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What Keyboard Action Is Best?


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Surely you can't beat a modern, light tracker action? Up until this evening I wouldn't have thought there was any argment, but I've learnt that there is! So what does the Brains Trust think?

 

And how variable, weightwise, are modern tracker actions? Of the ones I've played (several, but not a lot), all have been very light and comfortable except for the slightly heavy Gwynn & Goetze at St Endellion in Cornwall - but that's based on eighteenth-century models, including, presumably, the action.

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Surely you can't beat a modern, light tracker action? Up until this evening I wouldn't have thought there was any argment, but I've learnt that there is! So what does the Brains Trust think?

 

And how variable, weightwise, are modern tracker actions? Of the ones I've played (several, but not a lot), all have been very light and comfortable except for the slightly heavy Gwynn & Goetze at St Endellion in Cornwall - but that's based on eighteenth-century models, including, presumably, the action.

 

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

 

I think it was Lemare who said in a speech to an Organist's Association, "Of all actions, I prefer a good tracker one."

 

I would go along with this, but I would also qualify it further.

 

I have played and given recitals on just about every type of action, including EP actions which fail to respond well, pneumatics which were like lightning and tracker-action organs which are heavy and ponderous.

 

So I would suggest that a GOOD action is all that is required.

 

A GOOD action is not necessarily the most prompt, but quick repetition is desparately important, for the lack of this can wreak havoc in any performance as the organist starts to "fight" with the action. One of the worst moments of my life was giving a recital at St.Bart's, Armley many years ago, when the old girl was just about on death's doors. Not only was the repetition very slow, it was uneven; not just from one manual to the next, but actually across the manuals and pedals also, which totally destroyed any attempt at cohesive music-making. Thus, an already slow action (as it had then become) was an absolute nightmare. Like a latter-day Glen Gould, I had to hum and sing to myself, just to remind me what musical sounds SHOULD have been reaching my ears!!

 

Response is everything, rather than delay. In other words, if one lifts a finger quickly, the action should respond to this, even if it takes half-a-day to do it. Delayed responses can be understood and anticipated, as is the case with an organ like Blackburn Cathedral, where the pipes are a bus-ride away from the console. The same is true of many a large cathedral-organ, where pipe divisions are scattered around the building; the classic example being St.Paul's, London.

 

The great advantage with a tracker-action instrument (even a worn one), is the fact that it DOES respond to what the fingers and feet are doing; albeit with varying degrees of ease/difficulty/weight and touch. Old tracker-actions may clank and clatter away like "Riverdance," but the performer is still connected to the music.

 

The mistake is to assume that all tracker-actions are good. They are NOT, and some are downright perverse.

 

After all, the analogy of a motor-car is valid. Most small cars have "tracker"steering, and many big-cars have power-steering, but not all small cars feel good, drive well, steer promptly or respond to the slightest movements of the wrist. Similarly, big cars with power-steering (some have variable power-steering) can be responsive, agile and "feel" good, in spite of the hydraulics.

 

In summary, it might be fair to state that there are certain parameters beyond which ANY action should not stray. If they do, the music suffers, but many people make the mistake in thinking that tracker-action equates automatically to better performances. Some of the finest organ-music I have ever heard has been performed on pneumatic or electro-pneumatic actions.

 

I suppose the Barker-Lever action, even though it is a little slow in repetition, is the one closest to tracker-action in terms of tactile involvement, and I don't recall that it was ever a handicap to Dupre, Vierne or Durufle.

 

Just give an organist a GOOD action, and he will do the rest.

 

 

MM

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Guest Lee Blick

Give me a tracker action organ anyday to anything pneumatic or electric. It is about as close as you can get to a totally electric free instrument, apart from the blowers, of course.

 

Apart from the amount of control you get with one, when you add stops and the action becomes heavier you feel the effort in your fingers for me is an exciting thing. Yes, it means it is harder to thunder things out for any length of time, but a good physical indication to only play loudly when the music really dictates it.

 

The other thing I like about tracker sis that you are attached to the case and to the action and the pipes themselves. I don't get that organic feel with an electric console miles away from case.

 

I know this sounds a bit daft but on an electic/pneumatic instrument if it goes wrong it is a seen as an annoyance, but if it is a tracker organ you become aware of its idiosynchrosies and realise it is quite an a delicate thing indeed that needs loving care

 

Finally, I think the level of craftmanship required is higher for tracker organs. How many electric/electropneumatic instruments have been dispensed with up and down the country because they are not up to the job because of poor craftmanship? Loads!

 

Don't get me wrong, I like playing some electric instruments but in my view the electrification of the organ in some ways has made them become like monsters with huge egos and are used as status symbols.

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I agree with MM.

 

60 years of "reform" has convinced us all tracker action

and slider-chests are required to perform a credible

interpretation of the baroque repertoire.

No one will discuss this today, even me.

 

But this goes the other way too. I'm convinced Reger, among others,

needs TP or EP with Registerkanzelle (Groves that

feed stops, not notes).

 

And of course an action must be good first, whatever

its kind. There are good and not-that-good trackers,

while Willis, Sauer, Walcker, Link, Kerkhoff, Dalstein&Haerpfer (+others)

pneumatic actions are known to be excellent and reliable...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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I also agree with MM - with a qualifier!

 

In smaller instruments, up to around twenty stops, a good tracker action is probably best.

 

However, I would not want my instrument rebuilt with tracker action. The present forty-year-old electro-pneumatic action was engineered so well that it hardly ever malfunctions and I have found it to be more responsive than tracker action.

 

At Bath Abbey, I was able to play repeated chords faster than the clavier action could cope - (if you play Cochereau, this technique is required!) - which I found less than impressive. I also found it heavy.

 

Furthermore, with an action as responsive as the electro-magnetic system at Gloucester, I cannot see any situation in which tracker would be an advantage.

 

I have had more problems with mechanical pedal actions going wrong - or trackers breaking - than any other type of pedal action.

 

I think that there is a certain amount of 'looking through rose-tinted spectacles' at tracker action. It is not always the best solution. I would also not wish to part with my Sub Octave, Unison Off and Octave couplers on my Swell Organ. I would have been unable to use anything like Vierne's prescribed 16p and 4p flute registration for a short episode in the Choral from the 2me Symphonie without these couplers. On the CD, it is impossible to tell that this registration is 'faked', as it were.

 

Having said that, I believe that it would be inappropriate to rebuild Sint Bavo with a detached console and electro-pneumatic action - just as I feel that it would be unwise to rebuild my instrument with tracker action.

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I agree with MM.

 

60 years of "reform" has convinced us all tracker action

and slider-chests are required to perform a credible

interpretation of the baroque repertoire.

No one will discuss this today, even me.

 

But this goes the other way too. I'm convinced Reger, among others,

needs TP or EP with Registerkanzelle (Groves that

feed stops, not notes).

 

And of course an action must be good first, whatever

its kind. There are good and not-that-good trackers,

while Willis, Sauer, Walcker, Link, Kerkhoff, Dalstein&Haerpfer (+others)

pneumatic actions are known to be excellent and reliable...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

I agree much with Pierre, maybe adding that a 'good' action gives 'the right feel'.

 

I've played a lot of tracker actions that just don't 'respond' - yes, you feel mechanical action, but the speech of the pipes is not 'in sync' with th feel in the hands (sorry for maybe being a bit fuzzy).

On the other hand, my unreliable tubular pneumatic organ, dóes give that feel (which I also remember from a Anneessens pneumatic) - the way the pipes speak corresponds to the (action)feeling in the hands - which makes it quite agreeable to play on (even do it's unreliable and the console proportions stink).

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
===================

 

I think it was Lemare who said in a speech to an Organist's Association, "Of all actions, I prefer a good tracker one."

 

I would go along with this, but I would also qualify it further.

 

I have played and given recitals on just about every type of action, including EP actions which fail to respond well, pneumatics which were like lightning and tracker-action organs which are heavy and ponderous.

 

So I would suggest that a GOOD action is all that is required.

 

A lot of good sense here.

 

While I agree that for most new organs, tracker is the obvious choice - (above everything else a discipline for the builder) it gives an intimate control of the instrument and (mostly) excellent repetition, there is both something to be said for electric action and something else to add against a modern tracker.

 

Pro electric action: So often, in fact in virtually every case where there is a substantial instrument with tracker action, it is impossible to judge the true effect of the instrument from the playing position. This leads me to conclude, since the actual effect is in fact the most important thing, more important than my personal pleasure in putting down keys, there is still a lot to be said for a detatched console.

 

Anti tracker: There continues to be a rogue element found occasionally in organs by some of the 'best' builders, that of pallet bounce. A smart release of a key is sufficient to make either the pallet re-open briefly, or that the surface of the key hits the felt above it and the delicacy of the action (or weakness of the pallet-spring) gives the same unsatisfactory result. I had to record on a wonderfully-made small tracker organ recently and had to reconcile myself to modifying the performance that I would usually give, simply because if I lifted my fingers off the keys in rapid playing, they gave me that irritating effect on several notes.

 

I think that this business of lightness (on individual manuals) is an ideal which has been persued rather too obsessively.

 

There is also the question over whether a large (apparently) tracker instrument is in fact the real thing at all. Several employ electric coupling. This cost of two actions and the resulting complication may not make for longevity although it keeps happy those players who want to play heavy romantic works (with their regular fistfulls of notes).

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About the "right feel";

 

This is an ergonomic problem, it does not necessarily

impones a tracker action.

Several ways are possible; the belgian builder Kerkhoff,

for example, used Roosevelt chests (slightly modified in order

to avoid copyrights...) with exhaust pneumatic system.

But the detached console is mechanical, with relays in

the basement of the organ.

This gives just that little inertia that helps; moreover, when

the couplers are on there is a slight increase in weight, which

is a natural feeling for the player.

The action itself being extremely quick, one feels 100% in control

of the things!

We have an organ build that way in the Collège St-Michel, Brussels,

by Kerkhoff. It dates 1910 and never gave any trouble.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Its refreshing to see a great deal of common sense being talked here. The idea that mechanical action is best for every instrument, whatever its layout and size, is plainly wrong - so its a case of "horses for courses" really.

 

Mechanical actions also tend to impose constraints on how you use the instrument. At Tewkesbury for example, playing with Swell-Great coupled is reasonable, though not light, but you wouldn't want to couple the choir through as well. Whether such constraints should be seen as desirable is perhaps another subject...

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Mechanical actions also tend to impose constraints on how you use the instrument. At Tewkesbury for example, playing with Swell-Great coupled is reasonable, though not light, but you wouldn't want to couple the choir through as well. Whether such constraints should be seen as desirable is perhaps another subject...

 

.....In a baroque organ, yes. Because the music composed for it

takes these limitations into account.

There is a close relationship between music, type of chest, action,

specification and temperament.

 

At the beginnings of the "Reform", only the specification was taken

into consideration.

The other factors came later.

Quite strangely, this worked one way only; if Bach deserved

Slider-chests, tracker action, (would-be) baroque spec and temperament,

Reger did not deserve that the late-romantic organs were preserved; even today,

it is sometimes said a baroque organ will do.

The situation is now evolving, but slowly.

We need to maintain the diversity of styles, this is beginning to be admitted today;

but please not only with the specifications, the more technical aspects need to be

preserved as well.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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It is also worth considering that there is little practical point in being able to depress a key very slowly, thus emitting air into a pipe gradually, in order that the note should speak with an initial transient. In practical terms, just about any music is too fast for any perceived benefit to register.

 

At the opening of the re-commissioned organ of Christchurch Priory, Nicolas Kynaston played the first half upstairs on the tracker console - his articulation was anything but clear in the 'Wedge' Prelude and Fugue. The pulse was also rather wayward in the Fugue. Interestingly, his articulation was noticeably clearer (and cleaner) in the second half - which was played downstairs on the electric action console.

 

I am still un-convinced by statements which mention intimate response or the like. I often find that large tracker action organs are just plain heavy - and awkward.

 

Having practised regularly on two tracker instruments when I was learning (one of which was very heavy) I do not think that I have got weak fingers! It is just that I have never yet found a tracker action which has shown me any advantages over a really good electro-pneumatic (or electro-magnetic) action.

 

With a good technique and a good ear, it should be possible to produce a musical and clear performance on either of these actions!

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And interestingly - firms that would previously have built dual mechanical/non mechanical instruments (Symphony Hall etc.) are now leaving the mechanical console/action out and just building the non mechanical. The new Van den Heuvel in Copenhagen has this and I believe also Klais is doing similarly. I wonder whether this trend is player or builder lead?

 

AJJ

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And interestingly - firms that would previously have built dual mechanical/non mechanical instruments (Symphony Hall etc.) are now leaving the mechanical console/action out and just building the non mechanical. The new Van den Heuvel in Copenhagen has this and I believe also Klais is doing similarly. I wonder whether this trend is player or builder lead?

 

AJJ

 

Around 1980, all that was wanted was neo-baroque organs with two

8' flues pro manual and lightly-blown reeds.

Now if we want concert-hall organs with 80+ stops, couplers aplenty

and sheer tone strenght, well, there is no miracle on Earth, rather

plain stupid physical laws.

Barker levers seem to be in vogue now, but they are quite expansive.

I guess the true reason is with them you still *have tracker action*!

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Some very interesting responses here - for which I thank everyone. Clearly there is a diversity of opinion with, it seems, a general tendency towards the feeling that tracker is OK for small instruments, but less desirable for large ones. Plus a feeling that one shouldn't muck around with historical instruments (which I would agree with, as a rule of thumb anyway).

 

However, I am not altogether sure what to make of the comments about tracker action since posters haven't always made clear whether they are talking of historical actions (which tend to be weighty, if not downright heavy) or modern ones which, in my limited experience, are admirably light. An case in point is this fine organ http://www.konzerte3f.de/orgel/disposition.html It's not exactly a small instrument, yet even with all three manuals coupled, it is no effort to play. Uncoupled, the manuals are hardly heavier than electro-pneumatic action (at least as I remember it - it's light, for sure). However, I hear that not all new tracker actions are like this.

 

I really wanted to know specifically about modern tracker actions, so maybe I should rephrase my original question. Given a clean slate on which to design a new organ, what would be the action of your choice? Mine would be mechanical key action and electric stop action. At least, it would up to three manuals and c.50 stops. Larger than that and I'm not so sure - I've never played a new tracker that big!

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It depends entirely of the style of the organ.

 

This Klais in Aachen has only two 8' flues on each manual,

with more weighty reeds, but these stops do not use much wind.

 

The issue is not much the pressure, rather the volume of air.

A fifty stops organ with a GO Spec such as:

16-8-8-4-4-2 2/3-2-1 1/3-Fourniture-Cymbale-Cornet- 8-4

 

uses CONSIDERABLY less wind than:

 

16-16-8-8-8-8-8-4-4-2 2/3-Mixture-16-8-4

 

Not only the paper spec does count, but also the voicing techniques.

Heavy nicked languids use more wind too.

 

As a result, modest 15-stops tracker romantic organs are actually

heavier than 30-stops neo-baroque ones.

(There are technical reasons for that too, but basically the reason

is wind-consumption).

 

So let's say we'd make an organ in the Trost's style in order to have

a reasonable "Bach-organ", we should go to the tracker -even if we consider

Trost organs ARE 8'-rich, but the voicing isn't romantic-; if we aim at Howells

or Reger, we should make something else.

 

Big modern organs with light touch, as often seen in Germany, go with very

light pressures -lighter than in actual baroque organs- and no nicking voicing -while here again, this was not so radical in true baroque organs-, and top-heavy specs..

Another point to consider are the new materials that allowed for lighter mechanical parts than in the ancient organs.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Some very interesting responses here - for which I thank everyone. Clearly there is a diversity of opinion with, it seems, a general tendency towards the feeling that tracker is OK for small instruments, but less desirable for large ones. Plus a feeling that one shouldn't muck around with historical instruments (which I would agree with, as a rule of thumb anyway).

 

However, I am not altogether sure what to make of the comments about tracker action since posters haven't always made clear whether they are talking of historical actions (which tend to be weighty, if not downright heavy) or modern ones which, in my limited experience, are admirably light. An case in point is this fine organ http://www.konzerte3f.de/orgel/disposition.html It's not exactly a small instrument, yet even with all three manuals coupled, it is no effort to play. Uncoupled, the manuals are hardly heavier than electro-pneumatic action (at least as I remember it - it's light, for sure). However, I hear that not all new tracker actions are like this.

 

I really wanted to know specifically about modern tracker actions, so maybe I should rephrase my original question. Given a clean slate on which to design a new organ, what would be the action of your choice? Mine would be mechanical key action and electric stop action. At least, it would up to three manuals and c.50 stops. Larger than that and I'm not so sure - I've never played a new tracker that big!

 

I'd go for tracker (especially a well-planned modern tracker action) any day - providing the layout of the organ allowed it (According to Organ Building, the tracker console at Christchurch was put in at the insistence of the advisors but necessitated a very difficult action layout - possibly the cause of the problems someone mentioned?).

 

In mjy view, detached consoles are problematic - I always feel remote, and there's always a lag due to the sound having to travel a distance (maybe I'm particularly sensitive to this) - and NO musician hears his instrument as the audience hear it, so I find that argument unconvincing! Also, I've find that there's something about the feel of tracker - and given a good action on a small organ (and suitable piepwork) I find I can control the starting transiants of some stops in slower music - and tracker just feels more direct and "in control" somehow!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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The first church where I held a proper appointment as organist, had a fairly substantial H & H instrument from their earliest years at Durham with tracker action; save for the pneumatic pedal-action. It was absolutely fine to play, but due to the fact that the Choir Organ was the TOP MANUAL, and had been added at a much later date, it was not possible to couple it to anything other than the Swell!

 

However, the organ had about 12-13 ranks on both Swell and Great, and the wind-pressure was not excessive by any means......probably around 3.5" maximum.

 

Where tracker-action becomes a handicap, is when the organ is heavily romantic, as Pierre suggests. With separate heavy-pressure chests, the action has to be doubled up, using squares which operate separate pallets. It isn't just a question of wind-pressure therefore. Of course, the higher-wind pressures found in later romantic-style instrument do demand an additional effort initially, but once the pallet opens, the pressure resistance disappears.

 

It is when wind-pressures get very high on high-pressure chests.....perhaps in excess of 10" wg......that the initial key-pressure requiured climbs to an unacceptable level. It is for this reason that pneumatic or electro-pneumatic actions were developed.

 

As for the size of an organ, that is much less important than many might suggest, but as Pierre points out, large-scale 16ft and 8ft registers need much more wind, and the pallets have to be much bigger as a result, with a subsequent increase in key depression weight.

 

As for MODERN actions, perhaps it might be useful to consider St.Bavo, Haarlem once again. Although an early 18the century instrument, when built, it was the largest organ in the world, and I think if one counts the number of pipes, it is around 7,500 or so....about the same as the Royal Festival Hall, for example.

I'm not quite sure what the wind-pressures are, but I would imagine that they are in the region of 3" wg throughout. This particular organ had a NEW suspended-action by Marcussen back in the 1970's, and it is a joy to play, with moderate touch-weight, excellent repetition etc etc. When one considers how far that action travels, which I would estimate to be about 40ft or more from the keys to the windchest of the Bovenwerk, it is quite outstanding. The pedal action must travel 15ft each side of the console, and maybe 6ft to the vertical, whilst the Rugwerk (behind the player) must drop 3 or 4ft, go subterranean briefly, and then re-emerge to connect with the windchest. Even when the couplers are used, this organ remains entirely manageable, if not exactly light to the touch.

 

It goes to show, that all things being equal, the enemies of tracker-action are:-

(a) Excessive wind-pressure

(:P Multiple wind-chests

 

AND ALSO

 

© Anything which forces the action to turn 90 degree corners, where a normal action layout is not possible.

 

MM

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"It is when wind-pressures get very high on high-pressure chests.....perhaps in excess of 10" wg......that the initial key-pressure requiured climbs to an unacceptable level. It is for this reason that pneumatic or electro-pneumatic actions were developed."

 

(Quote)

 

Here Britain is different from the continent.

The wind-pressures in romantic british organs are incredibly high

compared to continental standards, especially with the reed stops.

I suggest a little experiment.

Tell a french organist you know an organ whose Trumpets are

on 250mm wind.

He won't believe you!

 

Some examples:

Walcker: mostly 75mm troughout

 

Cavaillé-Coll: from 80 to about 130mm according to chests and bass

and treble.

 

Belgian builders: very rarely over 100mm

 

In Britain it is not uncommon to meet with three times higher wind pressures.

(Not for the Open Diapasons, tough)

 

So the introduction of the pneumatic action had other reasons, namely, this

volume of air matter.

Especially in Germany, with low pressures but 6 or even more 8' flues

pro manual.

 

Mr Mander once explained he used a special chest for a high-pressure reed

stop.

Because this stop uses very few wind, little valves with little openings did the

job.....Without a heavy touch.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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Britain is different from the continent.

The wind-pressures in romantic british organs are incredibly high

compared to continental standards, especially with the reed stops.

I suggest a little experiment.

Tell a french organist you know an organ whose Trumpets are

on 250mm wind.

He won't believe you!

 

Some examples:

Walcker: mostly 75mm troughout

 

Cavaillé-Coll: from 80 to about 130mm according to chests and bass

                    and treble.

 

Belgian builders: very rarely over 100mm

 

In Britain it is not uncommon to meet with three times higher wind pressures.

(Not for the Open Diapasons, tough)

 

So the introduction of the pneumatic action had other reasons, namely, this

volume of air matter.

Especially in Germany, with low pressures but 6 or even more 8' flues

pro manual.

 

Mr Mander once explained he used a special chest for a high-pressure reed

stop.

Because this stop uses very few wind, little valves with little openings did the

job.....Without a heavy touch.

 

 

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

 

 

The reason for pneumatic-actions being highly developed in England possibly has

a quite different raison d'etre.

 

You must lay the blame, if blame it is, at the door of the Oxford Movement, when organs and choirs were placed in chancels; the organs usually crammed into wide, long "chambers" which were, in effect, side-aisles. Without height, but with considerable available length, organs sprawled sideways at some distance from the centre of action; the chancel areas. Thus grew the penchant for detached consoles and "auto-transmission" mechanisms; especially when organs were divided each side of a chancel, as they often are in the UK.

 

Because the organs were thus buried in side-aisle "chambers," and often obscured by stone-arches, the sound was muffled. To overcome this problem, the weight of tone had to increase....hence the higher wind-pressures, the forced tones and massive reed registers.

 

Take a typical Arthur Harrison organ such as Halifax PC, which has, I believe, about 52 speaking stops. Were the organ at the West End, it would not need the very potent chorus-work it has......4.5" wg wind....about 115mm, quite large scale, with leathered-lips for the Open Diapason no.1. The Solo Flues are on 5" wg wind,

or about 127mm, the Great Trombas are on 10" w.g. (I think) ...about 255mm wind. The 8ft Tuba and Pedal Ophicleide 16ft, from an extended rank, are voiced on 15" wg, which is about 380mm wind. The Swell reeds are on 7" wg if I recall correctly, which is about 177mm.

 

Pierre mentions German organs, but the Harrison at Halifax has a full length 16ft Geigen on the Great, Open Diapasons 1-3, a Hohl Flute and a Stopped Diapason all at 8ft pitch.....that's just ONE less than the German style of specification he mentions, but at considerably higher wind-pressure. Again, I think he may be wrong to assume that the existence of pneumatic-actions is related necessarily to weight of touch. I suspect that it had rather more to do with expressive control, but I stand to be corrected. In England, pneumatic actions were a necessity rather than a luxury, and a builder like Fr Henry Willis was happy to use Barker-lever where the height was available, as at St.Augustine's, Kilburn, which we discussed recently.

 

In engineering terms, no country in the world ever came close to the superb pneumatic-actions which were developed in the UK. I used to play a Binns organ regularly, which had lightning responses after 60 years of use and ageing, and yet that was a fairly "simple" system as compared to more advanced ones.

 

The very best pneumatic actions approach, and sometimes exceed the performance of many an average Electro-pneumatic action, but of course, they are very expensive to make and repair. Not every EP system is a competent as the lightning responses of, say, a Wurlitzer organ.

 

Now Mr Mander may well have described a system of driving a single heavy-pressure reed stop, but when one set of flues are at one pressure, the chorus reeds at another and the bigger flues at a third pressure, we start to run into problems when contemplating tracker-action; yet these higher-pressure were possibly necessary to achieve the smoothness of accompaniment tone at a much higher volume level than might be required when an organ is placed more favourably, such as in a West gellery position.

 

So, it was never really a MUSICAL decision to go for heavier, smoother tone, but a necessity brought about by a combination of bad organ-placement and the requirements of large-scale congregational singing.

 

Unfortunately, the heavier-pressures brought with them musical compromises; not least in the performance ofgood solo organ-music, but I would concede that a big Harrison is tailor-made for the purposes of traditional Anglican accompaniment.

 

MM

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I find this a very interesting topic, but note that no comment has been made about 'balanciers'.

 

As I understand it, their function is to reduce the weight necessary to open the pallet, and their use is generally restricted to the bass end of the soundboard.

 

I'd be very grateful if anyone could comment on their effectiveness, not only in reduction of weight, but also in respect of response and repetition.

 

Theoretically, well designed and regulated balanciers should be able to reduce the weight of tracker action, in even a large instrument, to next to nothing, if required. Obviously, there has to be a financial penalty, but do they have other drawbacks?

 

John

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Dear MM,

 

Of course you are right: british organs are

very often awkwardy placed.

This is something that strucks any continental

visitor.

Maybe this should be viewed as a kind of "limit",

like a tracker action's baroque dutch or czech organ.

 

But fact is: a sound resulted from this, not to be find

anywhere else.

A sound strange guys may even happen to like.

Should Britain earn a living from tourism, such

bad tastes may deserve consideration, after all... :P

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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

So, it was never really a MUSICAL decision to go for heavier, smoother tone, but a necessity brought about by a combination of bad organ-placement and the requirements of large-scale congregational singing.

 

I agree with most of what MM says, but I think he goes too far in asserting that musical grounds were never involved in the decision. I think there was a change in musical taste driving the change, too.

 

The move in the direction of smoother, heavier tone had already begun before organs started moving to the east ends of churches. Heavy actions caused by high pressures predate the east end organ chamber, for instance, the organs at Birmingham Town Hall and York Minster in the 1840's. Those high pressures were driven by a need for louder and heavier sounds rather than the need to escape the confines of an organ chamber.

 

Moreover, organs that were never confiined in small chambers also went down the smooth/heavy road. Think of the old organ at Trinity College, Cambridge, for instance, as well as all those organs in good, open positions in non-conformist chapels. And did not the Germans and Americans also go down the same route of smoothness - presumably without first confining their organs to inappropriate chambers?

 

Outside the organ world, too, musical tone was becoming smoother and heavier. Think of Brahms's and Bruckner's orchestral sonorities as opposed to Beethoven's, or the pianoforte as opposed to the harpsichord, not to mention such ninenteenth century introductions into orchestral tone as the bass clarinet or the Wagner tuba.

 

No builders seem to have tried ever brighter, splashier reeds and ever more ranks of mixtures as a means of coping with the east end organ chamber. Would that have been a possible option? If so, it was presumably not explored because British musical taste wanted to move in the opposite direction.

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I'd go for tracker (especially a well-planned modern tracker action) any day - providing the layout of the organ allowed it (According to Organ Building, the tracker console at Christchurch was put in at the insistence of the advisors but necessitated a very difficult action layout - possibly the cause of the problems someone mentioned?).

 

Yes - I did!

The action is heavy and the sight-lines are not good. The tracker console was insisted upon by the advisors, who had apparently instructed the Lottery funding committee that grants should not be made to instruments which did not have mechanical action. At Christchurch, this probably wasted around £80,000. Interestingly, the 'upstairs' console is used almost exclusively for tuning.

 

I find I can control the starting transients of some stops in slower music - and tracker just feels more direct and "in control" somehow!

 

This argument is often quoted by protagonists of mechanical action.

 

I am not convinced of its perceived practical application. I would be interested to know which pieces are enhanced by this effect! Surely any music would have to be extremely slow in order that the effect had time to register.

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