Sunday, October 30, 2016


We went to an organ concert at the church we attend this afternoon.  A young woman, Ilona Kubiaczk-Adler, performed on the wonderful Glatter Gotz pipe organ there.  Originally from Poland, she now lives in Arizona.

In 2015 she traveled to Poland to make a recording on an almost 300 year old organ there. As part of the concert she talked about that experience and showed slides.  It is an old tracker organ meaning the action of the organ, pressing down the keys to producing the sound, is accomplished through a series of wooden links so that the person playing can control how the sound begins, gently or with more of a punch at the beginning of the note.  What a fascinating concept.  On a modern organ, the sound is either being produced or not.  It doesn't matter how you press the keys.  You can "pounce" on them or feebly depress them; it won't alter the sound.  So different from playing a piano!  Your fingers can tremble with nerves, but the sound is not affected.  So different from playing a violin!

Another difference is that this organ, when it was restored, retained the bellows, as well as having the air produced by an electric motor.  A modern organ has a motor that produces air for the pipes.  The pipes in an organ actually work much like any wind instrument.  They need a supply of air to produce sound.  Before electric motors, organs had bellows (like a blacksmith) and someone, not the organist, had to physically work the bellows to produce the air supply necessary for the sound.  I have never seen the actual bellows of an old pipe organ.  This was very interesting!  Three young men, friends of Ilona, were recruited to pump the bellows.

Here's how it works: There are fairly large, sturdy wooden spokes that need to be depressed to make the bellows move.  The men step down on the wooden spokes with all their weight to move the bellows.  As far as I could see there were two spokes for each bellows operator.  He stepped with all his weight on first one then the other.  That action opened the bellows.  They fell back of their own weight, sending the air to the pipes.

The organ was beautiful, with the surrounding of the pipes ornate and decorated with leaves, vines, cherubs, in greens and golds--real gold that is.  There were just two keyboards and a pedalboard.  The stops, which are the pistons that open or close the different ranks (voices) of pipes, are arranged on either side of the keyboards.  But they are really, really big, and too far from the organist to be reached.  So the organist needs helpers to pull out the stops and push them in, as voices are needed or not.  Fascinating.
On a modern organ the player just reaches over and pulls out a stop or flips a tab.  Also, a modern organ has couplers, which link the voices on one keyboard to another keyboard.  And it also has pistons, by which the organist can preset a combination of stops and activate all the voices chosen at once just by briefly depressing the piston.  An historic organ, such as this one in Poland, does not have these "conveniences".

Two famous organ works were on the program, Bach's "Toccata in d minor" and Widor's "Toccata."  Sometimes these, the Bach in particular, are referred to as "Dracula music."  It's pretty safe to say that each of you reading this has heard the opening bars of Bach's Toccata!  Both of these pieces also help a person understand the phrase, Pull out all the stops (Give it all you've got).  The volume of sound produced by a large pipe organ with (most of) the stops out is more than impressive!  But what great fun it is to be playing an organ with both hands, both feet, and all the brain circuits you can summon, producing as much sound as a full symphony orchestra!

I bought her CD after the concert.  I'll be listening to it in the car on the way to orchestra and choir rehearsals.  Mainly because the CD player in the car is the only way I have to listen to recorded music here in AZ.

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