental tones of this organ which will vary corresponding to how far the drawbars are pulled.
The 2 banks of drawbars on the left-hand side are for the Swell manual and the 2 banks on the right-hand side for the Great manual; to actuate them, the A# or B preset keys for that manual are depressed; when the other (C#-A) preset keys are selected, other drawbar registrations are recalled inside the organ and the tone that plays will not match the drawbars physical settings.
In each drawbar bank, the WHITE drawbar (8') on the left end corresponds to the fundamental sound; each succeeding drawbar to the right controls the next octave harmonic.
The sounds of the BLACK drawbars play important roles in building rich tones; their pitches are 5th and 3rd to the fundamental (the 7th harmonic, or 6th overtone, represented in the organ by the Flat Twenty-First or Septieme 1-1/7', is seldom found in pipe organs and is absent here as well, chiefly because it makes a tonal dissonance with the unison pitch).
The BROWN drawbars provide a further richness to the tone; the left one (16') is one octave lower than the fundamental, and the right one (5-1/3') is the 3rd harmonic of the 16' fundamental; normally the manual tones are built upon the 8' fundamental, but if more depth of tone is desired or when the playing range of the manual is to be expanded by one octave, the tones can be built on the 16' fundamental.
The pedalboard plays the bass line and uses 2 BROWN drawbars (16' and 8') located in the center of the drawbar row; the first (left) pedal drawbar produces the fundamental 16', and the other one produces at tone an octave higher at 8' pitch.
The drawbar registration is matched by digits, and it is relatively easy to remember the typical combinations of the 9 drawbars by their forms; these are grouped into 4 commonly used patterns suitable for classical music which resemble sounds from the flute, diapason, reed, and string family; these are not analogous to orchestral voices -- the names here simply refer to the types of pipes found in a pipe organ and are not meant to sound as actual violins, trumpets, oboes, etc.)
1. FLUTE family ("2-step" pattern) -- 00 8500 000
2. DIAPASON family ("check mark" pattern) -- 00 8776 543
3. REED family ("triangle" pattern) -- 00 4676 543
4. STRING family ("bow" pattern) -- 00 4555 554
This understanding of the Hammond registrations we find in a score -- the overall shape of the drawbar patterns (i.e. 2-step, check mark, triangle, bow) and the numbered volume of each harmonic -- allows us to read the family of tone color the composer or arranger had in mind (viz., flute, diapason, reed, string, respectively), and something of its tint can be ascertained; this information may then be used to draw the appropriate stops on a conventional pipe organ to get something of the same effect.
These and similar drawbar settings were created at the dawn of the Hammond organ (c. 1935) when it was intended to sound like a pipe or church organ, but, later on, as the Hammond organ spread to radio and television studios, homes, the recording industry, and throughout Jazz, Pop, Rock, and (especially) Gospel music, some timeless registrations became common, such as:
1. JAZZ -- 88 8000 00
2. BLUESEY -- 88 8000 008
3. GROOVY AND FUNKY -- 80 8000 888
4. MAX POWER -- 86 8878 778
Musical scores "registered for Hammond Organ" will have suggested default preset or drawbar suggestions appearing on the first page, generally below and to the left of the title.
Swell registrations are always notated on the page with a circle; if a default preset is suggested, the preset key (e.g. D#) is shown inside a circle; if it's a drawbar setting, the respective drawbar key (A# or B, or perhaps both may be indicated) is shown inside a circle followed by the drawbar settings (such as 00 7576 131).
Great registrations are always notated on the page with a square; if a default preset is suggested, the preset key (e.g. F) is shown inside a square; if it's a drawbar setting, the respective drawbar key (A# or B, or perhaps both are indicated) is shown inside a square followed by the drawbar settings (such as 00 7405 000).
Suggested pedal drawbar settings will appear below the Great registrations, such as "Pedal 5 - 2" followed lastly by Vibrato and/or Chorus control directions.
Adjustments to this starting registration and/or manual changes are then indicated in various places in the score, always with the Swell circled and the Great squared.
This system makes it possible for each manual to make use of 9 different default registrations by using them one-at-time (preset keys C#-A), 36 different mixed default registrations by using them two-at-a-time (preset keys C#-A used in pairs), and as many as 18 additional registrations when one default registration (preset keys C#-A) is selected simultaneously with one bank of drawbars (A# or B).
In addition, the A# and B drawbar banks for each manual may be readied in advance and brought into play individually or in combination, thus providing 3 more adjustable registrations (i.e. A# alone, B alone, or A# plus B).
Once selected, any of these registrations may be further enhanced by means of separate vibrato, chorus, and percussive controls built into the console as standard.
All of these features, when taken together, provide the instrument with a surprising degree of control in nuancing the sound and making registration changes.
(con't in Part II)

Feb. 27, 2019

(con't from Part XXXIX)
By way of review, when we've decided to write an organ fugue, and we've settled upon standard 4 voice texture (SATB) -- and the individual voice entries in the exposition are to proceed in the same order (i.e. firstly soprano, then alto, tenor, and lastly bass) -- and there is to be at least one countersubject maintained throughout -- we find that same countersubject trailing every entry of the subject; this is shown in the vertical columns of this diagram (photo), with blue-colored squares representing the subject and cyan-colored squares representing the countersubject.
Upon the entry of the 3rd voice (tenor) there will be additional contrapuntal material (green) appearing in the original (soprano) voice.
If this same new contrapuntal material in the soprano is maintained in the alto during the 4th entry, and it can be continued in every subsequent entry, then it becomes a 2nd countersubject (with the original countersubject becoming the 1st); if any of these 3 moving lines may then serve as a bass for the other 2 and still make agreeable vertical harmony at every point, then the music is being written in triple counterpoint.
When the 4th voice (bass) enters, another contrapuntal line (green) will appear in the 1st voice (soprano); if this new line can be maintained throughout each subsequent entry of the subject, then it becomes a 3rd countersubject; if any of these 4 lines can then serve as a bass for the others and still make agreeable vertical harmony at every point, then the music is being written in quadruple counterpoint.
What this diagram does not show is that there are also other principles in force in fugue writing which have been distilled from the common practices of composers working over a very long period of time [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
Let us say that, after having become familiar with these general principles and how to apply them, we come across a fugue exposition written by someone else; we are now in a position to evaluate it according to what is good about it, what may be particularly good about it, and what about it, if anything, could stand improvement.
We know that every good fugue must begin with a good subject, and, let us say, the subject in question is indeed a good one and that it happens to be in a minor key (say c minor); the composer can be congratulated here, as not every theme makes a good subject for a fugue; we take special note of which scale degree the subject starts on and whether or not it leaps; we need to know this in order to arrive at a correct answer because the beginning and ending pitch of the subject is important in determining whether the answer will be real or tonal.
Next, we listen for the answer and, let us say, it is real and enters in the dominant (g minor) on the correct note as determined by the subject's starting note; we would then expect the countersubject heard with it to suggest a harmony in mostly consonant 3rds and 6ths and move complimentary to the melodic curve and rhythm of the subject -- that is to say, when a note of the subject is stationary, the countersubject should be moving -- and when the melodic curve of the subject goes up, the curve of the countersubject should go down and vice versa, preferably moving in contrary motion with the subject where possible (this is a general statement only, as there are numerous examples where the composer has incorporated all 3 types of melodic motion -- contrary, oblique, and similar -- into the outline of the countersubject with very satisfactory results).
Let us say however, that we notice a place where the countersubject is standing still when the subject is also standing still; and let us say we also find both of these lines coming to a stop just before the 3rd entry -- and that we also find a place where both the answer and countersubject share the same rhythm and articulation through several consecutive beats.
In such places the energy level drops, and, while composers are certainly free to write, shape, and package their music in any manner they see fit, it can be argued, for good and sufficient reasons using J.S. Bach as authority, that further improvements could be made in this passage to increase the motion and energy of the moving lines and raise interest.
It should be recalled that when the answer enters in the dominant key, this key, like every other key, possesses its own leading tone (7th scale degree) which is different from the home key's leading tone.
This means that, as long as the music remains in this dominant tonality during the 2nd entry, the ear will not sense any pull toward the home key.
Let us also say that, at the conclusion of the answer, no modulating link (interlude, codetta, bridge) reestablishing the home key appears in the score -- that is to say, there is no chromatic inflection (raised 3rd) in the dominant tonality which restores the leading tone (7th degree) of the home key.
When the home key is minor (c minor in this case), then without hearing that raised 3rd (G Major tonality) at the conclusion of the answer the music lacks that sense of magnetic pull back to c minor which the leading tone on the note B provides.
The harmony of this raised 3rd can be and is sometimes implied in the minor key by outlining the root, 5th, and 7th of the dominant 7th chord (in this case, G-D-F) in the melodic motion just prior to the 3rd entry.
Typically however, unless the composer is taking a deliberately bold path which purposely deviates from accepted norms, the return to the home key (c minor) after the 2nd entry should be made as unambiguous as possible.
This is done either by inserting a raised 3rd in the dominant tonality at the conclusion of the 2nd entry (which restores the home key's leading tone) or by creating 2-voice melodic motion which implies it.
Here again, using J.S. Bach as authority, this is perhaps something which the fugue writer working without it might wish to rethink (this would NOT be a concern when the home key is Major since the 3rd of the dominant chord in such a case already has the required major 3rd).
Let us also say that we find the melodic motion of all 3 voices coming to a stop right before the 4th entry; here, once again, the energy level drops which is something to be avoided.
Whenever a passage written in fugal style like this, usually an exposition, is inserted into a primarily non-fugal composition, this is defined as a fugato; some fugatos also incorporate a development in fugal style before concluding.
While certain composers may refer to a fugato they've written into a larger work as a "fugue," this latter designation is reserved for a longer piece which, while it may be found paired with another work or two (a prelude, toccata, chorale, introduction, fantasia, etc.), it can stand by itself as a completed composition.
Keeping these things in mind will permit the organ scholar to better identify elements of superior workmanship in any music written in fugal style as well as help determine what, if anything, could have been done in the final editing to create improvements.
As J.S. Bach learned very early in his life as a musician, studying the work of other composers at times becomes an exercise like this which can pay big dividends to the emerging composer.

Jan. 31, 2019

The crescendo shoe (photo, red arrow) is a device found in pipe organs of medium to large size which is operated by the organist's right foot in the same manner as a swell shoe; it selectively adds stops and couplers when the shoe is depressed toward the horizontal and retires them when it is drawn backward to a more vertical position; many larger electronic organs are also fitted with this device.
The crescendo shoe is situated to the far right of any other swell shoes and typically has a slightly raised surface to make it easier for the organist to find it with the right foot without looking down; it is also typically supplied with a display to indicate to the organist how far open or closed it is at any given moment.
As Ed Sullivan would say, this device is, in a very real sense, "a really big shoe" -- it's needed in fact for performing certain organ pieces from the standard Romantic, Modern, or Contemporary repertoire and for effecting sound changes when performing arrangements and transcriptions of music not originally written for organ.
Pianists moving to the organ will need to make sure, when they begin to play, that the crescendo shoe is all the way back and not mistaken for one of the swell shoes.
Whenever the music demands a change in the sound, there is no console assistant available to add or retire stops (which is most of the time), and the organist's hands and left foot are so occupied that not even a toe or thumb is available to press a piston, the crescendo shoe comes in handy in the buildup to full organ.
Conversely, whenever the music has reached a fortissimo climax and must then recede to a very soft dynamic, the crescendo shoe also comes in very handy; in this situation the thumb pistons can be used in the buildup, then the crescendo can be opened to equal the power that's already on; then, by pressing the piston with the softest combination, the crescendo can be gradually closed; this can be artistically controlled to effect a seamless diminuendo from full organ down to the softest whisper.
In an ideal situation, the crescendo shoe would be programmable by the organist and equipped with 20 or more separate positions; it would also be relatively stiff to operate -- much more so than any other shoe situated to its left.
Obviously, with such a device at the organist's ready command, the watchword is CONTROL; from the performer's perspective, complete control may not be possible to secure when the crescendo shoe moves just as freely as any of the others, has only a few positions, lacks a display of any kind, and is non-programmable.
Fixed factory-programmed crescendo combinations all too often add the biggest reeds, all imitative color reeds and strings, all mutations including 3rd sounding ranks, and all big tubby-sounding flutes and diapasons in the buildup to full organ; this results in an opaque, thick sound that tends to cloy upon the ear; on the other hand, when the organist is able to program the buildup to leave out these same voices and builds the full organ around a narrow-scale principal chorus, chorus reeds, and upperwork, we have a much leaner full organ with a more transparent sound, a more interesting sound in fact which can be listened to, if necessary, for much longer stretches of time.
With a crescendo shoe that operates too easily, it's very easy for the slightest touch of the right toe to accidentally move it when the organist doesn't want it to move.
This device requires practice to operate artistically, but it adds a valuable dimension to organ playing which nothing else can.

Jan. 24, 2019

(con't from Part IX)
A hymn found in a hymnal is not organ music; it is choral (vocal) music that the organist arranges so that the voice of the organ may be brought into play to lead congregational singing.
For the last thousand years (since the pneumatic organ was first used in worship) choral music has been a major contributor to the fund of "classic" music with an extremely rich and lasting heritage, bound up, as it has been, with the ritual of the churches.
Without a shadow of a doubt therefore, the hymns we find in our hymnals today are classic music, by definition.
The history of choral music which was developed by various national schools and individual composers through various epochs since the Late Middle Ages is in fact fascinating to trace and sheds much light on how polyphonic music began, how it developed over the course of the next 10 centuries, and how it framed some of the greatest musical masterpieces ever written.
Since hymns are a type of classic music, this bar graph (photo) is not saying that most people are listening to hymns while riding in elevators or watching animated cartoons; on the contrary, it indicates something else for the hymn-playing organist, and it is this:
Technology has provided many wonderful improvements to our quality of life and has allowed us to gain an advantage -- over the clock, over the limitations of our own brains, over space, over difficulties and obstacles of all makes and descriptions; it has made possible what was hitherto impossible; it also has become parent to a number of by-products.
One of those by-products has been a noticeable shift in public interest from traditional music-making to amplified recorded sound.
This has given rise to what seems to be a virtually insatiable hunger among the more computer-savvy portion of the population -- a hunger which can begin in early childhood as soon as a three-year-old can just manage to hold and operate a hand-held device -- for musical entertainment deliverable on an electronic screen.
There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of the music listening public these days who are privileged to be exposed to the latest technology are accustomed to being consumers of music rather than participants or creators; a lot of music is going on around them, very often coupled with images on screens, but fewer are actually producing it.
The most notable exceptions are certain world famous orchestras; they aren't buying scores any more -- their players are reading their parts from a tablet.
This hunger for screens has had its effects upon the organ playing world also; some worship centers in lock-step with the latest technology have rounded up all their hymnals and shelved them in a box, evidently not realizing that hymnals are important symbols for worshiping congregations; even an untrained musician can look at the words and music in a hymnal and learn to follow melodic direction and rhythmic value, thus, hymnals actually teach music.
The unbiased truth of the matter is this: much contemporary worship music today, due to technology, is based on recording instead of notation, and words on a screen give no musical information; this is not only endlessly confusing but it opens each song up to individual interpretation, thus no performance standards are able to be set.
Without notation in front of them, a congregation has to sing the song by rote; this may work for something as familiar as the National Anthem, but for most everything else the congregation doesn't always know how the song is supposed to go or how to integrate the music and text.
When a worship leader depends on projection to display hymn texts, they're bound to do their music making in a space outfitted with sufficient media, whereas hymnals allow the congregation to sing anywhere; they also make it possible for people to have easy access to the best songs.
Preparation -- taking possession of the music by finding out next week's hymns a week ahead so people can open up their hymnal, refresh the words, and work on their part a little ahead so they can lend their voices -- is one of the ways music making becomes a worshipful activity.
Those same hymnals sitting in a box in storage would fix all that, but there are even more good and sufficient reasons why congregations should still be using hymnals:
Hymnals never leave us vulnerable to a train wreck; technology, on the other hand, lets us down all the time -- and if a let-down like this should happen to the song leader right in the middle of a song or hymn, let's face it, they're sunk; with a hymnal however (unless some child has ripped the page out of the hymnal being used) we know the hymn we're looking for is going to be there; a hymnal is as helpful as the singer needs it to be, and, while there is no perfect hymnal, a well-crafted one also can be a reliable source of theological information.
The simple tactile action of picking up a hymnal in the hands, finding the right page, and holding it up to sing grounds that person in time and space; feeling that weight in their hand engages them in this activity more than staring at a screen ever could; hymnals make the people work a little like this, and that's good for them.
Screens are actually very difficult to follow; when we're forced to read a projected text, we can easily get lost in the colors, backgrounds, and movements, not to mention finding ourselves anticipating when the next slide will be advanced; when we're using a hymnal, none of that comes into play; everything makes sense because the words and music are right in front of us, thus we find that hymnals are not particularly distracting.
There is rarely a good place to hang a screen, and in some of the larger places of worship beautiful organ pipe arrangements and stained glass baptistry are now masked by massive projection screens; the result can be a visual nightmare, especially in older spaces, whereas hymnals would preserve the aesthetics of the sanctuary.
Hymnals also tend to give validity to the newer songs and hymns which publishers like to introduce to the ranks of hymnody; these newer ones are often defined by the company they keep, and they are often found sandwiched in the hymnal between more time-tested and familiar hymns on each side; congregations tend to go back to their favorite songs too often and find it easy to fall into a rut; congregations need to be stretched to learn unfamiliar songs, and they find this easier when using a hymnal.
There is no visual permanence to a text on a screen; it's there one second and gone the next; hymnals however are symbols of consistency; they give life and breadth to the great songs of worship and demonstrate that what the congregation is singing is worth keeping around.
Holding a hymnal in one's hand also symbolizes the fact that the voice of the congregation is the primary instrument in corporate worship; congregations watching screens are, frankly, at the mercy of whoever is sitting behind the computer, whereas a hymnal gives congregational singing back to the people.
When financial concerns put the hiring of an organist out of reach, then perhaps a volunteer from the congregation might be encouraged to step forward and play from the hymnal; if at first it seems too difficult to sight read the hymns in 4 parts, then just the soprano and bass parts could be learned, and the congregational singing could be led that way.
Playing just the hymn tune (top line) in octaves to lead worship singing from a hymnal has been successfully done before, so there's no reason to believe that anyone playing in 2 parts would be less successful.
This is NOT thinking outside the box; it's thinking along the edges of the box [See blog, Thinking Outside The Box] -- and stirring the waters like this, by thinking along the edges of the box, is the nursery in which solutions are born.