VIRTUAL THEATER ORGAN REGISTRATION
THE FAMILIES OF TONE
In organ terms, registration means setting of stops. This determines the type of sound a given manual will make when you play it. Unlike most other instruments, the organ is capable of completely changing the type of sound it makes. A piano can be played at different volumes, with different attacks and in many different styles, but it is still makes a basic piano sound. By the setting stops, or 'registration', the organ can make many diverse sounds. On a conventional organ, registration is changed by either operating the stoptabs to change the sound one stop at a time or by pressing combination pistons to operate groups of stoptabs all at once. In the Virtual Theater Organ, registration is changed with a MID program change, the equivalent of a combination piston. On conventional organs, the combination pistons are preset in advance of playing. The same thing is done with the synthesizer program changes. You program in the type of sounds you want to use in performance before you start playing. Unfortunately synths don't have the luxury of being able to make stoptab changes 'on the fly', only the equivalent of combination piston changes. You can make up for this by having a lot of pistons, far more than any pipe organ. Also it is useful to have the most accessible combinations be of a 'general' nature, basic combinations you use often. If you are going to program in the various patches representing stop combinations for a virtual Theater Organ, you should learn some basics of Theater Organ registration: the art, science, and sometimes just plain vodoo of setting stops. If you know how to do this on a conventional Theater Organ, you simply take this knowledge over to entering combinations of stops into the 'combination' settings of synthesizers, keeping in mind the synthesizer's polyphony limitations. The issue of polyphony, or how many notes can be played at once, is discussed in later pages.
The hands down best book ever written on the subject of Theater Organ registration was 'Secrets of Theater Organ Registration' by Walter Strony. He ought to know what he is talking about because he has concertized on probably all the major Theater Organs in existance, having played professionally since his early teens. He has the distinct advantage of doing 'nothin but' since all things invloving Theater Organs are his living. He shares his experience in a well written book that first explains what each stop does, why we have the stops we do on a theater organ, how they blend and what type of music goes best with what combination. Get a copy of this if you can, it is worth its weight in gold. To purchase Walt's book, "The Secrets Of Theatre Organ Registration", send $35.00 to Walt Strony, P.O. Box 26295, Las Vegas, NV 89126. Or click here to visit his site. Links to Info on ordering his book and recordings are on his home page.
Reading through Walt's dscriptions of registrations and their uses, I sure wished there was some type of recording that went with it to hear what the individual stops and various registrations SOUND like. This book was written before the advent of the synth-based Virtual Theater Organ. The registrations are intended for a Theater Pipe Organ or good sized electronic with essentially UNLIMITED polyphony. For some of the full Forte registrations you may have to draw 20 stops or more. On a Pipe Organ, no sweat. On a synth based organ, woah, we got some re-thinking to do. Can a Virtual Theater Organ match these wonderful sounds: listen to the recordings section, you be the judge. It just has to be gone about in a different way.
Without stealing any of Walt's thunder, or any of his material, I have put together a guide to VIRTUAL organ registration. In it I introduce the six basic families of Theater Organ tone, and give examples and SOUND CLIPS of each. I will then explore various types of Theater Organ registration from a VIRTUAL Theater Organ standpoint. This is no substitute for Mr. Strony's definitive work, but more like an addendum for those using synthesizers to produce Theater Organ music.
Like the 'Classic' or 'church' organ, the theater organ bases its families of tone on musical application. The Theater Organ breaks its families down more than the classic organ does, however. The classic organ has four families of tone: Diapason, Flute, String and Reed. The Theater Organ breaks some of these families up into sub-groups, so for the Theater Organ we have Tibia, Diapason, Flute, String, Chorus Reed and Color Reed.
The smallest WurliTzer that contained all these families was the six rank Style "D". It had one of each family: Tibia Clausa, Open Diapason, Concert Flute, Salicional (String), Trumpet and Vox Humana. (color reed) The Style "D" has been called the most perfectly proportioned Theater Organ. It had one of everything. Even the Diapason extended to 16' by means of Diaphones, so the Style "D" really covered all bases.
Here are representative examples of each family ot Theater Organ tone. Within each family description there is at least one rank or stop name underlined and in italics (Tibia Clausa). This is a link to a sound clip of the rank. Click on the link to hear the sound, and then click on your browser's return or exit the audio player to get back to this page.
The Tibia Clausa (Tibia=pipe, Clausa=closed) is the most fundamental and characteristic stop in the Theater Organ, period. The sound is that of a deep hooty flute. Tibia pipes are stopped wood so they will be hollow sounding and be half the length of an open pipe of comparable pitch. They are virtually always used with a very deep tremulant or vibrato. Tibia Clausas are the best known SOLO STOP, that is, used alone with no other types of stops with it. They are also used as a 'binder' to add foundation and/or color to other stops. There are whole groups of registrations that center around the interrelation between the Tibia Clausa, and one other stop of a more complex tone, such as a String or Reed.
Tibias actually come in two flavors, Clausa (closed or stopped) and Plena (open). Jesse Crawford popularized the use of the Tibia Clausa with its deep tremulant, while the open topped Tibia Plena (Tibia=pipe, Plenus=full), pretty much fell by the wayside. The Tibia Plena has the basic organ flute tone with odd and even harmonics, but on a very large scale. Sorta like a Concert Flute (see flute section) on steriods. It, too requires a full tremulant. A good example of the stop is in the 4/17 WurliTzer in the Byrd Theater, Richmond VA.
Almost universally, when you speak of Tibias, it's the Tibia Clausa you're talking about.There is also a Tibia Minor which is just a smaller scaled version of the Tibia Clausa, used in softer applications or for accompaniment, in which case it usually winds up being called Lieblich Flute.
In the classical organ, the Diapason is the foundation stop, the tone upon which all major choruses of stops is based. A classic organ can have up to 1/3 of all its ranks be Diapasons. In the Theater Organ, the utility of the Diapason as well as its population in the instrument is significantly diminished. In the Theater Organ, about 10% of the ranks are Diapasons. The Diaphonic Diapason is the first usually introduced into the Theater Organ specification. This is a bolder, far less bright version of what you usually hear on Sunday mornings. The name comes from the fact that the 16' bass extension is from Diaphone pipes, the tonal family invented by Robert Hope Jones. The Diapason's purpose was different in the Theater Organ. Rather than being the foundation tone of the instrument, here the Diapason serves as a 'filler' stop to add body to fuller combinations, and to add 'audio horsepower' to fill large buildings. It is a 'neutral' sounding voice, not adding too much harmonically, and not drawing too much attention to itself. This also makes it ideal for accompaniment duty. A smaller scaled lighter voiced Horn Diapason was found in most medium (13 rank+) and larger Theater Organs. Its purpose was mainly accompaniment. An occasional modern day substitute has been the church organ Violin Diapason which is also an excellent accompaniment stop. George Wright had one such stop in his recording organ in Pasadena, CA.
In the Virtual Theater Organ, the Diapason has very specific uses. Remember that with the constant effort to conserve polyphony, filler stops are a luxury that can't often be afforded. One of the rules of conservation of polyphony is 'make every stop count'. Use of the Diapason stops in the Virtual Theater Organ is usually limited to either an accomaniment stop where it is very useful, or solo (melody) registrations where the stop is featured. There are good sounding registrations that blend the Diapason with Tibias at either the same pitch or an octave higher. Diapasons can also be used at the same pitches as Tibias in a chorus registration where the Tibia alone might otherwise be used. This shows how Diapasons could be used as filler stops. The brighter harmonic content of the Diapason comes through, but is not too dominant.
The Concert Flute is the most basic representative of flute tone in the Theater Organ. This is the basic open flute tone with both odd and even harmonics, sounding in the appropriate register quite like its orchestral counterpart. In the lower ranges the tone is full but not bold. The primary use of the Concert Flute was for accompaniment. In accompanimet registrations, it is the first stop used. This is because it is of a 'neutral' character tonally, not a big standout as a solo type stop, but it adds body to the chords in the left hand. Somewhat of an unsung workhorse in the Theater Organ, the Concert Flute provides accompaniment as well as adding foundation in softer ensembles. Build a big scale high pressure Concert Flute, make it as loud as a Tibia Clausa, and you basically have a Tibia Plena.
Two other flute ranks were occasionally found in Theater Organs. The Quintadena was a metal stopped flute which sounded a very pronounced 3rd harmonic or 12th. This can be simulated by playing a stopped flute as both 8'and 2 2/3'. The actual Quintadena rank will sound a bit thinner. This was used to color the Tibia Clausa by adding the Quintadena to some or all the pitches the Tibia was being played at. It is also a fairly neutral sounding stop and can be used for accompaniment. The Lieblich Flute was mentioned briefly under the Tibias. This is a smaller scale (pipe size or width for a given length) stopped wood rank with a sound like a miniature Tibia. Sometimes the sound of a stopped flute instead of the ever present Concert Flute is a welcome change in the Accompaniment. Some organists do not like using Strings in the Accompaniment unless the registration is built up to a medium or greater volume. The following is personal opinion, but If you want to use soft Strings in accompaniment registrations, the smaller scale Lieblich Flute blends nicely with them.
Rarely in Theater Organs two Concert Flute ranks were paired up, and the second Flute rank detuned slightly. The detuned rank is called a Flute Celeste. The effect is very full and soothing. It was rarely done in the heyday of the Theater Organ due to economics. Today many large Theater Organs owned or maintained by clubs or individuals are installing Flute Celestes to go with their Concert flutes, or even Lieblich Flutes. This celeste effect is best appreciated with the tremulant off.
The first String ranks introduced in a Theater Organ can be either the Salicional or the Viole d' Orchestre. String stops are intended to imitate orchestral strings. Although they fall short when attempting to simulate a solo violin, they are much more impressive when imitating massed strings. The tone is thin and sharp, with a lot of harmonics or overtones. In Theater Organ Strings, the sharpest or 'keenest' of all, there can be more harmonics than fundimental tone. All Theater Organs had at least one String, and all but the smallest had at least one pair of Strings, the second one called Celeste, Viol Celeste, or similar. The second rank was nearly identical and was detuned to the main string rank, most often sharp. A Celeste is heard in the later part of the sound clip. Celeste ranks are most often used with Strings and Flutes, although the Chicago Stadium organ actually had a Tuba Celeste!. It should be noted that the String Celestes are normally tuned sharp of the rank to which they are matched, while Flute Celestes are tuned flat. An exception to this would be if there are two String Celestes. often one is sharp, the other flat. In the Virtual Theater Organ, there are two ways of obtaining Celestes: A second voice program can be placed into the combination or 'patch' and using 'combination edit' paramaters, actually be detuned to the first voice. This is a very authentic sounding effect, but in normal applications, just as pleasing an effect can be obtained by using just the right chorus effect. The advantage of this is of course that additional polyphony is not consumed by an additional voice. Care must be taken not to overdo the chorus effect, or the Strings will sound more like synthesizer Strings than Theater Organ Strings.
Other String ranks used in the Theater Organ, could include the Salicional which was a degree milder than the Viole d' Orchestre, the Gamba, which could be milder still and have more foundation and body and the Solo String, which as the name implies is louder than normal Strings. Although actually in the Diapason family, the Dulciana, when included in the Theater Organ, was also thought of and used as a String.
These are primarily the Posthorn, Tuba and Trumpet stops. The brassy stops that add volume and brillance to ensemble registrations. Although they make a brass-like tone, the pipes that create the sound do so with the use of vibrating reeds, hence the confusion in terms. Besides being used in ensembles, some of the chorus reeds can be used as solo stops, too. A hard and fast rule in using chorus reeds (and color reeds, too for that matter) in an ensemble is to always add them at the lowest pitch in the ensemble first. If you 'feel the need for reed' to a greater extent, then add them at an octave above, but always the lowest pitch first. (thank you Walt Strony-I always instinctively KNEW this was true, but never heard it said before you said it in print) Here are some of the basic Chorus Reeds:
Tuba A round, dark, full brass tone. It sounds like different things in its various registers. In the bass, it is very imitative of its orchestral namesake. In the tenor range, it can sound like a mellow trombone, and as you move higher, it is like a mellow-not bright, trumpet. Add a Tuba at the lowest pitch of an ensemble registration, and it will contribute body and fullness with a bit of a brassy tone. Not as much so as Trumpets, but a definite contrast to the Tibias, Strings and Voxes that are probably in the ensemble. Some Theater Organs had two or more Tubas. The smaller one was usually called the Tuba Horn. Tuba Horns were the first Tuba placed in the specification. When a second one was included, it would be the louder and brighter Tuba Mirabilis. The Tuba Mirabilis would be in the Solo chamber, and the Tuba Horn were often the highest pressure stops in the organ, second only to the Posthorn.
Trumpet A very brassy chorus reed intended to imitate the orchestral trumpet. It is a brilliant addition to the Theater Organ ensemble, can be used with just a few additional stops, and is a useful solo stop. Brass chords, stabs and other embellishments are another good use for this stop. It can be used with or without tremulant, depending on the musical requirements and taste. WurliTzer made the Trumpets on organs 13 ranks and larger with spun brass resonators. In a way it's too bad that the organ chambers weren't visible to the audience because these pipes sure looked great in the chambers. The jury is still out as to whether or not the brass was actually necessary to obtain the trumpet tone. Many manufacturers will say they can make a Trumpet stop sound just as good in regular pipe metal. It may have just been a sales gimmick or a throwback from WurliTzer's band organ days when the trumpets on military band organs were in plain view. Other Theater Organ manufacturers, Barton, Robert Morton, Kinball, Moller and others all put Trumpets on their instruments, but rarely did anyone but WurliTzer make them in brass. Today you can see Brass Trumpets exposed on some Trumpet en Chamade installations in churches. The Crystal Cathredral in Orange, California has no less than 7 ranks of them; four on one side of the church and three on the other.
As a sidelight, it should be noted that WurliTzer never called a Brass Trumpet by that name on the stoptabs. The name was always 'Trumpet'. This name was also applied to the plain organ-metal Trumpets placed on the smaller organs from 5 to about 8 ranks. This Trumpet is often called a 'Style D Trumpet' because of the 6 rank model on which it was most often found. It was a middle-of-the-road chorus reed, not as dull as a Tuba, but not as bright as a Brass Trumpet. Kinda like the 'mama bear' of the chorus reed family. It could be considered a bright Tuba Horn. It had to perform all the functions of both Tuba and Trumpet in these small organs. It seems that unless you know what MODEL of WurliTzer you were playing, you were given no indication of what to expect from a WurliTzer stoptab labeled 'Trumpet'. WurliTzer did more of that, read on. Today in hobbyiest organs where expense is not the issue it was in original theater installations, the Style D Trumpet is sometimes included as an extra variety of chorus reed. It makes a wonderful solo stop when playing ballads in the style of a solo trumpeter. I find that a good Tuba Horn can fill this bill, too.
Posthorn This is the brightest and sharpest brass sound on the Theater Organ, or any other organ for that matter. It is generally the loudest stop in any organ in which it is found. It is a trumpet-like sound that is extremely bright and full of overtones. Most often it is used without any tremulant. It is the final stop added to Forte registrations and has many uses in registrations with fewer stops as well. It can be used as a solo stop when playing brass stabs, is used as that one sharp pedal bass note at the end of a passage, but I don't think anyone would want to play a melody on it alone. There is a still LOUDER stop, also in the Posthorn family, called the Serpent. This is the one that, if played long enough, will saw right through the organ chambers. While a Trumpet is intended to imitate an orchestral trumpet, a Serpent is intended to emulate an industrial chain saw. Probably the most well known Serpent rank is in the Kimball organ in the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. I understand that that theater now hosts Rock concerts. That Kimball Serpent may well be the match for any of the bands' distorted guitars! If an organ has TWO Posthorns, the second one is occasionally called Serpent. I have both a Serpent and Posthorn on my organ, but they are not intended to be used together. I wanted to have two different volumes of Posthorns, one for ensemble and one for embellishments. My Serpent is only available on Great 2nd Touch and on the Solo manual. Posthorns are not at all foundational, and in Forte registrations may need some additional support from a Tuba or Trumpet (or both) to add both brilliance and body to the brass component of the ensemble. Remember in a Virtual Theater Organ: watch the polyphony!
Just like with the trumpets, WurliTzer added some confusion in the labeling of its Posthorn stops. That big red tablet at the beginning of a manual division controlling the loudest stop in the organ was labeled 'English Horn'. If you were familiar with the classical organ English Horn, you would expect a gentle oboe-like imitative stop, 'Cor Anglias'. If you were more familiar with orchestral instruments, you would expect that, too. SURPRISE!! You are instead audibly knocked out of your seat by a chorus of brass players at Double Forte! The name 'Post Horn' did not appear on WurliTzer stoptablets as the standard name for that stop.
The color reeds include stops that are imitative of the orchestral woodwinds such as Clarinet, Oboe, Saxophone (kinda), as well as voices unique to the Theater Organ such as Vox Humana and Kinura.
Vox Humana Absolutely the most essential color reed in the Theater Organ. Originally this stop was supposed to simulate the sound of a chorus of human voices. This is stretching it a bit. You have to have a VIVID imagination to make that connection! What the Vox DOES do extremely well is act as a color stop for the Tibia Clausa and the Strings. It adds a massing to most any ensemble in which it is included, and in registrations of just a few stops adds interesting mass as well as coloration. It is used exclusively with quite heavy tremulant. The massing effect may occur because with the extremely heavy tremulant used, the pipe rank actually appears out of tune with itself and/or the stops playing with it. The same massing occurs in the Virtual Theater Organ Vox, and that may be because the heavy tremmed Vox is out of tune with other stops being played. It cannot get out of tune with itself in a synth based organ. I can think of only one time in years of playing where I came up with a non-tremmed use for it. In general almost any place you can put down a String stop, you can use a Vox of the same pitch with it. This is of course, subject to individual taste. This means it is good for ensemble registrations, with a few stops in solo registrations, or in a chorus of just Vox Humanas. As a solo voice (no pun intended) it is not a winner. The Korg 01 series synthesizers recreate the greatest sounding Vox Humana I have ever heard come out of a set of speakers. Note for note, registration for registration they remind me of the Gottfried Vox Humana I had in my pipe organ, maybe a bit larger scale. When I programmed that stop, I was not satisfied until the ensemble sounds as well as individual rank sound of the Vox were duplicated. The Korg 01 is able to do this.
Clarinet Probably the most 'what you see on the tab is what you hear' stop in the organ. The stop imitates the orchestral clarinet extremely well. This stop can be used in a chorus registration, as a color stop with a small registration, and works very well on its own. The only drawback is that is is usually found in the main chamber along with the accompaniment ranks, and so a balance between it and stops accompanying it may get challanging. The clarinet is effective with and without tremulant, and some modern organs are applying a separate tremulant just so its vibrato can be turned on and off without affecting other ranks. The sound clip has the Clarinet un-tremmed. This is an interesting way to use it as a solo stop. Note that with the Virtual Theater Organ, you can have programs with the Clarinet, or any other stop on or off tremulant. Each rank essentially has its own tremulant.
Orchestral Oboe Imitative of the reed instrument in the orchestra. It is found on both church and Theater Organs, but in general the Theater Organ Orchestral Oboe is brighter and thinner. In some models of WurliTzer organs that comtained dark sounding Tubas but no Trumpet, this stop was one of the only sources of reed brightness. Of course it can be used as a solo stop, and very well in small combinations of stops. It will add an unusual brilliance to an ensemble if it is added like a chorus reed. It can add unusual color, an Oriental flavor, or just plain sassiness to the registrations in which it is used. The Orchestral Oboe can be used with or without tremulant. Untremmed oboes are good for a 'Far East' effect. Note that on Theater Pipe organs, if you turn off the tremulant for this effect, you are probably affecting a number of ranks because the Orchestral Oboe was usually on a tremulant shared by a number of ranks in the Solo division. No such restriction need exist in the Virtual Theater Organ.
Saxophone Like the Vox Humana, The Saxophone or 'Brass Saxophone' is not at all imitative of its namesake, but is an important voice in the theater organ ensemble. The tone has been described in various ways from a Clarinet with laryingitis to 'buttery' to a 'big pushy Vox Humana'. WurliTzer made theirs with spun brass resonators, like their Brass Trumpets. Other builders did not necessarily follow suit (one known exception: Midmer Losh in the Atlantic City Convention Hall organ), and there are as many different Saxophone tones out there as there were people who built them. On the original Theater Organs, just like the Brass Trumpets, the word 'Brass' was omitted from the stoptab. Although the brass resonators for sure have their share of 'flash factor', especially in modern day organs with glass fronted chambers, pipe builders such as Trivo say that they can build a Saxophone rank from regular pipe metal that will sound just as good. The ideal Saxophone used with a heavy tremulant can have some of the same uses as a Vox Humana, and can blend with them. They can be blended with a Tibia Clausa the same way a Vox Humana can. In comparison you may find that a little Sax goes a long way. The Sax has more of a 'wail' to it than a Vox does, especially on a heavy tremulant. Jesse Crawford thought so much of the rank that he had a second one installed in the Chicago Theater when he played there. Only in the very largest of theater organs built (assembled) after the 'Golden Era' were there both Main and Solo Saxophones. Remember that on the Virtual Theater Organ you can try out the concept of two such ranks yourself 'at no charge'.
Modern practice favors an individual tremulant for the Brass Sax, just like for Vox Humanas. In reviewing Judd Walton's compilations of WurliTzer Styles and the specifications for them, no individual Saxophone tremulant was found, even in the highly advanced Fox Specials. If there was a separate Sax tremulant, it was turned on by one of the other tremulant tabs such as the Solo tremulant. Sometimes several tremulants were controlled by a single tablet.
It has been noted that some of the Brass Saxophones produced sounded like small trumpets. While this is not the ideal for American ears, the British seemed to favor this. They would introduce the Brass Saxophone into a organ specification in organs as small as 8 ranks, where normally you had to buy about 15 ranks of Wurlitzer before you got one in a stock model. The British kept the theater organ alive much longer than we did here in America, and into the 1930's built some very different and very jazzy sounding organs compared to the lush 'sob sisters' here in the USA. Just as Brit organs introduced the Saxophone in organs as small as 8 ranks, they did the same with Posthorns. To hear what some of these organs sounded like at their jazziest, go to The Virtual Radiogram and and scroll down to recordings by H. Robinson Cleaver. This guy plays so fast and 'urgently' you can't help but think he had a very important appointment right after the recording session, or two pots of strong coffee just before it! Canadian Capers has a trumpet-like Saxophone rank passage at about 1:48 into the recording. When you hear it, think roaring twenties dance band (early 30's music sounded a lot like roaring 20's), and it fits perfectly. With the Virtual Theater Organ, you could have BOTH an American style and a trumpet-like British style Sax if you like them.
Kinura Probably the most unusual and unique sound in the Theater Organ. For someone that has never heard one, the best description is probably like a set of tuned duck calls. Its invention is credited to Hope Jones who supposedly heard an Oboe pipe after one of his voicers knocked the resonator off of it. He supposedly said: "Make a rank of these". Kinuras are somewhat like like the Regal stops used in classical organs, or some of the short resonator stops such as Orlos or Viejos on Spanish organs. The Kinura has a VERY short resonator, only a couple of inches at 8' C. This extremely bright color reed has just about no foundation of its own and usually needs something like a Tibia to help it out. Best known for its use at 8' with a 4' Tibia added, it has a lot of use in novelty and comic music. The Kinura is most effective with the tremulant off, and most likely should never be used with the trem turned on. It is not likely a stop you want in a large ensemble unless you are looking for an unusual or novelty color in that ensemble. In modern terms the Kinura's 'bee in a bottle' sound might be likened to the guitar sound of Tom Scholz of the Rock Group 'Boston'. One offbeat use for the Kinura was by Leon Berry who would occasionally use it as an accompaniment stop. If you attempt this, use quick afterbeats and avoid sustained chords. Leon also would use a Posthorn on pizzicato touch on the accompaniment, but he knew exactly where to do this in his unique style of playing. A Kinura might work for that, too. Note that with the Virtual Theater Organ, you can have programs with the Kinura, or any other stop on or off tremulant. Each rank essentially has its own tremulant. Above all, do NOT take this stop seriously!
This list by no means covers all the ranks used in Theater Organs, but just about all of the commonly found ones. These are the ranks that are the basis for my Virtual Theater organ.
For more information on
Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-The Tibia/String Relationships
Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-Esemble Registrations
Virtual Theater Organ Registration Basics-The Polphony Problem
SpecificationsVirtual Theater Organ Music .mp3's Email Me at email@example.com