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Piston System - Scope


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I have previously encountered a piston system called Scope. The idea is that you can set any piston as a general, reversible or divisional from the console.

 

I always got on fine with it, as the instrument I used it on had quite a few stops and not many playing aids, so the versatility was v. useful. A friend is considering it as an option on a rebuild project, but has heard some people have got into difficulty with it, so I wondered if any other members had come across it & had any thoughts?

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

I don't know how much 'Scope' costs, but the only time I have encountered it, I found it distinctly useful. At Honiton Parish Church (the new Kenneth Tickell) they have only two piston memories. The first is entirely normal, (from memory: I think 6 pistons to each dept and about six generals). the second is Scope or someone else's 'generic' version - in any case, this does exactly as you describe.

 

If I only had two piston memories, this is exactly what I would do with them for maximum flexibility.

 

Like general crescendo pedals, I am sure that a 'Scope' set of pistons might be an occasional trap for the unwary, but this is just an argument for a warning light to show when this apparatus is in play.

 

Just one thought: as a visiting organist, these sort of pistons would be yet another reason to write everything down in rehearsal. With fixed pistons, one very soon gets to know what to expect, or one simply re-sets them all in a convenient way.

 

Never an admirer of Carol Curley (judging from afar, as it were - recordings and a very odd BBC broadcast once) I went to a live recital for the first time recently, mostly in order to support the organiser of the event who is a good friend. I have to say that Carlo's organ control at Hull City Hall impressed me very much indeed. I could see the console well enough to know that CC didn't have crib sheets for each piece. How then did he remember so many piston settings? He played for about 90 minutes and there must have been a piston change, on average, every line of the music. He last played that instrument in the 1980's.

 

As a rather more controversial postscript: on that occasion I came away rather converted. That is to say, I actually enjoyed his work! I have heard far more tired, professional/accurate but non-musical playing from some of our 'great names'.

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*Carol* Curley? If there's one person I can think of who wouldn't work in drag, it would be Mr Curley...

 

On the project in question, memory levels ain't a problem (there's 90 or so) but it's a historic console and they can't install thumb pistons - restricted to the few toe pistons (formerly compositions) already there.

 

Glad someone else has heard of it - was beginning to think I was imagining things!

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I know you are fairly familiar with the Stephen Cooke Westbury organ - the capture system on that has two extra buttons ("Prg" and "Rev") - the idea is, that if you want a piston to become reversible, you select the stop(s) you want to reverse and hold down Rev and Set to teach the piston what to do - similarly if you want to make a general piston work on Sw only, you draw all the swell stops and use Prg to teach the piston the "scope" of its operation. And so on for all other divisionals/generals.

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Well, that would seem to be the problem. The manufacturers say a few people have got in a mess with it, and I can see how that would happen on a large instrument with a full array of pistons, so the titulaire might find in the closing bars of the Nunc Dimittis that some kind soul has made Sw 1 into a reversible for all the pedal reeds and the Cymbelstern. At Westbury it's ok because there's not too many buttons (and no cymbelstern - yet); you either get to know it if it's a channel you use a lot for accompaniment, or you obviously mark in the score which piston to press at what point.

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On the project in question, memory levels ain't a problem (there's 90 or so) but it's a historic console and they can't install thumb pistons - restricted to the ten toe pistons (formerly compositions) already there.

 

Would this be Romsey Abbey, by any chance? I can't remember what those pedals did last time I played - but I guess it makes sense if they can switch between gens and dpts.

 

V. nice organ, though. Perfect, really.

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Would this be Romsey Abbey, by any chance? I can't remember what those pedals did last time I played - but I guess it makes sense if they can switch between gens and dpts.

 

V. nice organ, though. Perfect, really.

 

 

Funnily enough, it's not - much as I'd love there to be 90 channels of memory. Romsey is a very special machine indeed.

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The Willis reconstruction at Ruthin has a rather interesting approach with a single line of 16 pistons under the lowest of the three manuals - these have multiple memories. There is also a stepper facility. I understand that this was something to do with re using an old set of keyboards - space between etc. but personally this arrangement with them as generals or with some sort of scope facility would fit the way I tend to register ideally.

 

AJJ

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Regarding Carlo Curley's registration method ; I believe he has a kind of formula in his mind, along the lines of Sw 1 = Sw strings, Sw 2 = Fl 8 & 4, etc., so that on any large instrument he knows pretty much what to expect once the departmental pistons are set. I observed this at first hand, on a stand-by for a concert. I did however notice that when an unexpected registration turned up, the piston system got the blame - big time!

 

I have installed several piston systems with the SCOPE facility. It has much to commend it from an organ builders' perspective. After installation, it makes setting up the pistons, departmental, general, reversible and so on, very easy to do, though it does require an analytical mind to make sure that all memory channels are correctly SCOPED.

 

I have always shied away from actually putting the SCOPE button anywhere visible on the console as this creates the potential for the unwary organist to make the most fabulous 'pistonic' disaster, leaving a fine old mess for the next user. Putting it discreetly somewhere that perhaps the educated titulaire can make sensible use of it is better and saves that eleventh hour telephone call for help.

 

Headcase

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Regarding Carlo Curley's registration method ;  I believe he has a kind of formula in his mind, along the lines of Sw 1 = Sw strings, Sw 2 = Fl 8 & 4, etc., so that on any large instrument he knows pretty much what to expect once the departmental pistons are set.  I observed this at first hand,  on a stand-by for a concert.  I did however notice that when an unexpected registration turned up, the piston system got the blame - big time!

Yes- if I'm playing an unfamiliar large organ, I like to have some kind of standard "formula" to manage the beast... All organs are different, of course, but large ones with buttons can be made less different....

 

I have always shied away from actually putting the SCOPE button anywhere visible on the console as this creates the potential for the unwary organist to make the most fabulous 'pistonic' disaster,  leaving a fine old mess for the next user.  Putting it discreetly somewhere that perhaps the educated titulaire can make sensible use of it is better and saves that eleventh hour telephone call for help.

 

Headcase

I've noticed H&H have used the "hidden drawer" method, where there is a drawer hidden underneath the "table" on which the manuals, stop jambs etc are mounted. I think it was first used to re-use the pull-out drawers at the Usher hall and used since at places like Armley. It's a neat idea and doesn't compromise old consoles like adding stepper and scope controls above the uppermost console, which does rather detract from the amibance of an historic console...

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Yes- if I'm playing an unfamiliar large organ, I like to have some kind of standard "formula" to manage the beast... All organs are different, of course, but large ones with buttons can be made less different....

I've noticed H&H have used the "hidden drawer" method, where there is a drawer hidden underneath the "table" on which the manuals, stop jambs etc are mounted. I think it was first used to re-use the pull-out drawers at the Usher hall and used since at places like Armley. It's a neat idea and doesn't compromise old consoles like adding stepper and scope controls above the uppermost console, which does rather detract from the amibance of an historic console...

 

Another way is to have an Ian Tracey style plug-in remote control, which can have stepper controls, a handful of pistons and the setter controls on it, and page turners can also use it. One of the suggestions floating about is that there should be two such keypads available to plug in, one with the Scope controls and one without.

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As someone who has been fortunate enough over the last few years to play for a considerable number of cathedral evensongs as a visiting organist, the "scope" system sounds a nightmare. I can't think of anything more difficult to come to terms with without many hours to aclimatise & adjust.

 

Like many modern console aids it can, no doubt, be of considerable advantage, but really at any modern organ it should be possible to just sit down and play without having fear of the unexpected. I think organ builders should be sensitive to this, and there needs always to be an option to turn the system off and have all pistons revert to traditional behaviour. Equally no one should ever fit a general crescendo pedal that can not be disabled. and I would even suggest the stepper piston system would benefit from a simple on-off switch somewhere handy.

 

On the latter topic, I must say that these steppers/sequencers, call them what you will, are brilliant if (and as a visiting organist you frequently don't) you have time to program them. However, the + toe piston is often perillously close to the Great-Pedal reversible and this can be a real trap for the unwary. I would also personally be very cautious about using such a system without the visual confimation of what memory level I was on in those handy little displays above the top manual. So although not historically correct I would not want the displays to be hidden in a draw.

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Fortunately the system does function absolutely as traditionally expected until someone with The Key enables it to do weird things on a given channel (function changes aren't global) - nobody need ever know... The screens will live in the normal place, just the two additional programming buttons will be away from the console and require access priveleges to avoid inadvertantly launching a nuclear attack on a small, neutral country or, worse, making the general cancel bring all the reeds out. Likewise the stepper/sequencer will be generally operated from a keypad with the option to force (by a rotary switch) two of the toe levers to become a plus and minus. Just not possible or right to drill lots of extra holes in an untouched 1830's console... mercifully, nowhere near cathedral-like resources to drive but an excellent choir that needs thoughtful accompaniments & can't always get them with an inflexible generals-only system. The thing about modern organs being instantly driveable by anyone is absolutely right and works for modern organs, but this ain't one of those...

 

Sequencers are fine, but with steppers I have previously been irritated to find (halfway through something quiet) that my "expected" generals have become several variations on full organ, set by someone who was just working from 1 to 999, oblivious to the fact that they were quietly (and totally inadvertantly) devouring my carefully worked out anthem accompaniment. There's something that needs a padlock.

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Never an admirer of Carol Curley (judging from afar, as it were - recordings and a very odd BBC broadcast once) I went to a live recital for the first time recently, mostly in order to support the organiser of the event who is a good friend. I have to say that Carlo's organ control at Hull City Hall impressed me very much indeed.  I could see the console well enough to know that CC didn't have crib sheets for each piece.  How then did he remember so many piston settings?  He played for about 90 minutes and there must have been a piston change, on average, every line of the music.  He last played that instrument in the 1980's.

 

As a rather more controversial postscript: on that occasion I came away rather converted.  That is to say, I actually enjoyed his work! I have heard far more tired, professional/accurate but non-musical playing from some of our 'great names'.

 

 

Intersting - that's the second such report I've heard of CC's recital at Hull the other month. Has he changed the way he plays? Apparently his tempos were a lot slower than one usually associates with him.

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  • 3 weeks later...

We have just had a new piston system installed with the Scope facility: it works very well, and greatly increases the flexibility of the pistons - particularly useful if you haven't got very many at your disposal. In essence, you can "teach" any piston to be a general, departmental or reversible. It's quick and easy to do at the console. Do make a note of what you have changed, though, and leave a channel without changes to avoid confusing visitors!

 

One note of caution: we had a good deal of trouble getting the electronics of the system to work with the electronics of the organ action (manufactured in 2002 by the same company). If you're adding this sort of system to an existing action check carefully that it is compatible. To the company's credit, they spared no pains in sorting it out, but it took a couple of weeks of repeated visits until it was working properly.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Personally, having used it on one instrument, I found it less flexible, largely due to the number of channels being reduced by more than half.

 

Apart from the fact that I never want a piston labelled 'Swell to Pedal' suddenly to become a reversible for the Solo Dulciana chorus (for example), I think that the propensity for mistakes considerably outweighs any perceived advantages of the design.

 

Since organs with a reasonable number of pistons tend to have the piston-heads engraved with useful legends such as 'Trombone' (reversible) or 'Gen 8', etc, the resulting confusion is easy to imagine.

 

I confess that, with a fair number of departmental, general and well-placed reversible pistons, I cannot see the point. As another contributor has previously asked - does this mean that the music (or the console) is festooned with Post-it ® notes?

 

However, there is one organ for which the 'Scope' system is admirably suited - the superb JWWW at Romsey Abbey. With the only registrational aids being ten general combination pedals with one or two reversibles and thumb cancel and set buttons, the 'Scope' system would increase the flexibility of the instrument (or, at any rate, would make it easier to negotiate). In addition, an increase in the number of channels and a more sensible channel selector (digital, hidden, like the tv screen) would also help.

 

The Romsey organ, for those that are unaware, is one of the most beautiful instruments in the country. The sound is noble yet clear, with the most unlikely registrations succeeding quite effectively in the warm acoustics of the church. The one exception, in my view, being the Tuba (sorry, Mr. Mander), which I would swap for twelve pipes to complete the 32ft. compass of the pedal reed at the drop of a hat. Apart from this, (and the re-thinking of the Swell action and the design of the present coupler-chasssis) I would leave well alone and just enjoy the superbly musical sounds this organ makes.

 

I was fortunate to be in Romsey Abbey last Saturday night and the organ is just one of those instruments that says 'come on, play me'. I did and was enthralled by the grandeur and beauty of its voice.

 

In my opinion, it is definitely worth a visit.

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