Taking a step back

I received a couple of comments about my last post about the origin of organs and sorta where we are and I decided to take a step back and look at the start of the picture as we see it today so here goes:

The pan pipe, as written in Greek mythology, is the origin of today’s organ.  Afterwards, this idea spread throughout Europe and finally to America.


The organ has been in existence for over 2000 years.  According to Greek legend, the organ was mentioned in mythology as the pan pipe which was an ancient instrument of this era.  This is interesting….the very oldest organ still in existence, the Hydraulis, was rescued from the excavation of Greek ruins in 300 B.C.  The classical organ derived its sound by using bellows to force air up through the pipes; however the Hydraulis utilized water pressure to accomplish this.  Consequently, it is known as the “water organ”.   


Later, the classical organ was played in ceremonies during the age of the Roman Empire as well as for liturgical services in ancient churches.  It wasn’t until the Renaissance era that it was played as a concert instrument.  In the middle 18th century, known as the Baroque Age, composers like Bach wrote musical works for organ.  This is known as the Golden Age for the organ. 


Although the technology of making pipe organs had its cultural impact in Greece and Rome, afterwards the popularity of the organ was brought to the West by European settlers.  In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution provided a new generation of tone created for manufactured organs.  Instead of bellows, motors were used to produce the sound.  Electromagnets controlled the organ stop tablets and metal processing technology created a new way of producing classical organs.


This led to an innovation begun in America…the theater pipe organ.  Theater organs were modified from the traditional classical organs to be a different a type of sound appropriate for popular music enjoyed in vaudeville houses at the beginning of the 20th century.  However, during this time of technological development, the electric organ, called the Hammond Organ, was invented leading to its introduction in 1934.  This invention used gears, electric circuits and speakers to produce sound as a substitute for pipes.  It also made the instrument smaller in size making it possible to have an organ in the home.  This technology also expanded the tonal capabilities of the organ to include sound appropriate for various styles of contemporary music.  Soon instrumentation for jazz, popular and rock arrangements were played on the electric organ.

Some years later, the home organ evolved to feature a multitude of voices plus automatic rhythm and instrumental background functions used by amateur players.  Analog technology then advanced to today’s digital method of sound production.  The organ as we know it today has evolved to be an instrument which is familiar to all, multi-faceted and is easy to play.    

 I think the rise of the home organ today is the result of people wanting to learn to play and have fun doing it.  Organ companies such as the Roland Atelier has made it possible to do just this.  Have fun making  music and that after all is what it’s all about.

More later, but for now, I gotta get back to work on my latest projects.



post by Ric Overton of www.PianoSD.com via www.MaxMorganDesign.com


Some understanding about Organs

I use the term Theatre Organ or Pipe organ on a regular basis.  I have been asked recently what the differences are between the two or if there are differences.  There are a occasions that I do performances on both types of organs as well as the new Roland Atelier among others.  I hope that this explanation helps you understand the different types of organs on the market and the different types of organs I play on a regular basis around the country.

“theater pipe organ”; “theatre pipe organ”; “theater organ”; “theatre organ”===originally meaning a multi-manual organ powered by bellows powering the organ with leads to large chambers housing various sizes of pipes, usually high up to the right and left of the console.  These are connected by relay wires attached to the various rows (ranks) of pipes.  The shorter and more slender the pipe, the higher and thinner the pitch.  The problem is tremendous maintenance and venue issues.  After the “talkies” came in, folks wanted to view movies, not just listen to organ music so the installations…with few exceptions…went silent and neglected for a number of years.  However, gradually enthusiasts volunteered to resurrect the organs, even enhancing the tonal variety by combining ranks from different instruments.  In other words, those that were in utter disrepair became part of other more sustainable situations.

The bottom line is that today there are some 150 theater organs in working order….many in the Bay area (Redwood City, the Castro, etc.)  There is a group of followers who travel for hours to attend an event involving an artist playing a theater pipe organ.  Their national association is the ATOS, American Theater Organists Society.  These folks are exuberant in their desire and devotion to the theater piped organs still in existence.  Nowadays, some of the sound creation is actually retrieved from electronic means.  For example, the Fullerton (CA) Theater console has integrated a small Roland bank of sound tablets into the registration area…very unobtrusive, but still it’s there, I’ve played on it.  For many years this would be a sacrilege but people are beginning to understand that the life span of these organs is growing near its end and preservation of the sound they love is crucial.

I am going to go on to more information in the following blogs about how I became involved in this industry and how each organ is different. 


posted by Ric Overton of www.PianoSD.com via www.MaxMorganDesign.com