by Kari Miller Magg
Several weeks ago I received in the mail a lovely thank-you note, addressed to the Greater Hartford Chapter and signed by each of the participants in the Brooklyn Pipe Organ Encounter. The POE had received financial support from our chapter. The card read: “…with Positiv-ly Great-ful appreciation in making this a Swell week at the Brooklyn Pipe Organ Encounter!” I smiled to myself; I have on occasion written similar little “love-notes” to my organ techs. The terminology of the organ is a fertile ground for puns, double meanings and all sorts of wordplay, once you start to look out for them. But for the game to be fun you have to speak the language, otherwise the joke slips by unnoticed.
I learned this, to my chagrin, some years ago when I put together an “Organ Quiz” for the monthly church newsletter. I was quite proud of my cuteness and cleverness, until I realized that the humor bypassed most people; they simply told me it was “too hard.” My young piano students were a better test group, but they were mostly concerned with “getting it right.” So, in hopes of having better luck with you, dear readers, and eliciting at least a mild chuckle, here are a few of my test questions:
In organ terminology, a “general” is:
- The predominant set of pipes in each division of the organ.
- A bossy organist.
- A button which controls the settings of the organ, enabling the organist to quickly change sounds.
An organ “coupler” is:
- A device for connecting one manual of the organ to another, or pedal to manual, allowing the pipes of various divisions to sound when played from keyboards other than their own.
- A rustic dance of German origin, traditionally played at wedding feasts.
- A device which lets the organist play any two sets of pipes at once.
When an organist “thumbs” a melody it means:
- Totally messing it up, being “all thumbs”.
- Playing with one hand on two keyboards at once, with the thumb reaching down to a lower keyboard.
- Leaving it out completely, (like “thumbing one’s nose” at something).
In organ talk, a “cipher” is:
- The small number etched into the bottom of each organ pipe.
- Organ slang for “decipher” – example: “I finally ciphered that complicated passage.”
- The unwanted, continuous sounding of an organ pipe.
An organ “stop” is:
- The device which regulates which set of pipes will play; also used to refer to any complete set of pipes – example: “The 16-foot fagott is one of my favorite pedal stops.”
- A button, similar to the elevator’s emergency button, which the organist can press if other controls stop functioning.
- What you want any loud, dissonant piece of organ music to do, immediately.
Do you have a fun “organ question” to share?