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What Would You Play On This Organ...


hollister22nh
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Need your help with a grant proposal.

 

 

First, here are the specs and stop list to a 3 manual EM Skinner.... you tell me what you would play on it today... and what you imagine it was used for in the past. This is a "municipal" organ located at a public high school since new.

 

Second, please expand on, concur with, or disagree with this statement: "The organ was intended to gain brightness through the use of couplers. The stops are voiced that way, and the specification supports that intention. It was a commonplace practice of the time, and a direct result of the repertoire being performed on them. While the Swell does have a Mixture III, it indeed does not have a Principal 4. That is common also on small Skinners of the period, which were built with the thought that if needing a full chorus sound, one would play on the Great coupling the Swell down, which is probably true on 90% of instruments anyway. For economy and other reasons, these were designed with the thought of the "chorus" as it were split over two divisions, the Swell finishing and crowning the Great. Indeed it does. GT Diap 8, Oct 4, SW Diap 8, Mix III Add as you like GT Tromba 8, CH Piccolo 2 SW Cornopean. I doubt you would find a fuller plenum or plenum + reeds sound from an organ of this size built in the 1940s, 50s, 602, 70s, or 80s."

 

 

 

 

Great Organ

8' Diapason 61 Pipes

8' Clarabella 61 Pipes

4' Octave 61 Pipes

8' Tromba 61 Pipes

 

Swell Organ

16' Bourdon 73 Pipes

8' Diapason 73 Pipes

8' Gedeckt 73 Pipes

8' Salicional 73 Pipes

8' Voix Celeste 73 Pipes

8' Aeoline 73 Pipes

Mixture 183 Pipes

4' Flute 73 Pipes

8' Oboe d'Amore 73 Pipes

8' Cornopean 73 Pipes

8' Vox Humana 73 Pipes

Tremolo

 

Choir Organ

8' Chimney Flute 73 Pipes

8' Dulciana 73 Pipes

4' Flute 73 Pipes

2' Piccolo 73 Pipes

8' Clarinet 73 Pipes

Tremolo

 

Pedal Organ

16' Major Bass 32 Pipes

16' Bourdon 32 Pipes

16' Echo Bourdon (Swell) 32 Notes

8' Octave 12 Pipes

8' Gedeckt 12 Pipes

8' Still Gedeckt 32 Notes

16' Trombone (Ext. from Gt Tromba) 12 Pipes

 

Couplers

Swell to Great Unison

Choir to Great

Swell to Choir

 

Swell to Swell 4' Octave

Swell to Swell 16'

Swell to Great 4'

Swell to Great 16'

Choir to Choir 4'

Choir to Choir 16'

Choir to Great 16'

Great to Great 4'

 

Swell to Pedal Pedal

Great to Pedal

Choir to Pedal

Swell to Pedal 4'

 

Combinations:

Adjustable at the console and visibly operating the draw stop knobs

Great - 1, 2, 3, 4

Swell - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Choir - 1, 2, 3

Pedal - 1, 2, 3

 

 

Mechanicals:

Great to Pedal Reversible

Sforzando

Crescendo Pedal

Swell Expression Pedal

Choir Expression Pedal

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To take the second part of your post first, it is not really possible to agree or disagree without having heard the instrument in question, except that the last sentence raised my eyebrows a bit. In general, however, it rings true of Skinner's philosophy. That he provided extra pipes for the Swell and Choir superoctave couplers (as was his norm) certainly makes their use a very practical proposition.

 

As for music, I should think it could cope with most of Howells and Whitlock and, indeed, any organ music with an "orchestral" texture. Rheinberger would probably sound well too, if rather different from what he intended. Also Brahms (the chorale preludes anyway). In fact, most Romantic music could probably be handled satisfactorily. I would not want to be playing modern French, nor, I think, would I choose willingly to play Mendelssohn or anything earlier, though no doubt many Baroque chorale preludes could be made to sound musical.

 

The Sibley Music Library has a fair amount of American organ music available online and I imagine this was the sort of thing that must commonly have been played on instruments like this. (Just type "organ" in the search box here.)

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I agree with Vox humana for the repertoire. I'd add Reger, who sounds surprisingly

well on Skinner organs, be them large or small, though different than on a german

organ of course. But it works.

Let us add Sigfrid Karg-Elert as well, and orchestral transcriptions.

In his books E-M Skinner wrotes that, with the electric action and the easy couplings

it permits, it is no more necessary to have the Great complete, so he "exported" the Mixture and some chorus reeds

to the Swell, in order to gain in flexibility through the enclosure. The Swell is, also, to be seen as

a "Swell-Great".

The claim an organ can be designed according to the presence of octave couplers is true.

We have proofs of that in Belgium with Delmotte of Tournai, existing from the very beginnings

of the 19th century up to nowadays.

When Delmotte adopted the electro-pneumatic action, about 1933-35, they provided octave couplers

and 73 notes chests for the Swell and (if present), the Positif expressif (enclosed choir). At the same time,

the halving rates of the pipework was lowered, sometimes even variable; the Töpfer rule was no more

followed.

The 4' Clairon in the Swell was dropped, for evident reasons, and the 16' became seldom.

The specifications of the Mixtures was also modified, deeper in the grave, in order to avoid

tool much breaks. So the entire design was actually modified in order to cope with those

couplers.

And as Delmotte was not an innovative builder, but rather a follower of what the others did abroad,

it is clear he wasn't alone to do so. I guess there is more, by far, to be learnt in that matter

in a Compton organ !

 

Pierre

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With a small tweak of the imagination you have something similar to medium and smaller examples of instruments being built by Schoenstein in the US at the moment. They would now maybe extend a judicious mutation or two but the 'large one manual spread over two' (or three in this case) is there. For example the Salicional might have 4' and 2' derivations on the Swell - a Nazard 2-2/3 might be taken from the Chimney Flute and stops made available on other divisions for flexibility. This (apart from the 2-2/3 is how the octave couplers would be functioning in essence anyway). Jack Bethards at Schoenstein has written about this link on many occasions. These conteporary instruments can do a surprisingly large ammount of repertoire justice - one would guess the same with the example above.

 

A

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Whilst I take the points which Vox and Pierre have made, even without hearing it (although I have heard instruments with a similar stoplist), I should not even wish to play a hymn on it.

 

One of the problems with the octave couplers idea is that one ends up with missing notes - something which I feel would be even more obvious without a decent chorus structure. Another problem is that by relying on these for any brilliance, the tonal balance of each department can easily be upset - it would be a very clever voicer who could maintain a good balance troughout the compass under such conditions. In addition, there may also be a problem with a lack of clarity in the bass and tenor regions; with only a Piccolo on the Choir Organ and a (small) Mixture on the Swell Organ, one is left with a preponderance of foundation tone.

 

Notwithstanding changes of taste and historical reasoning, I believe this scheme to be fatally flawed - to rob an organ of a sensibly-scaled chorus structure and upperwork (and I refer not to high-pitched Cymbale-type stops, but ordinary chorus mixtures) is to deny part of the very sound which makes the instrument unique.

 

Unless one wishes only to wallow in a plethora of weighty uinson tone with equally weighty (if not opaque) reeds, I submit that this organ is ripe for a radical redesigning. Personally I disagree regarding Reger. I have two recordings of his Chorale Fantasy on 'Wachet Auf'; one from the Riga Dom (yes, I know this instrument was not built by Skinner, but the idea of massed foundation tone out of all proportion to the effect of the upperwork is still present) and also one from Linz Cathedral. I am simply unable to listen to that from Riga. The playing is fine, but the organ sound I find heavy and oppressive. In addition, much of the clarity of the detail of this large-scale work is lost, largely due to the voicing of the instrument. However, the recording form Linz Cathedral is a joy to hear. There is clarity and texture (rather than the aural equivalent of a horse blanket) and the whole sound, particularly the Fugue is so full of life and vitality - like the music itself.

 

Neither am I so sure about Whitlock. In Organists' Review several years ago, a scheme was printed of a surprisingly neo-Classical instrument (given the date of its inception). This organ was in fact designed by Whitlock and apparently represented his thinking at the time. Whilst I am aware of the type of registrations he calls for in many of his works, it should be remembered that some were performed (if not actually written for) the 'Hill' organ of Saint Stephen's Church, Bournemouth* , which had a decent chorus structure on two of the three claviers and was a world away in tonal ideals from the aberration given above.

 

 

 

* Shortly (May 2009) to undergo a much-needed restoration. Don't worry, Pierre, it really will be a restoration, not a rebuild.

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Whilst I take the points which Vox and Pierre have made, even without hearing it (although I have heard instruments with a similar stoplist), I should not even wish to play a hymn on it.

 

<SNIP>

 

Notwithstanding changes of taste and historical reasoning, I believe this scheme to be fatally flawed - to rob an organ of a sensibly-scaled chorus structure and upperwork (and I refer not to high-pitched Cymbale-type stops, but ordinary chorus mixtures) is to deny part of the very sound which makes the instrument unique.

 

.

 

Hi

 

It looks almost Hope-Jones-ish. Obviously a lot depends on voicing and acoustic, and putting aside pre-conceived ideas on registration. I would guess that many of the 8fts plus octave coupler would be useable - just because you have several 8ft stops, you don't need to use them all the time!

 

It's very obviously an organ of its time and style - and the fact that it doesn't match our current expectations isn't really a reason for wholesale changes (or indeed, any change at all!).

 

You could probably play most repertoire on it - not in a historically correct or authentic way - but none-the-less, with musical results.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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One of the problems with the octave couplers idea is that one ends up with missing notes - something which I feel would be even more obvious without a decent chorus structure. Another problem is that by relying on these for any brilliance, the tonal balance of each department can easily be upset - it would be a very clever voicer who could maintain a good balance troughout the compass under such conditions.

As you know, m'sieur, I am no great fan of octave couplers (and no fan at all of sub-octave ones) precisely for the reasons you mention. However, this organ is what it is. As for the question of brilliance, I humbly submit that it was never Skinner's intention that his organs should sound brilliant. This is partly why the OP's opinion on its "fuller plenum" raised my eyebrows. Full, yes; plenum, hmm... I agree with you about this type of tonal approach being flawed, but I also have to say that, unlke some British builders who shared a similar ideal, the E. M. Skinner organs I have played and heard have been quite magnificent instruments. On their own terms they do work! Just don't expect them to be very flexible. If you have never tried one at first hand, you really should.

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* Shortly (May 2009) to undergo a much-needed restoration. Don't worry, Pierre, it really will be a restoration, not a rebuild.

 

 

I think perhaps Pierre will in fact have to worry, since according the appeal leaflet the organ at St Stephen's 'needs' a detached console. That's not a restoration in my book.

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Pcnd, it was written "with 73 notes chests", also no missing notes in the treble.

 

Pierre

 

I was referring to the fact that , even if one were to play in no more than four-part harmony, by the use of octave couplers (instead of separate 4ft or 2ft. ranks), one is expecting the same pipe to speak twice, as it were - there are the missing notes.

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* Shortly (May 2009) to undergo a much-needed restoration. Don't worry, Pierre, it really will be a restoration, not a rebuild.

 

 

I think perhaps Pierre will in fact have to worry, since according the appeal leaflet the organ at St Stephen's 'needs' a detached console. That's not a restoration in my book.

 

This is not something which is to be undertaken during the restoration. It may be that a detached console will be added at a later date. However, the fact remains that the organ is not to be spoiled tonally, simply restored to full working order -something which has not been the case for many years. Currently, the organ is in an extremely bad state of repair.

 

If you have not played for a service or accompanied a choir on this instrument, it is perhaps difficult to appreciate how much a detached console would aid the present Director of Music (there is no official assistant). The present console - which is not, in any case, original itself - is situated at the front of the case about twenty feet above floor level (with possible Health and Safety considerations to resolve), accessible by means of a stone staircase outside the main body of the building. It is certainly not an easy matter to run between conducting the choir and playing the organ. I do not see that in such circumstances a proposed detached console is anything to worry about.

 

As I have written before, an organ is not just a physical historical document; each instrument has a job to do. The organ at Saint Stephen's was altered in the early 1950s by Rushworth and Dreaper, who discarded one of Hill's Open Diapason ranks on the G.O., substituting a rather larger stop (to aid 'hearty congregational singing'), changed the G.O. Harmonic Flute 4ft for a Koppel Flute, re-cast the four-rank Mixture as a three-rank (17-19-22) stop, revoiced the Choir Tuba (and made it rather louder and thicker) and also removed two ranks from the Swell Organ (Orchestral Oboe and Vox Humana - admittedly for reasons of overcrowding). Compared to that, the impending restoration will be a somewhat more respectful affair.

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Have you ever heard a Skinner In Situ ?

 

Pierre

 

No - and I realise that a recording is not quite the same. However, I would sugges that it does not require a Herculean feat of imagination to speculate as to the likely aural effect of such a scheme.

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No - and I realise that a recording is not quite the same. However, I would sugges that it does not require a Herculean feat of imagination to speculate as to the likely aural effect of such a scheme.

 

I would suggest a little travel the other side of the big lake, though.

The pine of my coffin will remember the sounds I heard there from

those Skinner organs. And no, you cannot imagine how they sound

like on paper. Even Nitzche's Übermensch wouldn't.

 

Pierre

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I would suggest a little travel the other side of the big lake, though.

The pine of my coffin will remember the sounds I heard there from

those Skinner organs. And no, you cannot imagine how they sound

like on paper. Even Nitzche's Übermensch wouldn't.

 

Pierre

 

No - but I have heard them on recordings - although (as I wrote), I realise that this is not quite the same.

 

The point I was trying to make was that, since the organ quoted was so obviously deficient in true chorus work (something upon which I place a high priority), the sound cannot be anything other than foundational, with little or no true brilliance (not scream).

 

People occasionally cite Robert Hope-Jones, who maintained that he was able to get all the brilliance necessary out of his Quintadena ranks (and the odd 2ft. Piccolo). Having played one or two Hope-Jones instruments (prior to restoration), I can only conclude that he was sadly mistaken.

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Skinner's Mixtures were typical post-romantic ones; not the top of a

Diapason chorus, but rather a brillancy provider you can add to a large

variety or registrations.

There is not only beef to the menu, one should eat fish as well; same for organs,

there is not only the Neo-classic style of 1950-1970 (in France and Belgium), but

also all the others ones!

I have sometimes the impression you "judge" all things according to that style,

seen as a "Truth".

But there obtains nothing like a "Truth" in this world. Even Clicquot built some

organs without any Diapason chorus stricto Sensu (for private buyers).

 

If Skinner built his ensembles so, we just have to say "OK", and try to understand

how it works.

It is just that way we belgians could understand the last baroque flemish organs left, just timely

to stop disastrous projects (destruction, new neo organ...For "baroque" music!!!)

 

Pierre

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... I have sometimes the impression you "judge" all things according to that style,

seen as a "Truth". ...

 

Pierre

 

Not at all. Surely I have written often enough of my great respect for instruments such as those in the cathedrals of Bristol, Chichester and Ripon. These could not, in any way, be described as neo-classical.

 

What we seem to have here is not, I submit, beef - rather, it is a particularly heavy suet pudding.

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Thank you all for input so far, even the enlightening diatribes.

 

Since some say it might help to hear it... The organ doesn't currently function, but here is a recording from 1977 of an 18 year old playing "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on the organ in question.

 

http://www.chsorgan.org/1977.html

 

I've got to wonder, what would a high school even intend to do with this organ? I've got some old letters from before it was purchased saying that when Skinner Co demonstrated a simliar organ "not only standard organ compositions but transcriptions of Wagner's operatice selections, which were extremely effective and beautiful" I've got to wonder what is a standard organ composition from 1927 (although you all have made some great suggestions no doubt)

 

Another thing to note is that the organ was perhaps not intended to be used alone. I have letters where they decided the organ console should face a certain way so that the organist can see the conductor.

 

The person who mentioned a similiarity to Schoenstein has a good eye... I sent this stop list to Jack Bethards and he declared it "ideal in every way" and that it should never be changed!

 

-John

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No - but I have heard them on recordings - although (as I wrote), I realise that this is not quite the same.

 

The point I was trying to make was that, since the organ quoted was so obviously deficient in true chorus work (something upon which I place a high priority), the sound cannot be anything other than foundational, with little or no true brilliance (not scream).

 

People occasionally cite Robert Hope-Jones, who maintained that he was able to get all the brilliance necessary out of his Quintadena ranks (and the odd 2ft. Piccolo). Having played one or two Hope-Jones instruments (prior to restoration), I can only conclude that he was sadly mistaken.

 

Perhaps Hope-Jones couldn't actually hear the top!

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Thank you all for input so far, even the enlightening diatribes.

 

Since some say it might help to hear it... The organ doesn't currently function, but here is a recording from 1977 of an 18 year old playing "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on the organ in question.

 

http://www.chsorgan.org/1977.html

 

-John

 

Gosh, that's just ... horrible. IMO

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Well I really did try to like this, but I have to admit that it is the least interesting Skinner I have heard. I suspect the individual stops may be well to the usual standard, but the ensemble is, well, just dull. Sorry.

 

I doubt you would find a fuller plenum or plenum + reeds sound from an organ of this size built in the 1940s, 50s, 602, 70s, or 80s.

:)

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haha, well I'll TRY to mark that up to an 18 year old playing a piece totally innapropriate to the organ, all while recording it on a reel-to-reel recorder 30+ years ago... all on an organ that likely hadn't had any maintenance for the previous 20 years. I'm not an organist... but as a pedestrian, it sounded pleasant enough.

 

The statement about the plenum etc was all in quotes because it came from someone else. I'm trying to validate the statement. You all are telling me, aside from the last line, it is basically ok?

 

Thanks

 

John

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haha, well I'll TRY to mark that up to an 18 year old playing a piece totally innapropriate to the organ, all while recording it on a reel-to-reel recorder 30+ years ago... all on an organ that likely hadn't had any maintenance for the previous 20 years. I'm not an organist... but as a pedestrian, it sounded pleasant enough.

 

The statement about the plenum etc was all in quotes because it came from someone else. I'm trying to validate the statement. You all are telling me, aside from the last line, it is basically ok?

 

Thanks

 

John

 

The playing is fine (although there are inconsistencies in the pulse of the Fugue, together with a few slips) - it's the organ. Personally, I would have trouble agreeing with most of the statement. As others have written, the sound is, frankly, dull and lifeless.

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Why mark it up to the player? I think it was clear enough that my comment was exclusively about the organ and it's not his/her fault that the instrument sounds dull.

 

I did realise that the quote probably wasn't yours. Who said it doesn't really matter, but it does seem to me that someone out there has a rather too restricted view of what constitutes a good plenum.

 

As you observe, it wasn't the ideal piece with which to demonstrate the instrument. I could believe that it may well have put on a better showing with softer, more orchestral music. If there are any sound clips demonstrating lighter registrations it would be interesting to hear them.

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Apart from the comment about the full plenum I would not take serious issue with the quote. However I do wonder whether the use of the couplers was ever intended to impart brightness as such and whether the coupling down of the other manuals was ever meant to create a chorus (in the sense that we usually understand it today). I rather think that the concepts of both brightness and chorus are quite foreign to Skinner's tonal concept here. The symphonic style of organ focused the sound on 8' pitch, with 16' added for depth and 4' for brightness. Any higher stops had to be very discreet lest they detract from the primacy of the fundamental tone; they could provide special effects, but their main job was to add some discreet upper harmonics to the basic pitch and emulate in organistic terms the effect of woodwind above massed strings and brass.

 

If it's any consolation, there are literally hundreds of small village and town organs over here whose tonal construction bows to the same philosophy and I would rate your Skinnner way above the general quality of these.

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My thoughts, having listened to the recording are:

 

1. The acoustic is very dead indeed. If it's a small space, there isn't really much need for strong upperwork. Strong upperwork in a small space is just going to be antisocial and not that helpful.

2. The organ, despite the rather wayward tuning in places, unsteady wind supply towards the end and rather cloyingly thick heavy reed, is really not bad at all. It seems to do a good job in that space - and a small space will throw up deficiencies in an organ that a glorious acoustic will hide.

3. An original Skinner is never going to play Bach as a Flentrop would. But Bach seems to work OK on it, accepting its style as a fairly small American Symphonic organ in small space.

4. The statement about how Skinners work in the original post seems pretty accurate. Talk to Jon Ambrosino, who knows much more about these things than I do.

 

So, IMO, I'd keep the organ as it is, sort out the wind supply, accept the Great Tromba as it is and revel in its (many) qualities.

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