Blog/Archive

Nov. 19, 2017

(con't from Part IV)
It's mathematics (photo).
Organ music is so compelling, its literature, forms, aspects, and history are so vast, and the desire to play it can be so overwhelming, that it would take several lifetimes to learn to play every piece and master every facet of every phase of every national and historic school that beckons us.
We also have to expect that on some days our practice time will be extremely limited.
Therefore to get anywhere with it in any area that interests us we have to develop a mission ... a plan for how we're going to spend that precious time of ours so that the world and all of its distractions and interruptions will not succeed in steam rollering it out of existence.
If we can only carve out a few minutes every day for practice, and we use it to do nothing but review our technique or some repertoire we already know, the product of our labors will be like multiplying one times one.
We stay in one place, day after day after day, with no growth or development, and we all know what happens in nature to living things that stop growing and developing; before long, in the natural cycle of things, they wither and die.
Repetition is necessary to keep our playing tools sharp enough to at least stay where we're at, coast on the steam we've always had, and to brush up on our repertoire so we don't forget how to play it, but practicing is more than maintenance ... more than mere repetition of the foundations that have already been set in place.
Practicing is many more things than that:
It's a time when we hone things around ... when we do some different things ... when we add in new concepts.
It's a time for training our ear to listen to what our hands and feet and mind all three are doing and to make certain adjustments based upon what our ear is telling us [See blog, Listening For The Listener].
It's a time for applying and consolidating what we've learned away from the keys since our last practice session.
It's a time for extending the borders of what we can do, be it ever so slight ... a time for multiplying what we can already do by something a little more than that to come up with a product tomorrow that's a little greater than what we can do today.
It's a time for the discovery and acquisition of new thoughts and new feelings, which is an incredible gift.
It should also begin with a warm-up.
Diving straight into a Bach prelude and fugue, for example, the moment we sit down to practice without a warm-up of any kind sets up our expectations at the highest level from the get-go, and any little errors that tend to creep in during the first few minutes of this (without a warm-up we can expect that there will be some errors) can leave us disappointed, even frustrated.
But if however we start out by sight reading an unfamiliar hymn or psalm harmonization or improvise even a short bicinium (piece in two parts, one for each hand) without pedal at the very start of our practice it not only serves as a good warm-up but also gently nudges us another inch or two along the path of new learning.
This succeeds in introducing a different figure into the multiplication process ... it yields a different product when multiplied with what we can do already ... it moves us to a different, slightly more elevated place that will be our starting point tomorrow.
The product of our practicing will be the learning of some new material or further development of some skill, be it ever so small every day.
It may not seem like progress, but, we progress day to day to ever larger numbers over time, and everyone's time table is their own.
The product will be measurable.
It's mathematics.

Nov. 12, 2017

"Cipher" ... that word in the glossary of organ playing that's virtually synonymous with "mishap" ... is the term applied to a note that won't stop playing, a defect resulting in the continuous sounding of a pipe, the key of which has not been depressed.
This is a meaning that will not be found in most, if not all, dictionaries and refers to a pipe that gets stuck "on" because the air valve (pallet) is stuck open; that particular pipe sounds and won't turn off.
Although rare, this eventuality could happen during a practice session, while accompanying a vocal soloist, while accompanying a choral anthem, while leading the hymn singing, or even during a recital or recording session, after a certain key is depressed and released; it can also happen without depressing a key at all, as when the organ is turned on and a stop is pulled.
On a mechanical action organ the key itself may also stick down with a cipher, but typically this doesn't happen on an organ supplied with electrically assisted action.
Organists always have to be faced with the possibility that when they get to the worship center, auditorium, theatre, recording studio, or whatever the venue happens to be, that something like this can happen with the pipe organ.
So, if we play a pipe organ, it may take a long time but sooner or later we're going to get a cipher.
There are 2 kinds of cipher in organs: 1) the simple (or wind) cipher, which is generally caused by sticking or dirty magnets or armatures or, more rarely, valve problems, and 2) the relay cipher, which has the same root cause and results in a continuous electric charge to one or more chest magnets, thus causing the respective pipe(s) to sound.
Aside from a potential wiring issue, organ pipes and wind chests are sensitive to temperatures and humidity; right on time, with the onset of cooler weather, organists can experience a stuck note.
Sometimes we can un-stick the air valve from the console; we can try playing the note over and over again, repeatedly sending an electrical signal to the valve.
We can also try mashing down a bunch of notes at once, with lots of stops open; this both sends a signal to the pipe and takes some of the air pressure off that particular note because it's going to a lot of other notes.
Both of these attempts speak to trying to wiggle the air valve on the stuck note, and sometimes it will work.
The obvious quick fix solution is: just don't use that stop ... try to find it as quickly as you can and keep its drawknob retired.
If the ladder must come out for a trip to the inner sanctum, there are a few quick fixes ... in the case of a flue pipe, a piece of paper, dry wash rag, or towel can be gently stuffed into the mouth of the pipe, the pipe (if it's a small one) can be gently pulled out of the wind chest, or the offending pipe can be lifted out and reseated with a small piece of paper underneath, blocking the air flow.
In the case of a reed pipe, if all else fails, it may be necessary to shove the tuning wire down into the boot to close off the shallot completely, thus creating a "dead note" until the builder can come and fix the problem.
Finding the right pipe requires a little detective work, but it isn't rocket science; we can know if it's a metal or wooden pipe from the sound (timbre), and we can know it's approximate size from the octave where the cipher is located, and we will also know which divisional chamber in which to do our searching; if moving the Swell shoe affects the loudness, then the cipher is in the Swell; if moving the Choir shoe affects loudness, we should check the Choir; if there's no change in loudness, then we can suspect the Great or Pedal; by following our ears we can know where in the organ chamber to look.
We try to match the pitch by playing various keys; this is done slowly so we can keep track of the right key, since pressing it may fix the cipher; when we're not sure which key we pressed, then the builder doesn't know where to look to find the problem.
We try to find the right stop, and thus the right pipe, by turning off all the stops; if the cipher goes away, we make a note; we then go through all the stops one by one to determine which one causes the fault.
If turning off the stops doesn't make the cipher stop, we can still go through the stops one by one to find which stop is ciphering.
We need to be careful not to move tuning slides while looking for a cipher; touching the top of a pipe, especially moving the tuning slide (or stopper if it is a stopped wooden pipe, cap if it is a capped metal pipe), makes it out of tune.
We can best find the offending pipe by blowing across the top of the pipes (blowing into a pipe causes it to stop playing), blowing into the mouth of a pipe, lightly dragging a dollar bill across the tops of the pipes (paper money is too light to move a tuning slide), or sticking a piece of paper into the pipe mouths.
There are some safety concerns if we find ourselves doing this; well meaning people can get seriously injured if they don't know what they're doing when they're crawling around an organ chamber searching for a ciphered pipe.
Firstly, we need to protect our hearing and either stuff our ears with lambs wool ear plugs or wear standard external ear protection before entering the organ chamber; big reeds on high pressure wind have a tendency to cipher more readily than other stops, and crawling around for several minutes approaching a ciphered Trumpet, Tuba, or Bombarde pipe without ear protection can be deafening and produce permanent hearing loss.
Secondly, we need to use enough light; when it comes to searching for something, we can't do well what we can't see well.
We need also to be careful and deliberate to keep our balance on ladders and when walking wooden scaffoldings; falling into a crowd of metal organ pipes from above is like landing in a hole full of spears and getting impaled ... trauma and serious medical complications can result.
We need to wear rubber sole shoes and refrain from going into the organ chamber wearing our organ (leather soled) shoes; organ shoes are made to slide on pedal keys, not grip wooden planks or the rungs of ladders.
The organist should also be cautioned here (there are so many cautionaries in music) that if it hasn't already been done, and whenever there is time, that it's best to seek permission from the officials to enter the organ chamber before any adjustments are attempted.
Seeking informed consent is always better than being reprimanded afterwards.
The story about J.S. Bach as a young, ambitious, high-strung, and creative youth having to learn this the hard way during his Arnstadt years is well known ... we recall that part of the responsibilities specified in his contract as organist there was to maintain the new organ (which would include the management of any occasional ciphers), which he did, but he was also scolded by his Church Council for, among other things, overstaying a leave of absence (he left a cousin of his, a very capable musician who wasn't even being paid, to sub for him), for bringing a young woman into the organ loft to make music (women were not allowed to sing in church back in that day), and for confusing the congregation by mingling too many "strange notes" into the preluding on the hymns, all "without permission."

Nov. 11, 2017

What do we mean when we say a certain organ stop is voiced on so many "inches of wind?" ...
This refers to inches of water in a column; the higher the wind pressure, the taller the column of water that it will displace.
The instrument which measures this is called a water manometer.
A typical manometer is simply a tube shaped in a "U" configuration; this is filled part way with water or some other fluid, such as mercury (Hg); pressure being measured is applied to one of the "U" openings and the other opening is typically left open to the atmosphere.
Commercial manometers usually have an adjustable scale that can be moved up and down a bit, which makes the scale easy to zero with no pressure applied to the tube.
If we don't want to bother with zero adjustment, we can simply figure out the total distance between the tops of the water column on both sides and calculate the difference (photo).
Technically, one does not "measure a water column" with a manometer or a gauge.
The "inches of water column" term is a pressure measurement value just like "pounds per square inch (PSI)."
The term "inches of water column" is simply a very low pressure value; one inch of water column is equivalent to only about 0.036 PSI when the water is at 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Since PSI values for low pressures aren't very practical, organ builders prefer to use the term "inches [of water]" to describe the air pressures applied to the pipe work.
It's possible to actually make a water manometer for one's self using flexible 1/4-inch clear hose with inches marked in ink; before measuring, a "U" shaped bend is made in the tubing (like the drain pipe under a sink) so as to keep the water from flowing down into the wind chest upon which the pipes sit, but this procedure is risky (water could get into the wind chest).
Many professional organ builders still prefer to use this type of device (with features to prevent getting water into the wind chest) to measure wind pressures provided to the pipe work.
For those who are not conversant with different ways to measure pressure, one atmosphere (atm) is equivalent to 760 mm (approximately 30 inches) of mercury (Hg) in a manometer and to 33 feet (approximately 400 inches) of water, and measures 14.7 pounds/square inch (PSI).
Organ stops are voiced on all kinds of wind pressures; a wind pressure of 50 inches of water would be extremely high; many organ stops are speaking on only 2-3 inches.
This means that the pressures at which most organ pipes operate are easily within the capability of human lungs to supply.
While voicers (people who tune and adjust the tone) might be able to build the pressure simply by blowing into some of the smaller pipes, they don't have the capacity to provide air for a 16-foot or 32-foot.
Moreover, blowing into a pipe is bad for the pipe; the human breath contains too much humidity that condenses inside the pipe; this isn't good for metal or wood, and reed pipes especially are affected by this; in addition, the breath heats the pipe and detunes it slightly.
One should really never blow into a pipe unless it's intended for the scrap heap or for demonstration purposes only; even then, it's not a good idea.
Many metal organ pipes contain lead; we don't want to ingest even a tiny bit of that; even trained organ technicians, if they decide they must blow into a flue pipe when doing on the spot corrective voicing (such as when the languid has fallen to check if the pipe is on speech or not, if it is quick or slow, etc.), they're trained to use their hand as a sort of "bridge" between the pipe and their mouth.
Getting a reed stop to blend with the chorus is a tricky business for the voicer, even when the reed is tame; and the louder the reed is, the trickier it becomes.
Four ear-splitting chorus reed stops on the Midmer-Losh Atlantic City Convention Hall organ are on 100 inches of wind pressure; their names are Grand Ophicleide, Tuba Imperial, Tuba Maxima, and Trumpet Imperial; and they are loud, very loud, and noisy; any of them all by itself can cut through the fullest ensemble like a hot knife in butter, but none of them can be used in ensemble.
This organ operates off 625 horsepower worth of turbine and compressor engines; when just 3 of the 7 blowers start up and you're anywhere nearby, you can literally feel the thrust.
This is waaaaay, waaaaaaaay more wind and power than any pipe organ should ever need; no chorus reed stop, no matter how big the space into which it speaks, needs to be on 100 inches of wind when 25 inches or less would be sufficient (the only advantage about having a "100 inch reed" in the organ, if advantage it may be called, is to set the instrument apart from any other.
From the organist's perspective, having a big reed this loud in the organ is a little like owning a bulldozer for getting around town when you have to blend with traffic:
Is it more powerful than any car or truck on the road? ... yes.
Can we take it on the road? ... well, no.
When it comes to driving (performing at the organ), we have to leave it at home (ignore it).
Organ builders sometimes supply an otherwise wonderful pipe organ with an unenclosed reed stop like this, usually in the Great or Solo division, often with a fancy name (Pontifical Trumpet, Cor de Gabriel, Celestial Trumpet, etc.), which is voiced to carry a line over the top of the full organ; the premise with this may be good, but the result can be so loud and blaring that the stop is completely unusable in the chorus, for solos, or even for fanfares ... it can't be used for anything in fact; any organist who tries to do so will create a nasty uproar in the audience every time and, if they keep at it, can be expected to lose some of their hearing.
In a grand symphony orchestra we never hear of the strings and woodwinds playing at every dynamic level to nuance the music with wonderful tints of light and shade while at the same time the brass can't do anything except blast away at an insufferable double fortissimo (ffff).
In just the same way, a big reed in an organ finds the greatest use when its enclosed; its placement in a swell box does nothing to destroy its tone ... it may even temper it to a very desirable extent ... and imparts a degree of flexibility and expression which would increase its utility by at least ten-fold [See blog, Horizontal Trumpets].
Organ chamber wind pressures generally range from 2-3 inches on the low end up through 5-8, 10, 12, 15-17, 20, or even 25 inches for some of the big reeds [See menu bar, Photos 3 subpage, Kimball History/Spec].
Different divisions of the instrument, even different stops within those divisions, may be voiced on different pressures.
In the auditorium of the Cathedral of the Scottish Rite in Saint Louis, Missouri, where there is an historic IV/53 Kimball Symphonic organ, for example, the entire instrument is voiced on 10 inches of wind save for the Vox Humanas in the Swell and Echo divisions (which are on 7-1/2 inches) and the Solo Tuba Mirabilis and Pedal Bombarde (which are on 25 inches).
This entire instrument of 9 divisions and 143 speaking stops operates off one 30 horsepower blower.
The illustration depicts a hypothetical water manometer reading for a stop voiced on wind of 7 inches.
One PSI is equivalent to 28 inches of water, which also equals 0.07 atm (i.e. less than 1/10th of the air pressure we breathe).
This isn't very much, and yet, if we witness a major wind leak or take a pipe out of its pipe chest hole, the rush of air we notice can be greater than a common house fan on high speed.

Nov. 8, 2017

Two years ago at a major event in Saint Louis, Missouri, a certain organist performed two of his own original compositions on a historic pipe organ of 143 speaking stops [See menu bar, Photos 3], one piece serving as a prelude, and the other serving as a postlude.
These two pieces [See Free Stuff, Diapason Movement Op. 8, Recessional in D Major Op. 2] were part of a collection (photo) the contents of which had never been performed in public up until then.
No one attending this event even knew it.
There wasn't a single comment offered to the performer, and the event is nothing more than a vague memory today.
The only palpable effect seemed to be a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the organization among those who attended.
He took this as a compliment.
Do your job, do it well, and nothing is said, but the enthusiasm it instills in people who observe or listen to what we're doing, and how we're doing it, is what counts.
When we sense or find evidence of enthusiasm in our listeners afterwards and a continued willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to attend and keep the organization going, we can know that our efforts have reached them.
Enthusiam speaks ... and tells us we've done our job.

Nov. 1, 2017

(con't from Part XXVIII)
When we're writing our 4 voice organ fugues we may have opportunity to examine someone else's original fugue writing in 4 parts for the instrument which may bring us face to face one day with a number of things in some else's work that seem to beg to be "fixed."
Things like this should never discourage the budding composer because every wrong turn attempt, when left behind them, is another step forward taking them closer to their goals.
It can be argued that one who never made any mistakes in composition has never written anything.
Even J.S. Bach, whose compositions are considered the gold standard in classical music, when he was a young learner, on his first attempts, undoubtedly made some errors in composition from which he learned.
And, undoubtedly, he never made those same mistakes again.
Some of the kinds of things we might find amiss in someone else's fugue score could include the following:
Let's say the score begins, as it should, with the tempo mark, but the tempo is marked Adagio (quarter note = 42); if this slow, ponderous tempo isn't stepped up to at least Allegretto, the organ's long drawn out sounds will make the performance of this fugue unbearable.
Next we look at the theme; some fugue themes might make for a better fugue in 2 voices, or maybe 3 voices (Bach's 2 and 3 part Inventions are like that), or maybe for strings, or maybe for violin and flute; some themes might not even lend themselves at all to fugal procedure.
Theoretically a fugue theme might start on any of the 7 scale degrees; its first few notes do not have to be fast, but the "tail" of the theme is often in quicker notes and in most cases should "point" to the best key of the answer which follows.
A system of rules have evolved over a very long time based upon the common practice of composers by which it will be possible to judge the correctness of the fugal answer and by means of which, whenever there is more than one solution, to decide which of them is best; this is based upon which degree of the scale the opening statement, or theme, starts and ends.
If the opening statement of the theme begins on the octave or 1st degree of the key, the answer typically follows on the 5th degree; if the opening statement begins on the 4th or 5th degree of the key, the answer should follow on the 1st degree.
There may be exceptions where the opening statement begins on the 1st degree of the key and it's necessary to answer it on the 4th degree ... and where if it begins on the 5th degree of the key reasons may require the answer to follow on the 2nd degree.
Since most fugues begin either on the 1st or 5th degree of the key, this is a fairly easy rule to remember.
If however the opening statement begins unusually on the 2nd degree of the key, it's answered on the 6th degree, and vice versa; if it begins on the 3rd degree, it's answered on the 7th degree, and vice versa; if it begins on the 7th degree, and it functions as a leading note where the note which follows is on the 1st degree of the key or its octave, it's answered on the 7th degree of the dominant key.
If the opening statement ends on the 1st degree of the key, the answer should end on the 5th degree; if it ends on the 5th degree the answer should end on the 1st degree.
If the opening statement ends on the 3rd degree of the key, the answer should end on the 3rd degree of the key of the dominant.
If the opening statement ends on the 3rd degree of the dominant, the answer should end on the 3rd degree of the original key.
In unusual cases where the opening statement ends on the 2nd, 4th, or 6th degree of the key, the answer would end on the 2nd, 4th, or 6th of the dominant key unless this is impossible by the context.
So, with this knowledge, let's say we take a look at our friend's fugue, and we find the opening statement in the alto to be a bit dull and uninteresting, without much color or light, and its tail doesn't point anywhere; it stays in the tonic key, and it happens to be notated with the stems up instead of down.
J.S. Bach showed in his Art of Fugue that we can get along with a theme without much light or movement, one which neither gladdens nor distracts, if we apply all the craft of counterpoint in working it into some beautifully intricate music, so, this isn't always as serious as it sounds; what's far more important is the theme's workability.
If the piece is in 4 parts, an upper and a lower voice will appear on each staff, and so, this alto line should be changed to where its stems are pointing down, with whole rests showing above it for the soprano part.
Now, let's say, the opening statement starts on the 5th degree of the key; common practice would indicate that the answer should follow on the 1st degree (or, for good reason, on the 2nd degree), but it doesn't; the answer follows instead on the 5th degree and stays in the tonic key.
And let's say the 3rd voice, when it enters in the tenor on the 1st degree, it presents the last half of the countersubject and not the theme, in a 2 voice texture with the alto, still in the tonic key; and the soprano meanwhile disappears only to return 2 bars later.
With the 4th entry in the bass you find that the music is still in the tonic key, right where it started.
Then you happen to notice that this theme does not lend itself to a stretto and it is not inverted anywhere, although many fine fugues of J.S. Bach do not have a stretto or inversions either; when you can find a stretto however, it heightens the interest as the final bars of the fugue are approached, and inversions lend additional interest [See blog, Inversions, Getting Started With Writing, Part VI]
Moving on, let's say you find a number of frustrated leading tones throughout the episodes, where a 7th degree of the prevailing key of the passage is functioning as a leading note (trying to "get somewhere" by rising to the tonic or octave note) and is denied this resolution.
You also take note of some awkward leaps in the 4 voices where several tritones (augmented 4ths and diminished 5ths), augmented 2nds, and 7ths are evident; these intervals are not so hard for performers to manage in etudes or instrumental music but can be problematic in fugues which follow a system of common practice rules pertaining to the writing of vocal polyphony which have developed over a very long time [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
Then let's say you notice a place in one of the succeeding expositions where all 4 voices are moving in similar motion, just an oversight but important enough to receive some attention.
Contrary motion is preferable always among the 4 parts; failing that, oblique motion is preferable to similar motion [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX].
Let's say you also notice in a couple of places that 2 adjacent voices are moving upwards in similar motion with the lower voice moving to a position higher than that just left by the upper voice, which makes the apparent melodic progression between the 2 voices ambiguous to the ear.
Now as you make a general overview of the keys for the various expositions you naturally expect to see the theme pass through several, if not all 5, related keys.
But let's say that instead you find the music modulating to the mediant for the 2nd exposition, the 3rd exposition returns to the tonic, the 4th exposition travels through the relative of the dominant, and the 5th and final exposition returns to the tonic ... 5 expositions, 3 of which are in the tonic, one in a related key, and another in an unrelated key.
So now the question arises as to where the budding composer goes from here, where they draw the line (photo); whether (s)he goes back and tries to fix these things piece by piece or if (s)he should just start over and revamp the theme, countersubject, and order of keys in the various expositions from the get-go.
This, of course, is up to the composer, but if they want people to perform this work, and if it's to stand the test of time, then they'll go back and make some refinements; sometimes all it takes is a careful use of a scalpel to edit the score; sometimes it requires a meat ax where it's a complete rewriting with a newly invented subject, countersubject, and series of expositions; but it will be a great learning experience.
Depending upon how much correction is needed it may save time in the long run to simply do a rewrite from top to bottom using elements from the first draft than to try to tweak everything just described and get bogged down in the process [See blog, Tweaking].
All errors in composition, no matter how large or small, rare or numerous, should be counted as a blessing because in the process of working out their corrections, composers actually grow as composers [See blog, Ten Steps].
And they find that things will be easier for them next time.
Which is the whole purpose of education ... to make things easier.