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Console Design Again


Vox Humana

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I haven't been able to sleep and I'm in a mean mood, so I thought I'd inflict you all with a good old grump.

 

In another thread Tubular Pneumatic made the interesting comment that he much preferred high English consoles to the low-level American ones. Neither is the exclusive preserve of one nation, but I know what he means: as a generalisation the distinction is valid. My heart warms to our American friend: I wholeheartedly agree!

 

A low level console means that in a large organ you've got to have three or four columns of stop knobs for each division. Once this happens it seems that the logical sequence of pitches from low to high goes to pot. A case in point is Washington Cathedral where the layout is somtimes quite bizarre. To take the Pedal reeds as an example, the 2ft Kornet appears in the middle of the five 8fts. The 16ft Bombarde is nowhere near the 32ft Bombarde, but is immediately above the 32ft Contra Fagotto (why didn't they swap the two 32fts?) The 8ft Bombarde is directly above the 16ft, but the Clairon is three columns to the left of them. Maybe this sort of thing happens over here as well, but I've never personally come across the three-column design in this country. I feel the Americans have a lot still to learn about console layout. Or is there some logic here that I'm failing to see?

 

Low level consoles also mean that the couplers tend to get placed in a row of stop tabs above the top manual. This is very common in America where you have lots of couplers, but you get it fairly regularly in Britain too. And how I hate it! I can never find the one I want quickly. Bung them in their respective divisions every time, I say!

 

In fact this problem of quick location goes for stop tabs generally. Give me knobs every time. It's said that an advantage of stop tabs is that you get from pianissimo to fortissimo quickly simply by doing a glissando across the top of them. No doubt. But what discriminating organist wants every Dulciana, Salicional and Celeste (not to mention Erzhälers) in the fortissimo?

 

Then there's the continental type of low-level console with the stops in curving horizontal rows. Now I don't mind these nearly so much. At least the ones I've encountered were easy enough to manipulate. But because the stops are well below eye level it requires more eye movement to locate the ones you want. So I still find them less helpful than the traditional English design.

 

Then there's console lights. The most crass design was one I came across a few times in America where the horizontal part of the music rest - the bit that stops your music falling onto the keyboard - was a flourescent music light. No doubt its inventor thought it a whizz-bang idea, but what actually happens is that the light shines not only onto the page your reading, but behind it as well, making the music on the reverse side show through and thus obscure what you're trying to read. Quite impractical!

 

There, I feel better for that! Views, boquets and brickbats awaited.

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I haven't been able to sleep and I'm in a mean mood, so I thought I'd inflict you all with a good old grump.

 

In another thread Tubular Pneumatic [et seq] ... There,  I feel better for that! Views, boquets and brickbats awaited.

 

Dear, oh dear, I wish I could discuss one standard over another: here in the Netherlands nearly every organ has its own 'consolestandard' (e.g. can someone explain to me for what purpose mechanical operated stopknops above the musicdesk mostly go the heaviest?)

 

But,as always, we organists are flexible ...

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Guest Lee Blick
It's said that an advantage of stop tabs is that you get from pianissimo to fortissimo quickly simply by doing a glissando across the top of them

 

Whoever said that need their head testing.

 

 

Then there's console lights. The most crass design was one I came across a few times in America where the horizontal part of the music rest - the bit that stops your music falling onto the keyboard - was a flourescent music light.

 

 

Many Allen Organs have this type of arrangement. Fine if it a 4 page piece of sheet music, useless if it is 800 page full organ score hymnal.

 

I have a low level console and on the Great the 1st column is made up of couplers and the Trumpet stop, 2nd column with flute chorus, 3rd column the diapason chorus, which is quite handy.

 

But I do prefer the two column 'high rise' arrangement. The higher you go, the more exciting the stops!

 

Low level consoles also mean that the couplers tend to get placed in a row of stop tabs above the top manual. This is very common in America where you have lots of couplers, but you get it fairly regularly in Britain too. And how I hate it! I can never find the one I want quickly. Bung them in their respective divisions every time, I say!

 

I think Willis III used to have a lot of their instruments with a row of couplers above the top manual on rocker tabs and a huge array of pistons and accessories (and crescendo pedal) 'as standard'.

 

On the organ at the church I grew up on had this arrangement and was swept away when Bishops came to refurbish it. All the couplers (quite a few of them) ended as drawstops at the bottom of the high rise.

 

I love drawstops, my organ has them. There is nothing better and satisfying than pulling one out. I find stop tabs look cheap and annoying if your hymnal falls of it's stand and pushes tabs diqb on it's journey on to the keys.

 

On the subject of consoles, has anyone else come across the HNB compact consoles where you pushed the manuals into the console before you put the roll top down. It is very dinky.

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I think Willis III used to have a lot of their instruments with a row of couplers above the top manual on rocker tabs and a huge array of pistons and accessories (and crescendo pedal) 'as standard'.

 

Yes, certainly mine is set out this way. Curiously, though, the layout of stops is "wrong". Most high rise organs have swell on the outside of the left hand stop jamb, with pedal on the inside (i.e. nearest the music desk), then choir and great on the right hand side, yes?

 

On this one, though, probably because the number of pedal stops (even though most of them are extensions from manual reeds) is so huge, the pedal stops are on the outside of the right hand jamb, choir is on the outside of the left hand jamb. A bit confusing at first!

 

http://www.laudachoir.org/organ/gallery/pi...s/picture-1.jpg

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On the subject of consoles, has anyone else come across the HNB compact consoles where you pushed the manuals into the console before you put the roll top down.  It is very dinky.

 

Hi

 

Not by HNB, but retractable keyboards are sometimes found on chamber organs, such as on I used to play at Great Chishill church in Essex. There's a stop list and possibky some pictures on NPOR.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Dear, oh dear, I wish I could discuss one standard over another: here in the Netherlands nearly every organ has its own 'consolestandard' (e.g. can someone explain to me for what purpose mechanical operated stopknops above the musicdesk mostly go the heaviest?)
Ah, but isn't that a lot to do with all the historical instruments you have? Historical instruments are exempted from my grumpiness! :(
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Ah, but isn't that a lot to do with all the historical instruments you have? Historical instruments are exempted from my grumpiness!  :(

 

Sure, but 'historism' seems the way to go here - so these 'historic implementations' are now recreated in (the few) new instruments: unpractical stopknoblocations, unergonomic sit-position, stupidly high pedal sharpnotes, "setzer? never heard that word ..."

 

But as I said above - we are só flexible.

 

(Mind you: the 'poldermodel' surely didn't made it into organbuilding ;-))

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n the subject of consoles, has anyone else come across the HNB compact consoles where you pushed the manuals into the console before you put the roll top down. It is very dinky.

 

Yup. I played one regularly for 10 years. I think they were known as fish-fryer consoles. It often made me wonder if anyone had unlocked the console hood and tried playing it with the keyboards still retracted. The square sugar-cube thumb pistons were a nice feature, too.

 

H

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...In another thread Tubular Pneumatic made the interesting comment that he much preferred high English consoles to the low-level American ones. Neither is the exclusive preserve of one nation, but I know what he means: as a generalisation the distinction is valid. My heart warms to our American friend: I wholeheartedly agree!

 

A low level console means that in a large organ you've got to have three or four columns of stop knobs for each division. Once this happens it seems that the logical sequence of pitches from low to high goes to pot. ...Low level consoles also mean that the couplers tend to get placed in a row of stop tabs above the top manual. This is very common in America where you have lots of couplers, but you get it fairly regularly in Britain too. And how I hate it! I can never find the one I want quickly. Bung them in their respective divisions every time, I say!

 

In fact this problem of quick location goes for stop tabs generally. Give me knobs every time. It's said that an advantage of stop tabs is that you get from pianissimo to fortissimo quickly simply by doing a glissando across the top of them. No doubt. But what discriminating organist wants every Dulciana, Salicional and Celeste (not to mention Erzhälers) in the fortissimo?

 

Then there's the continental type of low-level console with the stops in curving horizontal rows. Now I don't mind these nearly so much. At least the ones I've encountered were easy enough to manipulate. But because the stops are well below eye level it requires more eye movement to locate the ones you want. So I still find them less helpful than the traditional English design...

 

There,  I feel better for that! Views, boquets and brickbats awaited.

 

No brickbats, Vox Humana - I coudl not agree more!

 

Christchurch Priory is a case in point - the nave console is unspeakably ugly and very squat - with low fat stop-jambs (and a perspex music rest). Now that the authorities there are still adding stops (because the initial rebuild was not up to the job), they are running out of space. The result? Tremulants operated only by pistons (and the General piston transfer), at least two stops which draw into the sides of the key-cheeks. God knows where they are going to put the next lot....

 

My own church instrument has an elegant, tall console - loads more room on the jambs. Only one problem: a previous organist had the positions of some of the stops changed and they are now (in the cases of the Pedal and Positive) frankly, bizarre. The pitches do not run serially from top to bottom and visitors keep losing the major Pedal reed.

 

I also agree about couplers - the H&H method I like best - put them with the departments which they augment - the worst place is as rocker-switches (or stop-tabs) above the top manual. Personally, I think that this is also a daft place for general pistons - miles away from where your hands are.

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I also agree about couplers - the H&H method I like best - put them with the departments which they augment - the worst place is as rocker-switches (or stop-tabs) above the top manual. Personally, I think that this is also a daft place for general pistons - miles away from where your hands are.

 

Totally agree. The Willis III style tabs along the top are, as you say, daft.

 

I still lose the less frequently used couplers, like Sw-Ch 4' or sw-gt 4' (note they don't call them Sw Octave -> Great!). In fact, the only ones I remember are Sw & Gt to Pedal and Swell to Great. God knows why there are also two thumb rocker switches, one for "Doubles Off" and "Pedal Off". Weird idea.

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Then there's the continental type of low-level console with the stops in curving horizontal rows. Now I don't mind these nearly so much. At least the ones I've encountered were easy enough to manipulate. But because the stops are well below eye level it requires more eye movement to locate the ones you want. So I still find them less helpful than the traditional English design.

 

 

========================

 

I think that the most ergonomically staisfying console I ever played was an H,N & B stop-key console with about 45 stop-keys in a single arc, save for the coupler, which were placed above the Swell (top) manual.

 

It had a rather natty double-touch feature, which enabled finger-pressure to cancel all the other stops sort of "cinema style". Then above each division were canceller-bars which silenced everything. The great thing about this was the speed at which hand-registrations could be effected very quickly.

 

Not only this, the console had "neutrals" built into the combination board, and with a bit of skill, it was possible to set-up 8 thumb-pistons with only 5 !!

 

The trick was to have the Open 1 functioning "on" only on piston 3, and set neutral thereafter. This, by progressing from piston 2, then 4 (etc) a much more baroque sound was possible, on an organ with a German-style tonal pedigree (Brindley & Foster) circa.1870. Including piston 3 in the sequence meant retaining the Open 1 throughout, which was set on neutral on 4 & 5.

 

(I trust you are all following this so far!! :unsure: )

 

With astoinishing speed, one could, for instance, go 2 to 5 (missing out 3), then for the thicker effect, flick 3, or 3 and then 4, to get the Open 1 into the chorus.

 

(Following this, I hope? :blink: )

 

The ergonomics of a large theatre-organ are fantastic, but take a little getting used to due to the odd layout by pitch alone. 200 stop keys are not uncommon on an 18 rank Wurlitzer.

 

However, I wasn't put here to talk about ergonomics, because I am an aesthete.

 

For my money (not much actually!) the most gorgeous consoles I have seen in recent years seem to be coming from Hungary. Low-level, ampitheatre stop layouts in really snazzy contemporary designs with natural waxed finish. As for some of the contemporary organ-cases, they are just BEEEEUDIFUL.

 

I never knew the Hungarians had such good taste. I always think of mad Magyar horsemen with blond hair. ;)

 

MM

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Ah yes: double touch is another of my gripes!  :unsure:

 

Hi

 

Properly set-up double-touch cancelling I find very useful (e.g. Compton's) however, I used to occaisionally play a small Rushworth & Dreaper with DT cancelling and very weak second-touch springs, and that was a problem - especially as the cancelling also oeprated from the Sw-Gt coupler - so several times I went to add the Gt mixture and cancelled everything else, or to couple the swell and cancelled the entire Great - not nice!

 

I also like double-touch manuals (on theatre organs anyway) - adds a great deal of flexibility.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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When I was at Buckfast Abbey the other day I noticed a stop tab labelled "Double Touch Cancellers Off" I did have a look round for the double touch cancellers that this tab was supposed to disengage before deciding that someone somewhere had had a logic bypass!

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I agree with Vox Humana - things are complicated enough, without double-touch - or double-negative-cancelling-off-stop-thingys.

 

For my money (or perhaps just a really good Vodka), no-one has yet beaten a good H&H console for elegance, logicality (is that a word?), ease of use and plain comfort.

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Deja vu, we've discussed this before.

 

The old Tewkesbury 5-manual walker console had double-touch cancelling. It was a nightmare. You'd be playing on swell to mixture for example, add the hautboy and all the other stops would go off. The "Double Touch Canceller" was always the first stop tab to search for amongst the hundreds available!

 

Also invented by the devil are double-touch thumb and toe pistons, typically which add pedal combinations if pressed sufficiently firmly. I've been playing an instrument like this for the last 18 months and still cant accurately gauge how hard to press the damn things to get a predictable result.

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For my money (or perhaps just a really good Vodka), no-one has yet beaten a good H&H console for elegance, logicality (is that a word?), ease of use and plain comfort.

 

I once had to play after a service sung by a visiting choir on the H & H at St Albans Abbey - I had never played the instrument before the final hymn but everything I wanted was in the right place - the organ almost played itself!!

 

AJJ

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For my money (or perhaps just a really good Vodka), no-one has yet beaten a good H&H console for elegance, logicality (is that a word?), ease of use and plain comfort.
How I agree! Surely no one builds more ergonomically friendly consoles than H&H.
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I particularly like the H&H console at Coventry - since it is covered in leather, it smells like you are playing a Jersey cow. (Well, I would imagine that it would.)

 

It also has the most comfortable pedal board which I have ever encountered.

 

Does anyone know why it is covered in leather? (The console - not the cow.) I know the choir-stalls are upholstered in leather, but I would have thought that just matching the wood would be enough for most people....

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Does anyone know why it is covered in leather? (The console - not the cow.) I know the choir-stalls are upholstered in leather, but I would have thought that just matching the wood would be enough for most people....
Perhaps they let Damien Hirst loose on it. After all, the organ's already been cut in two...
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Perhaps they let Damien Hirst loose on it. After all, the organ's already been cut in two...

 

Ha!

 

In that case, I am glad that it only smells of leather - and not formaldehyde as well....

 

Perhaps they should place a bust of JSB (smeared in honey)* on the console and attempt to attract a swarm of bees into the cathedral.

 

* Don't knock it - some people pay good money for this sort of thing - usually in a terraced house in Clapham....

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How I agree! Surely no one builds more ergonomically friendly consoles than H&H.

 

======================

 

Well I would agree that H & H consoles tend to be superb to play, but for the seriously big jobs, I tend to think that the horshoe stop-key layout is the best.

 

It always astonishes me how some top-notch theatre organ performers can use the double-touch keys, cancellers, hand-registration, effects buttons, toe pistons, general crescendo pedal, sustainers, sforzando devices, double-touch pistons, suitable-bass tabs, multiple tremulants (etc etc) and still make music.

 

The problem for the visiting organists is actually knowing what everything does, where it is and knowing how to use it, and I expect that applies to the larger US jobs also.

 

However, one thing I can tell board-members, ( I know some people despise theatre organs), being able to control a large theatre-organ is the best lesson in console control possible, and I know that certain Mr Curley agrees with me.

 

But for basic ergonomics, I can't fault a H & H console.

 

MM

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