Welcome to The Latter-day Saint Organist's Resource Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

In Memory

Always and Forever
Image Source

In honor of Memorial Day, no lesson will be posted today. Come back next week for Lesson 19.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sunday Song: Charles Marie Widor's 5th Organ Symphony Opus 42 No1 -Toccata

Charles Marie Widor's "5th Organ Symphony Opus 42 No. 1 -Toccata," played by Minh Nguyen, at the age of 16.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A new approach to organ technique


I mentioned in an earlier article a bit of my history as a flute player. Unfortunately, I just don't have any motivation to play that instrument anymore, although I do dust if off once a year or so. However, I am very appreciative of the time I spent as a flute player. I learned how to become a musician through my education as a flautist.

As an organist, I've focused solely on hymns and hymn arrangements. I've had no need to delve any deeper into organ literature. While I've dabbled with a little Bach, that has been the extent of my practicing.

A month ago I decided I wanted to learn a piece of literature for an informal recital. After scouring the free sheet music pages on the Internet, I decided to learn Marco Enrico Bossi's "Entrée Pontificale." (This piece will be the Sunday Song on July 11th.)

This piece is a beautiful piece that's often used for weddings, as I found out later. It has multiple melodic lines and has amazing harmonies. As I sat at the organ, figuring out fingerings, I had an epiphany--even though this piece has no words, it still needs to breathe. At that moment, I remembered some advice I received from David Chamberlin, accomplished organist, organ builder, and composer:
Interesting organ playing is not a matter of legato or non-legato, it's the artistic application of both with infinite variations in between. The trick is to create the illusion of 'real' instruments (like violins, flutes, oboes, trumpets, whatever, or singers) playing all those wonderful melodic lines. Playing with a blanket non-legato is no better, and maybe worse, than playing with a perfect, unbroken, 'wall-to-wall' legato. I think that goes for hymn playing as well as for Bach and most organ music. That's my opinion, and it's based more on practice than on academic study.
I drew upon my background as flautist and band conductor and treated each melodic line individually, choosing where I would breathe if I were playing the piece on my flute, or where I would have the instrumentalists in my band breathe.

Suddenly, Bossi's piece makes a lot more sense. Instead of endless sustained melodies, each line breathes independently of the other lines.

While legato technique is an essential technique to learn, drawing upon other thoughts and ideas is also essential when it comes to adding interest to pieces of music.

You can visit David Chamberlin's website here: http://www.chamberlinmusic.com/

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lesson 18: Seeking More Instruction

Click here for Lesson 17: More on Stops, Couplers, Pistons, and Combination Action

Today's lesson is a little different from normal. I'm striving to teach every aspect of organ playing possible through my lessons, articles, and Sunday songs. BYU also has a number of training resources, which I'd like to share with you today.

Make sure you read to the end. The BYU Organ Workshop will be explained at the very bottom of the post, followed by a homework assignment.

Main BYU Website

The Organ Study at BYU Website is www.organ.byu.edu. Once there, you can click on "LDS Organists and Teachers" to find organ instructors in many areas.

Books and Software from BYU

Hymn Studies for Organists (Belnap). Visit http://creativeworks.byu.edu/catalog and then enter “hymn studies” in the search box and click “enter”. ($15.95 + shipping)

Three-Stave Hymn Accompaniments (Cundick). Visit http://creativeworks.byu.edu/catalog and then enter “three-stave” in the search box and click “enter”. ($10 + shipping) Also available for free download on the Internet http://www.organ.byu.edu/3StaveHymns/index.htm

OrganTutor (Cook) (visit www.organtutor.byu.edu and then follow the specific links)
  • OrganTutor Organ 101 Complete
  • Computer tutorial on CD-ROM (for PC and Mac) and Workbook ($69.50 + shipping)
  • Computer tutorial and printable Workbook (pdf files) on Internet ($20-$30 per year)
  • Computer tutorial only (no Workbook)
  • On CD-ROM (for PC) ($50 + shipping)
  • On Internet ($25 per year; $15 per 6 months)
  • Workbook only (no computer tutorial)
  • Printed ($19.50 + shipping)
  • Printable on Internet ($6)
  • Organ 101 Introduction (free selected lessons)
  • On CD-ROM (for PC) or on Internet
Organ Courses Through BYU Independent Study and the Internet

Visit www.organ.byu.edu and then click BYU Independent Study Students and follow the specific links.
  • Music 399R Sections (Levels) 1-6 (courses offering college credit)
  • Organ 71 Beginning organ for Pianists with little or no previous formal organ training, or who need help in applying what they have learned in their organ playing.
  • Certification track (a $30 non-credit version of Music 399R Level 1 that offers a certificate)
  • Self-study track (a free non-credit version of Music 399R Level 1 that does not offer a certificate)
  • Organ 72 Review of basics for those with organ training, but who would benefit from a review of basic legato organ technique, repertoire, hymn playing, and registration. Should be able to sight-read single-line melodies.
  • Certification track (a $28 non-credit version of Music 399R Level 2 that offers a certificate)
  • Self-study track (a free non-credit version of Music 399R Level 2 that does not offer a certificate)
The New LDS Organist (A free “quickstart” organ course in 12 podcasts) Visit www.organ.byu.edu/newldsorganist

Creative Hymn Playing Techniques (Music 116R podcasts/audio lessons) visit www.organ.byu.edu/116podcasts.htm

Organ Workshops

The BYU Young Musicians Summerfestival (for ages 14-18, June 13-19, 2010) http://summerfestival.byu.edu

The BYU Organ Workshop (for adults, August 3-6, 2010) http://organworkshop.byu.edu

The BYU Organ Workshop

The BYU Organ Workshop is an intensive four-day program designed for organ skill-building for all organ levels and is usually held the first week of August from Tuesday through Friday with a preworkshop seminar on Monday. Enhance your organ-playing skills for your own enjoyment, for church service, or for teaching. Discover and improve your talents and proficiency as you learn valuable techniques and tips from skilled instructors. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced organist, the workshop has much in store for you. Over 80 classes are offered with customized instruction and supervised practice for your specific level. Organ tours, concerts, exhibits, and a hymn sing are also included.

The price is a bit steep, but it's worth every penny. Currently the fees are:


$250 (April 3–July 17)
$275 (after July 17)


Campus Housing, $100 (double occupancy)
Private Organ Instruction, $25 (one 25–minute session)
Private Organ Instruction, $40 (one 50–minute session)
Instruction Placement Audition, $10 (available only on Monday)

If this interests you, I recommend saving up for it. If you can't make it this year, save for next summer. The BYU Organ Workshop is an extension of the organ portion of the Workshop on Church Music, which ran at BYU between 1979 and 1999. The BYU Organ Workshop started as its own program in 2002, and is in its ninth year of operation.


Visit www.organ.byu.edu/3StaveHymns/index.htm and download a one of the simpler 3 Stave Hymns. Mark it as explained in lessons 14, 15, and 16. Choose an appropriate registration for each verse as taught in lessons 4 and 5.

Practice slowly,with a metronome, following the steps for learning a hymn outlined in lesson 9.

Continue working on previous homework assignments that haven't been mastered, and continue to practice the hymns and prelude pieces that you have learned in the past.

If you are interested, seek out a private, certified organ instructor or utilize the resources available through BYU (outlined above).

In Conclusion

There are a number of resources out there that will help you learn how to properly play the organ. While an organ teacher with AGO certifications is ideal, the OrganTutor software is amazing, and the BYU Independent Study program can also help you achieve your goals. The BYU Workshop never disappoints (quite the contrary, actually--everyone raves about it), and Don Cook's podcast is excellent as well.

My blog exists as one of many resources. Thank you so much for reading!

Continue on to Lesson 19.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Song: Messiaen, "Les Bergers" from "La Nativité du Seigneur"

Marie-Claire Alain plays this 1935 Messiaen piece at the Hofkirche in Lucerne, Switzerland. This is a neo-classical tracker organ built from 1972-77 by Orgelbau Kuhn AG.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guest Article: Come Home to the Hymns

W. Herbert Klopfer has graciously agreed to be my guest today. Brother Klopfer has been a member of the LDS Church General Music Committee since 1983. He is also an organist, pianist, and composer, who, with his wife, Carolyn Hamilton Klopfer, wrote the LDS hymn "Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth."

W. Herbert Klopfer

Come Home to the Hymns

In 1984, President Thomas S. Monson – then Elder Monson of the Twelve – organized the Leipzig Germany Stake, assisted by Elder Hans B. Ringger, a Regional Representative and later a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. On Saturday afternoon of stake conference, they interviewed about thirty priesthood holders for stake positions. The brethren were waiting in a nearby room for their turn to be interviewed.

President Monson observed that the brethren in the nearby room sang hymns in beautiful four-part harmony from the hymnbook. He asked Elder Ringger: "Do these brethren represent a priesthood choir for the meeting this evening?"

"Oh, no," replied Elder Ringger, "they are just the brethren who we are going to interview this afternoon. They prefer singing to chatting."

President Monson recalled that "they sang for four hours. As we would interview some of the tenor section, the tenors became a little weak, and then they would return and the bass would come in for the interview. . . ."

Just imagine: these brethren would rather sing the hymns of Zion than chat with each other! They had been given a rare opportunity of coming together from all over East Germany to visit with each other, and they chose to sing the hymns! Where else in the world would you find a group of priesthood brethren who choose to sing together when they could be talking about the weather, or sports, or simply enjoy each other's friendship?

President Monson told us later: "We learned a lesson. If you love the Lord, if you love His doctrine, you‟ll love the hymns; and when you love them, then you sing them. . . . We must learn once again in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to really sing. We simply must do something with our congregational singing to bring out the spirit of music in the heart and soul of every boy, every girl, every man, every woman."
  • President Boyd K. Packer said: We "encourage participation in congregational singing" (October 1991 General Conference).
  • President James E. Faust taught that "singing our beautiful, worshipful hymns is food for our souls. Worshiping in song has the effect of spiritually unifying the participants in an attitude of reverence" (April 1992 General Conference).
  • Elder Dallin H. Oaks declared: "Hymn singing is a glorious way to worship. . . . Our hymns . . . have been proven effective to invite the Spirit of the Lord. . . . The singing of hymns is one of the best ways to put ourselves in tune with the Spirit of the Lord (and) . . . to learn the doctrine of the restored gospel. . . . Our sacred music is a powerful preparation for prayer and gospel teaching (and) . . . prepares us to be taught the truths of the gospel." (October 1994 General Conference).
  • Elder Adam S. Bennion of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said about fifty-five years ago: "In the Church we need better music and more of it, and better speaking and less of it."
Under the direction of President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors in The First Presidency, members of the Church were counseled to experience a renewed enthusiasm for gospel living by singing the hymns of Zion. As we analyze the sealed portion of the current hymnbook – otherwise known as the Preface – we learn that the First Presidency teaches us to worship the Lord more effectively in at least three ways:
  1. Singing the hymns of Zion more frequently,
  2. Using the words of hymns in support of teaching gospel principles, and
  3. Feeling the power of hymns motivating righteous conduct and behavior
Singing the Hymns of Zion More Frequently

congregation singing

The First Presidency hopes "to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations. We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns. . . . Sing them on the Sabbath, in home evening, during scripture study, at prayer time. Sing as you work, as you play, and as you travel together."

Hymn singing is the easiest, most enjoyable, most effective, and most powerful spiritual activity inviting "all to come unto Christ" (D&C 20:59) "and be perfectly in Him" (Moroni 10:32). Almost everybody can do it! It is universally appealing and ought to be done more frequently in our worship services. Hymn singing lifts one to higher spiritual ground.

Hymn singing is effective because it gives each participant a unique opportunity to express his or her inner feelings. Expressing one's self through sacred song is good for the soul. It makes one feel very good, especially when singing the hymns of Zion, which have all been created by the Spirit of the Lord directing those who authored the text and composed the music.

The spirited missionary hymn, "Hark, All Ye Nations!" is loved by the Saints the world over. President Thomas S. Monson heard it for the first time in Italy when he visited the missionaries there in the 1960s. He liked it so much that he decided to tell the German Saints about it when he would visit them the next week. He didn't know that this hymn is probably the most popular and most often sung hymn among the Saints in Germany, Austria, and German-speaking Switzerland. "I told the Saints that the Italians have a good missionary hymn," he said. "They said, "Oh, yes, the Italians stole it from us." And indeed they did when they scoured through hymnbooks of surrounding countries when the Church was organized in their land.

If we really love the Lord, we must sing the hymns of the Church much more than we have in the past. Most Church meetings will be enhanced by the singing of hymns. Singing hymns invites the Spirit of the Lord and creates a feeling for reverence and unity. Hymns provide a way for us to offer praises to the Lord. Hymns move us to repentance and good works. Hymns build testimony and faith. Hymns comfort the weary and console the mourning. Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and help us withstand the temptations of the adversary. Hymns can bring a spirit of beauty, peace, love, and happiness into our lives. Hymns inspire us to endure
to the end.

Using the Words of Hymns in Support of Teaching Gospel Principles

family singing

The First Presidency hopes that "leaders, teachers, and members who are called upon to speak will turn often to the hymnbook to find sermons presented powerfully and beautifully in verse. . . . Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. . . . We hope the hymnbook will take a prominent place among the scriptures and other religious books in your homes."

President Boyd K. Packer has taught: "If we will listen, [the hymns] are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine! . . . [The hymns] are an essential part of our worship" (October 1991 General Conference).

The purpose of hymn singing is to teach the gospel – to help members learn the hymns, ponder their messages, and partake of the spirit they bring. Many gospel principles are taught through the hymns. Participation in singing the hymns of Zion at home, while traveling, and in Church meetings should be a spiritual highlight in every person‟s life, because hymns create a warm spiritual climate and elevate our spirits.

The hymnbook is a standard work filled with sermons to sing. It is a book of scripture because scriptures are messages coming from God to each of us by the power of the Holy Ghost, and these messages may be written, spoken, or sung.

The hymn "Be Thou Humble" declares the doctrine of humility almost verbatim from its scriptural setting in the Doctrine and Covenants. Thomas B. Marsh served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles when the Lord counseled him in 1837 regarding several important matters that needed attention in his personal life, including "be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers" (D&C 112:10).

"Press Forward, Saints" is another good example of paraphrasing scripture. Nephi admonishes us:
"Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life" (See 2 Nephi 31:20).
Marvin K. Gardner provides three wonderful verses that capture the beauty of Nephi's statement: "Press forward, Saints, with steadfast faith in Christ. . . . Press forward, feasting on the word of Christ. . . . Press on, enduring in the ways of Christ. . . . Thus saith our God: 'Ye have eternal life!'" And Vanja Y. Watkins provides a thrilling musical setting for this hymn.

"As I have loved you, love one another" is almost identical to the Savior's words: "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35).

Sister Luacine Clark Fox, the author of the text in this hymn, is the youngest daughter of President J. Reuben Clark Jr., counselor in the First Presidency some sixty years ago. When
she wrote about the higher law of the gospel taught by the Savior at the Last Supper, she felt impressed to find a good tune for a good new hymn. The melody came into her mind as a direct answer to prayer. "I wrote the melody alongside the words," she said. "Tears filled my eyes so that I could hardly see the notes. There were no changes made to the original notes."

Sister Marianne Johnson Fisher bears testimony of the consolation one may receive through the scriptures when she authored the words of the hymn, "As I Search the Holy Scriptures." I had met her in 1985 in the South Visitors Center on Temple Square following the celebration of the newly published "green scriptures" – the new hymnbook. She had sung with the Tabernacle Choir for many years. However, she was blind since birth, and her comfort, hope, and faith had always come from the scriptures. "My favorite verse is the third verse," she told me, "please read it."
As I search the holy scriptures, May thy mercy be revealed,
Soothe my troubled heart and spirit; May my unseen wounds be healed.
President Howard W. Hunter provided a classic example of using the words of a hymn in support of teaching gospel principles when he addressed the April 1993 General Conference. He quoted the verses of "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" in support of his testimony of the Savior, and he thus impressed a message on our minds that will be remembered for a long time because of his effective use of a hymn.

President Thomas S. Monson has received inquiries about his favorite hymns. He really likes most hymns, having supported his sermons by quoting 82 times selected verses from 43 hymns in 62 of the last 92 General Conferences (46 years, 1964-2009). President Monson has quoted the most hymns of any General Authority, thus setting the example to the whole Church of using hymn texts frequently in support of teaching the gospel in Church meetings, classes, and home evenings.

Let us likewise learn and teach the gospel through sacred hymns and Primary children's songs. Our hymns teach gospel principles far more effectively than the mere spoken word or reading the scriptures because memorable melodies are coupled to the messages that are translated into our hearts as deep feelings and impressions that will outlast alternate teaching methods.

Feeling the Power of Hymns Motivating Righteous Conduct and Behavior


The First Presidency declared that "hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous actions. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace. Hymns can also help us withstand the temptations of the adversary."

Hymn singing builds character by dismissing unworthy and evil thoughts, deepening spiritual insights and sensitivity, quieting and lifting our spirits, aiding us in public and private worship, teaching truths and gospel principles, converting and building testimonies, reminding us of our covenants and heritage, and unifying us as a people.

President Ezra Taft Benson's great-grandfather, Apostle Ezra T. Benson, and his wife and two little boys, George (age 7) and Frank (age 1) had come from Missouri to make their home in Cache Valley. Elder Benson and some other men had to explore Cache Valley to find suitable places for other pioneers who were coming to live there. He left his wife and the two boys in a rather sagebrush covered place.

As they were sitting outside the covered wagon, about an hour after the men had gone, Sister Benson heard a noise. Looking in the direction of the noise, she saw a big lion standing on its haunches about a hundred feet from where she and the boys were. It looked like the lion was ready to attack, so Sister Benson prayed in her heart and asked the Lord what to do. She was impressed to sing. This she did, and the lion went away without harming her. Then she knelt down and thanked the Lord for saving her life and the lives of her children. (See Margaret Benson, "A Song for a Lion," Children’s Friend, July 1941, p. 308).

Music has a powerful influence on the behavior of God's creations. Brigham Young stated that "sweet music will actually tame the most malicious and venomous beasts, even when they have been stirred up to violent wrath, and make them docile and harmless as lambs" (Journal of Discourses, page 48).

The story is told of an old bishop in pioneer days who was asked to solve a water problem between two men living in his ward. These men had been bitter enemies for a period of time
and had threatened to take their problems to the courts. Finally, they determined to submit it first to their bishop. When they entered his home, he seated them and suggested that they all join in singing: "Angry Words, Oh Let Them Never" (Deseret Sunday School Songs, 1909, no. 67).
Angry words! Oh let them never / From the tongue unbridled slip;
May the heart’s best impulse ever / Check them ere they soil the lip.
"Love one another," thus saith the Savior,
Children obey the Father’s blest command.
He started and finished the song, singing alone. "Well," said he, "let's try it again."

On the second time, one of the men joined in the chorus.

"Now," the bishop continued, "let's sing it again." This time the one man sang all the way through with his bishop, and the other joined in the chorus.

The fourth time, all three sang this simple Primary song together. At the conclusion of the singing, the men said, "Bishop, we haven't any problems we cannot settle between us."

The two men left the bishop's home determined to solve their difficulties. Singing a simple children's song had converted two older men to settle their differences amiably. (Leland H. Monson, "Character and Leadership," p. 157).

President Heber J. Grant wrote that "the singing of our sacred hymns, written by the servants of God, has a powerful effect in converting people to the principles of the Gospel, and in promoting peace and spiritual growth" ("Songs of the Heart," Improvement Era, Sep 1940, p. 522).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said recently: "We ought to have great music in the Church and more of it; great speaking in the Church and less of it" (Priesthood Department, 2006 Christmas Devotional).

Elder Dallin H. Oaks has counseled us in the October 1994 General Conference that:
We should be careful what music we use in settings where we desire to contribute to worship. Many musical numbers good for other wholesome settings are not appropriate for church meetings. Our hymns have been chosen because they have been proven effective to invite the Spirit of the Lord. . . .

Soloists should remember that music in our worship services is not for demonstration but for worship. Vocal or instrumental numbers should be chosen to facilitate worship, not to provide performance opportunity for artists, no matter how accomplished. . . .

Our sacred music is a powerful preparation for prayer and gospel teaching. We need to make more use of our hymns to put us in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, to unify us, and to help us teach and learn our doctrine. . . . Music is an effective way to worship our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. We should use hymns when we need spiritual strength and inspiration. . . . We need to keep singing that we may draw ever closer to Him who has inspired sacred music and commanded that it be used to worship Him.

Come home to the hymns!

girl singing

Hymn singing is the Lord's way of invoking righteous feelings. Hymn singing is a reflection of how we feel about the gospel.

Come home to the hymns by singing them frequently! Come home to the hymns by using the words in support of teaching gospel principles! Come home to the hymns by feeling their power in motivating right actions! Come home to the hymns by focusing your thoughts upon the Savior and worshiping Him in praise, devotion, and love.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lesson 17: More on Stops, Couplers, Pistons, and Combination Action

Click here for Lesson 16: Marking a Hymn, part 3

In Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ, I presented an overview of the console. Today, with more information provided by Carol Dean, we'll delve into a little more depth on stops, couplers, pistons, and combination action.

Stops and Couplers

Photo Source

On most larger pipe organs, the pipes which are accessed by each individual keyboard are grouped in specific areas of the case. In smaller organs, with two manuals, the great is open and the swell is grouped together in the swell box. The Salt Lake Tabernacle keyboards from bottom to top are: Choir/Positive, Great, Swell, Solo/Bombarde, and Antiphonal, and each has its own area in the case for the related pipes.

In the newer electronic organs, pipe organ sound is actually sampled and saved into a computer chip which is accessed electronically from the different keyboards or divisions.

As mentioned in Lesson 1, couplers belong to the non-speaking stop category--they affect the speaking stops but have no sound of their own. The couplers you will most likely see on your two-manual church organs are: Swell to Great, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal, and possibly one or more Sub or Super couplers such as Swell to Swell 16' or Swell to Swell 4'.

Octave (sub or super) couplers work within a manual to double the stops up or down one octave. For example, if you have one 8' Swell stop selected, engaging Swell to Swell 4' (super coupler) and then playing middle C will result in your hearing middle C and the C above middle C. If you instead select Swell to Swell 16' (sub coupler), you will hear middle C and the C below middle C. Most organs with sub and super couplers will also have a Unison Off stop tab or reversible thumb piston (explained below). If the Unison Off is engaged along with an 8' stop (for example) on the Swell and the Swell to Swell 4', you will not hear the stop at the pitch indicated on the tab (8'). You will only heard the effect of the super coupler–the pitch one octave higher than the note you are actually playing.

In a pipe organ, a rank is a row of pipes in one tone color, with one pipe dedicated to each key. Each stop turns a rank of pipes "on" or "off." In electronic organs, each speaking stop accesses sample pipe organ sounds that have been digitally stored in computer chips–technology called PDI or parallel digital interface.

Pistons and Combination Action

toe studs
Photo Source

Thumb pistons and toe studs are part of the combination action system. Depending on your organ, some pistons are available both as thumb pistons and toe studs.

A Tutti or Sforzando piston functions like a crescendo pedal that is all the way forward, selecting every stop available on the organ except those that do not work well in a large ensemble sound, such as solo reeds, celestes and the tierce.

thumb pistons
Photo Source

Although they appear identical to thumb pistons and toe studs, reversibles serve an entirely mechanical function independent from the combination action. The oft-used Great to Pedal reversible can serve as an illustration. When it is pressed the first time, the Great to Pedal coupler is drawn, or engaged (in most cases the drawknob or stop tab actually moves into "on" position). When depressed the second time, the action is "reversed," retiring the coupler back into "off" position. Depressing a Great to Pedal reversible repeatedly simply brings the drawknob or stop tab in and out or up and down. The most common reversible pistons on the smaller electronic organs are: Tutti (or Sforzando), Great to Pedal, Bass coupler, and Melody coupler.

Programmable Pistons

thumb pistons
Photo Source

Organs have general pistons and most organs also have divisional pistons. These pistons are usually programmable, although some organs have one or more memory levels which are locked.

General thumb pistons are numbered and are usually located to the left of other thumb pistons, under both the swell and great manuals. Divisional pistons are also numbered, affect only one division of the organ, and are generally located just under the manual of that division.

Above the pedalboard on the right there are a group of divisional toe studs that only memorize stops for the pedal division. The group on the left are the general pistons which affect all stops and couplers on the organ. These are repeats of the thumb generals below the manuals. The last kind of toe studs you will see are called reversibles. These are usually spread out across the bottom of the console, above the generals and pedal divisionals.

In newer organs, combinations are stored in a computer memory. To set a combination, pull the desired stops, choose your memory level, hold the setter button (usually labeled "Set"), and press the desired piston. Larger organs and newer organs generally feature a system of memory levels: each organist is assigned a level or a range of levels and is able to keep his registrations separate from those of other organists who play the instrument. It is a good idea to keep a sign-up list on your organ so that each organist's settings aren't inadvertently cleared by another ward, stake, or guest organist.


If more than one organist uses your organ, create a sign-up list so that each organist can sign up for at least one memory of their own.

Looking back over the hymns you have learned, and the prelude that you have played, program your memory level in your organ for the registration changes you have chosen. Practice playing through these hymns, using the thumb pistons or toe studs.

Plan 10 to 15 minutes of prelude music, using the programmable pistons to create a variety of colors. Make a note of which piston to use when on your music. Practice until you can smoothly change between pieces. Play prelude for Sacrament meeting or another church meeting, using these thumb pistons.

In Conclusion

I hope this lesson was helpful to you. Utilizing the programmable feature on your organ allows for a smoother prelude, without sacrificing a variety of tone colors or allowing for large moments of silence while new stops are selected.

Continue on to Lesson 18: Seeking More Instruction.

Updated Thursday's Organ Tour Post

I received some additional information on the Great Stalacpipe Organ, and updated Thursday's post. You might find it interesting.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Song: Antonio de Cabezon's "Dis Nobis Maria"

An authentic organ pumped by hand in Castromocho, Spain. Francis Chapelet plays Antonio de Cabezon's "Dis Nobis Maria."

This one is short, but novel:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Organ Tour: The Great Stalacpipe Organ

While not a true organ, the Great Stalacpipe Organ in Luray, Virginia is the world's largest instrument. It covers 3 1/2 acres. The proper name for this type of instrument is lithophone, but it does have a console built by Klann Organ Supply of Waynesboro, Virginia.

Stalacpipe organ console
Photo Source

In the 1950's, Leland Sprinkle, a a mathematician and electronic engineer, designed and constructed this one-of-a-kind instrument, which utilizes 37 stalactites. Played by small rubber hammers, activated as gentle plungers, all but two of these stalactites required some sanding to bring them in tune.

Rubber hammer
Photo Source

This video explains more:

For more information, visit: Luray Caverns Atlas Obscura 365 Days Project  

5/17/2010 Update: I contacted the Klann Organ Company, asking for the specifications of the console, and learned that the four manuals and drawknobs are mostly for show. Only one keyboard and the pedals play the organ. I also learned that they now use a MIDI device to play it for the tours that go through, but it is occasionally played by a live organist for special programs, such as weddings. Also, once in a while one of the stalactites breaks off, so they have to find another one that has the correct pitch and remount the striker, adjusting the pitch as necessary so that it will be in tune with the others.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lesson 16: Marking a Hymn, part 3

Click here for Lesson 15: Marking a Hymn, part 2.

In the past two lessons we covered breathing and pedaling. Now it is time to decide on the manual fingering.


Common Tones and Tying

Hymn 296, "Our Father, by Whose Name," begins on C in the soprano, but the next beat has a C in the alto. The next beat has an F in the soprano followed by an F in the alto. If we played the hymn with breaks, it would sound like this:

(Once again, my nails are too long--you can hear them clicking on the keys--don't be like me!)

Instead, we need to remember what was taught in Lesson 8: The Manuals: When the line above is ascending, the notes generally tie. When the line above is descending, the notes generally break." By applying this rule, the hymn will sound like this:

Much better!  

Direct Fingering

Before continuing, it may be helpful to review the "Techniques" section of Lesson 8. In order to figure out the fingering for a hymn, it's important to sit down at the organ (or a piano) and work through it. In looking at the first two measures of this hymn, the A is the highest point, and the C the lowest for the right hand. The fingering was simple, so I chose direct fingering for the first line in both hands, as shown (I should have marked lifts in the right hand, too, but overlooked it until after I took pictures):
line 1

The second line is identical to the first, so I copied these markings down to the second line. Redistribution of the Inner Part In the third line the fingering is spread out and a bit difficult to play legato, so I decided to redistribute an inner part--all the alto Cs will be played with the left hand, as the brackets show:
line 3

I continued the redistribution of the alto Cs through the end of the hymn, and utilized finger crossing in the right hand for the final note:
line 4

This technique is difficult for many beginning organists to learn at first, but it is vital to organ playing. Be patient as your fingers and brain learn to think and play in this new way.


Finish marking hymn 296, "Our Father, by Whose Name." Remember common tone and tying rules. Mark fingerings, ties, breaks, lifts, and anything else that needs to be notated. When marking a hymn remember:
  • Use direct fingering whenever possible.
  • If you cannot use direct fingering, try redistributing the inner part
  • After trying the above, use finger crossing, finger or thumb glissando, or substitution.
***It's always best to choose the least amount of work/movement whenever possible.***

 Once the hymn is marked, prepare it for accompanying the congregation. From registration to the 15- or 7-step method for leaning a hymn, practice with a metronome and never play faster than you can play perfectly.

 In Conclusion

Learning to properly mark a hymn is a very important skill to learn. It opens up the entire hymnal to you.

Continue on to Lesson 17: More on Stops, Couplers, Pistons, and Combination Action.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Song: Buxtehude's "Prelude and Chaconne in C Major"

Happy Mother's Day!

Today's piece is Dieterich Buxtehude's "Prelude and Chaconne in C Major," played by Dorothy Young Riess, M.D.

Videotaped during an impromptu session on the Sydney, Australia Opera House organ hosted by organ curator, Mark Fisher.

Edited 05/25/2010:
It has been brought to my attention that while this piece begins accurately, the later registration and overly staccato touch is not in the proper style of Buxtehude. Listen and see if you can hear the change.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Help me spread the word!

Thank you so much for the kind words some of you have shared. I am so glad this site is helping so many of you! I love reading about each of you. Your comments really make my day.

If this blog has helped you, please help me spread the word! There are so many people out there who are struggling to play the organ.

I've created an image that can be uploaded to a photo processing center and printed as a 4x6 print, then cut into fourths:

Promo cards

As you can see, the design is very simple and straightforward. It simply states the name, URL, and slogan of the website, along with the header picture.

For me, at $0.13 a print, each card comes to just over three cents. If you'd like to print some yourself, just follow the above link, right click and save the file to your computer. Then it can be uploaded to the photo center of your choice. I'm planning on leaving a small stack on each organ in my stake.

If you'd like me to email you the full-resolution file, please contact me at ldsorganistblog(at)gmail(dot)com and I'll be happy to attach the file. If for some reason you absolutely need hard copies and a soft copy won't work, also include your mailing address and I can send you a few, within reason.

This blog also has a facebook page, linked in the right sidebar. Please feel free to "like" this page and share it with your friends.

Thank you so much for helping spread the word!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Lesson 15: Marking a hymn, part 2

Click here for Lesson 14: Marking a hymn, part 1

In this lesson we'll continue marking hymn 296, "Our Father, by Whose Name." In the last lesson we marked breathing. This lesson we'll mark the pedaling. It would be helpful to review Lesson 6: Breaking in Those Shoes and Lesson 7: More pedaling before continuing.

First Things First

Take a look at the movement of the bass line. It starts on F, moves downward, then jumps back up to F. It makes sense to begin with the right foot, switch to the left, then back to the right. What's the best way to do this? I'm going to start with my right toe for the two F's, then move to my left toe, down to my left heel, then switch back to my toe for the second C, and finally back up to my right toe. Notice how I don't repeat the mark on the second F:

phrase 1

The next section starts on F, skips to D then Bb before stepping up to two C's and jumping back to F. It makes sense to start with the right foot. I'm going to play the F with the right toe, the D with the right heel (you could choose the left heel), the Bb with the left toe, the first C with the left heel, the second C with the left toe, then jump to the F with the right toe. There's no need to mark the first F of this phrase, but I did just for this example:

phrase 2

The second line is identical to the first, so I will pedal it the same: right toe for the two F's, left toe on D, left heel on C switching over to toe for the second C and right toe on the three F's, the D with the right heel, the Bb with the left toe, the first C with the left heel, the second C with the left toe, the F with the right toe.

The final two lines

The third line is a little more tricky. Since the right foot plays the F with the toe at the end of the second line, it's a good idea to begin the F on the third line with the right toe as well. I chose to play all three F's with the right toe, the D with the right heel, and the A with the left toe.

Looking ahead, the next three notes are Bb, low F, and C. In order to reach the low F, I'll play the Bb with the right toe, the low F with the left toe, and the C with the right toe. It will be important to pre-locate these notes when playing this hymn:

line 3 part 1

The next eight notes have a jump up, then a series of steps down to F, followed by a double-skip to C. The Bb will need to be played with a toe. I chose to play the A with the left toe, the D with the right toe, C with the right heel, Bb with the right toe, A with the left toe (as before), G with the left heel, and low F with the left toe.


What to do with the C? Should it be played with the right toe or heel? That depends on whether the Bb will be played with the right or left foot. I'm choosing to play the C with the right toe, and the Bb with the left toe:


The final notes of the hymn are a bit tricky. I'm choosing to play the Bb with the left toe, as mentioned above, the A with the left heel, the C with the right heel, the F with the right toe, the Bb with the left toe, the C's with the right toe, and the final low F with the left toe. You may choose to pedal these notes differently:


Marking the Lifts

It's now a good idea to go through and mark the places in the hymn where the foot needs to lift, such as between repeated notes. If the first note is a quarter note or less, place the breath mark (') exactly between them. However, if the first note is more than one beat, place the breath mark where the lift needs to happen:

Lifts in pedal

While you may not need these lifts marked in the future, as an organ student they will help immensely in solidifying proper technique now. Don't skip this important step.


Practice the pedaling of this hymn. Follow the breathing you marked last lesson, and the breath marks, or lifts, that were marked today. Release these repeated notes in rhythm, and make sure the legato is unbroken when moving from heel to toe or foot to foot. Practice with a metronome, and play the introduction and all three verses, as the breathing can differ from verse to verse.

In Conclusion

When learning a new hymn, it's important to practice the pedal alone, especially if playing with your feet is new to you. It may be difficult at first, but over time it will become second-nature.

Continue on to Lesson 16: Marking a hymn, part 3.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sunday Song: J.S. Bach's "We Thank Thee, God"

Paul Jacobs, Chairman of the Music department at the Juilliard School, performs J.S. Bach's Sinfonia from Organ Cantata 29, entitled, "Wir Danken Dir, Gott," on the Crystal Cathedral's pipe organ, located in Garden Grove, California.

There's a bit of dialogue at the beginning, but it's well worth the wait. This video is amazing! The music begins at 3:45: