Stop organ, stop organ, I don’t want to talk any more

I think this is the "Swell Box"... err... I really can't remember.

The Auckland Town Hall Organ has a lot of stops – 84, in fact. Despite having been on a tour of the instrument and consulted the fantastically comprehensive resource that is the Organ Trust’s website, I can make neither head nor tail of the stop list.

It has designations like:

  • Posaune 16 ext #14
  • Double Open Diapason 16
  • Salicional 8
  • Hohl Flute 8
  • Wald Flute 4
  • Nazard 2 2/3
  • Superoctave 2
  • Sharp Mixture IV

The numbers I mostly understand. 16 = the length in feet of the longest pipe (which is generally a C). So Wald Flute sounds an octave above Hohl Flute because the pipes are half as long, I get that. But what the hell is the difference between those two colours anyway? ‘Wald’ means ‘forest’, I know, but ‘Hohl’? The only German words like that I know are ‘Hohle’ (pit or cave) and ‘Hölle’ (hell). I didn’t know they played flutes in hellish caves.

Another hazard is the Nazard. For a start, does this rhyme with ‘hazard’ or ‘huzzahed’? The latter, by the way, is the totally legitimate past tense of the verb ‘to huzzah’, i.e. to greet someone or something with glee using the word ‘huzzah’ (modified form of ‘hooray’).

Superoctave is just like Regular Octave, except he wears a cape and his undies on the outside of his trousers.

I think I understand what Posaune 16 #14 means. One of the great works for orchestra involving organ is Mahler’s Symphony No 8, commonly known as the ‘Symphony of a Thousand’. ‘Posaune’ is the German word for ‘trombone’, and in this work Mahler calls for a particularly large brass section – well, two brass sections actually. The second of those sections is a bit removed from the action, and sometimes the conductor finds it difficult to communicate with them in rehearsal. As part of the restoration, Orgelbau Klais installed a PABX system and phone jacks throughout the Auckland Town Hall, and you can reach the 16th Trombone on a three-digit extension: #14 (hash-one-four).

Salicional reminds me of the word ‘salacious’. If you commit too many Salicional acts in your lifetime, do you get sent to the Hohl Flute for the rest of eternity?

Double Open Diapason… I’ve never been clear what on earth a diapason is. I can only think of the American word ‘diaper’… the thought of a double-open diaper makes me glad I don’t have children.

Last of all, Sharp Mixture made me want to follow that particular IP address. There’s no website behind it, but apparently it’s assigned to a place called Dearborn – presumably Dearborn, Michigan, USA, world headquarters of the Ford Motor Company. To paraphrase Henry Ford, “Any organist can have any tone colour that he wants so long as it is black.”

Instead of trying to get my head around what all these colours mean, I’m leaving the nitty-gritty of registrations up to the organist, then I can come in and say “Yeah… nah… more of that… less of that…”. I’m merely giving the player broad ideas of what sound I want. So far my designations include:

  • with solid front on the note
  • foghorn with front
  • flutey and fruity
  • with bass guitar-like definition
  • saxophonic
  • clarinettish, with plenty of front
  • Hammond cheese, vibrato if possible? (use a swell box)
  • vengeful cheese!
  • vengeful foghorn
  • a little more flutey

In this respect, the detail is not my problem.

4 thoughts on “Stop organ, stop organ, I don’t want to talk any more

  1. Ephraim Gadsby

    Disappointed that your list of designations does not include “more cowbell.”

    ( for the perplexed)

    • I’m pretty sure it’s more proper to use the German designation, “mehr Kuhglocke”.

      Failing that, pretty much all of the metal pipes could function as cowbells if you send someone inside the guts of the machine with a snare drum stick. But I don’t think the organ trustees would like me.

      • Michael Norris

        I always wished that “cowbell” in French had been literally translated. “Vachecloche” is just too good a word not to exist.

        • Vachecloche! Choucroute! Chaussures! Avenue Rochechouart!

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