#AskVidasAndAusra 70: How to use pistons and stops to flow through pieces and mark them well in the score
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 70 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Matt, and he writes that his challenge is with registration flow and marking: “How to use pistons and stops to flow through pieces and mark them well in the score.” So as I understand, Ausra, this is a question about practicing registration changes and basically how you mark registration changes! Oh! That’s very simple.
Ausra: Yes, that’s how I think about it.
Vidas: Okay. What’s the system you learned in Lithuania?
Ausra: Well, in Lithuania, we would just mark stops by numbers.
Ausra: Never stop names, but only numbers.
Vidas: And what’s the system you learned in America?
Ausra: Well, we would write the stop names down. Or just numbers of combinations, because if you would have the piston system.
Vidas: At the exact place in music, you write an abbreviation of the stop: let’s say Principal 8’ would be P8, right?
Vidas: Or flute would be F4. Of that manual. You have to indicate the number of the manual, either with abbreviated letters, like Great would be GT, or Swell, SW; or Choir would be CH, right? Or simply by writing what number of the manual: 1, 2, or 3.
Ausra: Yes. And if you have to change it in a particular spot, you just write it in that particular spot. If you have time to change stops or to omit some stops, you just indicate that it’s a free action.
Ausra: And to make it clearer, some people in their score add colored stickers--to grab your attention, that you would not miss it.
Vidas: Maybe if the stop changes happen on one side--on the left side, let’s say--you could use one color stickers....
Vidas: And on the right side, you could use another color.
Ausra: Yes, that’s an excellent idea.
Vidas: It would be more helpful for your assistant.
Vidas: What else? We have seen people do registration indications on a separate sheet of paper, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s also useful sometimes.
Vidas: That’s how we do our beginning registration, right?
Vidas: In order to keep our scores relatively clean, we write beginning registrations for each piece in our performance--
Ausra: Or each movement of a piece, if you have a few movements.
Vidas: True. So that means that by the end of the movement or the piece, you have to press either “cancel” on the combination system organ, or mechanically, basically, disengage all those stops, right?
Vidas: There is another system which works interestingly--I found it interesting to use on a relatively small instrument or medium-size instrument. I’ve seen European organists do that, especially when they have little time to prepare, and their assistant is not used to the layout of the stops: so on a separate sheet of paper, they would write numbers--from 1 to, let’s say, 10--how many stops are on one side of one manual. Let’s say--at St. John’s Church, let’s say, on the left hand side, for the Great, there are twelve stops; so you could write 1-2-3-4-5-6-7...up until 12. Twelve is a rather large number to notice on the layout of the organ; but maybe up to 6 works well, especially if it’s a horizontal layout, not vertical. What do you think, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that might work. [If you have a small organist and it’s a large organ, I don’t think it would work.
Vidas: So then, let’s say if you have to add something for the pedals, and your pedals are only 6 on the left side, you would write “+3,” right? And your assistant would count 1-2-3, and draw that number 3. It doesn’t have to be the exact number 3 marked on the stop knob, yes? The number could be quite different--it could be even 23!--but the position in the pedal ranks would be 3. And that’s how they will easily find the right stop knob. But that only works for relatively small instruments. So...abbreviation of stops like P8 or F4 would be good for occasions when you have to literally know what kind of stop you are using--for your assistant, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: What’s the problem with numbers?
Ausra: Well, for example for me, if I’m using numbers, I never know what kind of stop I’m adding; so I just prefer writing stop names. That will be easier for me.
Vidas: If you write or “+14,” or “+17” or “+24,” your assistant will not know exactly what kind of stop you would prefer, what you meant. Maybe you made a mistake--maybe you wrote 12 instead of 13; maybe you meant 23 instead of 13.
Vidas: You don’t know. And they don’t know. But when you write P8, it’s very obvious you need Principal 8 for that manual.
Ausra: Definitely. So I prefer this system.
Vidas: Yeah. It basically forces your assistant, also, to think a little bit, what stops they are drawing.
Ausra: I know, but in most cases assistants simply don’t care so much what to add, and it might be easier for them just to look at the numbers.
Vidas: Especially if they’re used to that system.
Vidas: So you have to probably decide for yourself, what to use.
Ausra: Yes, maybe try one system, and then another system, and see which one works better for you!
Vidas: Or sometimes, we don’t use anything--we don’t write stops at all, right?
Vidas: When does that happen?
Ausra: Well, it happens sometimes, especially when you have to try a new organ, and you don’t have time at all. Then you just improvise a registration on the spot.
Vidas: That’s a good exercise, right? Improvise your registration.
Ausra: Yes, that’s a good practice of organ registration.
Vidas: That’s how, actually, organists back in the day did, when they improvised a lot in public. People down in the church would hear it like it’s a real composition. Like it’s a written-down composition: a very specific, detailed composition. But organists would improvise a very detailed plan for this piece, and registration changes would be quite extensive, too.
Vidas: And that means you would simplify things. You will draw the stop that you could do, yourself--not necessarily everything at once, but just a few things.
So, guys, thank you so much for listening! Please send us more of your questions. We hope to help you grow as organists. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: 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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