Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Playing the Organ

We played an organ.


Playing an organ is like playing the piano, but there is a lot more gymnastics involved. Piano music contains a treble clef which is typically played by the right hand and a bass clef which is typically played by the left hand. Organ music contains these two, plus an additional bass clef for the feet. As the hands move through chords and melodies, the feet do too. Sometimes it's necessary to play one note with the toe, and the next note with the heel so as to create a smooth transition. In addition, the feet often cross as they move up and down the keyboard.



A standard piano contains seven and a half octaves. Our cheap keyboard contains five. The church organ we played contains four and a half on the top row, four and a half on the middle row, and two and a half on the feet for a total of eleven and one half octaves.


Since organs are primarily housed in churches, and all churches are different, organs are custom made. Hence, they are not cheap and all are a little different. Sometimes the organ is located on a second story behind the congregation, and other times it is in the front. An upgrade to the one in the photos which added the top row of keys was completed around ten years ago for sixty thousand euros.


Lots of air is required for the 70,000 or so pipes which create the sound. Older organs needed several people to pump air through the pipes with a type of bellows system while the organist played. More modern organs use electricity, but there are many which still require at least some manual pumping of air.


The typical path to becoming an organist, is to first learn the piano, but our friend and host learned the organ first and doesn't play the piano. The speed and strength used to push piano keys changes the sound, but organ keys only are on or off and require lots of pressure. Knowing the details of each instrument is important, but I think with a month or two of practice, she would be an excellent pianist too.


Yankee Doodle on the Organ

Testing out the Foot Pedals

Trying Piano Songs

The kids and I were hooked right away. We stayed and played for an hour and a half. Thanks so much Katrin.


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