The transition from piano to organ is rather simple, much easier than the transition from either one of these to keyboards, This is due to the fact that the organ has a basic design that almost all organ builders follow, making it easy for organists to move from one organ to another without going though the difficult learning curve we experience with today's keyboards...and computer software!
The piano has only one sound, the sound of the struck string that begins to die away the moment it is struck. The accomplished pianist learns to disguise the dying of sound through much practice at playing each key with a different amount of pressure, even when playing chords and single note melody lines. The great pianists know that they are creating an illusion of sustained singing tone. It is not easy to do, and many amateur pianists fail to achieve that level of playing. And it requires constant practice. A great pianist said "If I fail to practice one day, I can tell. If I miss two days, the audience can tell."
The organ played well requires no variation in touch strength levels. The organist merely has to learn to control the length of notes by holding the keys down and to accent notes by leaving silence prior to playing the note to be accented.
I. Organ Technique requires only the holding down of keys the full length of the notes played and leaving a bit of silence before notes to be accented. But the organ has more than one keyboard. How do you know which one to play one?
If you are playing a hymn or other polyphonic music, that is, music in which all notes are to be heard at the same level, you play both hands on the same keyboard.
II. Decide if you should play all on one keyboard or divide the music between two keyboards.
Hymns are always played both hands on the same keyboard so the harmony of the parts can be heard clearly by the singers. An organ solo like the Ave Maria by Schubert would be played one hand on one keyboard for the chordal accompaniment, and the other on a different keyboard so the melody can stand out above the accompaniment.
The pianist would have to do this by altering the touch of the melody notes to bring them out over everything else. The organ does this for you by letting you choose tone colors and volume levels without requiring any alterations on touch pressure.
But how do you know which stops to choose for play on each keyboard?
There are only four tone colors on the organ to choose from; Principals, that true organ sound; Flutes, which imitate flutes from the baroque and the modern orchestra; Strings, which are soft and sound some what like the string section of an orchestra; and Reeds, which go from soft to loud with sounds like clarinets, bassoons and trumpets.
III. There are four families of organ stops to choose from.
In playing music up to the time of Bach one tends to choose stops for each manual from only one family at a time. Later music, like Franck and others, uses combinations of these four families on each manual as well at times.
When playing the piano it is common to play a melody or a bass line in octaves to bring it out above the rest of the sound of the piano, if your hands will reach an octave and you can move up and down the keyboard while playing octave if you have the dexterity...and keeping track of how much pressure to use on the top and bottom notes of each hand so it all balances right.
On the organ you add a stop with a footage number half of the one you are playing and now you are playing one-finger octaves. Add a stop with a number footage twice the one you are now playing and you are playing as well. And one of each and you are playing three octaves with one finger. Easier than playing the piano once again. And playing fractional footage numbers plays notes in between octaves...thirds and fifths.
IV. Octaves on the organ are played by adding different pitched stops instead of stretching your hands to grab at octaves.
How do I play expressively on the organ? The organ has one, two or sometimes three expression pedals. They are weighted, meaning that you can adjust them and take your feet of when you play pedals without the volume changing. Consumer brand organs, home organs, often did not have weighted expression pedals, so the organist was forced to keep the right font the expression pedal, leaving the left foot to hop around the 13 or 25 pedals unassisted when playing bass parts on the pedals.
Today's modern church organs all have expression pedals that are weighted so you will have both feet free. Worried about how loud to set the pedals? A well-designed organ voiced to your church building should permit you to open the expression pedals all the way and accompany hymns. This makes it possible for you to change registrations and give a solid carpet of sound to make people feel comfortable when singing hymns. Fluctuations of volume during hymns make it difficult for people to sing, so try to avoid them. Adding stops adds color to the sound and can inspire the singers.
V. The expression pedals on the organ can be set and left alone, used only when I want to make expressive changes.
"I am frightened of the pedal board. I don't think I can ever learn to play the organ with my feet."
George Frederic Händel was a famous organist and wrote much music for the organ. I don't recall anything he wrote that has a pedal part. The pedalboard was a latecomer to the English Organ and many just didn't have pedals, and still don't today.
There is much music written for the manuals alone. The pedal keyboard of the organ has two functions. Remember how we talked about looking at the music to decide if you should play both hands on one keyboard or one hand on one and one the other? Music that calls for pedals also comes in two styles. One, music that has a different line for the pedal to play, may be music in which the pedal has a melodic role like much of Bach who made music easier by giving one part to the pedal, freeing up fingers on the keyboards. There are also melodic works that give the melody to the right hand in the treble clef, accompaniment chords and some melody on the left hand and then the bass line in the pedals.
Next, we have music, like hymns, in which pedals are played to strengthen, to underpin, the bass line to help support the singing of the music. We have all driven by a dance and heard the bass player outside through the walls. Heavy bass gives support.
Modern Organs often have a Bass Coupler that reads the bottom note played on the Great keyboard and plays it automatically in the pedals to help out on hymns when you do not have an organist at the console.
VI. When preparing to play if I do not want to play the pedals I need to avoid music that has a separate pedal part different from the rest of the music.
All organs have C as the lowest note and middle C is in the middle of the keyboard. Most organs have five octaves of keys (61 notes) ending on C as well. The pedalboard usually has 32 keys and also begins on C and is played mainly with the toes of the toes, but on occasion with the heel. Up to 4 note chords can be played on the pedals with practice and perseverance.
The stops are the voices of the organ. There are four basic families of organ tone: Flute, Principal, String, and Reed. Early music (pre-Bach) tends to use stops from the four families separately while later music often blends them together.
Most organists start out by learning to play the piano. The ability to play cleanly on the piano without using the sustain pedal transfer well to playing on the organ. Many organists learn music on the piano before taking it to the organ because of the increased control they develop while playing the piano, muscular control that helps when playing the organ, which requires little or no strength to depress the keys in most cases. This control increases the accuracy of your playing.
Lessons and practice time on the harpsichord can also help to improve organ technique, when a harpsichord is available.
Chapter 1: Playing Early Music on the Organ
Playing the organ can involve a lot of backward thinking. Each piece of music needs to be analyzed to search out what the composer intended when the notes were scribbled on the page. The organ is one of the oldest instruments, dating back at least a few centuries B.C. In our book Early Music For Manuals, a informal guide we examine music that was composed for the starting phases of what we consider to be the earliest form of the modern organ, the organ of Frescobaldi in Italy, Purcell in England and up until and including the organs of J.S. Bach in Germany.
Playing the pedals came to the state as we know it just before and during the time of Bach. Organs in England often had no pedalboard as English organbuilders and composers were late to accept this expansion of the organ. Many pieces then and today are written for the organ without pedals. Back then the composer wrote for them if the organ being composed for had them, otherwise they were ignored.
During the early and mid-20th century many early organ works were "improved with the addition of pedal parts". A rather violent movement in the 1960's found organists restoring these works back to their original form and commissioning organs to be built that suited this music.
To understand this music you must go back in time to recall what life was like before the automobile, the radio and the tv. Forget the piano, forget our massive orchestras that are capable of great crescendos and effects.
The least expensive keyboard instrument was a clavichord, a simple instrument that uses a bit of metal sticking up from the back of each key to make a string play. When the key is released the string, which has felt wound through one end of its length, falls silent. This was a soft sounding instrument, used mainly for playing solos, accompanying solo singers and for the writing of music. The organ at church was expensive to play, as men and boys had to be hired to pump the large bellows. While the Clavichord is rarely found today, it was considered then and today to be a very expressive instrument, as the player can create tremulant on notes by varying the pressure as notes are held on the keyboards. It was the first touch sensitive keyboard instrument. Some even had pedalboards.
Next came the harpsichord, which used quill or leather to pluck the strings. It could have one or two keyboards and had strings that played what is called 8' pitch. Some had extra sets of strings that played 4' pitch (sounding an octave higher than the key played, and a few, 16' pitch, sounding an octave lower) while some merely had one or two sets of 8' strings, one being plucked closer to the middle of the string, making a less nasal tone than the other 8'. While the key is held down after plucking the string would continue to play until the vibrating energy died or the key returned to rest and a felt damper stilled the movement of the string.
In contrast organ pipes when played continue to sound until released since the organ is a wind instrument (an instrument where moving air makes the sound). The stringed keyboard instruments used percussion through striking or plucking and then the energy would gradually dissipate and the sound soften.
None of these instruments offered any means of gradually getting louder or softer until late in their development and most composers of the time up to and including Bach and Handel we are concerned with had little or no opportunity to indicate or use this musical device. Instead more strings or, on the organ more organ stops, were added to increase the sound, creating dynamic changes in level called terraced dynamics.
If we remove gradual increase and decrease of volume from the musicians bag of tricks what is there left? Adjustment of the length of notes.
Harpsichordists and clavichordists could play notes that were detached from each other, leaving a bit of air space in between to delineate the line of music they are playing. We avoid calling this staccato, for this indicates an accented short note in many musical circles.
Today's church buildings are often at fault as they are incapable of sustaining musical tone. As architects return to traditional forms and materials this problem can disappear. In the interim we can voice the modern organs to fill these rooms with sound with room-altering ambiance systems to provide the acoustical environment so sorely missed.
What this all boils down to is this: The organist must examine each note to be played and decide whether it should be connected to the preceding note and whether it should be stretched out to connect to the following note in the phrase.
The actual length of the note is adjusted to the acoustical character of he room. A bright, lively room will call for short, quick notes to activate the air molecules into musical sound; a dry, dead room will call for longer note lengths...and a serious look at acoustical improvement.
I once studied with a harpsichord teacher of some renown who had a system of notation she used to mark every note in each piece as a reminder to the performer how to treat that note each time it was played. While this seemed a little cut and dried to me, it does remind us that the start, the length and the finish of each note we play demands our fullest attention.
In the works in Frog Music's Early Music For Manuals, you will find suggestions for making this music come alive. While it may look like simple music, it is music of great character and beauty, and depth that you will discover as you play and adjust the note lengths to make the music you feel.
Some of these pieces were written expressly for the organ. The Basse et Dessus, for example, is for the bottom and top of the trumpet stop of the organ and requires two manuals . Strangely enough, Jeremiah Clark's Trumpet Tune was written for the harpsichord, not the organ. On works like these you play one hand on each keyboard. In almost all the other works play both hands on the same keyboard. It keeps things in balance and that's the way it is done.
Many works at this time were written without indication by the composer to tell us which instrument was to be played: clavichord, harpsichord or organ. Certain clues can be found in the music to give us an idea of the original plan. These clues include long held and tied notes that may indicate it was written for organ; lots of leaps around the keyboard often indicates a piece that was not intended for the organ.
Chapter 2: Registration for Bach and Beyond
On an organ console you will find rows of organ stops, each with a name and a number. Arranged in groups, one for each keyboard and one for the pedal keys, today they make it possible to play the music of the ages with authentic tones.
The volume levels of these pistons follows the indications. However the actual volume of the sound of the organ does not increase, rather the tone color grows. It is possible, and very effective, to play quietly on General 6...
To decide which piston is suitable for the piece you are going to play, look over the music. Is it polyphonic or does it call for solo melodic registration?
This would be a good time to get your owner's manual out for the organ you are playing and refer to it for piston setting procedures for your instrument as well as a guide for the stops on your own individual instrument.
Many different things are done to pipes to give each rank (set) of pipes a different tone. Some are even built to be wide at the bottom and narrow at the top, giving a Hybrid stop, such as the Gemshorn, which sounds both fluty and stringy at the same time.
Please note: Piston Set M2 on these carts is the same as M1, except for the addition of the MIDI voices, listed across the bottom of each division set of pistons.