Small Organs : A Perspective – Part Two (2024)

In the first part of this article we delved into the world of the small organ being a mechanical entity. We looked at the soundboards, action, winding and scaling that differentiate the small organ from its larger brethren. In other words, it was a tour about the technical philosophy of the instrument. This part of the article examines the various types or styles of small organs. We have the various ingredients. We need to apply them to particular uses and circ*mstances.
The three types of small organs I wish to look at were listed as:

  • The Chamber Organ
  • The Practice Organ
  • The Small Church Organ

Now, Dear Reader, you perceive that I am already in trouble. Is the house organ merely a large practice organ as I claimed? Mmmm, I had better continue and see.
Let me emphasize here that this now becomes a question of personal choice. I am offering general guidelines. These suggestions are a starting point. The scaling and selection of the stops are affected by the particular stops chosen and the acoustics of the room in which the organ finds itself.

The Practice Organ

This organ is for practicing repertoire. It should be capable of playing trios as well as soloing out one voice. It can also easily be fully enclosed so as to be softened for late night practice. Although possessing minimum stops, a good and beautiful stop is one which can be played all day without becoming boring. It is solely designed for practicing and developing proper fingering technique. The simplicity of its action means it is cheap to build and offers a sensitive touch not offered by an electronic. It does not necessarily need any fancy case. It should be easily portable and not need a lot of space in a room.
The minimum specification should have two manuals and pedals, with a Flute 8′ and Principal 4′ available on each manual and the pedals. The only coupler necessary is a permanent I – Pedal. To solo one voice the two stops on Manual II are drawn with the flute on Manual I and also thus the Pedals. The Principal should give the definition and the flute should body the sound. The flute can be either a Stopt Diapason or Gedacht. The attack of flute will also aid in accurate playing. The advantage of this type of organ is that it is cheap to build with a minimum requirement of action.
A larger example of this style of organ is the delightful practice organ built by Peter Collins for the University of Queensland and now owned by Phillip Gearing. Its has no couplers and its specification is:

Man I
Wood Gedacht 8′
Rohr Flute 4′
Principal 2′

Man II
Regal 8′
Spitzquint 1 1/3′
Gedacht Flute 4′

Ped
Dulzian 16′
Quintadena 4′
Gross Gedacht 8′

All division is self-contained. Manual I was often used around Brisbane as a continuo organ. The reeds are important, not only offering colour, but the opportunity of practicing key technique with reeds. It has a plain but pleasant case and a really delightful action. This makes it an ideal practice organ.
The next approach to the practice organ is to have the full couplers fitted to the action with the following specification:

Man I Flute 8′ Principal 4′
Man II Flute 8′ Gemshorn 2′

The Flute is common, i.e. the same pipes are borrowed on both manuals. The Pedal is still coupled. The next step is to add a Pedal stop and I would suggest a large scaled stopped 8′ flute. It should have plenty of definition with the attack. Note that the Collins organ has a large 8′ flute as the basis of the Pedal.
More stops can be added to this but then should really be considered as a house organ. The simple change in name here implies that the organ is not only for practice, letting the organist hear all his articulation and (hopefully, not many) faults but that it is also designed for a room. This implies that it can create beautiful sounds for an audience as well as the organist.

The House Organ
The house organ is designed for a particular room both acoustically and as a piece of furniture. It should have enough stops to play the repertoire desired. This does not necessarily mean that it needs two manual and pedals although this is usual. A chamber organ can be a house organ. The stop list may be the same as a small church organ or a practice organ, but its voicing and scaling will be quite different. The scaling will need to match the room. A church organ is designed to accompany singing as well as liturgy. Therefore, generally its scaling will be considerably larger than that of a house organ.
Oops! I can hear you complaining that I have not really defined the practice organ. Why is the specification of the Collins organ a practice organ (you ask) and not a continuo or church organ! Why should the consideration of an audience affect the sound? Every organ book is full of specifications that tell us absolutely nothing about the actual size and loudness of the organ and tells us nothing about the voicing.
Wait! O.K. Let’s look at these differences in another way. The key to working out a design and style of organ is to consider the intended audience.
A practice organ is designed to be heard best by the player. The house organ is designed to be heard best in a particular room to both player and audience when present (does this include the cat?). The church organ is designed to be heard best in a particular space by the audience or congregation. So let’s turn this into concepts that rely on the proposed audience. It is all about sound projection.

Sound Projection and Desired Audience

Three concepts here are important: i) design space,

ii) focal centre of the sound and

iii) focal length of the sound.

Design space: the volume of the space in which the organ is heard to advantage. It also takes into account the acoustics and feel of the room.

Focal centre: the location where the sound is heard the best, i.e. where the sound is aimed.

Focal length: the distance at which the pipes are heard the best.

No! These are not the same ideas in different words, rather the concepts that determine scaling, wind pressure and voicing, and hence the style of organ.
For the practice organ, the focal centre is crucial. It is to be heard best and clearest by the player. The design space and focal length are unimportant. The focal centre is one metre from the pipes demanding both low wind pressure, small scaling and careful voicing aimed at the effect and subtlety heard one metre away. The Collins organ is a practice organ precisely because it aims at this focal centre a small distance from the pipes.
For a house organ, the design space is taken into account and the focal length includes both the player and the audience. The focal centre is thus between the player and the furthest member of the audience. The wind pressure and scaling here may be larger but the scaling and voicing will take into consideration the dynamics of the room. I have talked about this before.
The church organ has a larger design space and the focal centre is situated in the middle of the nave, i.e. where the congregation sits. The focal length is ideally the whole floor area but crucially, the area of the nave or congregational seating. The organist does not need to hear the sound at its most beautiful at the keyboards (fine if it happens); this joy is reserved for the audience.
An understanding of these concepts is, I believe, fundamental in the success of any pipe organ. How many large organs with a good action fail to project their sound to the audience, no matter how many stops? It is the primary reason for the pipe organ’s existence. No electronic organ can match a good pipe organ’s ability to project and sing in a room. When excellent projection occurs, no matter what the stops, it is because the organ has been designed with three concepts correctly understood.
Try using these concepts on the next pipe organ you hear.

Sound projection and Small Organs.

A small organ placed strategically in a building using the previous concepts requires fewer stops than one placed not so advantageously. If placed where the projection is best, it also would have a better tone and clarity. It would be a beautiful organ. If it has a good action as well then it will be a truly beautiful organ.
I recently heard an organ duet with a large organ in a chamber in the sanctuary and a small 5-stop organ at the rear of the church on the floor. No comparison! The small organ was clearer, had a better and warmer tone and was seemingly louder.
Position….Position….Position….. (yes, old real estate motto but very important.)
So having made this important digression, let us return to……

The House Organ 2

In one sense the house organ is the most personal of all pipe organs. It can be designed for the home and to the particular taste of the owner. Any of the previous specifications will apply. Here are some further samples, all with the usual couplers.
If you like French Romantic & Caville-Coll music why not:

Man I
Montre 8′
Bourdon 8′
Prestant 4′

Man II (encl)
Gamba 8′
Flute Harmonique 8′
Flute octaviante 4′
Basson-Hautbois 8′

Pedal
Soubasse 16′

Or a Caville-Coll choir organ from Notre-Dame-De-Victorie:

Man I
Montre 8′
Bourdon 8′
Flute Harmonique 8′
Prestant 4′

Man II(encl)
Viole de Gambe 8′
Celeste 8′
Flute octaviante 4′
Trompette 8′

Ped
Soubass 16′

Paris is full of these splendid organs. With so few stops, they still fill a large church with quality sound. Caville-Coll was an expert at judging buildings for sound projection. The scaling could easily be adapted for a house organ. Awwww! (sings) April in Paris.??????? (Shut up, Moriarty!)
A 1972 Collins residence organ for a German inspired alternative:

Man I
Holz Gedacht 8′
Principal 4′ Block Flute 4′
Octave 1′

Man II
Rohrflote 4′
Schwegel 2′
Spitzquint 1 1/3
Terz 4/5′
Regal 8′

I leave you to look up the Schwegel, but it is good with Sauerkraut.
If you like a traditional English house organ approach, why not copy the Benson in Gympie? A particularly delicious example:

Man I
Open Diapason 8′
Gamba 8′
Principal 4′
Open Flute 4′

Man II (encl)
Open Diapason 8′
Gedacht 8′
Gemshorn 4′
Oboe 8′

Prefer a more Romantic sound? Across the valley in Gympie is a Willis house organ:

Man I
Open Diap 8′
Dulciana 8′
Clarabella 8′
Principal 4′
Flute 4′

Man II (encl)
Open Diapason 8′
Gedacht 8′
Gemshorn 4′
Oboe 8′

Ped
Bourdon 16′

It is interesting to observe that the last two house organs now find themselves in churches and thus larger spaces. The Benson is now in a gallery, which thus increase its original focal centre and length, and enables it to project well. The Willis is trapped in a chamber at ground level, which decreases focal centre and length and… oh dear…
Whilst all these organs are small, there are choruses on both manuals and a surprising number of sounds are available. All can play repertoire from schools outside their own stylistic roots.
If you prefer a one manual organ, why not opt for…

The Chamber Organ

Having consulted my organ references, the best definition is by Roger North in 1690, “a small organ for a chamber”. Well, that was helpful. The chamber organ normally has an upright case, single manual and a chorus based on a 8′ flute. It may also have an Open Diapason with a common bass. The design space is the same or larger than that of a house organ, the focal centre is the middle of the room and the focal length is as much of the room as possible.
The small organ I have built for the Pugin Chapel of St Stephen’s Cathedral is an ideal example of such an organ. It is upright, single manual with the following specification:

Gedacht 8′
Rohr Flute 4′
Principal 2′
Quint 1 1/3′

It is designed for a specific room and has a chorus. It is designed with a generous focal length for congregational accompaniment but the doors and lid of the case means the volume can be regulated to suit quiet instrumental accompaniment such as a flute. It is also a perfect example of the action and voicing which combine to make a very expressive organ.
I have called the instrument I built for Dr Peter Roennfeldt a chamber organ, although it is actually a portable organ. A portable organ is any organ designed to be moved easily. The Roennfeldt organ’s specification is identical to the Pugin Chapel organ except that the two-foot stop is a Gemshorn. I call it a ‘chamber organ’ because it uses chamber organ scaling. It was designed to accompany small choirs as well as solo and instrumental work. It has also carried some lusty congregations in some weddings that I have been to. If this organ had smaller scaling it could be called a continuo organ. A continuo organ is designed primarily to accompany small instrumental groups and play the figured bass.
The next stops added to this design of chamber organ would be a 4′ Principal, then an Open Diapason even if it has a common bass with the Gedacht. A Gamba 8′ might be more useful as a quiet stop but can be combined with the Gedacht to give a pseudo Open.
The chamber organ of Samuel Green, the famous English Eighteenth Century organ builder would include a Twelfth 2 2/3′, Cornet and/or Sesquialtera and a reed. Often these stops were divided into bass and treble ranks. It was possible to play a Cornet Voluntary with the Cornet (treble) drawn and the Stopt Diapason and/or Open Diapason (Bass) drawn as the left hand accompaniment. The addition of a Cornet to any chorus is a marvellous thing!
The use of divided stops makes the organ more versatile but also more difficult to register. This is where the stops are divided at (usually) middle C so as to allow solo work for either hand. Any of the one-manual specifications mentioned in this article could also use this technique. I have known it, however, to confuse the reluctant organist and it also makes quick stop changes more difficult.
It is possible to add pedals to a chamber organ but two manual chamber organs are atypical.

The Small Church Organ

The requirement of a church organ is to support liturgy, accompany hymns and provide suitable and inspirational music. It must be beautiful.
It does not need to be large but big enough for the building. After considering the design space, focal centre and length of the room, most modern churches do not need a large organ, rather a properly designed instrument. One manual is sufficient to carry out this work. The simpler the action, the less the maintenance costs. The fewer the stops, the less the tuning costs.
It is worth noting that today many church organs are played by pianists who do not use the pedals or play pieces demanding two manuals. A simpler style of organ may well encourage more organists to play better and more artistically. A well-placed chamber organ of 4 stops is quite capable of providing a small church with music. It may not be able to play the vast majority of organ music but it will carry out the job perfectly well as a church organ. It is not supposed to be a concert organ. The chamber organ in the Pugin Chapel does this every week without a problem.
Modern church buildings in many cases are not being designed for organs both acoustically and in floor plans. Several churches I have seen recently do not have the space to fit a large church organ. A small chamber organ takes up less room than an electronic. The small two manual Benson organ already mentioned would be ideal in such circ*mstances.
A small well-positioned church organ offers these advantages over its larger siblings:

a) Less expensive to build
b) Less expensive to maintain
c) Simpler to play and more attractive to the reluctant organist.
d) Able to fit into church buildings not designed for a pipe organ
e) A beautiful small organ will encourage the interested beginner to continue to larger organs. A mediocre larger organ only discourages.
What could be simpler to play than a well built mechanical action organ? Such as:

Man I
Open Diapason 8′
Stopt Diapason 8′
Dulciana 8′
Principal 4′
Flute 4′
Fifteenth 2′

Ped
Bourdon 16′

This is a typical specification for the very successful J. W. Walker organs sent to Australia in the Nineteenth Century such as the one in St Mary’s, Hagley, Tasmania or here in Brisbane at Sacred Heart, Rosalie. These organs are full of soul and have stood the test of time. The lack of a Swell means the Dulciana is an important as the quiet stop during communion. The full chorus means they can more than cope with a full church and they have enough variety for interest.
My own organ in St George’s, Mount Tamborine is based on this design with the addition of a Twelfth 2 2/3, Seventeenth 1 3/5 and a Mixture III with a Bass Flute 8′ on the Pedal. It is more than capable to providing the music for the liturgy without major expense. It has encouraged the musical life of the parish.
The other interesting thing about the Tamborine organ is that it has been built in stages. It was planned as an eleven-stop organ and the soundboards were built according to the final design. It started life as a five-stop organ with a common bass for the Open and Stopped Diapason. Each year another rank is added. This another way of buying a pipe organ with a tight budget.
If two manuals and pedals are deemed necessary, any of the house organ designs could fulfill this role with the adjustment in scaling. Many of them have made the transition successfully. Obviously, extra ranks can be added if required.

Conclusion

This then leads me to the end of my look at the small organ. It is, in a manner of speaking, my end of millennium navel gazing. I believe that the pipe organ is more than capable of surviving in a vibrant way into the next century. It needs, however, a change in the perception and expectation of organists and organ builders. If churches are facing the prospect of less skilled organists then let us give them an instrument that they are comfortable with as well as beautiful.
You see, that is the problem. Many organs are not beautiful and do not inspire or interest people. Many organs (and, truth to tell, some recent restorations) do not project into the building. They do not make the most of their miraculous pipes and the sound they produce.
It is also evident that small organs are not only just for churches, but there are a variety of situations where a small organ can participate. And, of course, the more the pipe organ is seen on concert stages, in houses or on street corners, the more renewed interest is created in them.
But they must be good and beautiful. I have tried to demonstrate how a whole variety of mechanical and musical concepts work together to make a beautiful instrument. The more good instruments there are, the more secure I believe will be the pipe organ’s future.

Small Organs : A Perspective – Part Two (2024)
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