TONAL DESIGN

The traditional classic or 'church' organ is said to be composed of four 'families' of tone: Diapason, Flute, String and Reed. The Theater organ, however, expands on this a bit and actually has six basic recognized families of tone: Tibia, Diapason, Flute, String, Chorus reed and Color reed. Another family of theater organ tone, invented by Robert Hope-Jones is the Diaphone, discused on other pages on this site. In the theater organ, the Diaphone is almost always used as the 16' and 32' octaves of the Diapason. Diapason pipes extend to the lowest note of the 8', downwards from that, the Diaphones take over. Another interesting note is that in the color reed family, the first color reed introduced except in very rare occasions is the Vox Humana. This stop is so indespensable to the theater organ that, like the Tibia, should really almost be considered a family of tone by itself.

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. Where diversion from this comes is when more varities within each of these tonal families is desired.

Tibias are the most important stop in a Theater Organ of ANY size. As Diapasons are the foundation or root tone of the classic organ, so the Tibia Clausa is the foundation of the Theater Organ. It is the most recognizeable stop in a Theater organ, especially with its heavy tremulant or vibrato. Being a large scaled stopped flute, technically it is a member of the flute family, but so important a stop in the Theater Organ, and so removed from any other type of flute, it is, in Theater Organ terms, a family of its own. An open flute of a scale similar to the stopped Tibia Clausa was the Tibia Plena. Being an open flute, it is  less 'hooty' sounding than the Tibia Clausa was put on a relatively few number of organs, mostly of earlier vintage. It did not find the favor with theater organists like the Tibia Clausa did. Apparently there were some good ones and some very bad ones built. One of the finest examples of this stop is found in the Byrd Theater in Richmond Virginia.

Diapasons somewhat follow the same lines of tone as their church organ counterparts in that the tone can basically be described as round, smooth, and having a lot of body. Theater Organ Diapasons, however, do not form the backbone of the Theater organ tonal scheme as they do in the classical organ. In the traditional classical organ, Diapasons would make up 1/3 or better of the rank complement. In a theater organ, one Diapason for every 10 ranks is an accepted proportion. An Open or Diaphonic Diapason will be the first added. This adds the round body mentioned earlier, but the Theater Organ Diapason is nowhere as bright as its liturgical cousin. On the softer side, coming closer to the traditional Diapason type is the Horn Diapason, but it, too is more lacking in harmonics, and is softer for use as an accompaniment stop. Theater Organ Diapasons act as 'filler' or 'binder' ranks to add volume and fullness to a combination without contributing a lot to tonal content. There are special cases where, in very sparse registrations, they can add some interesting color to combinations which feature them. In a Virtual Theater Organ with its constant battle with polyphony, there is little application for 'filler' stops unless you have a number of synths covering a single manual. The combinations featuring the Diapason with other ranks, usually the Tibia, are better candidates for Diapason registrations on a virtual theater organ than using them as 'fillers'.

Flutes other than the Tibia are primarily used in the accompaniment context. The most basic accompaniment flute is the Concert Flute, a common open flute much like the classic organ Melodia or Claribella. The Harmonic Flute is a metal open flute which can sound extremely orchestral, can be used as either an accompaniment or solo stop. The  Quintadena can be used as an accompaniment stop or to add color to the Tibia. The Lieblich flute is midway between a classic organ Stopped Diapason and a Theater Organ Tibia in size. It was placed in larger organs as an additional accompaniment stop.

Strings In a Theater Organ can be almost as much a backbone of tone as Tibias. They add the same type of lush tone to the Theater Organ as their orchestral counterparts do in an actual orchestra. As in the orchestra, there are usually a number of massed strings in a theater organ. Wurlitzer as a rule had about 25% of all ranks be Strings. Kimball on the other hand, would do them one better. A 27 Rank Kimball I occasionally played when I was younger had nine ranks of Strings, 1/3 of the total rank count.

Chorus reeds in the Theater Organ are those that are most imitative of orchestral brass instruments. There are a number of variations. One variation is the smooth and powerful Tuba, sounding in the bass like its orchestral counterpart, and in the tenor ranges like a mellow trombone. The Trumpet is usually like a bright orchestral trumpet. Many of them actually had spun brass resonators flared at the top like orchestral trumpets. At the top end of the brightness spectrum was the Posthorn. This was usually the loudest and brightest stop in any organ on which is was found. There were also 'in betweens' that, on smaller organs, had to in modern terms,  'multi-task'. The single Trumpet in the Style "D" had to cover for any brass sound or smooth 'Tuba' sound. As a result, it was voiced to be a comprmise of both.

Color reeds are the 'seasoning' of theater organ stops. For the most part, they are the equivalent of orchestral woodwinds. Imitative stops such as Clarinet and Orchestral Oboe can be used as color reeds, to mix with other stops in combination, or as solo stops by themselves. The non-imitative Oboe Horn can serve as  an accompaniment stop as well as a color reed. Some manufactured by the Barton Organ Company were beautiful solo stops in their own right. The most common color reed, actually deserving a 'family ' status by itself  is the Vox Humana. Originally intended to imitate the sound of a chorus of voices, it somewhat fails in this respect but is indespensable for adding color to both Tibia and String registrations.  It is always used with tremulant, and is as much a recognized sound in the Theater Organ as the Tibia. Other color reeds include the Kinura, best described as a 'tuned duck call' used mostly for novelty registrations, the Krumet, Musette, and Brass Saxophone, which sounds absolutely nothing like its orchestral counterpart, but is a vital  and easily recognized color in medium to larger Theater Organs.

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