Jul. 28, 2021

The console's combination action, capture system, or piston system provided by the builder allows the player to bring on or retire pre-programmed stop and coupler combinations simply by pushing a single piston button with a thumb or a single toe piston with a toe.
NOTE: Toe pistons (photo) are located just above the pedal keys to be easily accessible by the organist's foot.
The so-called general piston sequencer, sometimes called a stepper piston, is a relatively new device that allows the player to move through a pre-programmed sequence of general piston combos, either up or down, by repeatedly pushing the same centrally-located toe piston (labeled "Seq" in photo).
This can save time (and anxiety) by avoiding a search for the desired toe piston or thumb piston when a registration change is called for -- a feature much appreciated by organists and, when present, much used to move quickly and smoothly from one layer of sound to the very next one.
Its operation simply requires the foot to always find just one place above the pedal keys where the stepper piston is located -- either to the left or right of the row of swell shoes -- which can be "memorized" and blindly returned to by the foot, time after time.
Two more pistons labeled " + " (plus) and " - " (minus) are provided which command the stepper piston to move in an upward or downward directional sequence.
Many older consoles which have been recently rebuilt and electrified have been retrofit with this feature which opens up a whole new dimension of control for the organist.

Jul. 19, 2021

The scientific community is in agreement that the human ear can detect determinate musical sound in the frequency range of 40Hz-20kHz, this 40Hz lower limit being equivalent to the lowest E of the string bass of the grand orchestra, which equates at the organ to the E1 in the 16-foot octave.
Since the bottom 16 pipes of a 32-foot organ stop generate frequencies below that lower limit, the massive vibrations of their fundamental prime tones are felt but technically not heard by the human ear as determinate musical pitches.
NOTE: typically such stops, when present, play only from the Pedal but have been duplexed at times to the primary or secondary manual divisions of large and important instruments. Their function is to provide gravity and, depending upon their construction and voicing, to more or less enrich the harmonic structure by generating a series of harmonic upper partial tones, the pattern of which determines tone color or timbre, all of which sound with lesser intensity above the fundamental prime which determines the note's pitch.
There would appear then to be no artistic reason to insert a stop lower than 32-foot pitch in an organ, although there are isolated instances where certain builders have done exactly that -- giving rise to the question as to what sort of music can be built around a rank of pipes whose bottom octave vibrates in the sound tombs of the 64-foot octave in the frequency range of 8Hz-16Hz -- not to mention that the 12 semitones within that octave sound over a frequency distance of only 8Hz where each of its extremely large and expensive pipes differs in pitch from its neighbor by less than 1Hz.
The result is an unmusical noise which mimics a washing machine in its spin cycle, and, while it may succeed in flattering the builder and shaking the listener bodily, it fails to impress the musical sense [See blog, Noisemakers].
The heavyweight 32-foot voice in the instrument most commonly reserved for the tremendous climax in the music, when supplied, is the biggest 32-foot reed in the Pedal division -- either the Contra Trombone, Contra Posaune, or Contra Bombarde.
NOTE: the Bombarde is a reed stop of 16-foot pitch and powerful intonation having resonators of inverted conical form constructed of stout metal and to a large scale. It's commonly found in important French organs where it sometimes gives its name to a manual division, viz., "Clavier des Bombardes." Builders also have made this stop available at 8-foot, 4-foot, and 32-foot pitch. When voiced in its characteristic form the 32-foot stop is the roaring lion of the reed family (photo) and lets everything else in the pipe chamber know who's in charge.
While in general such a commanding voice is used sparingly, some major organ pieces from the standard repertoire call for it to be drawn at the outset and for it to continue straight through to the end.
It also occupies an important place as part of the crowning layer of sound in a massive crescendo where it acts as a sturdy tonal pillar in the full organ which holds up the enormous weight of tone above it.
This stop therefore looms large in the mind of every organist -- as it should -- and, when sufficient space and funding can be made available for its introduction, builders would do well to include it.

Jul. 9, 2021

These words, ascribed to Beethoven, are an eternal truth etched in stone.
Many people, after they've reached the limit of what they thought they could say or produce innovatively, have continued to press forward into chartered territory and, in so doing, have extended their creativity and brought into existence many beautiful and useful things that would be non-existent otherwise.
A great many splendid works of music, not to mention an avalanche of other stunning works of art, were generated this way.

Jul. 7, 2021

We have all heard this story many times ...
The stonecutter hits the rock 100 times without even seeing a single crack in it -- then, he hits it one more time and the rock suddenly breaks into two, and that 101st hit is celebrated.
Does that mean that the first 100 blows were useless ? ... of course not -- it was precisely the 100 hits before it that made the rock break on the very next hit.
In terms of progress and performance there is often a delay between what we think should happen and what actually happens.
This is described in James Clear's book "Atomic Habits" -- in it he discusses that delay, something which he calls the Plateau of Latent Potential or the Valley of Disappointment.
Whenever we first start working on something we expect the results to be linear with our efforts, i.e. in line with the efforts we put in -- however, more often than not, it may take many weeks or even months to notice results.
The results we get aren't linear because compounding doesn't work in a linear fashion -- it works exponentially, which is exactly why it's so powerful.
The results work in an exponential curve which is very slow in the beginning and then starts exploding once we cross a particular threshold called the breakthrough point.
All big things come from small beginnings, but, the sad part is, many of us give up before we get to this stage -- we observe our initial efforts not producing observable results and we give up sooner than we should.
This is the death of any pursuit, not just organ playing.
What we really need to understand is that it takes time to get solid results, and we should not get disheartened when we don't see those results initially.
This is how habits work -- freedom in organ playing is gotten by repetition (practice) and keeping good habits going, these habits take time to accumulate and yield results, but, once those results start appearing, they are massive and usually beyond our expectations.
Once we accept the idea that the smallest improvements, if consistently applied, will yield their moment of breakthrough, then complaining about not achieving initial success despite working hard makes about as much sense as complaining about an ice cube not melting when heated from 20 to 31 degrees Fahrenheit -- since the observable melting action is only going to happen one degree higher, at 32 degrees.
The next time we don't see results right away we should never presume that our efforts up until then have been a waste of effort or that we're not good enough.
The good habits we've maintained are still doing their job to accumulate rewards for the future.
This is why coaches are absolutely essential -- the student working hard doesn't always see what the coach can see and may at first feel discouraged, disillusioned, or worse when results are not immediately forthcoming.
It's the coach's job, in part, to explain that the Valley doesn't last forever and to encourage consistency and the promise of the coming breakthrough event.
This is why we say ... to all those who have worked at it some and may be starting to think that they're unworthy and don't have what it takes ... "Stay with it. Results are on the way."
Do. Not. Give. Up.

Jul. 7, 2021

Organists should feel free, and actually need, to experiment with the stops and couplers of the instrument at hand and pay close attention to the results (photo).
The player needs to know the sound character of every stop in the instrument throughout its entire playable range, both singly and in combination.
The most flawless technique at the keys of the organ fails in the presence of a haphazard registration -- thus, organ stops, their history, construction, tonal characteristics, and artistic use have always been a critically important study within the larger study of organ playing.
The united forces of the grand symphony orchestra can sound very much the same from one concert hall to another (the same also hold true for the most part with smaller ensembles), but a pipe organ designed, constructed, and voiced to fill a specific office within a certain building sounds only like itself.
Without doing some experimentation in advance one simply cannot know from a stop list to what degree the foundations, reeds, and mixtures of an organ will blend together.
In this connection organists need to trust their ear.
Their ear is their best friend -- it will lead their brain.