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Musical Organs

Organs have been used since ancient times, beginning with Ctesibius of Alexandria who invented a water organ that was used in Greek sporting events. The music organ consists of one or more sets of pipes, each of which has their own keyboard for making notes. Music organs continue to be popular instruments in sporting events and liturgical performances.

What are the features of musical organs?
  • Swell boxes: Church organs typically have a swell box. The swell box consists of a box made of wood with a large opening that has movable shades or shutters. The shutters look like Venetian blinds. The player can open the shutters to increase the loudness from the swell box to the performance hall. Slowly opening the shutters allows a crescendo to build or descend.
  • Portable: Small keyboards can be built in a way that makes them portable. The smallest of these organs can be outfitted with a strap to wear around the shoulders and back, allowing you to walk or march while playing it.
  • Electronic and digital functions: Modern musical instruments have digital functions added to the keyboard panel that allows for mixing of beats, the addition of other instrumental sounds, or enhanced tonal effects such as what a piano provides. Some of these electronic effects are controlled by the pedals.
What are the types of music organs?
  • Pipe: The pipe organ uses air moving through different sizes and thicknesses of pipes in order to produce sound waves. A combination of hands stops and mechanical pistons control the opening and closing of the pipes. The pipes are divided into sections and can range in size from a few feet in length to more than five stories tall.
  • Reed: Reed organs generate sounds like a piano. They use air that moves past free metal strips or reeds in order to make the sound. They are housed in a frame that looks like a piano, and they are often used in small buildings and structures where larger pipe organs would not fit.
  • Electronic: In the 1930s, the Hammond organ was invented. It uses electronics and loudspeakers in order to produce notes like a piano. They create an electric current that passes through a rotating metal bar. The notes strengthened by an amplifier.
What types of music can be played on an organ?

Pipe organs and water organ instruments were first used to play patriotic music for sporting events. In churches, the pipe organs were used to play music written to accompany the liturgy. Classical music pieces are also written for pipe organs. These pieces may be played only on the keyboard or with other types of musical instruments, including a full orchestra. In the 1930s, dramatic sounds for soap operas were played on pipe organs as a way to add drama and auditory interest to the visual stories on the radio. The ability to use audio in movies and television shows in the 1930s and later also allowed for the addition of the tonal sounds of the Hammond organ.

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