The New Organ Console at
The Riverside Church

President, Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company

(The Riverside Monthly — November, 1948)

DOUBTLESS many readers have now had an opportunity of examining the new organ console recently installed in The Riverside Church and perhaps some have listened to Mr. Virgil Fox explaining in detail the purpose of the many hundreds of controls.

The organist who presides at such an instrument is like an orchestral conductor and all the symphony players rolled into one personality, for not only must he play the notes of the music with hands and feet, but he must in addition bring into play or retire the many voices of the organ individually or collectively.

The new console has been specially designed to enable your talented organist to accomplish this difficult task with as much ease as possible. It will be realized that the five keyboards and the pedal clavier controlling the various sections of the organ are the means by which the notes of the music are produced. The color changes, however, depend on the manipulation of the draw stops grouped in jambs at the sides of the manuals. Tone color changes and musical expression must be obtained without breaking the rhythmic pattern and it is often impossible for the player to spare a hand even momentarily to reach out to draw or retire one or more of these draw stop knobs. Therefore, to facilitate these changes, rows of small buttons, known as combination pistons, are arranged between the manuals which, when pressed by the thumb or finger of the player, automatically throw on or off individual stops or groups of them simultaneously. It will be seen that a finger or thumb can be spared from time to time to press a button without moving the hands from the keys, thus accomplishing a dramatic change in color without any perceptible break in the rhythmic pulse of the music.

Groups of these buttons are limited to the control of the individual sections of the instrument while others. known as general pistons. control all the stops.

It is possible to determine ahead of time what stops, or groups of stops, will be effected when a particular button is pressed. In other words, they are adjustable. The mechanism to accomplish this result is located in a special room in the basement and connected to the console by an electric multiple cable. To some extent this mechanism resembles an automatic telephone exchange. All are familiar with the operation of the dial telephone, which gives the facility to call any particular number and exchange one may desire. The difference in the case of the organist is that he calls upon tone colors rather than people.

There is another important distinction in that the player decides ahead of time the color he is going to require at a particular moment. Let us suppose that your telephone dial at home had a little button in the middle of the dial and that one evening you particularly desired to speak with Dr. Brown precisely at 9 p.m. During the early evening you would dial Dr. Brown's number and leave the telephone while you have dinner. Exactly on the stroke of nine you would press the little button in the middle of the dial and on the very instant he connected with Dr. Brown's apartment. Thereafter you would always reach Dr. Brown's apartment whenever you pressed the button until you preset some other number by the dial or operated the zero.

It will be seen then that to the player the many combination buttons, or pistons, represent something like a large group of dial telephones with an added button to each as described above. Many hours are spent by the organist, ahead of service time, to set up special color combinations to be called upon at a moment's notice some time later during the rendition of the music. He must remember upon which button he has set a particular combination, in itself quite a mental strain. However, the color brought into play is registered by the automatic movement of the draw stops in the jambs. Of course, the actual setting mechanism is not provided with a series of telephone dials, a somewhat simpler means being employed.

There are also additional controls, such as the general Crescendo pedal, which bring into play the stops one after another from zero to nearly full organ. There are also the full organ buttons and the numerous swell pedals operated by the feet to open and close the swell boxes in which some pipes of the organ are enclosed, thus giving added expressive control.

In the new Riverside console it is safe to say that these controls have been brought to a state of perfection never before attained. They are complicated, and it is true a master like Mr. Fox is required to make the fullest use of them. However, great care has been taken to keep to a standard arrangement so that any good organist will find the things he has been used to placed in familiar locations.

All this elaborate mechanism is worthless unless it can be used to enrich and beautify the musical portions of the church services. There is no doubt that it will do this in the hands of Mr. Fox and under the baton of Mr. Weagly, your accomplished conductor.

The music used at Riverside is drawn from the finest church literature. It is very varied, some compositions calling for organ accompaniments; other music, such as the oratorios. were originally scored for an elaborate orchestra in which changes of tone color form a very essential part. There is also the accompaniment of the hymns and the playing of fine organ compositions, classical, romantic and modern. In a single service many types of compositions may be used.

The new console has been specially designed to give Messrs. Weagly and Fox the facility to plan out ahead of time the exact registration required to ensure an authentic rendition of any composition used. It also gives Mr. Fox the possibility of instantly bringing into play any inspiration he may receive during the service. Perhaps something the minister has said, or the singing of the congregation, may call for some special treatment. The means are under the fingers of the player immediately to translate inspiration into glorious music.