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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

June 14, 2019

Return of the pump organ?

evelyn @ 1:15 pm

The other day I read a post on Father Z’s blog which rather took me aback. Someone wants to bring back the ‘pump organ’ to replace mediocre electronic instruments in parishes which can’t afford pipe organs.

A ‘pump organ’ is a harmonium or other kind of reed organ which works on the mouth-organ principle. Even the big ‘luxury’ ones with two manuals, pedalboard and electricity are really glorified harmonicas, and can sound like it, too.

Long before electronics were dreamed of, I pedalled away, sewing-machine-like, at an old harmonium at the front of the church. It was certainly good physical exercise. There was even a mechanism for big crescendos where you held a couple of boards wide apart with your knees, all the while pedalling furiously. At full volume, organ and organist were shaking violently, while the half-dozen or so pews adjacent, along with their occupants, vibrated in sympathy. The build-up of sound was impressive, but its quality was always reedy, in spite of the varied labels on the stops.

I do agree that many electronics at the lower end of the market set one’s teeth on edge, but a bit of research and testing, and avoidance of gadgetry, can result in an instrument with a reasonable sound. Advice, too, can be useful, such as that contained in the Scottish Federation of Organists’ excellent and freely downloadable booklet, Church Organs. The quality of the sound is really the only important thing and often the smaller, less complicated instrument sounds better. And it is frequently cheaper, too.

So although I’ve long since graduated to a pipe organ, given the choice I’d go for a small, carefully-chosen electronic rather than a reed organ.

But, come to think of it, why not both? The reed organ would be useful in power cuts, and I could certainly do with the exercise.  Or maybe on some of these larger models, someone else could use the exercise.  A real workout instrument.



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