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Thread: organ builders

  1. #1
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
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    organ builders

    I just wondered if there were any organbuilders in thes forum because if there are I would like to ask some questions.

  2. #2
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Alexander, I don't know if there are organ builders reading or not, but why don't you just post your questions. Some of us who are not builders still know a little bit, and perhaps if we don't get a builder to answer, someone else may still be able to help.

    Tom

  3. #3
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
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    Question Technecall Q.

    I have three questions. 1 Are a reed organ a harmonium and a pump organ the same thing? 2 Are all the pipes in the above names for these organs all reeds? or are there some flues? 3 How do you voice a flue pipe exept for pulling out the lower lip of the pipe to increase the delay time in the pipe speech? Alexander.

  4. #4
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    I'll start off with some general answers, and then perhaps someone who knows more can add more detail.

    I've played a few reed organs, but certainly don't feel I'm any kind of expert on the subject. I did, at one time, think "reed organ" and "harmonium" were the same until a friend told me emphatically that they are different. He didn't go into details, though, so I can't tell you how they're different. I would guess that often when people say "pump organ" they mean "reed organ," however there are pipe organs that are pumped by hand.

    The stops on the reed organs I have played have names like pipe organ stops, except the sounds are produced by reeds. These instruments do not have pipes, only reeds, though I guess perhaps there could have been some kind of a combination instrument made along the way sometime. . .But in general, it refers to organs with no pipes.

    Voicing of organ pipes is a very complex topic, and it involves a lot of experience, knowledge, and even intuition. I am nowhere near an expert on this subject, though I have worked with one voicer in particular who now works for the Fisk company. I believe that voicing involves many things, such as opening or closing the toe hole, adjusting the languid, adjusting both the lower and upper lips, and perhaps cutting nicks on the languid. A good voicer develops an intuitive sense for what needs to be done to get the attack right, get the volume right, get the tone right. . . What I did was sit at the organ console, holding notes, and listening and giving feedback as to what I perceived the tone needed. The sound, of course, is different out in the room than it is right next to the pipes.

    Perhaps someone who knows more on these subjects could give us more detail or correct errors I might have made. Otherwise, if you still have questions, ask away and we'll see if we can help some.

    Tom Dressler

  5. #5
    Midshipman, Forte
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    I'm no expert but according to Wikipedia the harmonium and reed organ are the same: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmonium
    I don't know enough to be able to help you with the other questions but what Tom Dressler said about voicing makes sense to me.
    I have some questions, if it is ok to ask them here: Is it possible for a positiv organ to be supplied wind by the organist pumping pedal bellows as in a harmonium or do flue pipes require more wind than free reeds?? If they do work with the same wind pressure why is it that positiv organs aren't more popular?
    Cheers

    edit: Tom Dressler, you wrote that there are pipe organs pumped by hand but I suppose you only mean small portatives.
    Last edited by Drinklicafix; Jan-26-2007 at 23:19.

  6. #6
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    I surely can't speak with any authority, but the impression I have from my friends is that harmoniums are specifically French and reed organs are what the rest of us have! Actually, I seem to remember something about the difference in the winding. I vaguely remember something about one sucking the air through the reeds and the other blowing it through, but I really am speaking from vague memories. Hopefully someone who knows will tell us for sure.

    As for pumping organs by hand, remember in the days before electricity ALL organs were handpumped, including the really large ones. It just took more than one person to do it. I have played several 3 manual organs (modern ones) here in the US that were built with the option of handpumping. It usually involves several sets of large bellows with a large lever that the pumper steps on. Whoever is pumping has to keep an eye on these levers and make sure that the bellows don't all reach the bottom at the same time! So in answer to your question, no it is not just small portatives that are handpumped. I will say, though, that the early Germans here in Pennsylvania built small positiv-type organs that could be pumped by the organist himself, without a separate bellows-boy. This was done with a small pedal, and yes, in this case it would be only small instruments that could be pumped this way. There is a tiny bellows inside the organ case.

    I would guess that small positivs are not more popular because they are expensive. I think reed organs became popular because they are cheaper and smaller, and would be an instrument that most people could have in their living room. These days, even a small 4 rank pipe organ can cost around $40,000 American, and if you want something with pedals it costs even more.

    An interesting note about hand pumped organs. My experience (and many people feel this way, at least those who have experienced it) is that hand pumped organs almost always sound better than when using an electric blower. This is why some of the really excellent builders of early style instruments give the option for hand pumping or electric blowing if no one is available to pump.

    Another controversial subject is the winding systems on older organs. These winding systems are less steady than more modern type winding systems, and many people, myself included, feel that they are more challenging to play well, but the reward is a much more musical, inflected sound.

  7. #7
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Like most of the answers already, I can't speak with any genuine authority on the topic, but I did do some work experience with an organ builder once. Thomas, you are quite correct about the difference between reed organs and harmoniums in that one blows, the other sucks (as it were!) and that's exactly how it was put to me by one of the organ builders, except that I can't remember which was which.

    As for voicing, that's a far more advanced topic for me and one on which I know very little.

    On the subject of manual (ie, no electric motor) blowing, the magnificent, superlative and rather large instrument of St. Sulpice, is able to be played with no electricity. Behind the console are some very large foot-operated pumps which are still capable of supplying wind to the entire instrument. All you need are three or four people willing to jog up and down on the spot for a while!

    Matt

  8. #8
    Recruit, Pianissimo
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    In France we name "Harmonium" the French reed-organ whose reeds are under pressure and "Reed-organ" the American-organ who plays with suction action.
    The normal "Reed-organ" has only 2 1/2 or 2 3/4 stops an it is not "expresssive" with only pedals action.
    The nermal "Harmonium" has 4 1/2 stops.
    Please, visit our site: www.chez.com/escolore

  9. #9
    Commander, Assistant Conductor Albert's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler View Post
    I surely can't speak with any authority, but the impression I have from my friends is that harmoniums are specifically French and reed organs are what the rest of us have! Actually, I seem to remember something about the difference in the winding. I vaguely remember something about one sucking the air through the reeds and the other blowing it through, but I really am speaking from vague memories. Hopefully someone who knows will tell us for sure.

    Right on Tom! An "American" (we Canadians made them too) uses vacuum windchests, while the French/European harmonium uses pressure in the wind chest to blow the reeds. The sound of the vacuum windchest is somewhat less aggressive than the pressure reeds. If you think of the sound of the organ stop Regal, you know the basic sound of the French harmonium.

    I believe that some of the more harsh harmonics are sopped up by the vacuum chest, which makes the "flute" stops milder sounding. There are available sound recordings of both, and the difference is quite audible.

    When a piece is specifically calling for a Harmonium in concert with other instrument(s), using an American reed organ just won't do. It is too mild.

  10. #10
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    My two cents' worth. I just finished reading an excellent two volume tome called: The Art of Organ-Building (author: George Ashodwn-Audsley) who gives THE most detailed account of just about anything you could wish to know about organs. His language is rather Edwardian (no surprises as that's the era he lived in, hence, validating his statements doesn't happen often so you just have to believe what he says), and at the same time extremely compelling reading. I was a little miffed that the monsterous Sydney Town Hall organ got a bad wrap from him, but having now read his comments through three or four times I tend to agree with him. I picked this wonderful double volume up from Dover books online, ordered it and it turned up amazingly quickly (didn't cost a fortune at all).

  11. #11
    Recruit, Pianissimo
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    In Harmonium music, the "Grand-Jeu" sounds with three octaves (16-8-4) on the whole keyboard and four (32-16-8-4 or 16-8-4-2) when using a Mustel (or Harmonium d'art).
    The reed-organ uses only 8-4 (and 16 for the first octave of the keyboard) octave couplers produce effects souding rather like a "Plein-jeu" in the organ.

  12. #12
    Seaman, Mezzoforte
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    This helps me in better understanding harmoniums\reed organs, thanks!

  13. #13
    Apprentice, Piano
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    I know some los angeles company that builds organs. PM me if you want more info

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