Organ Manual Names

In my quest to better understand the organ, I ran into a confusing issue:  Manual Names.

In our church we have a German-style organ (M.P. Möller 1951).  It has two manuals, one pedalboard, and four divisions:

Pedal, Great, Swell, and Chancel

Technically, the Choir Organ has three divisions and the Chancel Organ has one.  The Choir Organ has two pumps in the basement and an air channel that runs up through the Narthex and into the swell box in the choir loft where the console is.  The Chancel Organ has one small pump behind the Sacristy and connects directly to the exposed pipes which sit above the Sacristy behind the Altar.  The pumps are controlled with two switches:  one for the two Choir Organ pumps in the basement and one for the smaller Chancel Organ pump behind the Sacristy.

So what confused me the most was that our organ sheet music refers intermittently to divisions like Positif, Hauptwerk, Grand Orgue, etc.  Our organ doesn’t have those divisions.  So WTF?

So I read the Wikipedia article on organ manual names.

And I’ve put together a parallel listing of the names of the manuals:

#:   English|German|French
I:    Great|Hauptwerk|Grand Orgue
II:    Swell|Schwellwerk|Positif
III:    Choir|Rückpositiv|Grand Choeur
IV:    Solo|Oberwerk|Récit
V:    Echo|Brustwerk|Bombarde
VI:    Antiphonal

They’re placed on the console in this order:  III, I, II, IV, V, VI.  On American/English organs, this gives Choir, Great, Swell, Solo,  and Echo.  Very few organs have an Antiphonal manual.  On our tiny two-manual organ, the names are easy:  I and II:  Great and Swell.  Things written for Choir are played on the Swell manual and things written for Solo are played on the Great manual.  Depending on the registration, our part-time organist sometimes imitates the other divisions that we don’t have by using octaves, doublettes, and twelfths instead of unison stops for part of the manual’s range.  Things written for Echo are played on the Swell manual coupled to the Chancel Organ.  The Chancel Division has no unison stops so when so coupled, all 4′ and higher Swell keys play octaves, doublettes, twelfths, or fifteenths, possibly in addition to their unison pitches in the Swell division, depending on what Swell stops are selected.

For a lark once I was trying to see if I could couple part of the pedals to the Chancel Division.  I made it work but it effectively reduced the organ to a one-manual, 1/2 pedal instrument.  The organist laughed because he’s kind of a gearhead too.  The organ custodian wasn’t happy because he doesn’t like anyone other than himself or the organist (or the organ maintenance company) touching the organ.

The choir organ

The choir organ

The Swell Box contains all the pipes (and windchests) for the Pedal, Great, and Swell divisions.  The louvers on the choir loft side and nave side (left and front in the picture) are controlled semi-independently.  The balanced swell pedal controls both of them at the same time unless a button is pressed on the console that holds the nave louvers in place.

Air Channel for the Choir Organ

Air Channel for the Choir Organ

The brown wooden pillar that the dude is standing right in front of is the air channel that carries air from the pumps and bellows in the basement of the church up to the windchests in the swell box in the choir loft.

The five ranks of the Chancel Organ

The five ranks of the Chancel Organ

The highlighted areas are the pipes that make up the five ranks in the Chancel Organ.  The windchests and pipes are all exposed – there are no facade (dummy) pipes – they all speak.  The pump and bellows for the chancel organ is right under the windchest for the Chancel Left ranks.  The Chancel Organ isn’t usually turned on for church services because the Pastor and Deacon sit directly under the pipes.  Some of them are quite loud.  For special occasions and certain songs, however, the Chancel Organ adds a vibrant presence that attracts everyone’s attention.

I’ll work on getting better pics, a stoplist, and some other neat stats soon.  For now,

The longest rank is the Double Trumpet 16 in the Pedal Division.  It has two pipes sounding each note, giving the impression of it being a much lower-speaking rank than it really is.  The shortest rank is the Super Octave 2 in the Chancel Division (there’s a carbon copy in the Swell Division).  The loudest rank is the Vox Humana 8 in the Great Division.  The quietest is the Lieblich Gedeckt in the Swell Division.  The only percussion stop is the chimes, which have their own bank selector knob (selects which of the four octaves of chimes should sound) in addition to the stop selector.  The most expensive stop to maintain is the Trichterregal 8 in the Swell Division.  It’s expensive because the pipes are made of sheet iron that’ve been rolled into funnel shapes.


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  1. #1 by Jack Newsom on November 26, 2010 - 12:42 AM

    Interesting site. I’ll be looking forward to that stoplist. Meanwile as I work on my own Hauptwerk based organ, I’m trying to make sense of the foreign gobbledygook at I’m trying to use it as a guide for a possible budget organ proposal to a small Catholic church in my area. Instead of Hauptwerk samples I’d be using the Rodgers MX-200 sound module. The reason being it has user adjustable immersive reverb whereas to my understanding most of Hauptwerk’s samples are wet. Unfortunately, I one day discovered on the 2006 Pecsi-Muhleisen Extended Edition with Peter Kovats playing Improvisation in the cathedral acoustic that this particular wet sample didn’t sit well with the acoustics in the church I attend which was built in the late 1800s.

  2. #3 by Craig on July 30, 2012 - 3:05 PM

    Be careful, as many professional organists are laughing at your entry and shaking their heads. If you are truly seeking professional knowledge and education about pipe organs, I strongly urge you to seek help & advice from your local chapter of The American Guild of Organists @ They can answer your questions and send you in the right direction. You should also consider taking pipe organ lessons from an AGO approved pipe organ instructor. The last thing you want to be is an amateur pipe organist!! Use your brain, time, and money wisely by seeking help from the AGO!!! You’re obviously interested and need expert advice. Best wishes! FYI. Moller was not a German organ builder……..Your church has what’s known as an American Classic pipe organ.

  3. #4 by Shibber on November 9, 2012 - 9:38 PM

    I hear that pipe dope organs can crank out some pretty wicked “highs.”
    Exhaust pipe organs will leave your congregation lifeless.
    Crack pipe organ pipes are finished in a nice black tar texture.
    Gas pipe organs can only play Light My Fire while the pipes disolve into a mouton slop.
    Stove pipe organs will leave your church smelling like the local greasy spoon as the organist plays Amazing Grease.

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