Tips for composing for organ.

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Pete
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Tips for composing for organ.

Post by Pete » Fri Nov 23, 2007 12:21 pm

Hi Guys

It has suddenly occurred to me that this is the perfect forum for help! Where better than here for help for writing for the organ?

As you can probably gather, I am not an organist (or even a competent pianist) but I have to rescore some of my sacred works down from full orchestra and chorus to brass quintet, organ and chorus. Now, the brass is not a problem (I am a former professional brass player) - but I have never written for organ before. So, I need some tips.

Talking to one of my former brass pupils (who has just graduated from the RNCM, and is our local church organist), he suggests it is better to leave the stop choice to the organist.

I am led to believe that, at best, it is regarded as a collaboration between composer and organist. Is this true?

Further, do I give an indication of dynamics on the organ part, or suggest stops instead? (Told you I know nothing about writing for organ!!!) Writing slurs are not usually considered wise, I am told?

Also, I believe that the organ is capable of playing higher/lower than any other instrument. So, e.g., for one part I need a subterranean bass drone - do I write it in the pedals at the sounding pitch I need, or do I simply notate it within the accepted pedal range (as helpfully indicated in Sibelius!) and put 8vb markings - or is it a completely different convention.

All tips - specific and general will be gratefully received.

Thanks in anticipation.

Pete

docmattc
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Post by docmattc » Fri Nov 23, 2007 3:56 pm

Hello Pete,
Some of our more skilled practitioners of organ playing will no doubt contribute more eloquently, but meantime, here's my tuppence worth:

Stop choice can be indicated, but as no two organs are alike its always going to be a compromise. Often giving an idea is best, eg "soft 4' flute", "8' reed", "strings", "full organ with reeds", "sw celeste, gt 8' diapason, sw to pd". The organist will draw whatever best approximates this on the instrument to hand.
If you specify stops exactly, organists will adjust to what they have available anyway. There is such a vast array of stops and names that its extremely unlikely that my instrument will have the exact specifications you have called for when arranging for yours. Its also worth remembering that your diapason might not sound a bit like my diapason!

Pedal range as written on the page stops at the C on the 2nd ledger line below the stave. Nothing is ever written lower than that, but a 16' stop will give you an octave lower (almost all organs have 16' in the pedals, and this tends to be the 'default stop' in the pedal line- the 'octave down' is taken as read) and a 32' stop an octave below that. I've never seen an 8vb marking on an organ score. If you want the 32' stop out, best to specify it, but bear in mind that such a beast is usually only available on a bigger instrument.
Not all pedal boards have the same compass either- some go up to G above middle C, some only to F. Embarrasing when you haven't noticed and try to play the casing!

Dynamics can be useful. We will try and interpret mf, p, etc, but changing stops will change tone quality as well as volume, and no organist will thank you for expecting them to be an octopus, managing a stop change a bar whilst playing semiquavers in both hands and feet! Don't forget the swell manual is enclosed in a box which can be shut or opened to alter volume too (its not actually as simple as just volume- the closed box damps treble much more than bass).

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Pete
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Post by Pete » Fri Nov 23, 2007 8:14 pm

Hi Doc

Many thanks for your quick reply - thanks for the 'organ stop encyclopaedia' link - really useful.

This is exactly the information I require re ranges, stops, etc. To be honest, I'd not even heard of a swell manual. What exactly does this do? Is it something that basically increases the sound by a dynamic? Does this mean I can meaningfully place hairpins within the score for organ?

What is the convention for writing suggested stops? Above the stave? Plain language?

I am grateful for any 'insider info' on conventions - as a former brass player, I used to hate it when a composer had written something for trombone, and yet had no real clue as to how it really worked! I don't wish to be one of those. I have searched the net, too, for organ tips - but it is certainly not one of the net's more popular search topics! I am glad I posted here!

Thank you again.

Pete

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musicus
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Post by musicus » Fri Nov 23, 2007 10:29 pm

Pete

I'm sure there are one or two organists here who would be happy to look over your 'first attempts' and offer detailed, helpful and confidential (!) comments; I know I would. Just ask, then they could PM you (i.e. use the forum's Private Message facility) to get in touch. If you use software to notate your music, you could e-mail the files; if you use manuscript paper (how quaint! :) ) then you would need to use the Royal Mail.

Another, probably better, idea would be to get a friendly local organist to play over your arrangements for you and to discuss the practicalities. If you were willing to give us an idea of where you live (i.e. nearest big town), someone here might volunteer to do this.

BTW, I am going mad, trying to 'auralise' your moving keyboard avatar. :lol:
musicus - moderator, Liturgy Matters
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Pete
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Post by Pete » Sun Nov 25, 2007 12:00 am

Hi Musicus

That avatar is not my usual one, as the system rejects that one (it is the trombone equivalent!), hence the maddening keyboard ostinato!

That's a kind offer - my nearest 'big' town is Bangor, North Wales. I'm afraid, since I've stopped playing, I have lost all my local contacts - I used to be friends with the previous cathedral organist, but I have not met the present incumbent. My former pupil has moved away now, too.

I use Sibelius 4 almost exclusively - I am disabled (with arthritis and other stuff) - and, hence, entirely dependent on computer software to notate my scribblings. This means I am neither very prolific nor fast.

I play my stuff back through my synthesizers (I have 48 midi channels; with 128 + 64 + 32 note polyphony) - so I get an instant feedback on my compositions/arrangements/orchestrations in a reasonably realistic sounding facsimile of any musical combination I can imagine - from a full symphony orchestra with choir, through to a brass band, or a gamelan, noseflute and shukahachi marching band!!! (If only JSB had such a facility - how much more could he have achieved?)

I have many organ sounds - differing registers, stops, couplings, etc - that I can play back but, as it's midi, can be rather tedious adding more channels/staves to change the playback. Instead, I opt for a generic "St Paul's" organ on one manual, flute/pipe combination on another, and some other generic organ sound for the pedals. Not that really helps in my reduction for the organ, but it gives me an idea of how it will sound - even if I have yet to learn how to direct the organist in order to obtain that required sound!

I am not yet at the stage where I have a score to examine - I am taking the opportunity to heavily revise the work - listening to it again after a gap has made me realise how poorly written was the original! Ho hum. That said, I have a deadline of January, so I will have to get a move on.

Again, many thanks. I really do appreciate your help.

Pete

JW
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Post by JW » Sun Nov 25, 2007 7:47 pm

http://icking-music-archive.org/scores/franck/fw24/Franck_L_Organiste_II_01_Sortie.pdf

Here is a link to a score by a romantic composer (out of copyright), which should give you some idea of how detailed you can be in scoring for organ. The pedal will sound at an octave below written.

However, do bear in mind everything that has already been said here.

Another thing: organs have stops which do not sound at pitch - they bring out harmonics e.g. at an octave above, at octave + 5th above, etc. Organists love using these stops, so, if you are scoring for instrumental ensemble and only want the organ to sound at written pitch, you need to specify "8 ft stops only" on the manuals.
JW

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Pete
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Post by Pete » Wed Nov 28, 2007 8:49 pm

Hi JW

Thanks - the example score was educational.

I was aware of some of the tuning issues regarding organs when they are accompanying instrumental groups - but not how to minimise it. I would imagine that the harmonics are desirable when solo or accompanying the choir - so shall remember to keep to 8' pipes just in the tutti sections. Excellent point.

Keep them coming guys - all tips very much appreciated.

Pete

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