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What stops do I use? Part 2

What stops do I use? Part 2

  • The Principal Chorus (If you can register one of these, you can get by!)
  • Principals, Strings, Flutes, how/when to use each (and stay away from the reeds for now)

The easy part about this post is that there’s so much good information out there, and I can just point you in the right direction. The above bullets are points that Jennifer Budziak recommended that I talk about, for people who would like to learn more about registering the organ. So I’ll talk mostly about the basic sound groups on the organ in this post and leave the reeds for later.

In many ways the organ has similarities to an orchestra, with sounds that are named for, and sound like, orchestral instruments. The strings and flutes and reeds, for example, are built to sound as much like their orchestral counterpart as is lovely and right according to the organbuilder’s concept of the instrument. However, the foundation of the organ itself is built on an entire set of ranks called the principal chorus. (And here let me clarify that a rank refers to an entire row of pipes on the keyboard or pedalboard, so a Principal 8′, with 61 pipes, comprises one rank of pipes. A Principal 16′ in the pedal would have 32 pipes, one for each pedal.)

Here is a good explanation of principal stops, by Patrick J. Murphy and Associates Organbuilders. Once you can identify what the principal stops are on the instrument you are using, then you know how to pull out the principal chorus, which basically means one of each pitch level drawn and used together. Since the principal stops are the core of the instrument, then pulling them all together is the intention for certain kinds of repertoire, frequently in Baroque music, especially in Bach and Buxtehude. It is most common for a large pipe organ to have, on the Great, a Principal 16′, Principal 8′, Octave 4′, Quint 2 2’3, Octave 2′ and Mixture. Pulling all these stops at once is the principal chorus, also called the plenum, or organo pleno. Depending on the sound and volume you are after, you might not use the 16′, or the 2 2/3, so using the 8′, 4′, 2′ and Mixture is also acceptable.

If you are sitting at a console and aren’t sure which are the principals, there are two easy ways to figure it out. First, you can use your phone to Google the stop names in front of you to see what family of pipes they fall into. Second, stop tabs are always put in a certain order. When the stop tabs are in a row under the music rack, then from left to right the principals are first, followed by flutes and strings. Then that same order starts over at the next pitch level. On an instrument with stops that are vertical, on either side of the console rather than horizontal (such as the photo at the head of this post), the principals will be at the bottom, and the next row up will be a flute, then a string, and then it will start over. In that formation stops are placed in two or three rows, but if you look at the order carefully, you will see that they are laid out in such a way that it is easy to figure out the order. Keep in mind there can be exceptions, so when all else fails, Ask a Question!

The next main manual, the Swell, will also have a principal chorus. The Swell will start with a Principal 8′, and will (usually) have a 4′, a 2′ and a Mixture, depending on how much room is available in the organ chamber.

The next manual, if there is one, is the Choir or Positiv, and it will usually not have a Principal 8′ but will start with a Principal 4′. That means that the 8′ foundation pitches used in the Choir will be Flutes or lighter String stops.

But, all of this is subject to the available space in the church or hall, and the artistic vision of the organbuilder. For now, if you know that the Principal Chorus is made up of members of the same pipe family, and you learn how to use them together and how to mix them with other pipes, that’s a good start. In general, using the entire chorus together is for Baroque pieces that call for the entire plenum, but a skilled organbuilder also knows how to voice the principals so they can be used alone and in various combinations and in all kinds of repertoire.

The flute stops come in a lot of varieties, and are among the sweetest and loveliest stops available. Some of them are for ensemble use, and some make good solo stops. When accompanying a choir it’s good to combine various 8′ flute stops with some sprinkling of light string 8′ stops, which I will talk about next. A future post will describe how to combine stops from different manuals, but here I’m just talking basically about what the stops are and how you use them.

Read here for a definition of string pipes in general. Then, there are the strings, which produce a shimmering sound, much like the sound of a section of violins playing together. For this sound the builder takes one of the string ranks, most frequently in the Swell, and uses another rank of pipes next to it (which is not used for anything else) and tunes it slightly sharp. (It is called a celeste.) When you draw both stops at the same time the beat between the ranks causes a lovely, undulating sound. On bigger organs a flute stop may also have its own celeste. The celeste should not be drawn for anything else other than its partner rank, but that other rank can be used alone or in other combinations.

For more information on organ pipes, see John-Paul Buzard’s post on Organ Construction. Stop back for my next post, a discussion about Couplers – What They Are and When to Use Them!

What stops do I use? Part 1

What stops do I use? Part 1

This is one of the questions most of us have, whether or not we studied the organ in college, privately, or are just interested in how it all works. I happen to be married to someone who sees all those knobs and buttons as a delightful opportunity to experiment. (Kind of like playing with LEGOs.) I, however, see all the knobs and buttons and I promptly go out for coffee while he figures out the organ and how to register it. When we were playing duet concerts we would walk in to a new church to start registering our pieces and he would sit down and joyfully get started. I saw that as my cue to tiptoe ever so quietly away and slink back an hour or two later. (Most of the time he wasn’t even aware that I had left.) Over the years I have learned to be less intimidated by the process, and even to be more daring and experimental, but it doesn’t come naturally. My goal here is to give you enough information to answer some basic questions, and to encourage you to read more in-depth information if you want to learn more about the organ. Most organbuilders have good, helpful information on their sites, and as usual, Google is a great place to start on your search.

The American Guild of Organists has videos on how to register the organ, and there is other information out there if you search for Organ Registration, but let’s start with some really great questions and subjects, suggested by a dear colleague and friend who shall remain nameless, but whose initials spell Jennifer Kerr Budziak. (Oops!) Jennifer’s questions will be spread out over the next six blog posts. If you have any additional questions, or think I’ve missed anything, please don’t hesitate to email me at Ask a Question.

What’s with the numbers? (8 and 4 and 2 and please don’t mess with the fractions just now.) Organ stop knobs have numbers on them, such as Principal 8′, Octave 4′, Doublette 2′, Oboe 8′, etc, to let you know at what pitch level the pipe will sound. An 8′ stop tells you that the lowest note on the keyboard, a C, plays a pipe that is 8′ long. From that 8′ long pipe the ascending pipes get smaller as you play up the keyboard. Any 8′ stop you choose on an organ will sound at the pitch that corresponds to the piano keyboard. There are, however, times when the length of the pipe is not what I just described. Stopped flutes are another example, as they start at 4′ length rather than 8′, but sound at the same pitch as an 8′ stop. Here is an explanation of how that works:

“Stopped flutes, (Bourdon, Gedeckt, Lieblich Gedeckt, Stopped Diapason, Flute d’ Amour) can be made of wood or metal. The stopper is inserted into the top of the pipe and forces the air column to return down the length of the pipe to create a distance twice as long as the physical length of the pipe.” (For more information on flute stops in general, visit the site this quote came from, Patrick J. Murphy, Organbuilders.)

A 4′ stop will sound an octave higher than the 8′, and thus a 2′ will sound two octaves above the piano pitch. Therefore, a 16′ pipe will sound an octave below, so the lowest C plays from a pipe that is 16′ long. Combining different pitch levels, along with different combinations of pipes (flutes, reeds, principals), will produce a fuller sound than a piano, more like an orchestra, where multiple instruments blend together. It also is an artificial way to produce more of the octaves found in the harmonic series.

Swell vs. Great vs. Choir. Each keyboard has a different name. Let’s get started with the easy one, the pedalboard. It’s always called the pedalboard, and it’s always in the same place! Organs have anywhere from one to five manual keyboards, and they usually go in a certain order. The first one is the Great manual, called so because it used to be the main stand-alone organ, centuries ago, before organs were all put together into one console. Before that practical invention, churches would have more than one organ, such as the Great, for loud sounds, and a smaller, more portable chamber organ to accompany soloists or the choir. Once somebody got the brilliant idea to put all the keyboards together in one console, it saved the organist a lot of running around, and also enabled more keyboards to be added, with more divisions (basically, more sets of pipes).

When there are two keyboards, the second manual will always be above the Great, and it is called the Swell. The Swell is usually enclosed in a chamber with shutters you can open and close with your foot (affecting how loud the pipes sound in the room), using a pedal that looks much like a car’s accelerator pedal. When there are three keyboards, the third manual is usually called the Choir, and will be placed below the Great, and usually is also enclosed in a chamber (sometimes that manual is called a Positiv).

These are the most common manuals organbuilders use, and they are generally used in that order unless the organ is historically reproducing something from France or Germany, but you don’t need to know that at this point.

Basically, the Great manual stops will be the loudest, used for full organ and thus for hymn registrations and repertoire that calls for more sound. The Swell will have a range of sounds from a smaller, lighter version of the Great manual to including more stops with color and bite, like the reed stops. The Choir manual can have a range of colors and sounds and frequently will include stops that are suitable for accompanying the choir, (usually Swell and Choir are mixed together for choir accompaniments) as well as more interesting solo stops.

I hope this brief tutorial will begin to explain some of the mysteries of organ sounds and registration, and that you will keep reading!

Coming next! Information on the Principal Chorus, Strings, and Flutes.

Let’s be Capricious, shall we?

Let’s be Capricious, shall we?

Well, ok, I’ll admit, I’m not quite sure how being capricious fits in with organ music, but I’m looking to attract your attention.

It’s my hope to transmit my love of the organ and its repertoire to you, with the idea that you will become so smitten you will try it, too! The mighty organ, often called the King of Instruments, has of late become associated with music that is out of date and no longer in the mainstream of church music. It’s also often associated with scary movies and Halloween, but that’s fun and who would discourage that? But, I’m hoping to present a balance of good organ music that will delight you as the player, and your congregation as the listener. So, let’s have some fun, shall we?

First, just look at this picture of Louis-Nicolas Clérambault (1676–1749). He’s looking at us with a bit of a smirk, and his nose is crooked. Too many fights as a child? Certainly his music would be interesting, yes? Plus, he was from Paris. Need I go on? Clérambault was an organist and composer who wrote an amazing amount of music for the church, remembered today mostly for his organ music. His first Livre d’orgue (Organ Book) contains two suites of multiple movements, and our piece of the day, the Caprice sur les Grands Jeux, is the last movement of the second suite.

The practice of the time was for the title of the movement to tell the performer about the texture and the registration of the piece, hence titles like Fugue, Duo, Trio, or Plein Jeu, Flutes, or our movement, Caprice sur les Grands Jeux. French organs of the Classical period were very ornate, and the organ stops were colorful and the way to combine them was prescribed quite exactly. Thus, the organist would see the movement title and know what to draw on their instrument. For the Caprice, the Grand Jeux would have called for just what it sounds like, a large, grand registration with specific stops drawn. Today’s organs are more eclectic and it’s not always possible to get the same kind of sounds that the French composers were asking for. Still, it’s helpful to know the basics so that you can interpret the piece more or less in the style.

It’s amazing to be able to find answers to questions on the internet, and here is a good explanation of the Plein Jeu and Grand Jeu, as well as the difference between a Plein Jeu and Grand Jeu registration combination.

It makes my job so much easier to give you these links, and especially to send you to performances like this one. This is an authentic French instrument, so the sound is what Clérambault would have been expecting, plus the video of the organ case itself is great to watch. It’s faster than I would play it for worship, but it gives you one interpretation. Here’s another, the tempo of which I prefer, and the video is great because you can watch the organists’ hands, which tells you a lot about the articulation to use when playing it (fairly detached throughout). And here is a third performance, which demonstrates the use of notes inégales (basically, the practice of playing notes slightly unevenly, to effect a more elegant interpretation).

So, now that you’ve learned a bit about authentic performance practice for this piece by Clérambault, what does this mean for you as a musician for a Catholic liturgy or Protestant service? Well, my advice is to use it as a postlude, and draw a fairly full registration on your instrument, something like this: on the Great manual, a 16′ Principal if you have one, a Principal 8′, 4′, 2 and 2/3, 2′, and any Great reeds you might have, and any other mutation stops to add color. But if you’re playing a small organ with limited color, just draw what sounds good to you, like Principal 8′, 4′, 2 2/3, 2′, Mixture and Great Trumpet (or couple in a reed or two from the Swell manual). And if that doesn’t give you good ideas, just open the crescendo pedal until it sounds good!

So, I hope you give this piece a try. I’ve done two editions for free download. One is the original for organ, the other eliminates the pedal and makes it playable on manuals only or the piano. And if you have questions, email me and ask, please! I hope you play this piece! (and….let me know if you do, okay?)

Dancing with Buxtehude

Dancing with Buxtehude

Three years ago I was lucky enough to go on a tour of Germany with a group of organ enthusiasts. The theme was “In the footsteps of Bach,” and we visited many of the churches and towns where J.S. Bach served, or that were significant to his life. Our first stop was the famed Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Lübeck, Germany, where Dietrich Buxtehude (1637/39-1707) was the organist. Buxtehude was well known throughout Germany for his Abendmusik (Evening music) at the Marienkirche, and in 1705 the twenty-year-old J.S. Bach walked 250 miles to spend some time with Buxtehude and attend some of his performances, receiving a leave of absence from his church in Arnstadt.

I always wondered about that visit…the walking, the length of time that Bach was away (which was longer than his church granted him), plus the fact that he was gone over Christmas. I think of the schedule most of us have in our churches and just the thought of being gone over Christmas brings on panic­. But, he was young, he did it anyway, and he got into heaps of trouble when he got back. That visit made history, so there must be some kind of lesson to be learned from just doing what you know is right for you!

The organ loft at the Marienkirche was as inaccessible as any I have ever seen. There was a winding, slippery, cement staircase with no way of knowing how far it went up, and panic alcoves strategically placed along the way. (One person did use one of the alcoves, and promptly went back down, which was wise, as I discovered later.) Once we had gone up the many, many stairs, we found ourselves outside, on the roof! From there our guide led us into the attic, where we traversed a rickety wooden bridge that crossed over the entire roof of the Marienkirche (since we were in the attic, we weren’t out in the elements) through an itty-bitty door to the loft itself. Shades of Indiana Jones!

I have a fear of heights.

We got up to the loft and I immediately decided that I neither needed to look down over the rail, or sit at the console. I lasted a very few minutes only to decide that I had seen enough and I went back down the same way I came up (all alone, I might add) only to discover that a helpful docent had locked the door behind our group. And no cellphone service. In that small sacristy room I found the first person who had left us at the staircase, waiting at the same locked door.  Well, we stayed there for a few minutes until my husband, James Biery, appeared (was I ever glad to see him)! He had tried to play the organ, but discovered his legs were too long and his knees knocked on the lowest manual, so he gave up and went looking for me. He looked around that little area and found another door, with a key hidden on the side of it. He figured out how to unlock it and suddenly we could see outside into the square. (BREATHE!!) Somehow, and my memory is hazy on this, I was coerced into being nominated to be the person to walk around and look for help. After walking a city block to get back into the Marienkirche, I found the disbelieving docent (who spoke little English), who didn’t quite buy my story about having been locked in that room, separated from our group. I convinced him by pointing to the loft, where he could see the rest of the group, and he was gracious enough to unlock the door so the others could get out when they came down, and we were all reunited.

So I think of Buxtehude, going up to the loft to play the organ there, and I’m amazed. Plus, there was no electricity! (And where would the nearest bathroom be?) Did he dance a jig up the stairs? But, I digress, and it’s time to talk about his music. In particular, I’d like to share with you my love for his Gigue (Jig) Fugue, BuxWV 174 in C Major. Let’s dance with Buxtehude, shall we?

Most of Buxtehude’s organ compositions are either longer, sectional works, or chorale preludes. The Jig Fugue is one of the few shorter works, about three minutes long. I have made an arrangement of the fugue that is available for free download from GIA. There is a version for organ, and a version for organ or piano for keyboard only, no pedal. The score I based the arrangement on was taken from IMSLP and you can find it here.

There are a few YouTube performances available, and this is one I like for style and tempo. Several of the YouTube performances I listened to have an F-sharp as the last note of measure 6, but I prefer the version in IMSLP, which has an F-natural, which you will find in my edition.

I have used this piece many times in worship, and it is always well received. It is a great summer postlude, or sprightly prelude, or second recessional for a wedding.

The basic registration for the fugue is to start by drawing the main 8′ stop on the Great, which is usually called a Principal or Diapason, but you can identify it fairly easily because it should be the loudest 8′ stop on the Great, not including any reed/trumpet stop. Then add a 4′ stop, usually called Octave 4′. A 2′ comes next, flute or principal will work just fine, followed by anything that is called a Mixture. Draw similar but lighter-sounding stops on the Swell, meaning an 8′ Principal, possibly skipping the 4′ and going right to the 2′, then a lighter Mixture or Plein Jeu or whatever your Swell Mixture is called, or possibly just a 1 1/3 on the top instead of a Mixture, depending on what sounds right to you. Use any 16′ pedal stop, probably the Principal 16′, and the Great to Pedal coupler and you’re good to go. The score has places indicated where you leave the Great manual to go to the Swell and back again if you choose, or you can skip the Swell entirely and just play on the Great throughout. When you do go back to the Great, or if you just stay on the Great, you can add something in measure 50, either the Swell to Great or a Trumpet on the Great. Again, experiment and trust your ear.

The last beat of measure 64 is another place you can add something for either volume or brilliance, if you didn’t do so in measure 50. Since you aren’t playing with your feet at this point, you can set one of the pistons ahead of time, and hit the toe stud with your foot, or you can draw the knob with your hand, whichever is easier for you. You can add the Swell to Pedal at that point, and any 16′ reed in the pedal that will make the pedal line stand out. Measure 76 is a place where you can pause for effect and add a ponderous 16′ Reed stop to the pedal, if you have one, or couple something down from another manual. All organs are different, and what works on one instrument may or may not sound good on another, so experiment, experiment, experiment!

I have also heard this piece played on flutes only, either 8′ and 4′ or 8′ and 2′. While it is helpful to have a sense of what would be customary, it is also just fine to register it however works for your instrument, and for the occasion. The only thing to avoid is using the voix celeste, or as a general rule for the Baroque style, putting on more than one stop at each pitch level. Also, since it has a dance-like quality, full organ is probably not the best choice (until the last two measures, then have fun!).

Baroque performance practice calls for a piece like this to be played mostly detached, with an emphasis on the main beats. On the organ this is achieved by lingering on the strong beat a little, on the piano you can accent the note. This is where YouTube recordings are so helpful, as you can listen to a number of different interpretations and decide what works well for you on your instrument and in your acoustic. I’ve never played this piece on the piano, but after editing the last bars somewhat to eliminate the pedals, I think it would work just fine and be useful either on the piano or on an organ without pedals.

For those of you who are new to playing pedals, this is a great piece to get started with. Most organists wear organ shoes, but truly, it’s not going to be an issue in this piece and if you are jumping from keyboard to keyboard at your church for a liturgy, just walk from the piano over to the organ and either play in whatever you have on, or slip off your shoes for this piece. Personally, I like organ shoes because they have the right fit and feel, with a one-inch heel. Plus, wearing only organ shoes to play in will cut down on dirt, grit or mud/snow on the pedalboard from street shoes or puddles on the floor during winter or other inclement weather.

I have indicated pedaling for the end of the fugue, which ascends up a C-major scale and can be played all detached, as would have been the style. Pedalboards in Buxtehude’s day were not concave as they are on most organs today, and simply using the left foot for most of this ascending line would have been in the style. The arrow marking under the note indicates to play with the left foot, above the note indicates the right.

I do hope that you use and enjoy this piece, whatever version works for you, or perhaps both! If you have any questions, feel free to email me at the Ask a Question button on the main blog page. Enjoy dancing with Buxtehude!

Don’t push the panic button!

Don’t push the panic button!

Anyone who knows me has probably heard me say “If you need someone to panic with you, give me a call.” I can usually be trusted to panic just about any time of the day, for good reason or no good reason, and sometimes just for fun (as well as to keep in practice because you never know when you might be called upon to panic for real).

Church musicians have lots of reasons to panic. We’ve all had liturgies planned full of celebratory and intricate music only to wake up to an ice storm or blizzard. Something innocently consumed the night before can become an issue at 5 am for you OR for your soloist/cantor/guest instrumentalist. Whether it’s a special celebration or just about any liturgy you are coordinating, there are lots of pieces of the puzzle to put together on any given day.

For those of us who play the organ regularly, there are even more reasons to panic! Organs can be sensitive to heat, cold, leaking roofs, excess humidity, not enough humidity, aging leather, power failures, mouse droppings—the list is pretty long. (The list isn’t much shorter for other keyboard players, either.)

So, anything we can do to reduce occasions for panic makes our lives easier and more productive as church musicians, and especially as musicians gliding from Keyboard to Keyboard.

One collection published by GIA that is an invaluable resource for people who need as much flexibility as possible is One in Love and Peace arranged by Kelly Dobbs Mickus and Bob Moore. This collection of music for weddings includes preludes, processionals and recessionals, with arrangements of some of the most requested wedding selections in both organ and piano versions side by side. An ancillary edition includes parts for other instruments (B-flat trumpet, solo C instrument, and string quartet). A demonstration CD is available for as well and is useful in the wedding planning process.

Kelly did the organ arrangements, and Bob the piano (which can be adapted for keyboard-only use on the organ) and for a list of the contents, click here.

I would have benefited greatly from having this volume at a wedding I played a few winters ago in Detroit. The historic church where the wedding was held housed an organ that disliked the frigid cold weather so much, it sang lots of notes on its own without any help from me. Most of the time they stopped singing after a few minutes, but one February Saturday after a night of below-zero temperatures I arrived for the wedding only to discover that the façade pipes of the organ had developed several very loud ciphers in the lower octaves of the Great manual, and while they made an interesting cluster, I didn’t think the wedding party would be thrilled. I tried all the tricks I knew, and after about an hour all but one pipe had been coerced into silence. The wonderful building engineer (quite a bit taller than I) graciously volunteered to climb up onto a ladder with me guiding him and stuffed a plain white towel into the misbehaving pipe, where it had to remain for several weeks until the organ technicians could schedule a visit. I was able to use the organ for that wedding because of said kitchen towel, but had we not been able to access the pipe, I would have had to switch gears and play all the wedding music on the piano instead of portions of it. Simply having this volume brings a sense of peace that under similar circumstances, I now have everything I could need in one collection, whether there’s a cipher or any other reason why I might need to go back and forth from Keyboard to Keyboard.

So, while I do love to panic, there’s no need for me to press the panic button over wedding music anymore. As much as I do joke about panicking, I was amused and horrified this past month when I visited another church to rehearse with an instrumentalist for an upcoming concert. I had never played that organ and the organist was not around that day. My oboist friend and I looked all over for the on switch (that in itself might have to be the subject of another blog—how to find the on switches for organs…). The church was dark, and we looked up, down, on the side of the console, under the console, on the wall, (using our iPhone flashlights), and we just couldn’t find it. (Turns out the buttons were hidden in plain sight but they were small and in the dark I couldn’t see them under the music desk). Our panicked pushing of all things button-like led us to push an actual panic button which was located on the wall next to the console and had no identifying red-hot button. Well, the police called the church staff and they all rushed in, politely concerned but also slightly disturbed that we had set off the alarm. Did I panic then? Well, yes, but so did everyone else. As usual, there’s rarely any need to panic. So, order this volume and I will relax, knowing that you will benefit from this wonderful collection!

So, note to self…..don’t push the panic button!

Organ Construction

Organ Construction

The Organ’s Tonal Design and its Building Blocks

The following article was written by John-Paul Buzard, President of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders. John-Paul is a colleague I have known since our student days at Northwestern University, and he is always willing to jump in and be helpful to a friend. Here John-Paul explains the basic sound classes of the pipe organ:

The pipe organ is a unique musical instrument.  It does not have a single tone color, but a wide variety of different tones which can be combined to produce the richest palate of sound known to humankind.  Even though Full Organ is harmonically complicated and sophisticated, its fundamental building blocks are fairly simple. 

There are two species of pipe construction: Flues and Reeds.  Flues are like whistles; a vibrating column of air produces the sound and the geometry of the pipe colors it; Reeds produce their tone by a vibrating brass tongue which is amplified and colored by the resonating tube connected to it.  Flue pipes make three groups or families of tone:  Principals, Flutes and Strings.  Reeds, being their own beast, produce a variety of imitative sounds. 

Once you become familiar with the four families and their pitch levels, you can combine them to create new sounds.  By using one’s ears and imagination the organ can be registered to text-paint hymns and anthem accompaniments.  All it takes is spending some good play-time in the musical sand box minding the basic premise that there’s no right or wrong.


The Principals (or Diapasons) produce sounds specific to the organ; they do not imitate anything.  These cylindrical pipes are made of metal.  Stops in this family may be called Principals, Diapasons, Octaves, Super Octaves, Twelfths, Fifteenths, Seventeenths and Mixtures.  Principals form the backbone of the organ’s tonal design, and they are found at a wide variety of pitches in both the manuals and pedal, to build up complete harmonic choruses.


Flutes can be orchestral or organ-like with a wide range of tone colors.  Flutes can be played together or with any other stop in the organ to fatten the tone, color an ensemble or a solo stop.  The range of Flute Tones is limited only by the imagination of the organ builder.  The geometry of the pipe body and the mouth treatment creates a flute’s tone color. 

Flutes may be made of wood or metal, open or covered by a tuning stopper (or canister) inserted into or over their open ends.  Stoppered pipes have prominent fifth-sounding harmonics, rather than the full range of an open pipe.  These may be called Bourdons or Gedeckts.  Open pipes may be called Melodias, Claribel Flutes, Open Flutes, Nachthorns.  Some stoppered flutes have a “chimney” bored through their stoppers, or soldered onto their metal canisters.  These are called Rohrflutes, Chimney Flutes, Flûtes á Bibèron, Flûtes d’Amour.  Some flutes are tapered and are called Spire Flutes, Spitzflutes, Blockflutes, Recorders.  These hybrid constructions replace a wee bit of the octave harmonics missing from a completely stoppered pipe.

Some open pipes are double their normal length, and have a hole drilled in the center of the pipe to stabilize the pitch.  These are called harmonic pipes and their intense tone is imitative of a modern orchestral flute.  Harmonic Flutes can be found at all pitches.  These may be called Harmonic Flutes, Orchestral Flutes, Flûtes Octaviante, Octavins.


Organ strings are the warmest, keenest sounds in the organ, but sound least like their orchestral counterparts.  They are called “strings” because they produce a harmonic series similar to a bowed string instrument.  They may be soft or loud, and appear at many pitches.  Typically a string-toned stop in the Swell division of an organ will have a partner rank, tuned slightly sharp, called a Celeste.  The resulting undulation is warm and shimmering.  Strings may be called Salicionals, Viola da Gambas, Gambes, Violes, Gemshorns, and Voix Celestes.


Reeds produce the greatest variety of tones within a single family.  They imitate medieval or modern orchestral instruments.  Wind pressure, geometry of the resonating tube and the treatment of the reed itself determines the tone color and volume which the pipe will produce.  Conical resonators produce a blaze of the entire harmonic series.  These are called Trompettes, Trumpets, Cornopeans, Clarions, Trombones, Tubas.  Cylindrical resonators produce a fifth-sounding harmonic series and may be called Krummhorns, Cromornes, Clarinets, Basset Horns.  Hybrid-shaped resonators produce orchestral tone colors as English Horns, French Horns, Oboes and Bassoons in addition to the antique sounds of Bombardes and Zinks.  Short-length resonators, often with creative resonator shapes, produce unusual tone colors like the Vox Humana, Rankett, Regal, Baarpfeife.


Mixtures are stops in which multiple ranks of pipes sound on a single note.  These are nearly always made of Principal pipes.  Mixtures are typically composed of unison and fifth-sounding ranks, repeating themselves at points in the musical scale which the tonal designer determines, given the desired result.  If appropriately composed, scaled and voiced, a low-pitched mixture can be used to create a complicated full sound, but without adding brilliance to the ensemble; a medium-pitched mixture can add brightness to a chorus in the bass and reinforce the unison in the treble; a high-pitched mixture can add brilliance to a chorus or an individual unison stop for special effects.  Mixtures are easy to spot as their stop controls indicate how many ranks each note plays by a Roman numeral.  Common names you might see on your console might be: Mixture, Fourniture, Plein Jeu, Full Mixture.  Scharf, Sharp Mixture and Cymbale are high pitched mixtures. 

By artfully combining stops one can create a sound for any situation.  By varying registrations for each verse of a hymn, the organ can add interest and, if the right stops are combined at the right time, highlight the texts being sung.

If one were to analyze the harmonic structure of Full Organ, the resulting graph would be almost impossible to read.  With a majestic, full sound the organ can support hundreds of people in their singing.  It can create a “Festal Shout” in one breath, and weep for the passing of a child in another.  It significantly energizes the acoustics of the building, and routinely elicits emotional responses. 

Have fun and take the time to listen to every stop in your organ, and combinations of others.  You’ll find hundreds of possible combinations which you might use for just the right moment in an upcoming service.  Enjoy your time in the musical sand box!

John-Paul Buzard is president and artistic director of Buzard Pipe Organ Builders, based in Champaign, Illinois and founded in 1985. He was appointed Curator of Organs for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign following graduate school, and began to lay the groundwork for his company through organ-building and restoration projects in the Champaign area. Mr. Buzard continues as Curator of Organs for the University of Illinois, and also serves as Curator of Organs for MacMurray College, Illinois College, Indiana University, and DePauw University. He earned a Master’s degree in organ and church music from Northwestern University, studying organ with Richard Enright and Wolfgang Rübsam, and also spent two years in the organ performance program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studying organ with Jerald Hamilton. Mr. Buzard is a certified Master Organbuilder with the American Institute of Organbuilders (AIO), a member of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (APOBA), and a member of the Worshipful Company of Musicians of the City of London.

Keyboard to Keyboard

Keyboard to Keyboard

Welcome to my first edition of Keyboard to Keyboard! This article appeared in the GIA Quarterly, Volume 30, No 4. The beauty of a blog is that I can add links to the information included in that print article, and give you a bit more information. I am very excited and honored to be sharing my love of the organ with you, and I hope that you are inspired to jump in with both feet (or, if you don’t want to use your feet, just jump in anyway).

As a child I wanted to fly airplanes. (I also thought I wanted to jump out of them.) Then I discovered the organ and transferred my fascination with gadgets, knobs, buttons, lights, power, out-of-body excitement and massive sounds to a safer yet just as demanding career. As the daughter of a Presbyterian minister and as an organist, I’ve spent most of my life in churches. When I was ten years old the organist at my father’s church asked me to turn pages for her, knowing that I was taking piano lessons. Seeing my rapt attention, she offered to teach me for free (she was finishing an undergraduate degree in organ at Northern Illinois University and wanted a student…here’s a shout-out to Norma Washburn Kentner). Since then my love for the instrument and its repertoire has grown and deepened, and it is my hope to encourage others to discover for themselves what fun, satisfaction and downright excitement can be had by playing the organ. My focus is to help pianists who play in any church or synagogue where they are occasionally expected to play the organ and have not had any formal training on the instrument, pianists who have already taken some organ lessons and would like to find more resources, or anyone who has keyboard proficiency and would like to work on their service-playing and church-repertoire skills at the organ.

What’s stopping you?

Thinking back to my first organ lessons, I am remembering what was fascinating and what was intimidating. The array of pipes in varying shapes and materials in the chancel of my dad’s church was the first draw, even before I had seen a historic, large organ…also those wooden shades that opened and closed. Why did they do that? I wasn’t very attentive to my dad’s sermons (he knew that!) but instead was paying attention to the organ, the graded choirs, the choir directors and the organist.

What was intimidating to me was learning what the stop tabs were and how to use them, as well as what to do with my feet. I do remember that the first question I asked my teacher was how the pedals were arranged. It didn’t occur to me that they would be in the same order as the black and white keys of the piano—they were so big (to my ten-year-old eyes). I was afraid it was a completely different order of pitches. Believe me, I was very relieved.

The Klais organ pedals at Grosse Pointe Memorial, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI

Having a teacher meant that learning the stops and how to use them wasn’t an issue, because she drew them for me. Such help is not available to the pianist without a teacher who wants to experiment and play occasionally, and it’s the question most people ask me first. What do I do with the stops? So, is that what’s stopping you? If so, there’s a lot of help out there.

Thankfully, much newly-published organ music has registration suggestions for each piece, which is helpful. The names and spelling of the stops may vary from organ to organ, but one can google the stop name to look for alternatives, explanations and even sound examples. For example, flutes on the organ can be called Rohrflote, Harmonic Flute, Bourdon, Gedeckt, etc.

Where to look for help, both in print and online

GIA is publishing a book on the organ from past Quarterly issues, edited by Jennifer Kerr Budziak, available in the summer of 2019. The Organist’s Craft contains articles on organ-playing and registration from a variety of authors. There are also books and online articles on organ construction and registration available from a variety of sources.

Easily-accessed videos make such learning and knowledge accessible to those who have internet access. These two resources combined can empower a curious and dedicated person with the techniques necessary to develop their abilities at the organ.

The American Guild of Organists has a wealth of information online. Lessons for the New Organist can be found on their YouTube channel.   There are thirty videos intended to assist pianists in learning to play the organ, starting from A Pianist’s First Steps in Transitioning to the Organ through the topics that concern all of us as organists, such as organ stops and design, technique, pedaling, and other subjects. The length of the videos ranges from less than five minutes to fifteen. Also at that site are many other videos of masterclasses and performances that the AGO has posted for all enthusiasts of the organ to view. Take a look!

In addition to the AGO videos, numerous instructional videos are available on YouTube, so start by searching for “organ registration.” Here’s one from Dublin, Ireland.

Most organists are delighted to give tours and basic information to anyone who expresses interest. Contact an organist nearby and ask for a tour or demo. Those of us who have spent our lives loving this instrument are happy to share our knowledge with you, and offer the occasional lesson if you want it, to help ensure that our craft continues into the future.

Get started!

Two Spirituals for Keyboard (G-6239) arr. Richard Proulx.
These arrangements are moderately easy, and suitable for preludes or interludes. Here are my registration suggestions: In Christ There Is No East or West: Swell: Flute 8 and Gambe 8, Swell to Great; Great: Any of the 8’ principal, flute or string sounds combined, your preference.Begin on the Swell, at the “Slower,” take off the Flute and add the Celeste. At the mf take off the celeste, add any Principal or Flute sound on the Swell and move to the Great.  Over My Head: Swell: Principal 8, 4, 2, Oboe 8’, Swell to Great; Great: Principal 8, 4, 2. Play the Forte sections on the Great, At the mp section, play on the Swell, using the Swell pedal to adjust the volume, and playing the mf phrases on the Great, first moving the left hand, later moving the right hand. Add the Mixture to the Great for the D.S. Experiment a little, and trust your judgment.

Available for free download from GIA is one of my favorite go-to pieces when I want something fun, flashy, and not too difficult. The Jig Fugue is a short piece (about four minutes) by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637/39-1707), a Danish-German organist of the Baroque period who was a strong influence on the young J.S. Bach. I use it most often as a postlude, or for a wedding postlude if the recessional isn’t long enough. I have done an arrangement of the fugue, which has minimal pedal (DOWNLOAD HERE), as well as for keyboard alone, which can be played convincingly either on an organ or a piano: (DOWNLOAD HERE). In a few weeks I will give some more extensive comments on how to learn, register and play the fugue, in hopes that you will enjoy playing it as much as I do.

Don’t let anything stop you!

Why Do We Sing?

By: Diana Kodner Gokce

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