The Console

The organ console resembles a desk where an organist sits to play music. If a pipe organ has mechanical key action, the console will be built into the organ’s casework or will be a short distance away from the case. Consoles for organs with electric actions will generally be a separate and moveable entity and connected to the instrument by a cable passing through conduits.

A three-manual console with terraced jambs
set at an oblique angle to the organist.

Manuals are the keyboards for a pipe organ and are centered in a stack within the console. The smallest of organs will have one manual while truly large instruments may have five manuals or more. Each manual is generally associated with one division. For example, the uppermost manual in a three-manual console will typically play the Swell division; the middle manual will play the Great division and the lowest manual will play the Choir division.

The pedalboard resides under the manuals and is a short keyboard of 32 notes for the organist’s feet to play.

All but the smallest of consoles will have drawknobs to control which stops are in use. The drawknobs are placed on either side of the console and are grouped together by division. Compact consoles in which the stops are controlled by tilting tablets can also be provided.

Couplers enable organists to “couple” divisions together on one manual. A Swell to Great coupler will permit any stops selected in the Swell division to play from the Great manual in addition to any Great stops selected in the Great division. Unison couplers will bring two divisions together at the same pitch while sub octave (or 16’) couplers will make the coupled manual (the Swell in the example above) play one octave lower on the destination manual (the Great above). Likewise, an octave (or 4’) coupler will make the coupled manual play one octave higher on the destination manual.

Programmable thumb pistons allow organists
to instantly change the stops in use.

The combination action, capture system or piston system allows organists to bring on or retire pre-programmed stop combinations by pushing a piston with a thumb or a toe. Thumb pistons are located under each of a console’s manuals so as to be convenient while playing. Likewise, toe pistons are located just above the pedalboard to be easily accessible by an organist’s foot. Some pistons will only affect the stops in their assigned division and are referred to as divisional pistons; others will affect all of the organ’s stops and couplers and are referred to general pistons.

The general piston sequencer (also sometimes called a stepper) is a device that allows organists to move through a pre-programmed sequence of general pistons by pushing the same centrally-located piston repeatedly. This can save time and anxiety by avoiding a search for the correct toe or thumb piston; it is a feature that is as such much appreciated by visiting concert organists.

A console’s balanced pedals are typically centered within the console below the manuals and above the pedalboard. There will generally be a one pedal for each of an organ’s expressive divisions; the pedal allows organists to open and close its division’s louvers with their foot. In some organs, the pedal on the far right operates a crescendo function that gradually brings on the organ’s stops and couplers in a programmed sequence.

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