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» Cinematour Forum   » Cinema Yak   » Ranks and Manuals are not military personnel or their books

Author Topic: Ranks and Manuals are not military personnel or their books
Adam Martin

Posts: 1090
From: Dallas, TX
Registered: Feb 2003

 - posted October 09, 2003 04:17 PM      Profile for Adam Martin   Author's Homepage   Email Adam Martin         Edit/Delete Post 
Organs are often describes in terms like "the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham has a 4/28 Wurlitzer." From the description we can determine that Wurlitzer manufactured the organ, it had four manuals and 28 ranks.

I can come up with basic definitions for ranks and manuals, but would anyone care to go into more detail?

Manual: A row of keys on the organ console.
Rank: A row of pipes, also called a voice.

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Jim Spohn
New Member

Posts: 5
From: Bakersfield, CA
Registered: Jun 2003

 - posted October 17, 2003 08:30 AM      Profile for Jim Spohn   Email Jim Spohn         Edit/Delete Post 
In pipe organ jargon, a manual is a keyboard, most organ keyboards are 61 notes C to C. A rank of pipes is a set of pipes that are all of particular sound, such a Flute or a Clarinet. On a theatre organ a rank of pipes will contain from 61 pipes to 97 pipes. By and large the wind pressure for most theatre organ pipes is 10" of wind or about 5.8 ounces of air pressure. ... Jim  -

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Jim Rankin
(Jim passed away in December 2006)
Posts: 123
From: Milwaukee, WI
Registered: Oct 2003

 - posted November 10, 2003 11:49 AM      Profile for Jim Rankin   Email Jim Rankin         Edit/Delete Post 
The desireability of having more than one rank (voice) may be obvious, but not so obvious is the desireability of several manuals (the most was seven, as far as I know). A skilled organist can use the different manuals to sound many more sounds at one time than he could with only one manual. In this way, he can create a polyphony of sound similar to the way an orchestra or chorus is divided into sections which can play separate melodic lines against each other. Another 'manual' is actually for the feet and is called the "pedal board" and consists of about a dozen large pedals in the form of long rods running from the console front, to under the bench. These also can be set to activate a number of different ranks, but are usually used for the more bass notes of the diapasion or tibia stops, for example. These pedal notes are in addition to the "swell pedals" above them in the face of the lower console, and these two or three control the movement of the volume control "swell shutters" on the faces of the organ's chambers up high where the actual pipes reside.

Add to the above total the hundreds of "stops" (nowadays switches that control the various voices and sound effects (on a theatre organ)), and you can see how an organist is not only a musician, but also a bit of an athlete to 'hit' any of those stops in time with the music. If Mozart could play the piano while being held upside down, then several organists can play the organ's pedal board alone, creating the "flying feet" spectacle and thunderous sound that many have been treated to!

I only wish that organs had electric annunicators that would indicate the names of the ranks actuated and playing at any one moment so that the tyros might learn just what they are hearing and see the rapidity of the changes that the organist must make to stay in time with the music, as well as create the delicate colorings of the sound that the organ has, as an advantage over the piano. Sad to say, it was the many former piano players (one hesistates to call them 'pianists') that were forced to turn to organs in the 1920s that soured the public's taste for the organ since such players were not often trained organists and used the organ more like a piano, failing to appreciate the critical differences and to thus utilize the instrument to the full. It takes a talented person to master the pipe organ (especially the even more complex Theatre Organ) and not everyone putting fingers to keys was or is up to the task. For more information go to;

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William Hooper

Posts: 82
From: Mobile, AL
Registered: Mar 2003

 - posted December 01, 2003 12:42 AM      Profile for William Hooper   Email William Hooper         Edit/Delete Post 
On a theatre organ a rank of pipes will contain from 61 pipes to 97 pipes
You always got an extra 12 at the top of a Robert Morton rank; that was done so that you didn't run out with the octave couplers on (like with a Wurlitzer). Before they switched to the Carlsted chests, if you got a number of stops at 4' & higher for a rank, you also got a top chest with 12 pipes at an octave higher.

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Donald E Story
New Member

Posts: 5
From: Tucson, AZ
Registered: Jun 2004

 - posted June 07, 2004 12:17 AM      Profile for Donald E Story   Email Donald E Story         Edit/Delete Post 
Nice explanation by Jim above except that theatre organs had 32 pedals not 12. Was that a typo maybe? [Wink]

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