Russian Roulette… at the Organ?

In first approaching the organ there were many questions in my mind. Working through them was similar to the development of an infant. I began by learning to control my hands, then my feet, and then eventually developed a more coherent musical speech pattern.

While still in my ‘babbling’ stage of organ playing, I was asked to play my first Sunday service. Yikes! I had just barely gotten my feet used to the idea that they had more to do than just keep me from falling off the bench. I still had no clue what all those little tabs with the different names and numbers meant. So I approached a neighboring ward organist and asked how she knew what stops to set when she played.

“Oh, I just push the different buttons until something comes up that looks good to me.”

“What?” I thought,  “Two years in this calling and you’re still playing Russian Roulette at the organ? There’s gotta be a better way.”

In search for this ‘better way’ I asked other ward organists in our stake the same question. I got essentially the same response. When it came to organ registration, not one of the ward organists I spoke with knew what they were doing!

Eventually, to my ward’s relief, I was rescued from the musical gutter by a very competent organ teacher who was able to answer my questions and launch me into the realm of being a trained organist. Unfortunately not every ward organist has access to this kind of teacher.

But, for those who are willing to step up to their calling as ward organist, help is available!

Many years ago the LDS Church produced some organ training films that provide some very good foundational training for ward organists. Below is a filmstrip explaining the essential principles of organ registration.

Now, this 1976 production may seem old-school/low-tech by today’s standards. But if you consider that the pipe organ was first designed in the 12th century, and by the 17th century most of the sounds available on the modern classical organ had been developed, well then, this video seems quite up-to-date!

In any case, for those desiring to learn (or review) the basics of organ registration, I think this is an informative presentation.


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Also available on Pedal Points:
Setting the Stops, Basic Hymn Registrations, Guidelines For Hymn Registration and Common Stop Names
Technique, An Introduction to Basic Organ Techniques
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