SOPP535: Over the years, I have basically settled for just a handful of different basic registrations for hymns
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 535 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by James, and he writes:
“Thank you for your podcast, it has been a great help. I have played the piano for 25 years and the organ at my church for 17, but was only able to take organ lessons for the first 2 years, the rest has been essentially self-taught. Your podcasts have been very informative.
1. my dream for organ playing: I know I will never be a concert organist, but I would like to be able to really make my church organ sound great, and select unique registrations throughout the Mass.
2. The 3 most important things holding me back:
a. over the years, I have basically settled for just a handful of different basic registrations for hymns, etc. without much variety
b. my church has a relatively small, 22-rank, 2-manual Zimmer pipe organ, installed in 1999, which is almost completely enclosed inside an alcove, and doesn't "sing" very well. The church is the size of a cathedral, but I'm afraid the organ is too small for the space.
c. I have never had formal instruction in the theory of organ registration, other than what I have learned on my own. I know the basics of building a principal chorus, understanding overtones and harmonics, etc., but my registrations are still very "boring" in my opinion.
Again, thank you for your podcast and teaching, and I look forward to any advice you can give me.
V: So, Ausra, James has a problem with registration. He wants to make his organ sound great, and his registrations to be unique, so to say.
A: Well, don’t we all want to do something beautiful, and to register nicely. But the problem is that I think that when you are asking about registrations and about how to register a certain piece, or in general how to select the best registration, actually, you need to give us the specification list of your organ. Because otherwise, you know, we might be talking about different things, because it’s sort of hard to suggest something without seeing the actual stops. And even when having the list of stops, you still might need to adjust something, because you really need to listen to the organ in the real situation. But, I guess if his church is the size of a cathedral and he has only 22 stops, it might be too small for such a room. Another thing, you know, when you register, you also need to think about reverberation—if the room is reverberate or not. It also means a lot. But I thought about his asking how to increase sound of the organ, so basically what you could do, either to add the manual couplers, or in some cases, you would probably need to play things an octave lower. That also might help sometimes, because, for example, we have so many organs built in Orgelbewegung style, that have these screamy, ugly, sound mixtures… not all of them, of course, but most of them actually have them. So it sounds nice when you play things an octave lower when it has more of a sort of a round and nice sound.
V: Yeah, I’m not sure if this applies to him, because we don’t know the specification. We don’t even know the composition of the mixture—if it’s a low mixture or if it’s a high mixture. But in general, what he can do is to thicken the texture a little bit. Play with… I don’t know how his organ technique is—well advanced or not—but he could play in more than four-part texture. More parts per chord. Right? Is that necessary?
A: That’s a possibility, but it doesn’t always work. But, you know, he thinks that he sort of registers pieces the same all the time, like hymns. But I think it’s not a bad idea. You know? Because, I think when you are working as a church organist, you develop some sort of routine, and this is good. Maybe you don’t want to experiment every time, and you need to be ready in advance. But of course, what you could do, and we have talked about it, actually in our previous podcasts, that you could project, let’s say, the Cantus firmus, on one manual, and play other voices on another manual. And your Cantus firmus could be either in the Soprano, as most hymns are written, but you could also play it in the tenor voice, and even in the bass sometimes works, too. That would be also a possibility to do something different.
V: Yes, not only his registration should change, but maybe the manner of playing!
V: Spice things up. Make it more colorful and interesting. Maybe add some non-chordal notes, like passing tones and neighbor tones, suspensions, re-harmonize.
V: I don’t know if he has some skill in that or not, but that could certainly be a possibility, and a 22 rank 2 manual organ might sound like eight stops per manual plus additional stops in the pedals. So, if you have something like 8 stops in the manual, this could be something like 8’ Principal, 8’ Flute, maybe a Gamba, maybe 4’ Principal like Octave, maybe a 4’ Flute, then maybe a 2’ Principal, probably (a Super Octave), Mixture, and a Trumpet, probably. What else… maybe instead of a string stop, he might have a fifth stop (2 2/3’) instead of that on the first manual. I’m just guessing, of course.
A: Yes, this is just a hypothetical thought, because we don’t see the specification lists. What else could he do, because he wants to find new registrations? Sometimes you might use only 4’ Flute alone in some soft interludes, for example. It works nicely if you have some sort of canzona-like piece, which is a little bit polyphonic, and it has a joyful character—a joyful, sweet character. You might try the 4’ flute alone.
V: Or 4’ Principal.
A: Yes. Or sometimes 4’ and 2’ stops, if they are soft enough—if the 2’ is not too screamy.
V: If it has a Trumpet, you could play the harmony with the Trumpet, as well, in a festive situation.
V: Or, if you have a Cantus firmus in the soprano, you could solo it out, take it on another manual with a reed stop, or a Cornet stop would work on the second manual, for example, in general, taking it on two manuals, not on one, gives more colorful options. Then, of course, your solo stop could be played in the tenor range, with the left hand.
A: That’s right. And we don’t know if he has a 16’ stop on the manual, but if he does, he might play some music also on two manuals, and he could accompany with his left hand, with the 16’ and 8’, and then add some higher pitched stops on the other manual for solo voice.
V: Or even re-harmonize the four voices or three voices, soprano alto and bass, and play the pedal with the reed, if he has an 8’ Trumpet, and in the tenor range, not in the base range.
A: And in general, if he has some assistance, it would be really nice if he could go to listen to his organ from the side.
V: Record himself.
A: Or yes, if he doesn’t have help, he might record himself, and to listen to those various combinations, and then he might decide what works, and what does not, and in general, if he has a big hall during Mass, for example, then of course, he needs to consider that he needs to use more stops than if playing in church alone, because people will just eat up the sound.
V: Right. He doesn’t say that he wants to be a concert organist, but it doesn’t hurt to play pieces that could be supplemental to the liturgy in addition. That could be part of the concert repertoire, but that could be liturgical chorales, or chorale preludes. And with these, you could experiment with even more colorful registrations.
A: That’s right. So, I think that a 22 rank instrument is fairly enough for experiments.
V: Yes. Hopefully, he can take advantage of this, and share his music with the congregation, and hopefully get feedback—nice feedback.
A: I know, but also, you don’t have to do experiments like play with mixture stops alone. That definitely wouldn’t work.
V: No. People hearing it will scream.
A: So, I guess the organ in general is quite a conservative instrument, so you need to apply certain rules, and not experiment too much.
V: Alright guys! This was Vidas,
A: And Ausra,
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember: When you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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