A few other facts about pipe organs

This is one of those stories where there is so much information to share that it doesn’t fit into a traditional broadcast story, so here you go.

  1. Organists play with their hands and feet. – The hands part is obvious because of all of the keys. But on the floor is a giant pedalboard that resembles a stretched out organ. Those pedals are keys as well. There are usually 30 pedals with a range of two-and-a-half octaves. Organists wear special shoes so they can tap just the pedal they want. 
  2. Pipe organs are the largest instrument in the world played by a single person. There are debates about which pipe organ is the largest. I can tell you ONE OF THE LARGEST pipe organs in the world is the Boardwalk Hall Auditorium Organ, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It’s in the Main Auditorium of Boardwalk Hall (which used to be called the Atlantic City Convention Center. It was built between May 1929 and December 1932. It has about 33,112 pipes, though the exact number isn’t known. 
  3. For all the grandeur of pipe organs, the instruments were banned in Soviet controlled Europe because officials thought they were a symbol of the church and of the monarchy. The oldest pipe organ in existence today is believed to be the one in Sion, Switzerland, at the Basilica of Valere, built in 1390. 
  4. Pipe organs were the most complex machines created before the Industrial Revolution, which historian’s estimate happened between 1760 and 1840. 
  5. Keyboards are referred to as manuals. The lower manual is referred to as “Great” while the upper manual is referred to as “Swell”. If there is a third manual, it is called the “Choir” because it has soft stops which are suitable for accompanying the choir. The fourth manual is called the “Solo” because the stops on this manual are used to play out the song as a solo. If there is a fifth manual, it is called the “Echo” because it has very quiet stops that echo. Having multiple manuals on an organ makes it possible to have quick changes of sound in a piece of music.                                      

—Frank Graff
Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a weekly science series. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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Video: How pipe organs make sound