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May. 3, 2020

The word "tutti" in music has come to mean two different things:
It can mean all voices or instruments performing together, or it can mean a passage or section of music meant for all performers.
The first known use of the term in the former sense was in 1724, and in the latter sense in 1816.
In the former sense the entire forces of the grand symphony orchestra comes to mind, which translates for the organist into the "full organ" at its absolute strength.
Because controlling the organ involves the ability to bring on or cancel the full organ as quickly as possible, most consoles being built today are supplied with a reversible thumb piston engraved with the word "Tutti" or perhaps only with a "T," which is typically placed on the far right below one of the manuals (photo); this control is commonly duplicated by a toe stud made playable by the right foot to allow the full organ to be engaged or retired when both hands and left foot must be occupied on the keys; this piston and toe stud are typically "reversible" in that the first push turns them on, and the second push turns them off.
In some instruments the first toe stud in the first row to the right of the crescendo shoe duplicates the "Sequencer Forward" piston which moves forward through the general combinations, one-at-a-time, with each push; this is an extremely useful control to have but NOT to be confused with the reversible Tutti piston which brings on the fullest sound all at once with the first push and retires it with the second push.
When a so-called "Seq +" toe stud like this is supplied, another "Seq -" toe stud will be supplied on the opposite side, first row to the immediate left of the swell shoes which duplicates the "Sequencer Backward" piston and moves backward through the general combinations, one-at-a-time, with each push.
Depending upon how the generals combos are programmed the Seq + toe stud might be used exclusively by the right toe to add or retire stops during the course of a piece, and, with practice, the right toe could be easily trained to always find this one same toe stud during the performance of the piece without looking down.
A moment's thought will show that any control which can bring on the fullest possible sound with the touch of a single button makes the most jarring effect the organ can produce and must therefore be used very carefully, thoughtfully, sparingly, with deliberate intention, and be kept in reserve for final, climactic or other special places in certain music.
Organists and builders are not always in agreement about which sound colors and pitches of stops should enter into this Tutti; for this reason the Tutti piston has been made programmable in many instruments so that different organists can adjust it to suit the music and their own personal taste.
In other instruments where the builder has made the Tutti non-programmable, the factory decides and pre-sets this combination in advance, once and for all, and it cannot be changed.
When the music calls for the full organ, this DOES NOT mean "pulling out ALL the stops."
The biggest problem electronic digi organ manufacturers face is what can be done for what price; this market has always been competitive, and manufacturers experience periodic lulls in sales; generally speaking, in the market for these instruments, manufacturers find that buyers are interested in more stops, more manuals, more controls, etc., than the very finest musical product.
This encourages manufacturers to place a less expensive non-programmable Tutti and Crescendo (whose full position duplicates the Tutti) in their products to allow them to be marketed as still "having one."
Unfortunately, in a non-programmable Tutti, EVERY speaking stop in the organ at all pitches, and every sub and super coupler, intermanual coupler, and manual to pedal coupler save for celestes, percussions, and tremulants is generally wired "on" by the factory; this means ALL stops of delicate intonation, large scale, tubby-sounding diapasons and flutes, imitative strings, color reeds, big reeds, the Vox Humana whose characteristic voice depends upon the tremulant, mixtures, and mutations -- at ALL pitches.
Nowadays just about all Tutti and Crescendo controls in new digi organs are programmable, but organists may still encounter older digi instruments from time to time in which they find non-programmable features which have them tied to a thick, opaque, and muddy-sounding full organ Tutti and full Crescendo.
The only logical reason for making these features non-programmable in an organ is cost savings, as they have nothing to recommend them otherwise; organists, when they find them, will only use them when nothing else will do, and then only grudgingly.
The great art in building up choruses to the full organ summit is in deciding what NOT to include in that buildup; mistuned (celeste) stops, percussion stops, stops of delicate intonation, imitative orchestral color, or poor blending qualities, and all big, tubby-sounding flutes and diapasons which do nothing but thicken the ensemble are best left out of the Tutti and full Crescendo.
Leaving out these elements creates a leaner, more transparent full organ without ANY loss of power; it also tends to minimize or eliminate phasing, i.e., the acoustical interference which can be observed between multiple standing sound waves generated by pipes of different families of sound color sounding at the same pitch.
As always, the ear will decide what to include and what not to include; organists need to trust their ear; when it comes to making adjustments in performance their ear is their best friend; the ear will lead the brain.
Obviously then, the complete freedom which a programmable Tutti piston permits in the composition of the full organ necessitates a complete knowledge of registration and familiarity with the timbre of EVERY stop in the organ in EVERY part of its range, and, in the case of enclosed stops, with the swell shades open, closed, and partially open.
There is an inherent danger of abuse in using this control, not to mention the certainty of a complete destruction of a performance of a piece of music if it is accidentally and unintentionally hit.
This could explain why, if the Tutti piston in a large pipe organ is found to be not working, the reason could very well be that a previous Principal Organist, or perhaps the current one, had it disconnected.
Some years ago at a time when the late Dr. Alexander Schreiner was still serving as organist for the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, he had the programmable Tutti piston disconnected on the big Aeolian-Skinner organ there; this indicates that he not only found no use for it himself but had serious objections to it being provided at all.
Takeaway: how we draw the stops, and how frequently we add or retire them, is balance.
Everything is organ playing is balance.

Jan. 28, 2020

For those organists who would aspired to move from the chancel to the orchestra pit and work with the theatre organ, the glissando is a special study.
By "glissando" in organ playing is meant the technique of a quick sliding up or down, note to note, of a single finger, a thumb, the fingers and thumb of the same hand, the palm of the hand, or both hands moving in similar motion separated by the same intervallic distance; this is done chromatically (in half steps), and, when fluidly performed, is very effective at rendering a melody line cantabile, i.e. smooth and in a singable manner, while being ear-catching and, at times, majestic.
This is a subject best taught at the keys; this posting is merely an attempt to codify in words how the various types of glissandos are executed.
Any finger or either thumb can be trained to "slide" to any adjacent key to effect an uninterrupted legato of a moving melody line; this so-called "finger glissando" and "thumb glissando" along with substitution, are employed in piano playing to a much less extent, if at all, due to the presence of a damper pedal which permits notes to continue sounding when the fingers move to different keys; these however are all non-negotiable, essential points of organ technique.
The question of which notes to play as well as how many is most important; a solid knowledge of harmony in how to build chords (major, minor, 7ths, etc.) and being able to run ALL the scales in general and the chromatic scale in particular up and down the keys with either hand will make the correct, natural fingering and the working out of all forms of glissando seem second nature.
There has always been some slight difference of opinion among teachers regarding the fingering of scales and chords, and the construction of a person's hands should serve as the guide here.
For persons with average-size hands the traditional teaching is for the 3rd (middle) finger to always be on the black keys when fingering the chromatic scale ascending or descending (photo); the middle finger is the longest, strongest finger and can be trained to work very quickly with the thumb.
When playing pieces the thumb should be kept on the white keys whenever possible but at times it will be necessary to use it on the black keys.
The touch used with any form of glissando is ALWAYS legato.
When a very rapid, all-white-key glissando is to be performed on the manuals ascending, the part of the hand which contacts the keys can be either 1) the side of the thumb at the thumbnail or 2) the palm of the hand.
When the latter is employed, more than one white key sounds at the same time, but the dissonance, being of extremely short duration and ending on a consonant chord, is fully accepted by the listener's ear.
When this is done using the palm of the left hand on the manual below where the right hand is playing, it can make for a spectacular finish using the full organ; in this case the left thumb ends on a single high note which, for emphasis, and with a sharp turn of the wrist, could be doubled at the octave below using the little ("pinky") finger.
The ascending multiple-note all-white-key "accordion-type" glissando for the right hand starts on a chord in close harmony position which matches the same fingered position as the destination chord; freezing the fingers in the position of the first chord and keeping them in that same position as the entire hand glides upward along the white keys simplifies its execution; with this technique the right wrist is slightly rotated (supinated) and the fingers of the right hand are curved; should the destination chord be of a different fingered position than that of the starting chord, the fingers can be left in the starting fingered position until the just before the end of the glissando.
When playing dramatic song arrangements which have a big finish it's always a good idea to save an extra inch of swell pedal opening for the very last; if an extra "kicker" is desired after the right hand reaches a high final chord, a 32' pedal stop and a big untremmed manual reed can be drawn on the manual above as the swell shoe is closed; the final left hand chord on that higher manual, which is typically a 2nd inversion triad of the tonic chord, is then approached from a half-step higher; the fingers and thumb of the left hand hit that chord and then gliss downward a half-step to the tonic chord as fast as possible to land at the same time that the left foot hits the tonic note in the bottom octave of the pedals; when this is followed by a full crescendo of the swell shoe before the hands are released, a very dramatic ending can be effected.
This technique of half-step chord glissando downward to the tonic chord also works best when the final chord lands on mostly, if not all, white keys (for example, C, F, or G major).
On the pedals the all-white-key glissando is almost always performed descending and with the inner surface of the left toe; the "feel" is that of using the big toe of the left foot to slide downward until the destination pedal note is reached; here again, the starting note and destination note may be either white or black.
Chromatic glissandos are performed on the manuals only and may be either single note or multiple-note.
When traveling between 2 different single melody notes widely separated for the right hand, the insertion of too many intervening chromatic notes will make it obvious that the performer is striving for the glissando effect; to keep from overdoing it and to stay in rhythm, it's best to glissando through ONLY the first 2 intervening chromatic notes and then leap the the destination note; the listener's ear will "fill in" the rest of the intervening chromatic notes.
If the harmony at the starting melody note for the right hand moves by leap to a different harmony at the destination note, the general tonal trend also must be considered; in each case the notes in the glissando between consecutive notes in the melody will need to incorporate a semitone which moves the harmony into the destination chord.
The video of "I'll Be Home For Christmas" posted on this web site demonstrates how glissandos can be incorporated into a song to make it more flowing and attention-getting [See menu bar, Videos].
Multiple-note chromatic glissandos for both hands ascending in similar motion are of many different types; some are executed in close harmony position, some in open harmony position; the left hand could follow the right hand at the interval of a minor 3rd below, a minor 6th below, or at some other interval; when the glissando starts in open harmony position and finishes up high in close harmony position the top melody note is held only part way through the glissando.
In the long chromatic glissando for 2 hands ascending 2 octaves or more in range the moving lines are kept a minor 3rd apart; if the destination tonic chord happens to be a major triad in root position, no adjustment will be needed to arrive at the 3rd and 5th of that chord, which are automatically a minor 3rd apart; all that's needed is to add the tonic note at the end to complete the triad.
At other times one of the hands might have to be started first to establish the correct intervallic distance; in general, perfect 5th and major 6th intervals are adjusted to form minor 6ths in the chromatic sweep, but this is not a rule; if one hand arrives where it needs to be in the destination chord just ahead of the other hand it may have to be held through one note change to allow the other hand to catch up to where the all notes in the destination chord can be sounded at the same time; the alternative to that would be to start that hand a little ahead of the other hand so they both arrive at the same time; either way would be fine.
At a perfect (V-I) cadence the lowest 2 notes of the dominant chord in root position and 1st inversion can be played in open position a minor 6th apart; the upward glissando from there to a 1st inversion tonic chord in close position (with root on top) would start with the 2 lowest notes with the minor 6th interval maintained all the way to the top; the top melody note meanwhile would be held momentarily for as long as it doesn't get in the way of the upward sweep, then would be dropped; when the destination is reached one would only need to add the 5th note of the scale between the 2 moving notes to form a 1st inversion tonic triad in close position.
This description will make more sense by going to the keys and trying it out, slowly.
In a descending chromatic glissando between 2 chords the starting chord is played in open position; provided that the right hand is able to stretch the entire time without releasing the top melody note, that note would be held the entire time for its full value; if the leap is wide however and the right hand cannot hold that note for its full value, the note would be held as long as possible; the destination chord here lands also in open position.
The coda for full organ which incorporates an ascending double note glissando with both hands spaced a minor 3rd apart over 3 octaves of range and ends on a root position tonic major chord with the 5th of the chord on top is a spectacular way to end an arrangement, but, it too, like any glissando, can be overdone.
To keep the final right hand chord from sounding too thin in highest compass of the manuals, an abundance of 16-foot manual tone needs to be drawn when executing this kind of glissando.
It starts first in the right hand, typically on a single dominant note in the bottom of the tenor octave; as the upward chromatic sweep begins the next note to enter in the left hand is a minor 3rd below and slavishly follows the right hand upward, always maintaining its same intervallic distance; when the right hand arrives at the dominant note in the top octave it stays there while the left hand plays both the 1st and 3rd note of the scale to form the tonic chord in root position.
The holding of a dominant pedal point at least part of the way, if not all the way, through this glissando as it climbs will be found advantageous in that it provides a tonal anchor amidst all the fast-paced chromatic sweep going on above it.
Ending on a root position tonic major triad happens to work perfectly with this because, as stated, the 3rd and 5th scale degrees which make up the root position of this chord are themselves a minor 3rd apart; as both hands arrive on these 2 notes in the top octave all the left hand has to do is hold the 1st note of the scale with it to form a completed triad.
Mastery of this technique is not all that difficult, but it does require concentration and slow practice of the chromatic scale, hands separate at first, then both hands together, gradually increasing the speed so that it can be played very quickly, accurately, and effortlessly; it's critically important that the hands maintain the interval of a minor 3rd or minor 6th at every point along the upward sweep and a minor 6th on the downward sweep (this is realized more by "feel" than by trying to watch the movement of each individual key -- an impossible task); with steady practice this will seem to fall into place by itself and is well worth the time to master it.
Once should not be discouraged with this if progress seems to be slow-going in the beginning; with patient, deliberate, meaningful practice the hands will learn what to do, and it will fall into place all by itself.
NOTE: Working these chromatic glissandos, both hands together, upward in minor 3rds and 6ths and downward in minor 6ths, is critical to learn because they're a big part of dramatizing an arrangement and almost seem demanded at times; these need to be practiced SLOWLY in the beginning, striving first for accuracy; the tempo should NOT be quickened until the entire glissando can be done with strict accuracy at every place along the sweep without mistakes.
The biggest impediment to running these glissandos cleanly is trying to practice them too fast before accuracy is attained; working them at a slow tempo and gradually speeding them up may seem the long way around, but it's actually time gained.
The more we watch others perform, the more we can steal an education with our eyes; this is especially true when learning theatre-stylized glissandos; certain videos posted on this web site will be of interest in this respect [See menu bar, Videos, I'll Be Home (For Christmas), Jingle Bells].
A valuable reference work which has a whole chapter devoted to the glissando is the out-of-print plastic comb-bound book "A Study In Theatre Organ Style" by the iconic theatre organist Don Baker [See blog, Don Baker Arrangements]; this work was published by Peer International Corporation in 1968, contains 10 big stylized arrangements, and comes highly recommended; if one could have only one book on theatre organ playing, this would be it.

Jan. 11, 2020

(con't from Part II)
Laurens Hammond (1895-1973), the never-to-be-forgotten genius of the Hammond electric organ, was one of the most inspired scientists, mechanical engineers, and inventors in history (photo).
The Hammond electric organ (1934) was only one of his many inventions but is the one for which he is mainly remembered today.
Besides the Hammond electric organ with its tone-wheel generator and system of sliding drawbars he also worked on the synchronous motor which led to the creation of a mechanism for a silent spring-driven clock; he also invented the world's first polyphonic musical synthesizer (Novachord), the Teleview system for shutter glasses in association with 3-D films, and, during World War II, helped design guided missile control systems, light-sensing devices for bomb guidance, a new type of gyroscope, and controls for the glide-bomb, the forerunner of today's guided missile.
Following the War his company also worked to develop the Solovox and Chord Organ which used vacuum tube circuitry instead of an electric tone wheel to generate musical tones.
No other type of organ operates like the Hammond electric organ, and the many types of Hammonds still in use in the 21st century and still being manufactured after 80+ years in production is a testament to its popularity and success.

Jan. 10, 2020

(con't from Part I)
Better to look down to find the intended pedal key at the start of a passage than to start it on something else.

Dec. 11, 2019

(con't from Part I)
Let's say you've entered a fugue-writing competition sponsored by a bona fide Music Foundation, paid your entrance fee in advance as required by the rules, and only then are granted the privilege of being emailed the two themes allowed in the competition; your instructions are to select one of these themes and write an organ fugue using this theme as your subject.
And let's say the rules also specify that any sort of treatment of the theme is permissible save for NO changes may be made in either theme and that any attempt to do so will be subject to severe penalty or disqualification.
You're up to the challenge, but there's just one problem: what you've been sent aren't fugue subjects.
Everything that happens in a piece of music is inherent in its theme (or themes); like a seed, a good theme contains an invisible instruction on what to become, and all the composer does is select and construct a form or corporeal body which brings out all the theme has to offer and in the process conveys a language of warmth and meaning to an audience.
Once glance at both of these curtailed and tonally ambiguous "themes" shows that, as is, they're useless for fugue-writing because in their current incoherent state they're devoid of those characteristics which lend themselves to fugal procedure.
You notice that both of them are nothing more than a very small handful of slow moving notes all of equal value IN NO KEY, consecutive notes floating all over the map in range with large awkward leaps exceeding normal voice ranges, no melodic tune, and no rhythm.
It's abundantly clear that if any musical offering were to come from this non-material, "Fugue" is the last thing it could be entitled.
We can surmise with a fairly high level of certainty what the greatest fugue-writer in history would have to say about such a state of affairs; as a composer he believed that anything was possible and would never hear of something being not feasible, but in this case he would be vigorously protesting; he would be insisting that he be granted the freedom to take this starting material and mold it to where it would open wide the gate to his own invention.
But, as for this competition's stipulation, if he, the greatest rule-breaker of them all, ever found out that any of his own scholars were granting this sort of bondage legitimacy by conforming in a flabby way to such a restriction, he would be tearing his wig from his head and throwing it at them.
This is the kind of non-diatonic stuff (if we want to dignify it with a term at all) that even Hindemith could not embrace as is without expanding it to some extent, varying some note values, and establishing within it some sense of a tonal center [See blog, What About Music Theory, Part II].
For crying out loud, somebody has to start with compatible materials to demonstrate their ability with the use of tools -- no one in their right mind would test a carpenter's ability with a hammer and nails by requiring that Jello be nailed to a wall; one is at an utter loss to explain any difference whatsoever between that kind of scenario and the screenplay of a fugue-writing competition of the kind just described.
One is left to conclude, rightly or wrongly, that the purposes behind the latter have more to do with reinventing the wheel than measuring a contestant's mastery of fugue-writing -- more to do with a fishing expedition to see what can be built musically without relationship, i.e. what might emerge when tonal harmony and the common practice habits of countless Western composers from whom over a long period of time the general rules of voice leading have been distilled are abandoned as if they never existed [See blog, Thinking Outside The Box] -- more to do with rejecting the premise that what is beautiful or interesting in music is based on relationship.
Strongly ambiguous tonality in a "theme" as we have here is NOT a good idea for a fugue subject because it limits the possibilities for counterpoint; what the fugue-writer needs to do is find a path between too much ambiguity and too little, but being unsure it the fugue starts in any key or mode at all is definitely "too much."
Planners of fugue competitions like this must certainly know that anyone focused on composing fugues is writing for a medium whose core repertoire spans hundreds of years and is automatically entering into a dialogue with the past and having enduring works for models.
It's therefore natural for anyone composing organ fugues these days to give some thought to what it might take for new writing to become something that speaks to a broad variety of musicians and music lovers over a span of cultures, places, and even epochs. something that might have a life beyond its original premiere and even possibly labored over, loved, interrogated, or admired by future generations ... NOT a heterogenous jumble having no sense of melody, rhythmic pulse, tonal center, or structural framework, a mass of mostly unrelated things mingled together which may follow exactly the rules of a contest but in terms of euphony is already in oblivion and will stay there.
When the contemplated plan of action is to produce a lasting work of Art from the free-wheeling region outside the box, it should be understood that there's nothing far outside the box but a vacuum; there are no rules there, no reality there, nothing to interact with, nothing to work against.
Lasting creative works which carry the Art forward are generated more by thinking along the edges of the box, making bold moves to be sure but all the while maintaining some residue of connection with all that came before them; this is because along the edges of the box is where the means of production are available -- this is where things get done; it's also where the audience is and therefore where a new work can make an impact.
No matter what might come from competitions like this, whatever emerges would still meet the definition of Art -- not especially lasting Art, but Art nonetheless.
And yes, under these circumstances, it's not unreasonable to say that It's shallow and ignoble to expect composers to waste their time chasing what their lying eyes can clearly see as a dead leaf when they're being told the entire time that it's a butterfly ... but, knowing that there are already enough complainers to go around, it's better to just drop the hammer and nails and move away from it, leaving the Jello in the bowl and shaking our heads in wonderment as to what on earth the planners could have been thinking.
Now, it's possible that some new organists who are reading these lines may be saying to themselves, "There's no point in even imagining that anything this glaring, this provocative, could ever involve me or any of my musician friends, even if we were writing new music and entering composition contests all the time ... it's irrelevant, a meaningless hypothetical that no one has encountered or ever will, I mean, surely nothing like this could ever happen in real life ... to ANYBODY ..."
Oh yes it can.
It HAS.
New organists would do well not to rent space in their minds to incompatibilities like this but to learn from them, let the rest of the artistic world do as it pleases, and just follow one's own creative inclinations by working along the edges of the box.
So, what can we say then ... if we're handed nothing but a banana and told to do something artistic with it to add to the existing stockpile of Organ Art ... a Mission Impossible assignment from the get-go that demands thinking far, very far outside the box ...
One solution would be to use some masking tape to tape it to the main manual of our console.
Mission accomplished.
Granted, this kind of artwork is perishable, it will have no enduring life, human hands will take it down a month or less from now and dispose of it, it will be in our way until then, and whether or not it's beautiful or interesting at the moment will not be for us, but for others, to decide.
We may feel it doesn't reflect our best work, but it's certain to strike some as being a GREAT work of Art.