Wild Air

What is a pipe organ?

What is a pipe organ, anyway?

If you are a pipe organ mavin, this may seem like a silly question.   But it’s not, really.   And, if you are already initiated to the world of the organ, you may need to have your definition broadened.   Mozart called the pipe organ the “king of instruments.”   E. Power Biggs, the great English-American concert organist once referred to the theater organ as, “the king of instruments – turned clown.”   Opinion and sentiment in the organ world run deep!

The term “pipe organ” actually refers to a diverse group of musical instruments.   In each of these instruments, sound is produced by pressurized air blowing through organ pipes.   The smallest pipe organ may have 50 or fewer pipes, and be suitable for a very limited repertoire.   The very largest pipe organs can have several thousands or even tens of thousands of pipes.   Some organs are designed to be played in small, intimate settings; others can fill a cathedral, stadium, or convention hall (or, in one notable case, a department store).

Pipe organs have changed over the centuries, reflecting changes in taste and musical composition, as well as technical innovation.   The organ of the baroque, for instance, was the space shuttle of its day.   While we usually associate pipe organs with worship in the church, organs have been built for concert halls, theaters, homes, palaces, town halls, funeral parlors, restaurants, skating rinks, outdoor pavillions, gymnasiums, masonic halls, and almost anywhere groups of people congregate.

There are those who believe that a pipe organ should strictly follow the guidelines of some historical tradition.   Sadly, some deny themselves the joy of hearing and respecting organs that are outside whatever tradition they espouse.   A successful pipe organ is one that makes a musical statement by moving listeners with its sound.  

This last statement is not intended to mean that “anything goes” in organ design.   The pipe organ is not  some sort of acoustical synthesizer.   Regardless of the style or purpose that governs its design, the organ is an architectural instrument, requiring elements of foundation, structure, and embellishment.  

We invite you to read over the posts in this blog, and to visit our website, www.reynoldsorgans.com, to learn more about the pipe organ – this most  fascinating, varied, and remarkable of instruments.

If you are interested in more technical information, terms, jargon, and all that stuff, please order our booklet “The Pipe Organ: A Crash Course.”   It’s available on our website at:   http://www.reynoldsorgans.com/publications.html.

Long live the king!

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