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Leatherneck
11-20-2011, 05:38 PM
I enjoy old classical music, especially on traditional instruments.
Pipe organs are unpossible. See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FXoyr_FyFw

How in hell can anybody master the playing of such a complex instrument? And who/how was it designed and built?

I'm a test pilot and have tested some pretty complex and complicated aircraft, and I cannot imagine mastering the art of playing a big pipe organ, let alone designing and building one.

Tom

Shang
11-20-2011, 06:32 PM
Years ago we made a movie about the restoration of the Lowe's theater in Syracuse. The theater was brought back to something near its former glory, but what was nicer was that the local Organ Society's members pitched in and restored the WurliTzer theater pipe organ. Word about the pipe organ got around, and presently a very dear older woman came to us and introduced herself, Lurella Wickham, the person Lowes had originally hired as their organist back in the silent movie days.

One of our group, David Shepard, was a movie collector (later to be one of the guiding lights of the American Film Institute). We arranged to have Saturday morning screenings of silent films, Keaton, Chaplin, and the rest, with Ms. Wickham providing the music on that grand theater organ.
Those were the days, my friend...

Oh, and about learning the pipe organ? Try this one on for size:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqefcXu3ykU

John Smith
11-20-2011, 06:51 PM
Jack Hardman is an old friend of mine. He has a marvelous theater organ. I have no idea how anyone dreamed this thing up and built the first one.

http://theatreorgans.com/wurlitzer/history/

Peerie Maa
11-20-2011, 07:14 PM
Rock drummers can keep different things going with all four limbs. So I guess that that was a bit like a pianist using six fingers on each hand.

John Smith
11-20-2011, 07:28 PM
If I recall what Jack explained to me, these things have a built in delay between when the organist hits the key and the note comes, and it takes some getting used to. In fact, he tells me that if one is not careful, one can get too far ahead of the instrument. His is all connected to a computer and cannot be outplayed. All quite complex.

During the rebuild, he had organists from around the world come to help and advise. As the computer is the link between the live organist and the organ, it can record it all to play back later.

elf
11-20-2011, 08:12 PM
The feet don't have to move very fast, and with sufficient practice they develop the same sense of where the things they need are that you have when you point a forkfull of food at your mouth and not your cheek.

As for the keyboard, keyboard players do all kinds of things with only one - the most disorienting to me is seriously crossed hands, especially when the melody or cantus firmus is in the left hand. But if one is a skilled keyboard player, one does not need to keep the two hands at the same plane all the time like at a piano keyboard.

Peripheral vision is really key to playing keyboard instruments, more than any other vision.

And, of course, practice always makes better.

Rich Jones
11-20-2011, 08:23 PM
That is one of my favorites pieces. I, too, love classical music. Even though I can't read a note!
Having grown up in churches, (my father was an Episcopal Priest), I've seen lots of pipe organs. Out of sight, behind all the exterior pipes, can be rank on rank of hundreds of smaller pipes. The the cost of maintaining these instruments can be a challenge. Can you imagine that in Bach's day, men in a back room had to hand pump these organs?
Everything about them is awesome.
My present church has a nice old pipe organ. Every Sunday, I arrive a little early to listen to the prelude and stay after the last candle is snuffed to listen to the postlude. What a treat.

Years ago they built a big pipe organ in my wife's church (Congregational) and they had a guest organist come in to give a concert to demonstrate the different things this organ could do. He'd be playing some nice piece of Bach, when suddenly you realized he'd transitioned into the theme for "The Brady Bunch" or "The Munsters" then over to Beethoven, etc. A fun experience.

But, to your original question of how someone masters such an instrument. It has to be some innate ability. I can't comprehend how the human mind can connect to the both hands and feet at the same time and play at that speed and complexity.

David G
11-20-2011, 08:57 PM
Don't know much about playing them. When my shop was in Eugene, I had an employee who used to work for the organ maker John Brombaugh. We took a tour of their shop one time. What marvelous complexity. What precision. What strict adherence to classic/proven technique!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brombaugh

http://resurrectioneugene.org/graphics/organ-399.jpg

Currently, our neighbor across the street plays the (large) pipe organ at her church. She plays around the country, as well. After hearing her, I asked how she could master the complex idiosyncrasies of the instrument. She said mostly it was practice, but I also note that she's dementedly dedicated to her playing.

Bob Adams
11-20-2011, 10:35 PM
Just came from from the roller rink after skating to...you guessed it, organ music. Not a pipe organ, but the man was working with 4 manuals, expression pedal and bass pedals. I'm trying to learn, I don't think I'll live long enough. I need to hit the rack, I'll post some video tommorrow. BTW, pipe organs are awesome, but the coolest organ I ever saw, and heard was the stalagtite organ in Luray Caverns.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Stalacpipe_Organ

Tom M.
11-20-2011, 10:42 PM
Pipe organs are marvelous. When I was 18, I was fortunate enough to tour the Paul Fritts organ builder's shop in Tacoma. The timing was such that they had just assembled an organ for testing and tuning, so we got to see the almost finished product. Then we were treated to a half hour concert by some world renowned organ player, on this huge organ that didn't even have a finish on it yet, in a small woodshop. It was magnificent.

Wooden Boat Fittings
11-20-2011, 11:03 PM
I played this lovely little two-manual pipe organ professionally for ten years. It was built by Fincham & Hobday of Melbourne in 1885, and all that had been done to it over the years (apart from running maintenance which I also did while I was the organist) was to have the manually-operated bellows replaced by an electric fan.


http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/public/organ003.jpg http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/public/organ002s.jpg

All the action in this organ was still mechanical, meaning there was a huge array of wooden slats and wires and linkages necessary to operate each key. So playing a non-electrified pipe organ can be quite hard work, as this one was, and indeed the early organs were not played with fingers at all but with closed fists (as a carillon is still played.)

It's not actually quite as hard to play the organ as it might at first appear, provided of course you can already play a keyboard using your hands. Once you've learnt that, adding in your feet as well just sort of goes along with the flow. (Playing the pedal keyboard means using heel-and-toe, one foot passing behind the other.) But being used to playing piano music (which is written on two staves,) I found as an adult that learning to read organ music, which is written on three staves, was a bit of a challenge.

But the main difference between playing a piano and an organ is that the touch is quite different. A piano's hammer hitting a string is adjusted by the pianist as s/he plays -- soft, staccato, forceful, etc -- to give the instrument its expression. But an organ's keys are like electric switches -- they're either on or off -- so the expression in the music, and its volume, has to come from the number and type of pipes that are open when the note is struck. Note that in that Bach toccata the organist uses 'couplers,' which means that a key pressed on one keyboard not only sounds all the pipes set with the open stops associated with that manual but also all the pipes associated with the open stops of the coupled manuals as well. (If you look carefully you can see the keys on the upper three manuals being depressed at the same time, even though the organist is playing on only the lowest of them.) You can usually also couple all the manual keyboards down to the pedal keyboard as well. On a big organ that can be a lot of pipes sounding at once, and 'all stops out' means playing at full volume. (Having said that, many organs also have some pipes contained within a chamber where the level of sound can be adjusted by shutters on the front -- they work like large venetian blinds, and the box is called a 'venetian swell'. When they're shut the sound can still be heard, but is muffled. So in this case there is a volume control of sorts on a part of the organ.)

Different pianos all have a similar touch, and a good pianist can sit down to any piano and play it well almost immediately. But organs are quite different one from another, and if you're setting out to play a strange organ you make sure of practising on it for quite a while before given a public performance on it.

Regarding the 'delay' mentioned earlier, because of the volume of air within a pipe a small time delay does actually occur between when the air is first allowed to enter the pipe (by depressing a key) and when the pipe actually sounds -- the volume of air has to be got moving for long enough to reverberate properly within the pipe's column. The organist is used to this delay and allows for it automatically. The effect of the delay is actually quite noticeable to a listener (even a non-player) since smaller pipes have a shorter delay than larger ones and so are heard earlier, even though the notes are played simultaneously. Good electric and electronic organs have a built-in electric delay to mimic this effect.

Great fun.

Mike

Horace
11-20-2011, 11:29 PM
Years ago we made a movie about the restoration of the Lowe's theater in Syracuse. The theater was brought back to something near its former glory, but what was nicer was that the local Organ Society's members pitched in and restored the WurliTzer theater pipe organ. Word about the pipe organ got around, and presently a very dear older woman came to us and introduced herself, Lurella Wickham, the person Lowes had originally hired as their organist back in the silent movie days.

One of our group, David Shepard, was a movie collector (later to be one of the guiding lights of the American Film Institute). We arranged to have Saturday morning screenings of silent films, Keaton, Chaplin, and the rest, with Ms. Wickham providing the music on that grand theater organ.
Those were the days, my friend...Indeed they were.

The Byrd Theatre in Richmond has a working Wurlitzer theater organ, built in 1928, which, as far as I know, is still occasionally played. Many—many—years ago, I had the good fortune to be persuaded to overcome the usual inertia regarding such things and attend a revival presentation of the silent film Wings.

The theater interior is extremely ornate, built when people took their public buildings (and movies) seriously. I had earlier attended showings of other period films there, such as Gone With The Wind and the original King Kong, but had no idea of what capabilities the place had. As the lights were dimmed, organ music began—so far, no surprises. Then, out of the stage slowly rose an organ console and player, spotlighted against the screen. After a short concert, the organ and player sank back into the stage, and the movie began, with the organ playing non-stop, in perfect synchronicity and mood to the screen action. Even aerial dogfights were convincingly supported, with a mid-air collision startlingly punctuated with a perfectly timed musical explosion wholly within the score. Amazing technique.

Somewhat off topic: the Byrd, as it appeared when relatively new (and still looked years later when I was a student):

http://richmondthenandnow.com/Images/Richmond-Theaters/Byrd-Theatre-Cary-Street-big.jpg


And a link to some background on the theater and its organ:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3mUzox8KHs

Lew Barrett
11-21-2011, 01:02 AM
Don't know much about playing them. When my shop was in Eugene, I had an employee who used to work for the organ maker John Brombaugh. We took a tour of their shop one time. What marvelous complexity. What precision. What strict adherence to classic/proven technique!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Brombaugh


http://resurrectioneugene.org/graphics/organ-399.jpg




I met John Brombaugh at his request probably 30 years ago....in Eugene of course. He was interested in test and audio measurement equipment, but we/he rather quickly figured out that what I had (at the time) wouldn't allow him to do the sorts of fine measurements he needed for his purposes, so as far as I know, he continued to tune his instruments by ear. Not many years later, using the principle of FFT (the Fast Fourier Transform) a whole slug of new acoustic test instruments landed on the scene, and a few years after that, most of the math to accomplish very finite resolution could be purchased for fractions of the original costs and be loaded into a laptop computer, so perhaps John now can verify his instruments' performance with great precision. But honestly, I don't think he really needed (or needs) an FFT based analysis system because I was convinced, having met him just that once, that he knew more than enough about how to move air through pipes to last him for a lifetime of production. I imagine he's all the better prepared for his tasks today, so many years on.

His shop was as you say David, really interesting, and if I recall, he worked pretty much alone.

David G
11-21-2011, 01:19 AM
Lew,

That is funny. What a small world we live in sometimes!

Eddiebou
11-21-2011, 06:55 AM
Amazing coincidence, A friend of mine who is an incredible boatwright and craftsman has an old pipe organ (for sale) in his shop. His wife is a keyboardist, fiddler, and harpist. And they live about 10 minutes away from you.

Ian McColgin
11-21-2011, 07:12 AM
I love the tale of Bach composing this thing to trump a rival that had each hand working hard at opposite ends of multiple keyboard, feet flying on the peddles, and a simple melody right down the middle.

The rival could not figure out how to play it.

Bach showed how - played the melody with his nose.

Due to nerve damage there's a lot I can't hear and notes that to this day I can't distinguish, but when I got past rhythm to music - what a revelation! Like goiing from color blind to normally sighted - in my early teens I at least gained appreciation and when I was working out of the Church of the Covenant in Boston I got to listen to a good organ tuner do his bit. The final testing was what amounted to a better concert than most folk get to hear. A very interesting group of people.

John Smith
11-21-2011, 07:36 AM
Jack Hardman is an old friend of mine. He has a marvelous theater organ. I have no idea how anyone dreamed this thing up and built the first one.

http://theatreorgans.com/wurlitzer/history/

Jack's located in Great Falls, Virginia. He sometimes has concerts with guest organists. I believe there is contact info on his site. If you tell him Danton referred you, I'm sure he'll be happy to arrange a tour of his instrument.

StevenBauer
11-21-2011, 09:22 AM
The coolest thing is the 'pressure room' or 'wind chest'. The Kotchmar Organ here in Portland is awesome:

http://www.foko.org/about_the_organ.htm

Dusty Yevsky
11-21-2011, 09:43 AM
Pipe organ? How about a pork organ. Apparently this thing was really constructed and played.

http://www.trivia-library.com/b/strange-history-and-news-of-weird-trivia-1500-bc-to-1450-ad.htm
c. 1450 Louis XI of France commanded the abbot of Baigne to invent a preposterous musical instrument for the amusement of His Majesty's friends. After mulling over the possibilities, the abbot gathered together a herd of hogs, ranging from nursing piglets to full-fledged swine. Under a velvet tent he lined them up with low-voiced porkers on the left, the middle-range sows in the middle, and the soprano piglets on the right. Then the abbot constructed a modified organ keyboard, attaching the keys to a complex apparatus terminating in a series of small spikes, one poised over the rump of each pig. The courtiers were gathered together and the abbot played his keyboard, causing the spikes to prick the pigs in sequence. The pigs naturally let out a piercing squeal, each in its own particular voice range. The tunes were actually recognizable, and the concert was adjudged a success by all.

TomF
11-21-2011, 10:55 AM
I've had the incredible good fortune to work with two simply amazing organists, who've done a fair bit of time on the recital circuit. The first was back in my days in Vancouver, and the second right now, here in Fredericton. A bad organist is painful, and a competent one is useful, though often uninspiring. But a superior organist just transports you.

The complexity of the instrument is staggering - there's every bit as much musicianship in setting up the registrations for the pieces, for e.g., as there is in playing technique. And the effect of the crispness or legato of the organist's touch - and how well they time that with the reverb in the building ... And then all the matters of improvisation, when an organ's used in service music rather than simply in concerts. Wow. And that's before getting into pieces where you're playing double-stops with each foot (heel and toe of the same foot can play together on nearby pedals) while doing different things with each hand.

There is a reason why the organ was long called the Queen of instruments.

Michael D. Storey
11-21-2011, 08:34 PM
I enjoy old classical music, especially on traditional instruments.
Pipe organs are unpossible. See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FXoyr_FyFw

How in hell can anybody master the playing of such a complex instrument? And who/how was it designed and built?

I'm a test pilot and have tested some pretty complex and complicated aircraft, and I cannot imagine mastering the art of playing a big pipe organ, let alone designing and building one.

Tom

Suggest you google David M Storey Organ builders of Baltimore for full details

Shang
11-21-2011, 10:31 PM
While making the film about Loews theater in Syracuse we realized that we needed film of the interior of the pipe organ; most particular we wanted to show "the toy box," the collection of drums, whistles, bells and so forth which were available to the organist. However, it was impossible to get into the organ loft at Loews with our cameras and lights. But then we were told of an organ enthusiast who had a theater organ in his home in North Syracuse, and he agreed to have us drop by and film while he played.

The console was in his living room, but most of the organ pipes were in his basement. A few of the long pipes were located in concrete trenches in his back yard. When he played "The Entrance March of the Gladiators" the whole neighborhood shook. In his basement those of us on the camera crew couldn't hear one another shout--probably explains my tinnitus today, except for the cap and ball firearms.

We asked the gentleman if his neighbors ever objected to his late-night improvisations on his theater organ.
"No," he explained, "By a total coincidence the neighbors on both sides are deaf."

Wooden Boat Fittings
11-21-2011, 11:30 PM
You can usually see all the contents of such a 'toy box' in a street organ (along with the normal metal and flue pipes, wind chest, etc.)

Here's one that travels Australia regularly --


http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/public/street-organ-1.jpg http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/public/street-organ-2.jpg http://www.woodenboatfittings.com.au/public/street-organ-3.jpg

John Smith
11-23-2011, 10:52 AM
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0JZszqC7mk&amp%3bfeature=player_embedded

Bob Cleek
11-23-2011, 03:48 PM
The coolest thing is the 'pressure room' or 'wind chest'. The Kotchmar Organ here in Portland is awesome:

http://www.foko.org/about_the_organ.htm

When I was in high school, we'd sneak into the wind chest in the pipe organ in the chapel and one of the guys who knew how would play it. After your ears popped, the sound was mind-boggling!

I have a friend who is that pastor of a church. They just installed a new electronic organ, instead of a wind driven instrument, mainly due to cost considerations. It still was very costly. It is amazing. Every note is recorded from an actual wind instrument and then stored in a digital memory bank. When a key is pressed, the recorded sound of the real wind pipe is played on a very high quality audio system. It replicates a huge pipe organ which would, if wind driven, be larger than anything ever built. It sounds amazingly good and I've heard a lot of great organs over the years. Experts say it is really indistinguishable from a pipe organ. It's not a "classic," but it sure sounds like one.