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Birmingham Symphony Hall Organ

Birmingham Symphony Hall Organ

Imagine your fingertips commanding the sound of a full symphony orchestra…and no, not with your iPod! Musicians who play a pipe organ don’t have to imagine – it’s real.

New Organ Debuts. The world’s newest pipe organ was profiled last week in The Wall Street Journal. It’s a $4 million instrument recently installed in the Maison symphonique de Montreal in Quebec. This concert hall, which opened in 2011, is home of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. In the local language, the instrument’s name is the Grand Orgue Pierre-Béique, honoring the Symphony’s founder, Pierre Béique. This instrument includes 109 registers, 83 stops (types of sounds), 116 ranks (sets of pipes) and totals 6,489 pipes. It weighs a hefty 25 tons. According to the article,

…The organ’s highest achievement is how beautifully it blends into the aural fabric of the orchestra and…how well it sounds in the pleasingly reverberant 1,900-seat hall.

Greece is the Word. Although often associated with only cathedrals and religious music, these magnificent instruments trace their organs – we mean origins – to ancient Greece around the third century BC, with an instrument called a hydraulis that was powered by water pressure. The first large-scale organ was installed in Halberstadt, Germany, in 1361, and required ten men to operate 20 bellows generating the air pressure. The oldest playable organ today is located in Switzerland, at the church of Notre-Dame-de-Valère at Sion; some of its parts date back to 1435. In the late 18th century, organs started being built inside concert halls, with composers incorporating them into their works.

Organ Keyboard AtlanticCityConventionAll

Organ Keyboard Atlantic City Convention Hall

Some Number Crunching. A German website Organ Site, maintained by pipe organ enthusiast Martin Doering, catalogs 4,540 pipe organs across 78 countries, from Austria to the Ukraine. Nearly 80 percent of the listings including a photo. Closer to home, this site lists 735 pipe organs in the U.S., ranging from Abilene (Texas) to Zion (Illinois). The site’s database is searchable by multiple variables, including country, organ size, builder, etc. The designation of most pipes worldwide goes to the Boardwalk Hall organ in Atlantic City, which features 33,114 pipes – more than five times Montreal’s new organ. It weighs 150 tons! Click here for a brief video.

On the Airwaves. The American Public Media radio program “Pipedreams®” highlights music of the pipe organ, traveling the world to showcase these unique instruments played by world-class musicians. The show’s website includes information on pipe organ history and links to helpful resources and performances.

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