This tab is designed to build on concepts listed in the Basic Registration tab, specifically with regard to Romantic nineteenth-century music. Here, I aim to describe more advanced concepts such as the use of two expressive manuals, the use of multiple divisional pistons, soloing out a melodic voice, and adapting piano scores to the organ.
The specifications for the organ used in this tab are found here.
Use of Two Expressive Manuals
In Basic Registration, I listed the components of an expressive manual and how to operate the box shutters with an expression pedal. I then listed three ways to help minimize, or mask, changes in volume when changing registration. Here, I will show how to bring those separate techniques together in order to smooth out increases and decreases in volume. Before proceeding, you should first be able to press divisional pistons in the midst of a musical phrase, and be able to operate expression pedals.
Take the concept of the masking manual and double it. Apply the same principles of one masking manual and apply it, alternately, to two different manuals. Before, I suggested using the Great as the masking manual and the Swell as the expressive manual. Now, take two expressive manuals, such as the Swell and an enclosed Choir, and make each manual perform both duties at different times. The Choir begins as the masking manual while the Swell opens. The Swell then acts as the masking manual—i.e. it stays open—while the Choir closes, changes, and opens again. The Choir will then act as the masking manual again while the Swell changes.
To accomplish this, start with the Swell closed and the Choir open. Press Swell 2 and Choir 2 to bring on soft 8′ foundations. Couple the Swell to the Choir, and play a chord on the Choir. Then, follow these steps to create a crescendo:
- Press Swell 3
- Open the Swell
- Close the Choir
- Press Choir 3
- Open the Choir
As you practice this technique, repeat the same process multiple times in order to achieve a longer crescendo.
- Press Swell 3
- Open the Swell
- Close the Choir
- Press Choir 3
- Open the Choir
- Close the Swell
- Press Swell 4
- Open the Swell
- Close the Choir
- Press Choir 4
- Open the Choir
- and so on…
Alternating pistons this way may lead to a smooth crescendo, but it is not always practical; nor will it always be the best option for a musical passage. You can choose to press more than one piston on each manual before opening its expression pedal. Further, you can extend the concept of the masking manual even further than described above, using the Great as the masking manual in coordination with both expressive manuals.
Once you are proficient at these steps, apply them to a musical passage. Bear in mind that the above steps describe a rudimentary technique that will need to be practiced, adapted, and refined in order to create a crescendo within the context of a phrase. A carpenter who is learning how to build furniture first learns how to connect two pieces of wood using a hammer and nail. This can be likened to our description of how to create a crescendo in Basic Registration, using one expressive manual and one static manual. It is possible, but a little rough around the edges. Next, the carpenter learns how to connect wooden joints using glue and dowels. The result is smoother and more refined, which is analogous to the technique described here. By using two expressive manuals, our crescendos and decrescendos are smoother and more refined.
Solo Out a Melody
To solo out a melody means to play a melody from the upper or inner voices of the accompaniment on a separate manual with a distinct sound. If the composer has indicated this in the music, you simply need to follow what is indicated. You may want to highlight a phrase or motive, however, even if the composer has not indicated to do so. This is a musical decision that, as an interpreter, you are free to make. When looking for melodic lines to solo out, consider the following guidelines:
- Look for melodic lines in the accompaniment that are not doubled in the voice parts. These are the melodies that will benefit most from a different timbre or increased volume.
- Make sure that you can play the remaining notes, other than the solo, on the original manual. In adaptations of piano or orchestral scores, you may re-voice the notes on the original manual in order to make them playable. If you are using an original organ score, however, do not re-voice chords.
- Unless explicitly indicated by the composer, do not solo out a passage that is identical to the soprano line. This is typically the most recognizable voice to the listener and rarely, if ever, will benefit from soloing out on the organ.
- If you solo out a voice that is doubled from the alto or tenor lines, only double at the unison pitch. Otherwise, you will create parallel octaves with a vocal line.
- “Aim at simplicity and avoid complexity.”1 Whatever you decide to do, let it enhance the music rather than create a distraction or a potential performance error.
Melodies that are already written as solos on one clef will be the easiest to transfer to another manual. The example below shows a solo melody written in the treble clef with a simple accompaniment in the bass clef. This treble solo can easily be played on another manual in order to diversify the timbre of the introduction.
Click below to listen to a recording of the first four measures, first on the same manual and then on two manuals. While both versions are true to the musical character of the piece, and the composer does not indicate a specific registration, the second version highlights the staccato melody better and offers more variety for the listener.
If you choose to solo out a voice during an introduction or organ interlude, you will need to decide when to stop playing the solo. In the example above, you might choose to return to the Swell when the choir enters so the solo sound will not compete with the vocal line. Alternatively, you may want to keep the solo sound but close the expression pedal. No matter what you decide, let it be grounded in the desire to highlight or beautify the choir when it enters. Remember that the organ is much louder than the average singer. H.W. Richards writes, “the organ part must be subservient to the voices, and accompany in the literal sense, letting [the singers] sound to full advantage, and never overpowering or obscuring their efforts.”2
You may find other melodies that you will want to highlight from an inner voice. In m. 2 of the example below, the tenor line repeats the opening four notes just played in the top voice.
Click below to hear a recording of these measures. The first version is played all on one manual. In the second version, the four tenor notes outlined in red are played on a slightly louder manual, but with a similar timbre as the first version. The difference is intentionally subtle. I selected a solo stop of a similar timbre because it is a short motive and the organ is playing alone.
One complicating factor in this example is that the opening measures are typically played on the manuals only: no 16′ sound is called for until m. 3. In this case, I play the bass line of the first two measures with the Swell coupled to the Pedal, though with no stops engaged on the Pedal. I then press a piston during the first beat of m. 3 to engage the 16′ sound that Howells calls for by indicating the use of the Pedal.
On the following system, there is an opportunity to solo out another tenor line, also highlighted in red.
As before, the first version is played all on one manual and the second version includes the solo tenor line with a louder volume but similar timbre. The third version includes a solo sound of a different timbre–a clarinet– in order provide contrast between the organ and vocal timbres. This third version is played with the expression pedal in one position for the entire motive. The fourth version begins and ends with the expression pedal closed, opening in the middle so the motive is phrased more lyrically. Click below to hear these four versions. Unlike the previous example, the Pedal plays the bass line throughout. The left hand is therefore free to play the tenor line on the Choir.
In both examples above, the musical character and location of the solo line influenced my decisions about what sounds to choose. By location, I mean which voice part the solo line occurs in–soprano, alto, tenor, or bass. When choosing which sounds you want for solo lines, imagine that you are orchestrating the work for a symphony orchestra. Which instrument would you want to play the solo? In Neswick’s piece, you may want a flute or piccolo. In the Howells example, you might choose a french horn or cello. Things to consider when selecting a solo sound may include the following:
- Volume: If the passage is forte, consider the brass section of an orchestra and try replicating it with a trumpet or other reed stop. If the passage is piano, consider an 8′ flute or string. In mf or mp sections, experiment with using stops differently than you normally would. Try using louder stops with the expression pedal completely closed, such as an 8′ oboe for a mp solo. Or find a flute that speaks well acoustically for a mf solo.
- Timbre: Is the passage brash? Bring on the reeds! Delicate? Try a celeste or 8′ string with the tremulant. Do you want the solo to pierce through the other voices in a declamatory way? This may be time for a solo tuba. Do you want it to rest lightly above the surrounding voices? Try a 4′ flute. Do you want a firm but gentle tenor sound? Consider a mild principle.
- Tessitura: Does the solo fall within the bass, tenor, alto, or soprano range? Figure out which orchestral instruments play within that range and experiment with comparable stops on the organ. If it is above the treble staff, try using mutations to enhance its high nature. If it is in the middle range of the organ, try using stops above or below their intended pitch by using sub- or super-couplers, or by playing down or up an octave.
- The organ always wins. If you decide that a solo line would best be played by a world-class clarinetist, but the clarinet on the organ is poorly voiced or out of tune, find another stop. If there are three dead notes in the midst of a trumpet fanfare, find some other combination of stops that will sound better on that particular organ.
Adapt a Piano Score
As an organ accompanist, you will inevitably be called upon to perform a piece of music on the organ that was originally written for a different instrument. Anthems composed for choirs will sometimes be written with piano accompaniment in mind. When performing such non-idiomatic works on the organ, consider the following guidelines. The aim of these suggestions is to translate some common pianistic idioms into figuration more idiomatic to the organ.
- There are two common forms of arpeggiation you will encounter in piano scores. One is indicated by a wavy vertical line, shown in the example below. On the piano, the pitches to the immediate right of the way line would be played successively from the bottom up. This is a common way of playing chords on the piano when the range of pitches exceeds the normal expanse of a hand. Since the pitches take slightly longer to sound on the organ than when they are struck on the piano, I recommend dispensing with the arpeggio and simply playing the pitches simultaneously.
- A second type of arpeggiation is written in the notation. This type of writing is more idiomatic to the piano than to the organ, but it can be found the example below. This piece is mentioned near the bottom of the History tab as an early example of pianistic writing in organ accompaniments. In this case, I recommend playing the arpeggios with an over-legato articulation in order to mimic the sustain pedal of the piano.
- In general, octaves that appear in a piano score can be played as a unison line on the organ. Legato octaves, while easily playable on the piano with the use of the sustain pedal, require much more skill on the organ. Fortunately, octaves that appear in a piano score can usually be adapted successfully as a unison line on the organ by simply adding a 4′ or 16′ stop. The addition of a 4′ obviously yields an octave doubling higher than the notated pitch; the addition of a 16′ stop doubles the octave lower. This registration “trick” will create an octave doubling while the accompanist simply plays one note at a time. When adding a 4′ or 16′ stop, try to keep it in the same family as the 8′ stop. If the 8′ stop is a principal, select a 4′ principal. If the 8′ stop is a flute, use a 16′ or 4′ flute. The first red box, in the top staff, of the following example shows an instance in which it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to play the notated octaves legato. While there are techniques to mitigate the resulting separation, it is far easier to play either the top or the bottom note of the octaves. The second red box, on the lower staff, shows where it is truly impossible to play the treble clef legato. In this case, drop the bottom note of each chord, as shown outlined in blue. Since the bottom notes are parallel octaves of the upper notes, the harmonies will remain in tact and the melodic material can be played legato.
- Extreme ranges
- Be cautious of melodies that are written above the treble staff. Remember that notes on a piano will only sound at the unison pitch, whereas on the organ they sound higher if your registration includes 4′ or 2′ pitches. As a general guideline, the more ledger lines you see above the treble staff, the more cautious you should be about using stops above the 8′ pitch.
- Likewise, be aware that closed-position chords in the bass clef may sound rich on a piano and muddy on an organ. On the organ, you may want to reduce the number of notes in low chords and be mindful of your registration. Remember that in the lower octaves, 8′ flutes have less pitch definition than 8′ strings. So if you must play thick chords in the bass clef, consider using only a string stop rather than combining flutes and strings presented in Basic Registration.
- The Pedal
- Finally, when playing from a piano score you will need to decide what notes to play with the Pedals and which to play on the manuals. The first example below include a bass line that is written as a separate voice. The decision to play the low G with the pedal is easy.
- The next example shows an arpeggiation and an indication to use the sustain pedal. Here, in order to maintain the bass note, B Flat, use the Pedal to sustain the low B Flat while playing the subsequent notes in the bass clef as written. You may also play the arpeggios with an over-legato technique in order to mimic the sustaining quality of the piano.
Adapting a complex orchestral score to the organ is an advanced skill and beyond the scope of this website. If you are interested in learning more about it, please see the resources listed at the bottom of this page.
Buck, Dudley. Illustrations in Choir Accompaniment with Hints in Registration: A Hand-Book. New York: G. Schirmer, 1888.
Ellingford, Herbert F. The Art of Transcribing for the Organ. New York: The H.W. Gray Company, 1922.
Fishell, Janette. “Playing Accompaniments Musically and Idiomatically.” In But What Do I Do With My Feet?, 59–76. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).
A. Madeley Richardson, “Orchestral Arrangements” in Modern Organ Accompaniment. London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1907.
Ritchie, George H., and George B. Stauffer. “The Nineteenth Century: The Romantic Era.” In Organ Technique: Modern and Early, 290-304. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.