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Date: Sun, 11 Apr 1999 16:10:07 -0700
From: "" <>
Subject: Re: [Contra digest]

Great discussions today!

bass taragoto, YEAH! I'd love one of those.

Date: Sun, 11 Apr 1999 19:52:41 EDT
Subject: Pipe organs

>> Why don't more people play the pipe organ?????  One has total
control of everything, and the low notes are the best of any mouth-
blown wind instrument.>>

Hmm, I haven't tried mouth-blowing a pipe organ recently.  Now there's a
thought.  I've been called a gas-bag and worse, but....  ;-)

>>Who all on this list is an organist?  I know that Lelia Loban and
Timothy Tikker are.>>

I'm not really an organist; I just play one on my computer, when I'm writing
fiction. Maybe I can fake it better than I deserve because I did quite a lot
of research, much of it first-hand, for a novel-in- progress about a pro
organist.  My uncle Bill (T. William Van Ess) is a retired church and concert
organist.  After a number of years of piano lessons, I took some organ
lessons from him years ago, when I lived for a time with him and my Aunt Mary
Van Ess, a retired coloratura soprano who worked for many years at the
Juilliard School and then at the Metropolitan Opera National Council, where
she got me a summer job one year.  They tell good stories.  Another aunt
recently retired from playing church organ and directing a church choir.
I've also had a number of lengthy and detailed conversations with Jack
Staley, now proprietor of Barnwood Books in Hagerstown, Maryland.  He's a
retired long-term employee of M. P. Moeller, Inc., a Danish company that
built many large pipe organs in the USA.

But none of that makes me an organist.  My Yamaha Clavinova sort of works as
a crippled, one- manual organ.  Best I can do.  Even if I played well enough
to claim to be an organist (in my dreams...), I can't fit a real organ into
my house.  By "real organ" I mean the kind with pipes.  Not that I'd need the
33,000+-pipe Midmer-Losch monstrosity in the old Atlantic City Convention
Center or even the Aeolian-Skinners with 10,000+ pipes apiece in the National
Cathedral in the District or the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.  No,
I'd be thrilled with a small organ, like the Flentrop tracker at Duke
University.  I think it's only got, um, 3,000 pipes or so, and I think the
largest bass pipe stands a mere 32 feet tall plus a few more feet of
hardware.  Alas, I don't happen to have a spare half-million dollars
(minimum) lying around to build the organ, let alone the building with the
40-foot (minimum) ceiling.  I don't even have the $100 or so per hour to rent
practice time.  Well, that's one problem: finding a place to practice a
serious pipe organ regularly.  I can't/won't work as a church organist.

My  uncle used to practice at home on a piano, but he also taught me that an
organist must keep up the skills by practicing on a real organ as often as
possible -- and preferably on several different real organs.  For one thing,
the building is part of the instrument.  It's the sound box.  Anybody who
forgets that is in major trouble.  Some buildings have dry acoustics, with a
hang time of less than a second.  About two or three seconds is ideal.  Other
buildings are echo chambers, with a hang time of seven seconds or even worse.
 For another thing, organ builders are very creative people who come up with
interesting names for their stops.  (I mean "interesting" in the sense of the
ancient Chinese curse.)  You can't predict what the pipes will sound like
based on what they're called. You have to experiment with them and you need
an assistant who can wander around the hall while you play, to tell you (warn
you!) how things sound in different places.  Add architecture to nomenclature
and a combination of stops that sounds gorgeous on one organ might sound like
a riot in the monkey house on another organ.  Aside from the buildings and
the names of the pipes, organs differ in other ways far more than, say, bass
clarinets or bass saxes.  A lot of the trouble comes from those monster bass
pipes.  Mastering the equipment constantly challenges travelling concert
organists who have to cope with all sorts of Rube Goldberg contraptions with
very little dedicated practice time before a recital.  One church that's a
frequent recital venue in Washington, D. C. houses a gorgeous-sounding but
notorious old tracker with stops so hard to pull that the audience can
sometimes hear the organist grunting like a water buffalo. There are other
special equipment problems, too.  For instance, on some big trackers
(mechanical action organs), you actually have to learn how to pedal ahead of
the manuals, because some of those big bass pedal pipes have slow speech.
(That means push the key and then wait for the sound to come out.  Meanwhile,
the smaller pipes speak almost immediately.)  Then you have to learn how to
adjust how far ahead to pedal on Instrument A as opposed to Instrument B.
Forget learning that kind of coordination on an electronic home organ or even
in Five Easy Lessons on a big organ.

The bottom line: it's almost impossible to be a serious amateur pipe
organist, because someone who doesn't work for a church or a college doesn't
have regular access to the equipment. You either give your life to the pipe
organ or you give up on it.  For those of us who give up on it, the
electronic simulacrum will have to do.  It's a nifty instrument in its own
right, but I don't delude myself that I'm really playing the organ.

My unrequited obsession with pipe organs led me to the bass saxophone, by the
way.  In effect, it's a primitive organ: the equivalent of one rank of reed
pipes.  Instead of an electro-pneumatic wind chest, it's got to make do with
my lungs.

the double-chambered human blast-bag


Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1999 14:50:42 -0500
From: John Howell <>
Subject: Comments on several posts

>why isn't a doublereed
>cylindrical instrument used as a standard instrument?  I know that
>there was once a cromorne or krummhorn, but they are curved.

The krummhorn is the instrument you describe, all right.  The curve has
nothing to do with the acoustics, and is added AFTER the narrow cylindrical
bore has been drilled.  It would overblow the 12th, exactly like the
clarinet, except that it doesn't overblow.  The standard Renaissance
instrument had a limited range of only a 9th, with no throat keys that
could double as octave keys.  They were built in the usual consort of
soprano, alto, tenor, and bass.  I have an extended bass with keyword to
take it from the normal low note of F down to the low C, and greatbasses
(down to low C) were built without the keywork.  Historical reconstructions
can't be used in an orchestra with modern instruments because they were
never intended to be as loud as modern instruments.

We once did "In the Mood" completely with Renaissance instruments.  I want
to tell you that the chromatic scales are PURE HELL on the crumhorn with no

> The variety of instruments available in bands and orchestras seems
>very limited compared to what it could be.

Tradition is a very powerful force, but when you compare Mozart's orchestra
with Mahler's, there have been LOTS of new instruments accepted as
standard.  Sax never quite made it, but is an accepted additional

>ensembles could me more
>like pipe organs, and a smooth homogeneous sound could be achieved when

One reason why Wagner and those who followed him specified very large
orchestras, not for a huge sound so much as for a lot of different sounds.
Not all composers want a smooth homogeneous sound.


John & Susie Howell (
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A. 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411   Fax (540) 231-5034


Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1999 15:33:59 EDT
Subject: Re: Comments on several posts

 One reason why Wagner and those who followed him specified very large
 orchestras, not for a huge sound so much as for a lot of different sounds.
 Not all composers want a smooth homogeneous sound.

Yes, that is one point nobody has pointed out yet, and I would like to build on
John's. Not every composer would like that sound like John pointed out, and that is
the freedom composers are given. All orchestras are not created equal, and not
every composition has the exact instrumentation. They just go with what they desire
at the moment. If you want a smooth homogeneous sound, then you go ahead and
write that :) Some composer might refrain from using oddities because they know it
would be difficult to actually have a group to play them. Have fun and get writing!
[directed to Gregg]


Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1999 13:45:27 -0700
From: Grant Green <>
Subject: Bass Sax FS du jour...

Here's today's bass sax for sale...

Also looks like a good day for baritones/euphoniums...


Grant Green  

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