Rachael Wood

Rachael Wood

01 Jun

Organ Transplant

Published in Church News


Our previous church organ, a Viscount-Wyvern organ, served us well for many years. Unfortunately, the combination of a small fire and the only technician left in the UK servicing these being in his 80s meant that we needed a new organ to provide music for services. The Kirk Session voted, and a Renaissance by Allen organ was chosen, coming via Soundtec Classical Organs in Irvine.             

Pipe organs have a long history, stretching back to the 3rd century BC. Electronic pipe organs, such as our old organ and our new Allen organ, are much more recent – the first fully electric church organ was built in 1939 by Jerome Markowitz, founder of the Allen Organ Company, who made our most recent organ. The pipes visible in our church are entirely decorative – the sound actually comes from a set of hidden speakers mounted in the tower room. Over the summer, during church opening, organists visit and are amazed when they learn it’s not a genuine pipe organ.

We have been very lucky to get our new organ – different organs make different sounds, and our church’s unusual shape makes the acoustics bounce off the walls and make a very joyful noise. With luck, the Allen organ will continue to play for us for decades to come.

The two main parts of an organ that differentiate it from a piano are the stops and the keyboards. The stops are switches that can be pulled in and out. On an old pipe organ, this would engage or uncouple different pipes – on ours, it engages different sounds. Our new organ has 32 stops – we will try to save using all of them at once (and making the biggest possible sounds) for big services, such as Easter, Christmas or a wedding. This is where we get the phrase “pulling out all the stops” from – it relates to making a very loud noise by engaging all the organ stops.

The keyboards are the other big difference. A piano has one keyboard; our organ has two, as well as a pedal board to play music with your feet. This turns playing the organ into a full body workout. You can even buy special narrow shoes for playing the organ’s pedal board, leading to the joke: One day, after church, a parishioner enquired of an organist about his unusual shoes: 

"Those are my organist's shoes. They make it easier to play the organ". The puzzled parishioner replied, "You play the organ with your feet? Wouldn't it be easier to use your hands?" 

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