The Bells and Whistles
Posted on May 19, 2020 by William Canady
Hello, brothers and sisters in Christ! I want to take the time to talk about the bells and whistles of our organ; no, literally, the bells and whistles. We have an Allen Organ, and the particular model is Renaissance. With that being said, this organ is so much more than just physical pipes.
For starters, our organ has real physical pipes, but it also incorporates the use of digital pipes. These digital pipes are recorded Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) sounds that are projected through the use of electronic speakers. This allows the organ to not only imitate real pipes, but also include the Celeste instrument, and hundreds of instruments. In fact, we also have drum sounds, orchestral sounds, and even, of course, whistles and bells.
But this is not all that our organ offers. We have a wide array of organs all at the same console. Let me explain; we have a regular American-style organ, but we also have an Orchestral Suite, French Romanic Suite, and the Neo-Baroque Suite. On a Sunday, you will only hear the American Suite; however, the various suites each have a different sound texture unique to their specific time and location. I have not yet dared to use other suites for worship just yet.
Now, our organ has a very special selection of shortcuts for the organist. In the past, we have talked about the manuals and pedals, and in the future, we will discuss the physical pipes themselves. However, this organ has what are called general pistons, 10 of them. There are settings that I can set, which allow me to select various organ stops to create multiple textures and tones. In worship, I typically make use of them in order to take advantage of the parts of worship. For example, for a festive song, I might select something with bells and whistles and mixtures, but for communion, I prefer something soft to highlight the tender moment of communing with God through the sacrament of communion. These general pistons allow me to change the sound at the touch of one button rather than adjusting the specific pipes for each song. So, these 10 general pistons control the entire organ, but for the Great, Swell, and pedal, six specific division settings allow me to change only that sound for the manual.
Additionally, we have what are called couplers. These couplers do the job of enhancing the sound of the pipe through coupling the sound from one manual to the next. Couplers typically only work downward (from Swell to Great to pedal), which allows a building of sound. So, say you wanted to add pipes from the Swell division of pipes to the Great division of pipes. Well, you would simply press the SW to GT piston on the organ. This would add the 4 ft. pipes to the Great division, resulting in a higher sound added. Likewise, for the rest of the organ.
Bells, whistles, general pistons, and couplers all help me manage the grandeur of this great instrument. In fact, these things are the unsung heroes of every pipe organ, for, without them, we would not have seamless transitions, but we would spend as much time pulling pipe stops as we would playing the organ itself.
Salem’s organist has written a series of articles about the organ for Staff Trax this year. This is part 4 of 7.