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The Anglican Way of setting up and using pistons!

2015-10-05 - Playing and Pieces

I have to admit that "pushing pistons" is one of my favorite things to do!

Since I'm pretty much "self-taught", I do LOTS of things that many fine teachers would say are "wrong".  Each musician must have an open outlook and approach, but what is right for me may be wrong for others.  In expressing my opinions here, I am telling how I do what I do.  Also, I think even the "strictest" English cathedral organist would have to agree that the principles that I am setting forth here ARE in the "English manner" of playing.  Probably more the "old-fashioned English manner," but still true in spirit today.

In addition to these general principals (NOT pistons!) I will show you how I set up console.  Very soon, I will present a few articles showing "what I do" in specific pieces.  These "demos" are, save one, completed, and I hope to upload them later in the coming week.

So, let's take a look and see how the English do it!

First and foremost, you must understand that to do this manner of playing you use LOTS of pistons - not just a few "generals" (dealing with the whole organ) but "divisionals" (which deal only with a single division or manual).  Also, what the English excel at is making these "piston changes" WHILE playing.  It's not a "play, stop, push, play" skill that we are talking about here!  It's pushing pistons, possibly many of them, while playing.

Years ago, I had the "good fortune" of playing in a masterclass given by one of the most well-known organ teachers in the US.  In his remarks dealing with "registration changes" in pieces of a "romantic nature," he stated that, in general terms, and even in large pieces, there should never be more than 3-6 changes of registration for the entire piece.  I realized that my performance would get his attention, as my performance had 18 registration changes - and that was just on the first page!

Before I get into specifics of the "English-style" I should say that I've never seen a difference between it and MY "American-style", except that I can now play pieces, even big ones, with no general pistons, or at least very few.

When I was Assistant at Ripon, I had the good fortune of playing a magnificent 4-manual Harrison, which was equipped with all the divisionals of a big organ, but with NO general pistons!  I knew before I got there that this was the case, but I didn't realize what an adjustment this would be - and I would have to "adjust" QUICKLY!

To add to the "adjustment shock" that while there where the standard 8 pistons per division (actually only 6 for the Choir and for the Solo), these "divisionals" were NOT to be changed - EVER!  These present but "unchangeable" pistons were set in a "standard cathedral manner" and were to be used as such.

(I actually did change a few of these on occasion, but ALWAYS made certain to put them back - although I forget on 2 or 3 occasions and received intense anger from the cathedral organist, Ron Perrin.)

At the time, it seemed silly and restrictive to not change these, but NOW I understand the reason!

And what IS that reason?  The reason is that, once you've mastered HOW to use the "setup", you can play almost ANY piece in a "satisfactory" manner without "preparing" it, and without having to even "think" about it.

The reason is that all organ music, with the exception of some "modern" literature, will use a standard or "expected" sound palette.  When playing the English literature, and certainly when accompanying the choir, the sounds that would be correct and expected are all there - on these "unchanging" divisionals.  The pistons, set up per division from soft to loud, where "arranged" so that you can make a smooth crescendo and decrescendo with the "correct" sounds, just by using your "divisionals" in "numerical order". 

If this sounds complicated, it really isn't!  Shall I show you why?  OK, at this point why don't you take a look at my "normal" setup of the Salisbury Cathedral Willis DIVSIONAL PISTONS?


1 - Lieblich Gedackt 8', Viola da Gamba 8', Vox Angelica 8' (according to preference)
2 - ADD Open Diapason 8', Flute Harmonique 4' REMOVE Vox Angelica 8' (REMOVE Viola da Gamba 8' according to preference)
3 - ADD Hautboy 8', Octave 4' (add this to Sw. 1 - removing the 4' Flute according to preference)
4 - ADD Octave 4', Super Octave 2'
5 - ADD Contra Gamba 16' (or not, according to preference) Mixture IIIrks
6 - ADD Contra Fagotto 16' (REMOVE Contra Gamba 16' according to preference.  This is the famous Willis "Mini-Full Swell")
7 - ADD Trompette 8'
8 - ADD Clarion 4'


1 - Stopped Diapason 8'
2 - ADD Claribel FLute '
3 - ADD Open Diapason 1 8'
4 - ADD Open Diapason 2 8', Principal 2 4'
5 - ADD Principal 1 4', Fifteenth 2'
6 - ADD Double Open Diapason 16' (according to prefence) Twelfth 2 2/3', MIXTURE IV rks
7 - ADD Trumpet 8', Clarion 4' 
8 - ADD Trombone 16'


1 - Lieblich Gedackt 8'
2 - Flute Harmonique 8'
3 - ADD Salicional 8'
4 - ADD Open Diapason 8', Flute Harmonique 4'
5 - ADD Gemshorn 4'
6 - ADD Flageolet 2'
7 - ADD Lieblich Gedackt 16'
8 - ADD Trumpet 8'


1 - Clarinet 8'
2 - Orchestral Oboe 8'
3 - Violoncello 8'
4 - Violoncello 8', 'Cello Celeste 8'
5 - Flute Harmonique 8'
6 - Flute Harmonique 8' and 4'
7 - Cor Anglais 16', Solo Super Octave, Solo Unison Off
8 - Tuba


1 - Bourdon 16', Lieblich Gedackt 16'
2 - ADD Flute 8'
3 - ADD Violone 16', Viola 8'
4 - ADD Open Diapason  2 16, Octave 8'
5 - ADD Open Diapason 1 16'
6 - ADD Open Wood 16', Mixture IV rks
7 - ADD Open Wood 32', Ophicleide 16'
8 - ADD Contra Posaune 32', Clarion 8'

Let's look at the Great buttons first.  Now, notice how each button higher "adds" to the sound?  First we start with the softest 8' Flute/s.  Then we add the smaller of the Open Diapasons.  Then the bigger one, and now the 4's.  Then the 2' and then the mixtures.  Finally we add the reeds.  Now, if you want to prove how this works, set up your pistons, 1-8, and then play a chord and hold it.  Now, add them slowly in order, until you've gotten all the way to the top.  Then, "take them off" one by one, until you're returned to where you started.  Do you see?  I mean, do you HEAR the "logical" increase and decrease of sound? 

So, let's say you are playing a piece that starts on the "Diapasons".  (By the way, when you're playing an English piece, and it says: "Great Diapasons", that would mean the OPEN and STOPPED diapasons, which would mean the Open Diapason and the "stopped" one, which could be called, Rohrflute, or Bourdon, etc.)  Now, if you're using my setup, you're probably on Great 3 at this point.  Now, maybe the score will say something general like "Add".  OK, so, "add" Great 4, then 5, etc.

If it says "Reduce", then just work one by one and in reverse.  If you were already at "full Great" and the piece changed the dynamic from "FF" to "MP", then just "skip" down to the piston "level" you want.  If you were going from "full" at Great 7 or Great 8, down to "moderately soft", you'd probably go directly to 3, or something like that.

Now, remember, the Swell is often coupled to the Great.  Probably most of the time, at least for our purposes of consideration".  If you go back to the exercise that we did above, the one holding the chord, and adding and then subtracting one by one, this time, you'll press two pistons in succession, or, if you can manage it, at the same time.  In other words, couple the Swell to the Great, and "add" Swell 1 and Great 1.  Then, go up and down by step.  I suggest adding the Great pistons first, but this varies from piece to piece.  Take your time as you try this, but ALWAYS try to "think ahead" as you do this.  When you're doing something more "complicated" you'll have to remember what comes next and be able to push the buttons WHILE you're playing.

Sounds hard?  Well, it is, but believe me, it will get easier and easier, the more you do it.  Nobody ever explained this to me, I just "figured it out" and did it - over and over and OVER again.  Most of the difficulties I encounter when preparing/uploading pieces for the Concert Hall is in the registrations and not the notes.

So, now that you've done this, stop and think what is missing...

Did you think of it?

Think LOW...

The Pedal!  So, does this mean that you have to add Pedal pistons too?!?  NO!  There is a little "device" that makes this sort of piston use possible.  Do you know what it is?  If you look at the real Salisbury console, or Hereford, or ANY of the English consoles, the "device" is there - and it looks EXACTLY like a stop knob.  Actually, it IS a stop knob?  See it?


What this does is to "join" the 8 Great Divisionals to the 8 Pedal Divisionals.  So, when you press for example, "Great 5", you simultaneously get "Pedal 5" as well.  This way, if you've set your buttons correctly, your Great and Pedal stops will always "balance" each other, and make it far easier to manage your registrations in a smooth manner. 

By the way, the "Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled" is NOT to be confused with the "Great to Pedal" coupler, which is only a standard manual to pedal coupler.

When I learned that this "Gt. & Ped. combs" was virtually ALWAYS on, I began to realize how this whole thing worked.  I suppose I feel pride that I "learned" all this in a few days, as I did not have the luxury of time on my side, but whether you "learn" it slowly or quickly, playing like this brings a new sense of mastery and confidence to your playing, especially in managing the registrations!

I have a good friend who is a well-know recording artist.  He's known for his virtuosic playing of unusual literature (a lot of which he got from me...), but he's "nervous" in his "console technique".  I've seen him set a general piston to add a single stop... ;-)  Well, we've all done that, and I have to, but if you don't HAVE any generals, you had better find another way!

If you can master this "unchanging divisional" arrangement, and remember to keep your Gt & Ped Combs ON, you can play almost anything "first time through" - which is often what you need to do if you're singing 8 fully choral services per week.  You don't have the time to work out "specifics" for every piece or for the verse of every psalm sung at Evensong during the course of a week.  It's just not physically possible!  And, if the organ DID have all these levels of general pistons, you'd be setting 50 or more pistons for each days' music, and maybe 150 on Sunday, as there are three sung services!  You see WHY this HAS to be "the way" to do it?

I understand that Ripon now has a new and "complete" console in the Nave.  It manages things exactly like the old console (hidden on the Quire screen), but the new one has a sequencer and something like 1,000 levels for the pistons.  Does it make it easier?  Sure, if you have the time to spend setting all those pistons for all that music!  Me?  Well, believe it or not, I think I'd prefer to just "do it" with the divisionals.

The downside of this "divisional playing" is that it's very hard to get "too specific" with the registrations.  If you're a "stop picker" like me, you may feel frustrated if you can't always get the "exact sound" you want.  For instance, maybe you want to add the Swell 4' Principal, but the stop on the "next step up piston" is the 4' Flute.  Well, don't feel too bad!  I'm betting the next piston up will add that Principal - although it may also add the 2' ....

I'm hoping that this is helpful and informative and interesting to my readers.  A lot of people have asked about my registrations, and I've included them as I use them.  I DO change my divisionals from time to time, but the principle of "graded sound" is always the same. 

If you have questions, comments, or requests for specific (or general) things, PLEASE ASK THEM!!!  The more you ask, the easier it is for me to write such articles as this one!

One final thing for your consideration...

If you are like me, you own the great Classic Organworks Keyboards.  I like these, and find them very comfortable and durable.  The only negative thing that I would say is in the design of the piston lay out.  The pistons are basically grouped in "sets" of 5, with spaces in between.  In reality, for this type of playing, the Divisional pistons should ideally run 1-8 or at least 1-6 WITHOUT any spacing.  An organ like Hereford or Salisbury, which has a total of 8 pistons per division is, because of the space gap" almost impossible to use as in real life.  I can manage to use 7 pistons, but it can be very hard for the sophisticated piston-pusher, as the pistons, meaning 6, 7, & 8 are in the wrong location and are "too far up and to the right" to use comfortably.

Real English pistons, like the ones on the Salisbury organ are MUCH "longer" and "stick out further" into the keys.  Ripon was also exactly like this.  The reason?  So you can "knuckle push 'em" while your playing... ;-)

Here is a picture of the Ripon "screen" console, the one I played, and the ONLY console at the time.  Notice that there are 6 pistons for the Great and Swell, 4 for the Solo and Choir, and 4 for the Pedal, which are above the Choir, and the farthest to the left.

Now, if you look at the pistons, you'll see that they "extend" further forward, allowing the player to push with the finger, thumb, or knuckle.  By the way, if you look above the Solo manual, you'll see a "new" piece of wood that is a slightly different color.  This was added since I left, and appears to be 8 General pistons.  You can also see what is probably a "setter button" at the lower left.  When I was there, the pistons were "set mechanically" using a setter board in a box, which hung on the wall behind the organist's back.

PLEASE give me some feedback as to the helpfulness or interest of the article!  The more YOU TELL ME, the more HELP I CAN BE in return!

Coming up next (in a day or two): playing an English cathedral piece with MANY registration changes, and doing it all with the divisionals and NO general pistons!  In one spot, I have to get from "p" to "fff" and back to "pp" in a few measures time, and the absence of general pistons makes you work hard and really "think" ahead.

I'll be uploading Walter G. Alcock's Legend played on Salisbury.  Alcock was organist at Salisbury for over 50 years and was a wonderful champion and preserver of the mighty Willis organ.

Here is a link for the Legend

I will deal with the registration and use of the organ in a separate article. "Specific advice on playing an English cathedral work without the use of General Pistons - a COMPLETE How-to-Do!"

Editor's note: If you like this article, and want to be notified of more like it, make sure you subscribe to The Barde using the form to the right of this article.


Jaap380 (2018-12-27) Edited Log in to Reply
One more question David,
If there is no need for pushbuttons for the Pedal, How do you program them in Hauptwerk, so they walk together with the Great divisionals?
There's not always a GREAT & PEDAL COMBINATIONS COUPLED-stop in Hauptwerk.

Agnus_Dei (2018-12-27) Log in to Reply
Hi Jaap.

ONLY English organs (and some American ones) have the combs coupled control.

This makes it harder, but you have to work around it on other instruments. :-(


Jaap380 (2018-07-13) Log in to Reply
Very usefull information! I wondered how smooth you pulled out a 32-foot on the last note, while having all fingers on the manual.
I'm surfing right now to Aliexpress to order some momentary buttons :)
Thanks Dave!
Agnus_Dei (2018-07-15) Log in to Reply

The "pushing of buttons" is a true art in itself! :-)


Jaap380 (2018-07-16) Edited Log in to Reply
yes, You're the master of pushin'buttons :)
But it makes the difference between moderate and excellent performance. You can't really tell a colourfull story without pushing buttons like you do. Very inspiring. Thanks!
adriantaylor (2015-11-03) Log in to Reply
I remember that setter board well - in a little cabinet on the wall with toggle switches (on/off/neutral if I remember rightly).

One of the churches I was organist at had a big Willis III instrument, with a seemingly unusual stop layout - great and pedal to the right, swell and choir to the left. Not normal, but makes perfect sense - all the meat on the right, to be controlled with great pistons (+ combs), and divisionals for the swell and choir, but leaving all the colour stops easily changed with your left hand. A most sensible arrangement that fits with the English style and gives the ability to pick and choose.
kenhager (2015-10-18) Log in to Reply
Thanks, Dave, for this excellent article. Although currently I only have St. Anne and the Paramount 3/10, I had wondered why the English builders would incorporate a "Gt/Ped Combs" drawknob or reversible piston when Generals do essentially the same thing. Now I know and understand. I must admit that for all my years of playing, I practically NEVER use divisionals, probably because most of the "electrical appliances" I learned on and played as a novice organist didn't have them. Most of these contraptions only had between 3-5 blind "presets" that not only was there no list of what was on them, but they COULDN'T be changed if you wanted to because they were hard wired at the factory. When I DID have changeable pistons I just got used to setting the generals much the same way as you described in this article for divisionals. The "appliances" have gotten progressively better over the years, and although not the quality of Hauptwerk, the Viscount I play most often now doesn't sound too bad, and has 8 memories, 6 of which are available for my use. I have one memory that I normally use for service playing, the other 5 I use for voluntaries and recitals. Those are set depending on what pieces I'm preparing them for. I can't wait to try your method. It may just add a new dimension to my playing. Thanks again, my friend!
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-22) Log in to Reply

I know and understand EXACTLY what you're saying, and I confess that I am the same as you!

A LOT of times, it's just easier to "set the generals", at least for the significant/big changes!

Using the divisionals is an excellent "cushion", and I feel more comfortable in knowing that I CAN do it this way IF I have to... ;-)

I'm glad this was interesting and hopefully helpful! :-)
PLRT (2015-10-10) Edited Log in to Reply
Splendid teaching moment, David ! And now, I understand why the English tradition organists are so fond of their divisional pistons, even if they have a general sequencer at disposal.
You surely would do great business in trade ! After reading your lesson, even the most rigorist and severe only-baroque guy would ask for adding divisional pistons to his perfectly pure neo-Schnitger instrument :-)
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-10) Log in to Reply
THANKS, Patrick!

Well, unless you have "screen pushers" on standby, I think you need pistons of SOME sort for any music or organ.

I'm amazed how some people can actually make their changes by using the screen to mae changes... ;-)
John_Pellowe (2015-10-07) Log in to Reply
David, I've given your suggestions a test drive and what a difference. I played hymns for an hour last night and it was so easy with the Gt/Ped combo in use, and I got a richer and smoother transition from piston to piston from what I had programmed myself. The subtlety of adding the Hautboy (I never would have thought of that) and achieving the full English swell (I wouldn't have dared add the 16' stops where you proposed) made for a very satisfying hour of delight. Thanks again!
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-07) Edited Log in to Reply
This is EXCELLENT NEWS, John! BRAVO to you!

Definitely - the Oboe and 16' are very important elements of the sound!
hydrant (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
Thanks so much for this wonderful article which was also a trip down memory lane for me. When I was a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral Houston TX and student of organist-choirmaster, William Barnard, this is essentially what he taught me to do and I have used this system on every organ I've played lo these thirty years following. I can sit down to a strange instrument and have the pistons comfortably set so that I'm comfortable playing anything within twenty minutes or so. The one difference is that the AEolian-Skinner organ had no way to link manual and pedal pistons. Instead, Bill would keep Swell coupled to Pedal since generally the Swell was determining most of the colour changes. It worked beautifully. I still use this system on the 2/36 Rodgers (Cambridge 850) that I now play weekly. It makes life so much easier, and more smoothly colourful! Thanks again. Bruce Cornely
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-07) Log in to Reply

You are fortunate to have started out in a cathedral boy choir! VERY few of them left today... :-(

Good idea that you have described about the Swell.

It's a great "system", the "graded" divisionals, and once you get used to it, it's amazing just how fast you can get things "worked out", isn't it?

I'm really glad that you took the time to leave me this note! :-)
EdoL (2015-10-06) Edited Log in to Reply
Well, this article is really just what the doctor ordered.

I've always wondered about the ability of the British organists to change colorts and manuals so fluently and you provided the answer!

Not that the answer is easy: I guess (but I'm a slow learner) that it would take the average person weeks or month to get the hang of this button pushing.

But then, if you're good enough to be the assistent organist in a cathedral, you're already something special.
I don't know who stated it on the concert hall, bnut the saying is that the Organist is just someone who once was good enough to be the assistent organist.

It's very good to finally know how it's done, although I shan't be able to myself, because my concole is definitely wrongly laid out for it.

Thanks very much, David!
A VERY worthwhile insight in the real world of organ playing.
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-07) Log in to Reply

Well, let me tell you this, for a "non-Anglican" guy, you have done some AMAZINGLY Anglican performances, so, you are ALREADY doing it! :-)
John_Pellowe (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
Thanks David! I had the basic idea of graduated volume set up on my Salisbury, but your specs are most helpful and an improvement. I didn't get the gt/pd combo and how useful that is, and that overcomes the difficulty I was having of making it all balance. This is an EXTREMELY useful post. I have marveled at the elegant dynamics you are able to produce and wondered "How does he do that??" Thanks for sharing.

Now, for me at least, a great post from you would be on the use of the swell shoes and the technique to use them while busy playing. I think at times that you must have three feet!! My two feet are always in the wrong place busy with notes, so I have trouble freeing one up to open up the swell box without the pedal line getting choppy with only one foot being used. Thanks again for your generous sharing.
mumblecake (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
There's a great chapter on swell shoe technique in Anne Marsden Thomas a "Practical guide to playing the organ vol 1". It seems to be an art in itself! From what I read (and this is purely from reading ... I'm not advanced enough to use the expression pedals yet) you have to quickly move one foot to the swell and increment the pedal position in between notes before playing the next note with that foot. After another note or two return to the swell and repeat. It sounded like it needs a looooot of practice ....
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
THANKS, John for your kind appreciation!

I will be doing more of these "articles," and I promise that I will talk about the Swell pedal. Using it "properly" and artistically can make ALL the difference!

If you, or anyone has any specific (or general) questions, please - ASK THEM! :-)
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
That's a good book that you mention mumblecake! Once again, it all comes down to practice.

Being essentially "self-taught" at first, I "learned" to do a lot of things that would be considered "wrong" in a text book.

While I do stress correct technique with any students, I also tell them that sometimes, doing something "wrong" MAY help you achieve a higher "goal" than if you did it "correctly"! :-)
P_Larsen (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
This was an incredibly educational article for me. Thank you SO MUCH for posting it as I've been struggling with registration changes. With so many generals available, I'd let go of the "divisional" way of thinking. This article will get me back on track to using progressive divisionals.

Oh, and thx for explaining the "Great and Pedal Combinations Coupled." It's criticality makes total sense with your explanation. Thank you again!
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
You are VERY welcome, P_Larsen! THANK YOU for saying so!

Yes, the Great & Pedal Combinations Coupled" is THE way that you can master this! You can also couple the Swell Pistons to the Pedals, but that is far less successful, at least from my experience.

It amazes me how many great American organs do NOT have this "Combs" device, or if they do, it's bizarre, since it also affects the couplers.
Bartfloete (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
Well, this is a true masterclass!

Thank you very much, David, for this instructive and VERY, VERY helpful text on a really intelligent system. When I had my console built, I should have insisted on a line of pistons for every manual. I had planned them, but the organ builder had some problems with the space between the manuals. Now I have only up and down steppers for the 2nd and 3rd manuals and a line of pistons for the 1st manual. How silly! But given the fact that most organs in Germany lack divisional pistons, I would probably get accustomed to something that I would almost never find in my real life. Anyway, thanks again for this very useful contribution.

Agnus_Dei (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
THANK YOU, Michael! I greatly appreciate your compliments!

I don't think you went wrong with your console. It's like you say, it should be something like what you will REALLY play.

If I'm playing a non-English/American organ, I use the pistons like "reversibles". It's like you're pretending that your registrant just added or subtracted a stop/stops, except you are doing it with a button.... :-)

THANKS for your kindness, which I sincerely appreciate!
woody-mc (2015-10-10) Log in to Reply
After reading this great article from David, I virtually had the same thoughts... Now it's too late to add divisionals to the manuals block, so all I can do for now is to use a "fixed" generals palette of 10 combinations. This is OK for most of my pieces, even more since I use them as "basic" registrations that I modify by adding/removing specific stops manually.
As I don't have a hardware crescendo roller (although the real and virtual organ is equipped with it), the solution was to replicate the crescendo steps as another series of general combinations (which, in fact, is how the roller works).

A very interesting article! I've always wondered what the benefit of the divisionals would be when the organ provides a bunch of generals and couldn't imagine... Now that I can't change my console anymore without the risk to destroy the working things, I'm even more curious to try out the registration with divisionals when I have the chance to get back to this little baby:
Until then, I guess the St. Anne's Moseley is a good start for practice (well, at least with the virtual div pistons).
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-11) Log in to Reply
THANKS, Carsten!

It's ALWAYS easiest to say what we SHOULD have done in hindsight, isn't it?

Few organists, unless you are REALLY into the "cathedral repertoire" will need to do SO much button pushing, but learning the "basics" can do no harm!

I do encourage anyone "building" their consoles to give LONG, HARD THOUGHT about a workable "piston system" BEFORE the finish it!

When I originally did mine, and mine just "sits" on a table, I only had 3 manuals. When I added the fourth, I got one without pistons, because it was cheaper. I thought: "Well I don't really need Solo pistons, do I?!?"

My "profile" pictures show the "piston-less" Solo (4th) manual.

WHO needs Solo pistons?!? ME!!!

So, I added them, which is easy to do, since it's all "Classic Organ Works" parts that I have.

For me, and the music I play, Solo pistons are not a luxury! They are a necessity! ;-)
sk8london (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
David! Thanks a lot for this!!!

Not that I play organ well enough to bother myself with pistons :)

Reading the above has, however, made me finally understand how pistons in the UK are use by default. This makes a lot of sense and is in line with how I see organist utilize them when one has the chance to be in sight of the console.

I have thought that indeed each time the pistons are set for the specific demands of the music. It is easy to see from your description above how a well defined "standard" preset will work across the board (add a bit of swell shutters usage). I have never thought about that.

Ow well, time to go back to my manual stop pulling.....who needs pistons anyway.....modern muck! :)

Many thanks and kind regards
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
You are VERY welcome, Marek! THANK YOU for appreciating it!

You're not wrong in thinking that the divisionals are OFTEN "specially set". It's just when you are accompanying 8 full services a week, with voluntaries, hymns, etc, and there at least 2 organists (or 3) playing, you really HAVE to leave it alone, and go "generic"... ;-)

You are also correct in what you say about the swell pedal. You often can "hide" your additions and subtractions behind a little "shove" of the swell box.

I agree, "Modern Muck!" indeed! :-)
Romanos401 (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
(I also always wondered why your pistons were so different from ours!)
Romanos401 (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
This was a wonderful article! I find it fascinating the different methods of organ control around the world... Germans and the Rollschweller, French with Ventils, Brits with divisionals, and Americans with the sequencer (and everything else!). I never knew there was such a codified system among the Brits although it makes sense. This was very helpful.
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-06) Log in to Reply
THANKS, Romanos401!

Yes, it's amazing how many different "ways" there are among the different national styles.

The way, I suggested is just "my" ideas, but I think it's pretty "classically English". I don't like to trust crescendo pedals, as you are "controlled" by the way it's "programmed". I guess you can re-program it though, can't you?

Of course you mentioned, the "sequencer"! I know many swear by it, but I have NEVER used one. I wouldn't even really know "how" to do it.

By the way, as much as I hate to break my "English" bubble, I'm an American who worked in England! I'm in New Jersey, and even have a "New Jersey accent", or so I'm told!

I'm glad it was helpful and interesting! :-)
BarryG (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
Well, David, I've printed this out and look forward to trying it out on "my" Salisbury. Registration continues to be my greatest challenge (having accepted that my keyboard skills are what they are!); how many times I've listened and loved a piece on Contrebombarde, taken it to the same sample set, and never quite get it to sound like what I heard. On occasion, the MIDI files are attached by posters, and I learn a great deal from them, as well as having the pleasure of listening to truly great playing in my living room. I often have marveled at how you folks who can really play can take a piece through big dynamic shifts "seamlessly", at least to my ear. I'm really looking forward to further insights into how you do it.

In short, this is marvelous. I really appreciate your time to write this for me (oh, I guess others may also benefit!).

Thank you very much!!
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
THANKS, Barry! My pleasure!

You don't have to adhere exactly to those pistons. I do slightly alter them from time to time. I think the important thing is the "stepping idea" in terms of amounts of sound.

If you can get used to using that, after some time of trial and error, you'll be amazed how it all starts to "fall into place"!

If there are any other specific ideas that would be helpful for me to discuss, please just tell me, and I will do my best to put something together! :-)
davsim (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
This is of great help for us noobie/amateur organists!
Thank you very much! :D
Can't wait to see more about the other organ schools :3
Agnus_Dei (2015-10-05) Log in to Reply
You are more than welcome, davsim!

Believe me when I say that it's really MY privilege to do things like this. I have a need to teach, and now that I don't have any students, it gives me a wonderful outlet.

If anything I do or say is of help, that's an EXCELLENT BONUS! :-)
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