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Geoff McMahon

Console Proportions

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Douglas Corr posted a question about console proportions on the old list which was interesting. This subject comes up quite regularly in organ building circles with occasional requests that organ builders get their act together and adopt the same dimensions for all their instruments.

 

That really isn't possible due to the wide range of styles of organs, but there are questions which can be addressed. There are standardised dimensions which have been established by the Bund der Deutsche Orgelbauer (BDO), The Royal College or Organists (RCO) and the American Guild of Organists (AGO). These latter two are similar although the BDO one is slightly different. However, the RCO and AGO ones were established some while back and to some extent have been overtaken by the passage of time, specifically because people tend to be taller than they used to be.

 

We base our dimensions on the RCO/AGO general recommendations but have found that organists are happier if we pull the pedal board out by about 50mm and increase the distance between the key bench and the pedal board by about 30mm. This leads to a more upright playing position rather than the more laid back one which seems to have been popular in the immediate post-war period. This has generally (but not always) met with approval, but I suspect the search for a one-size-fits-all is an elusive one and would probably never come about.

 

John Pike Mander

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I'm all for the manuals and pedals not being too far apart - I've got short legs. An adjustable stool is only one part of the answer: there is a right level to sit relative to the manuals, and I end up having to sit a long way forward on the bench to be able to pedal properly.

 

Surely with electric pedalboards it would not be too hard to make the height of the pedals adjustable?

 

Dunstan

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Washington National Cathedral has just that facility (an adjustable pedal board) and it is adjusted electrically. It can't be done easily on a mechanical action pedal board though.

 

John Pike Mander

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Hi

 

As someone who plays a number of different organs, this is an interesting issue. I find in practice that, as long as the pedalboard is somewhere near "correct" (i.e.D under D) in position, then there are few problems. Different pedal compass, and flat pedal boards, especially if not centred, make life interesting.

 

I personally prefer the Victorian straight, concave style of pedalboard to the RCO/AGO design; and I also like manuals relatively close together to facilitate thumbing, etc. - and drawstops rather than tabs any day!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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I'm six foot four inches tall and weigh 17 stones (that's 238 pounds) so I had difficulty squeezing behind some of the small Victorian organs that I played when we lived in England. The organ stools were generally too low and could not be moved back any further because of the choir stalls. I did find that straight, flat pedal boards were easier for me (with my size 13 shoes) than the RCO standard. One organ in South Gloucestershire had the music stand so far back on the console that even my long arms had difficulty with page turns and found that I didn't need my reading glasses to see the music.

 

Bruce Fletcher

Stronsay, Orkney, UK

www.stronsay.co.uk/claremont

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I remember a discussion about varying the dimensions of the console subtly depending upon the type of instrument - e.g. a larger organ may have slightly larger dimensions to give the impression that you're playing a larger instrument and a classicaly inspired organ's console could encourage a more upright posture than a romatic inspired instrument. I wouldn't sanction massive variations - judgement is called for!

 

I would think these touches, if done well, could help the musician play an organ in a style that matches its character. I find the best organs tell me how they should be played by their sound and feel and this is part of way to achieve that.

 

Historic organs, in particular, tell me a lot about how they should be played and the feedback decreases if the "historic" organ sports a modern console. I can understand that sometimes people will want to play an historic instrument and sometimes will want an organ that can be managed very easily.

 

While no way an expert on console design, I understand that the RCO dimensions were never really adopted properly by many organ builders, HN&B being the biggest exception - well I guess they built the RCO organ at Kensington Gore! I understand the RCO is planning a new organ at their new headquaters in Birmingham - it will be interesting to see whether its console will be to RCO dimensions or whether they go for some new standards.

 

Personally, I agree with the comments that adjustable pedalboards would be a good thing (ignoring technical considerations) and I also prefer straight concave pedalboards to r/c pedalboards. While not having an exhastive knowledge of this, I am told that straight concave pedalboards are more prevalent on the continent, while r/c boards are prevalent in English speaking countries.

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"My" instrument at St. Michael in Turku was built with an adjustable mechanical pedal board. It is technically very simple. The mechanism was designed by the builder, Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri Ab, Sweden. The pedals can be raised and lowered within a marginal of 13 cm, and all the coupler and swell pedals move with them.

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I have to say that I am impressed! It can't be THAT easy technically, but obviously it can be done. Well done Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri! It would be nice if they would publish details about this in the ISO Journal.

 

John Pike Mander

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Douglas Corr's original query referred to the odd placement of the pedal board on a 4-manual Klais. Was it by any chance Bath Abbey ?

 

I don't share Douglas's height, being just 5'6, but found the Bath Abbey organ very uncomfortable. The pedal board is positioned with the sharps/flats much closer to the player than normal, hence I found that if I positioned the bench at a comfortable position for pedalling the manuals were too far away. I've not come across this problem on any other instrument.

 

I would also agree with Douglas regarding Harrison consoles from the 1960s onwards, which seem to be universally comfortable to use - although I do prefer the larger toe studs deployed by most of their competitors.

 

By own real "hate" item of console design is the double-touch piston, widely used by Nicolsons, amongst others in the 70's & 80's. Does anyone actually find these desirable ?

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I found Klais's Händel-Halle organ in Halle/Saale very difficult (and the combination system was a nightmare) - partly perhaps because of the G-compass pedal, unusual in Germany, coupled with the paralell pedalboard. Once I'd got used to it, I made a pig's ear of the next day's service on my own instrument. You can get used to anything.

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I have found most of the continental pedalboards which I have played very comfortable, within a few minutes. In fact, they are all usually more comfortable than the pedalboard of my own church instrument, which is not aligned D under D - which I presume, is an error. (Ped. compass 32n; manuals 3x 61n, btw).

 

The most comfortable pedalboards I have played in this country are the H&H ones at Exeter and Coventry cathedrals - they just inspire one not to make too many mistakes....

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