Vol. 2, No. 27


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Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 13:34:37 -0400 (EDT)

Contrabass-list Digest Volume 97 : Issue 27

Today's Topics:

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 03:20:24 -0400
From: "Erik Midtskogen" <erik@firmsupport.com>
To: contrabass-list@contrabass.com
Subject: Bob Bailey's comments

Hi Bob,

Don't let your parents get you down. There are plenty of people who like real bass. Your father says that organs don't need anything lower than CCC. That's a bit like saying that a Ferrari Testarossa doesn't need a 490 horsepower engine--it may be true technically, but the only people who do not understand the fascination are people who have never experienced the ride.

I am an organist, and have performed on some of the worlds largest intruments. I can say from experience that, although constant use of a 32' or 64' pedal stop grows tiresome during a practice session, you never get tired of the effect of pulling "the heavy artillery" when it is called for, such as at the climax of a thrilling French toccata, for example. It gives goosebumps every single time. And furthermore, it must be heard live. Even the most expensive stereo systems just don't give the full effect--it's like watching a roller coaster ride on TV as opposed to actually being in the roller coaster.

Now about the questions of tone audibility. It is very important to realize that there are two main methods of producing a pitch in an organ. The one most people know of is with a "flue" pipe, which works, in essence, the way a recorder works--it's a whistle. The "reed" pipes function somewhat like a clarinet, with a brass "reed" that vibrates against a brass "shallot" at the bottom of a resonating tube of some sort.

The lowest flues give the "shake". You can feel them, but not hear them. This is particularly the case with the 32' ContraBourdon, which is a stopped wooden flue (that is, it has a stopper that completely seals of the top end of the pipe, which is half-length, or 16' long for a 32' pitch).

The 32' Open Diapason is an open wooden flue of full 32' length, and has more upper partials, and can sort of be "heard" somewhat, although the main sound you would hear if you listened to one all by itself would be that of a windy rumbling noise--and you would feel a lot of shake. If you laid the low CCCC pipe on its back, a grown man could walk the length of it hunched over, or at least crawl through it if it were a narrower guage pipe.

The next most popular 32' flue is a 32' ContraViolone, which produces a subtle shudder that you both feel and hear, but quietly. It is a metal narrow guage full length pipe--that is, it is 32' long, but very narrow for its length, being perhaps "only" 18" in diameter.

Then we get to the pipes that you actually hear--the reeds. Most common of these is the 32' ContraBombarde, which produces a moderately powerful knocking sound. Good ones will have plenty of support at the fundamental pitch, giving a little bit of shake, and plenty of "brightness" (but no harshness) in the well-developed array of upper partials, which is what makes them easily audible to human ears.

Sometimes a large organ will have two 32' reeds--one ContraBassoon (also called ContraFagotto) and one ContraBombarde or ContraPausaune. The ContraFagotto will be a light 32' reed sounding a bit like the 32' Violone, but louder and a bit brighter. The ContraPausaune is similar in effect to the ContraBombarde, only bigger, brassier and brighter (except in E.M.Skinner's intstruments, where the ContraBombarde is what everyone else calls a ContraPausaune.)

Some extremely large organs will have Diaphones (which are neither reeds nor flues, but a mechanical/pneumatic square-wave generating device somewhat like a reed pipe) or ultra-high-pressure Ophicleides at the 8', 16' and 32' pitches. The sound of a large registration on the organ at the Cadet Chapel of the West Point Military Academy, when supported in the pedal by the Ophicleides is indescribable. It inspires thoughts of Gabriel's Trumpet or the angry voice of God on Judgement Day. It sensibly shakes the solid bedrock on which the chapel is built, and shakes the other pipes in the organ out of tune, and shakes the grout out of the walls of the stone "chapel" (which is really more like an English cathedral.) This is why it is rarely used or heard. The organ at West Point has no less than seven 32' ranks.

Full-length 64' ranks do exist, but only in the narrower reed and Diaphone form. I believe there are two in the world. The 64' Diaphone at the Atlantic City Convention Hall produces a seismic effect, shaking the entire pier at 7.85Hz. The other one is some sort of reed out in Australia, and I don't know more than that. Does anyone else here know more than I about it?

Sometimes a large organ will have a 64' ContraGravissima, which is not one pipe, but two or three smaller pipes pitched a fifth apart to give a "resultant" pitch that imitates the effect of what a full-length 64' flue would sound like, but not very well. It is a loose, incoherent sound of no real consequence, in my opinion. I rarely use it.

Also, your father may have heard a 32' Resultant, which can be had for as little as a pair of stopped 16'-register pipes (8' and 5'8" in actual length). Again, this sound is rather muddy and not very pleasant nor impressive. If this is what your father heard, he needs to hear a real organ before he can say that organs don't "need" 32' ranks.

I can't tell where your domain is physically located, but if it is out in the northwest, then, unfortunately, you my friend, are going to have to travel quite a ways to get goosebumps, unless I'm mistaken. The land of the large Symphonic pipe-organ is back in the Northeast. Oh, there are a few fairly large instruments scattered around the West and in the South, with Shoenstein and Rufatti producing fine instruments in San Francisco and Los Angelis, respectively. But they are miniature toys compared to the titanic Wanamaker Organ of Philadelphia, with over 30,000 pipes on about 500 ranks--an organ that is, by itself, physically bigger than many entire auditoriums--or the old giants at West Point or at Yale university.

Unfortunately, the biggest one ever built, the Atlantic City Convention Hall organ, was all but destroyed by damage from a Hurricane sometime back in the 30's, and only partially resurrected. This heroic behemoth required so much blower power--one of the many blowers was driven by a 275HP electric motor, that before it could be turned on, the power company had to be called up so that they could bring an extra turbine online, or else the organ would cause a city-wide brown-out. This organ also has the loudest single organ stop in the world--I beleive it is an 8' Tuba Mirabilis, if I remember correctly. It is said to about as loud as a ship's horn, and can be heard, from the inside of the auditorium, back on the mainland two miles away. The pipework was said to have all been of the finest quality, and what still remains certainly is, so this one could do "beautiful" as well as "loud".

Well, anyway, I've rambled on long enough now, but I would like to say that, if you haven't already heard any of the following three instruments, you really should try to make arrangements to hear at least one of them: Cadet Chapel, West Point Military Academy; The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC (utterly magnificent with its powerful 32' Skinner Reeds and the silvery State Trumpet caught in the 15-second reverberation time of the 2'nd largest religious building in the world); The Newbury Organ, Woolsey Hall, Yale Unversity, New Haven, CT (fantastic for orchestral transcriptions.) If you are going to England, be sure to hear the organs at Kings College, Cambridge (the Ophicleide always gets the final word there!), and at St. Paul's Cathedral (very dramatic reverb under that great dome). Norwich and Liverpool also have fine Harrisons that I always love hearing.

One nit-picking little point: when you say "classical" organs and organ music, that actually means specifically the fine Baroque organs and music of what is now Germany from ca. 1675-1750. When organists speak of music, they refer to each period by specific name (i.e. Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, Modern, Neo-Classical) that some people generically call "classical". Learn the different periods and love them all.

Well, I hope you become a very wealthy man, because this world needs a patron of large organs--nobody seems to care anymore about organ music, especially not Romantic/Impressionist music on Symphonic organs, and it is getting to the point that if I want to hear an organ recital anymore, I have to go out and play the darn thing myself!

Keep your enthusiasm, or, better yet--learn to play; I could use a little help out here!



Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 10:55:31 +0200
From: Carl Kleinsteuber <carl@tip.nl>
To: contrabass-list@contrabass.com
Subject: Re: contrabass-list Digest V97 #26


> Also, the major thing I don't like about brass instruments is that
> they
> are inefficient, as far as making use of their last half of tubing--they
> just don't use their lowest octave(I'm sure you know that)!

Hmmm. You must be hanging with the wrong tuba players ;-) Seriously, the reason tubaists don't make more extensive use of the last octave or so is because composers and arrangers rarely write for it! Any tubaist past the junior-high playing level has command of these notes, but is simply never asked to use them. As to these notes being "inefficient", I often play vocalises in that range, sometimes in octaves with other instrumentalists. The notes are there.


Carl Kleinsteuber
"Carl's Home-Built Tuba Page"

Date: Tue, 22 Apr 97 11:31:00 BST
From: Francis Firth <Francis.Firth@uce.ac.uk>
To: "'contrabass-l'" <contrabass-list@contrabass.com>
Subject: Leblanc Letter

Mark asks about the letter to Leblanc.

Yes, I posted it before Christmas but got no reply.

I sent it to Leblanc in France and in USA.

Do people want me to try sending it again or to assume that they are not interested. I also sent it to Clarinet Classics in the UK but they were not interested as it lay outside their plans.

I suppose that someone could try e-mailing Leblanc in USA or 'phoning from within the US.


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