Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Pipe Organs

I think it was on Flying Stars that I happened to mention something about pipe organs, and was asked what connection there may be to me...

Pipe organs are very interesting things, besides their connection to liturgy and Vatican II and all that, they serve as useful analogies to ... well, that will get too long for a Short Wednesday. Anyhow, I have had a hobby-like interest in pipe organs since high school. I learned about diapasons, rohr-gedeckts, salicionals, quintadenas, fagottos, regals, ranketts, and the pestiferous "nitsua celeste" - about flues and reeds, couplers, and how "great" and "swell" are not mere interjections, and that a "bourdon" is not how you spell it when you've drank a lot of it.

By that time in high school I had already become fascinated by the powers of two, and please God pipe organs will never go metric! There are all kinds of handy mnemonic tricks here, and a careful teacher can give a musical perspective to logarithms, as well as a whole array of very important ideas unmderlying computer science. (something for another posting!)

I will digress just a bit. (pun intended!) You hear very much about the use of computers in school. I strongly oppose this. I know someone who never touched a computer until he got to college, and now he has a doctorate in computer science... Well, OK, he built a five-bit adder with switches, and at least one other marvellous toy, but I don't know if these count. (another great pun! Actually two.) End of digression.

Anyhow, the summer after I graduated, I built a SMALL pipe organ in the cellar of my parents' house - maybe I should say "assembled", using existing keyboards, pipes and chests, and a small electric reed organ as an auxiliary. Here are the "Specs" as I recall (I'd have to dig to get the real one out of off-line storage):

Great (61 notes)
Stopped Flute 8'
Flute 4' (from Stopped Flute)
Diapason 2'

Swell (61 notes)
Flute 8' (borrowed from reed organ)
String 8' (borrowed from reed organ)

Pedal (13 notes)
Stopped Flute 8' (from Gt.)
Flute 16' (borrowed from reed organ)
String 16' (borrowed from reed organ)

Swell to Great
Swell to Pedal
Great to Pedal

There were a few other oddities which I omit in this short list, but there was also two octaves of Christmas tree lights wired to the Great. Not many organs have this.

The humor about this is I could not really play it. But other friends of mine (one of whom I have mentioned in an earlier posting, and is now the cathedral organist for a Midwest diocese) could, and DID, play it.

The organ is long gone, but it was a lot of fun.

There's more to tell, but I am way over the limit, so it will be saved for another time.


At 25 August, 2005 09:39, Blogger Nancy C. Brown said...

I like the Christmas tree lights, it tells something of your visual asthetics. And the fact that you could not play it (but could learn to...) is also a telling incident.

Speaking of midwest organists, I was once friends with a great and humble man, who played organ at Gesu in Milwaukee. In fact, I was just reminded of him this weekend, as he was given credit in the song hymnal I used last Sunday at church (in a foreign city) for the arrangement that we were singing, and it was a great reminder of a wonderful man. While I attended MU, I had the priviledge of discovering that he was not Catholic...but that he longed to remedy that fact.

Within a few years, he did become Catholic, and I had the priviledge to make music at his "welome home" mass, which was a memorable occasion.

I don't know if he is still there. I believe he had a bad heart (only physically, of course).

Anyway, he sure could make the swells swell, and the greats sound, well, great!


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