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Imperial Versus Metric


Guest Barry Oakley - voluntarily dereg
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Guest Barry Oakley

Given that metric dimensions are historically and probably more universally used than imperial measurements, can anyone explain why the pitches of organ stops are historically and universally expressed as imperial measurements? I can understand the simplicity of 2,4,8,16, 32, etc, but where did the tradition come from?

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Guest Geoff McMahon

Quite simply from the approximate length of the longest pipe in each stop where the pipes are open ones. So bottom C of an Open Diapason 8 is about 8ft long and a Principal 4 is 4ft long. A Twelfth is about 2ft 8ins long which is 2 2/3ft. It would not make sense to try and convert all that to metric.

 

John Pike Mander

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Guest Barry Oakley
Quite simply from the approximate length of the longest pipe in each stop where the pipes are open ones. So bottom C of an Open Diapason 8 is about 8ft long and a Principal 4 is 4ft long. A Twelfth is about 2ft 8ins long which is 2 2/3ft. It would not make sense to try and convert all that to metric.

 

John Pike Mander

 

Yes, John, I understand that, but why would English (British) measurements be the standard as also used by foreign (European) organ builders who would normally and historically have used metric measurements in every aspect of constructing an organ? It almost sounds as though the science of organ building was developed in England and so imperial measurements have been used to denote pitch. Surely we can't lay claim to that suggestion. Perhaps I have raised a ridiculous question that should go no further?

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Yes, John, I understand that, but why would English (British) measurements be the standard as also used by foreign (European) organ builders who would normally and historically have used metric measurements in every aspect of constructing an organ? It almost sounds as though the science of organ building was developed in England and so imperial measurements have been used to denote pitch. Surely we can't lay claim to that suggestion. Perhaps I have raised a ridiculous question that should go no further?

 

Is it not the case that Metric is a relatively new system of measurement?

 

There was the 'Parisien pied', also Dom Bedos worked in Pied du Roi with duodecimal division into pouce. The pied du Roi was 32.48cm compared to 30.48cm per English foot I think.

 

Sorge in the 'Secretly Kept Art of Organ Pipe Scaling' worked in 'fuss' albit divided into 1000 scruples!

 

David Wallace

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Guest Geoff McMahon

Absolutely right. The metric measurement is also (relatively) new on the continent although not as new as here in the UK of course. I believe that the metric measurement was devised in the late 19th century by which time organs had been being built for a very long time. Dom Bédos measurements are all in Pied Roi for example. The Germans had Fuß and Zoll (feet and inches respectively) and still often refer to a rule as a "Zollstock" (which translates roughly as an "inch-stick". I have seen standard measurements of feet and inches embedded in the walls of town halls in South Germany and interestingly, there was very little difference from our own imperial foot length. Yards, chains and all that stuff is however an English thing I think, although they obviously had miles on the continent as well before the metric system became universal.

 

John Pike Mander

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  • 2 weeks later...

Very interesting.

 

I think the traditional Spanish measurement for organ pipe length was the 'palm'. I wonder why they didn't use Imperial units which, as you say, were at one time standard (if not exactly comparable in measurement) throughout Europe.

 

I am just waiting to see what happens when our masters in Westminster make Imperial units completely illegal:

 

Open Diapason 2438mm

Principal 1219mm

Twelfth 812mm

 

Just flows off the tongue, doesn't it?

 

Don't laugh - it may well happen!

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Guest Geoff McMahon

Don't worry. The bureaucrats in Brussels may know about bananas and how bent they should be as well as what is really ice cream, but cultured they are not and they will never get to metrification of organ stops. Apart from anything else, it is not retail trade we are talking about here.

 

Incidentally, some people may not be aware that this pitch designation reaches right through keyboard instruments, harpsichord and even piano to some extent, although the string length is not related to the pitch designation.

 

John Pike Mander

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Incidentally, some people may not be aware that this pitch designation reaches right through keyboard instruments, harpsichord and even piano to some extent, although the string length is not related to the pitch designation.

 

John Pike Mander

 

Since their invention, many synthesizers have used 16', 8', 4' to define pitch. This is some sort of international reference system.

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