blog.sinden.org

Ordinary Time 2017

31 January 2008
expansion - organist law of piston

Most organs are equipped with pistons, buttons that store combinations of stops, or registrations, set by the organist. General pistons affect the entire organ; there are also divisional pistons which affect only a division of the organ. (Good Anglican organists rely heavily on the divisional pistons of the swell.)

I've played Holtkamps that have only six general pistons. I have played others that have 14 or 16. I'm sure there are organs that have more.

But here's what I've noticed about my playing on these different organis:

On the six-piston Holtkamp, I feel limited in registering pieces, but I make it work. On the plentiful-piston organ, I don't feel the pressure to conserve piston changes. But in registering my pieces I pace myself -- subconsciously, I believe -- so that I use all the general pistons available.

Now let me set some parameters. I'm not talking about a Bach Prelude and Fugue here. I don't become the reincarnation of Virgil Fox when confronted with an empty memory level and a piece of the Fifth Gospel. Nor am I talking about a full-fledged organ symphony with multiple movements and a host of possibilities for registration. And I'm not talking about pistons on different levels either. I'm talking about those pistons one would reasonably expect to be able to use in the performance of a single piece.

My thesis would be something like this: the architecture of the organ's memory aids affects my registrational response to a sizable romantic or contemporary piece organ music.

With six pistons, I fight the architecture; but with a dozen or more, I feel compelled to put furniture (IV rank?) in every room.

Here's where things start to get interesting. Where do I, as a registrator (it's a word; think "orchestrator") draw the line when it comes to the number of pistons I set? Where's the ceiling?

If there were 20 pistons, would I expand my scheme to fill them? 40 pistons? 80?

ergonomics: Here's where we start to get into space considerations on the organ console itself. There's only so much room under the keyboards for buttons, so many larger instruments have "phantom pistons" that are programmable but not immediately accessible by a designated button.

Or what about 400? or 4000? There's no reason that those who design organ memory systems need to be so stingy with computer memory which is much cheaper, faster and more portable than they would like to admit (this is a different rant). There comes a point in memory design where the number of pistons available would be excessive rather than ample.

If the music influences the design of organ consoles, do the consoles then in turn influence the music? If organ designers added the "excessive" memory to their instruments (like those extra keys on Bosendorfers), would composers utilize the capability?

Speaking from hands on experience here, the only piece I can think of that could have made a dent in a bank of 400 pistons would have been Giles Swayne's Riff-Raff. The opening pages called for a shifting shimmer of similar sounds. In my performance on a conventional ten-piston organ, I was not able to achieve the variety of similarity that I think Swayne was after.

auralnomics: But this is as far as this kind of approach can take us. After a point, we enter the realm of intellectual exercise. When one piston is set with plenum and another piston later in the piece is set with the same plenum with an alternate 4-foot principal, we enter the realm of "variety" that can be programmed into an organ for no apparent reason. Ergo, I can't see a reason for the proverbial floodgates to be opened. The organ is an impressively complex device, and we can rattle off all kinds of combinatorics with even a modest 20-stop instrument, but the reality is that most of these combinations are effectively the same. The 400-piston organ would serve no purpose.

But, since I know you want to, here's How to simulate a 400 piston organ: Get a 16-piston organ with a "piston +" switch that advances from the last piston to the next memory level. You'll need to use exactly 25 memory levels.

And so, these two principles hold each other in tension:

When organists set up a big piece, they will mystically fill all the pistons available (Organist Law of Piston Expansion).

When builders design a big organ, ergonomics and auralnomics suggest the number of pistons should be somewhere between 6 and 20.

Labels: ,

 
 
Comments:

Post a Comment

The page you're reading is part of Sinden.org

©MMXVII Sinden.org: a site for fun and prophet

Organ and church music, esoteric liturgics, and a site that changes color with the liturgical year.

Archetypes

Looking for Carol Spreadsheets?

Hungry? Try the Liturgical Guide to Altoids Consumption

Thirsty? Try the Tibia Liquida

The Eric Harding Thiman Fan Page: The greatest composer you've never even heard of.

Infrequently Asked Questions

picture of a chicken

Questions? Problems? email the sexton.

Archon

The author of this website is an organist whom the New York Times calls “repeatedly, insisting that he pay for his subscription”. He likes to read parking meters, music, Indianapolis Monthly, and weather forecasts in Celsius, particularly whilst wearing cassock and surplice. He serves lasagna, overhand, as an example to many, and on ecclesiastical juries. He takes photos, lots of dinner mints, and a little bit of time to get to know.

about

contact

Archbishops

Anglicans Online
Alex Ross: The Rest is Noise
Book of Common Prayer
Brain Pickings
The Daily Office
The Lectionary Page
Sed Angli
Ship of Fools
The Sub-Dean's Stall
Vested Interest - Trinity Church in the City of Boston

Archenemies

Andrew Kotylo - Concert Organist
Aphaeresis
Anne Timberlake
Bonnie Whiting, percussion
conjectural navel gazing: jesus in lint form
Friday Night Organ Pump
Halbert Gober Organs, Inc.
in time of daffodils
Joby Bell, organist
Musical Perceptions
Musings of a Synesthete
My Life as Style, Condition, Commodity.
Nathan Medley, Countertenor
Notes on Music & Liturgy
The Parker Quartet
Roof Crashers & Hem Grabbers
Steven Rickards
That Which We Have Heard & Known
This Side of Lost
Wayward Sisters
Zachary Wadsworth | composer

Archenemies Aviary

@DanAhlgren
@dcrean
@ericthebell
@jwombat
@larrydeveney
@nmedley
@samanthaklein
@sopranist
@voxinferior

Arches

Advent (Medfield MA)
All Saints, Ashmont (Boston MA)
All Saints (Indianapolis IN)
Atonement (Bronx NY)
Broadway UMC (Indianapolis IN)
Cathedral of All Saints (Albany NY)
Christ Church (Bronxville NY)
Christ Church (Madison IN)
Christ Church (New Haven CT)
Christ Church Cathedral (Indianapolis IN)
Christ's Church (Rye NY)
Church of St. Stephen (Hamden CT)
Congregational (Belmont CA)
Coventry Cathedral (UK)
First UMC (Lancaster SC)
Gloria Dei ELCA (Iowa City IA)
Immanuel Lutheran (St Paul MN)
Immanuel Lutheran (Webster NY)
John Knox PCUSA (Houston TX)
St Andrew (Marblehead MA)
St Andrew's, Oregon Hill (Richmond VA)
St Bartholomew the Great, (London, England)
St James's (Lake Delaware NY)
St James's (Richmond VA)
St James Cathedral (Chicago IL)
St Mary's Cathedral (Memphis TN)
St Matthew and St Timothy (NYC)
St Paul's (Cleveland Heights OH)
St Paul's (Indianapolis IN)
St Paul's Cathedral (Buffalo NY)
St Paul's, K Street (Washington DC)
St Peter's (Lakewood OH)
St Peter's ELCA (NYC)
St Stephen's (Richmond VA
St Thomas (New Haven CT)
St Thomas ELCA (Bloomington IN)
Second PCUSA (Indianapolis IN)
Towson Presbyterian Church (MD)
Tremont Temple Baptist (Boston MA)
Trinity (Indianapolis IN)
Trinity on the Green (New Haven CT)

Auraling

BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong
New College (Oxford, England)
St John's College (Cambridge, England)
St Thomas (New York NY)

Argyle

Like the site? Buy the shirt.

Areyou . . .

selling diphthongs?
Yes, but they're not the kind you buy on Wheel of Fortune.

the owner of a bower at Bucklesfordberry?
Full daintily it is dight.

interested in touch lamps?
And fountain pens.

Archives
this site used to be better:

March 2004
April 2004
May 2004
June 2004
July 2004
August 2004
September 2004
October 2004
November 2004
December 2004
January 2005
February 2005
March 2005
April 2005
May 2005
June 2005
July 2005
August 2005
September 2005
October 2005
November 2005
December 2005
January 2006
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
February 2008
March 2008
April 2008
May 2008
June 2008
July 2008
August 2008
September 2008
October 2008
November 2008
December 2008
January 2009
February 2009
March 2009
April 2009
May 2009
June 2009
July 2009
August 2009
September 2009
October 2009
November 2009
December 2009
January 2010
March 2010
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010
September 2010
October 2010
November 2010
December 2010
January 2011
February 2011
March 2011
April 2011
May 2011
June 2011
July 2011
August 2011
September 2011
October 2011
November 2011
December 2011
January 2012
February 2012
April 2012
May 2012
June 2012
July 2012
August 2012
September 2012
October 2012
December 2012
January 2013
March 2013
April 2013
May 2013
June 2013
July 2013
August 2013
September 2013
October 2013
November 2013
December 2013
January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
April 2014
May 2014
June 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014
December 2014
January 2015
February 2015
April 2015
May 2015
June 2015
July 2015
August 2015
September 2015
October 2015
November 2015
December 2015
January 2016
February 2016
March 2016
April 2016
June 2016
July 2016
August 2016
September 2016
October 2016
November 2016
December 2016
January 2017
February 2017
March 2017
April 2017
May 2017
June 2017
July 2017
August 2017