Pipe Organ Dynamics

It seems that the pipe organ doesn’t respond to dynamics (p, f, etc.). The top (treble) organ line is especially hard to hear in its upper registers when other instruments are playing. I can, of course, push the organ to top volume in the mixer, but I don’t know how to change it during playback. I admit I’ve no experience with Expression Maps, but there seems to be non listed for organ. I’d appreciate any suggestions, since I’m working on some pieces for brass quintet and church organ.


What playback device are you using, Norm? The built-in ‘HSSE+HSO (Pro)’ playback template, or NotePerformer, or something else?

Hi Daniel: As far as I know I’m using what shows up on the right side of the Play mode screen, under VST Instruments: “02 - HALion Sonic SE” It’s what came with my Dorico 3.5, AudioEngine I’m not aware that I have any other playback device. (And I did download the sounds when I updated from 3.1 to 3.5, even though it wasn’t required.)

I see that Symphonic Sounds are also listed under VST, but its organ sound is awful if I select it – and there is still no sensitivity to dynamics.

Unless they are in a Swell box, many organ stops do not have changeable volume. I have not checked to see if the HALion organ mimics this.

Click on the cog-wheel icon in the right hand panel, then change the Expression Map from Default to CC11 dynamics.

As Derrek said, that isn’t entirely realistic, but at least it responds to dynamics in the score.

BTW there is something broken about the default “Tutti Concert Organ” samples for the top few notes of the standard 5-octave keyboard range (above G an octave above the top of the treble staff), but I don’t expect anybody is likely to fix that any time soon.

But many older church organs don’t have full 5-octave keyboards, so unless you know this is going to be played on a fairly modern instrument, you don’t want to write higher than F an octave above the treble staff anyway.

And by “older” you mean “earlier than 1900 or so.” Most instruments built [in the U.S.] typically had full 5-octave keyboards (AFAIK,but I could be wrong).

I don’t know anything about small church organs in the USA, but in the UK and Europe there are probably thousands of instruments still in use with 54 or 56 key manuals going up to F or G, not top C.

In France 58 notes to A was the standard manual compass well into the 20th century. In the UK, there were large scale organs (e.g. the 5-manual in St Albans Cathedral) with 58-key manuals built as late as the 1960s.

The fact is hardly any organ music that needs the full 61 note "standard " compass, except for a few 20th century composers.

Even in some organs installed in the U.S. in the past 20-30 years with full 5-octave keyboards, some stops may not always the full five octaves.

Sadly, organs are still manufactured with short compass keyboards. It is increasingly less common, however for bespoke pipe instruments it is not “rare”. This was actually a great pet peeve of my graduate professor: “I just don’t get it—it’s asinine! It’s only a few pipes and they’re the tiny ones to boot!”

We also shouldn’t forget pedal compass issues which can be just as—if not more—vexing. The AGO standard has been around for most of the last century now, so most organs in the US go up to G, but again, some bespoke builders, especially when building instruments in a “historical” style, do not do full compass pedalboards either. Be careful where you plan to play Widor! You might not get the high F!

I can probably supply a preset that’ll extend that range for you.

Exactly which HSSE instrument is it (Program Name).

I’ll look into it and get back to the thread if I’m successful.

With luck, it’ll just be a matter of sticking a vstPreset in the right folder on your system. You’ll have to manually change it in HSSE, or set aside a simple sound template for it in your Dorico sound hierarchy.

Romanos, you are spot-on about pedalboards and playing the Widor. Nothing like getting to the church for a bride who wants the Widor for her recessional, and discovering the pedalboard only goes to E. :astonished:

I am also vexed by builders which put a new “historical” organ in a church (for multiple uses: accompany worship/congregational singing, choirs, solo concert performance, etc.) – and build it with a flat non-radiating pedalboard. Truly “historical.” But it limits the [already limited] supply of organists who want to play on it. Add to that no registration/combination capture system, well, the pool gets smaller. I truly appreciate a totally mechanical instrument (my college days were spent on a 4/63-rank Casavant tracker, 56-note compass), but for any church putting in a new instrument for worship and any kind of outside events needs one with AGO specifications and modern amenities.

I’m just being practical… probably not so much historical. After all, we’ve made some progress in the last 400 years. :smiley:

Dwlarson, I agree.

I did my undergrad on a 3m Wolff with a flat-non radiating pedalboard and I actually grew to like it. I currently teach on a Taylor & Boody built in the north german style with a flat pedalboard as well. That said, I totally understand that to most modern organists who have had minimal-to-no exposure find them very off putting. My own preference, if you can believe it, is a concave non-radiating, but those are exceedingly rare although some builders let you custom order them. I also spent two summers playing on an old Hook & Hastings on the OHS register that had a 22 (23?) note flat pedalboard that was 4/5 as wide as a modern pedalboard. I’d play one mass on that monster, and then 90 minutes later switch to the nearby church which was complete AGO spec. That really trained my brain to adapt and to adapt quickly, lol.

I couldn’t agree more, however, about modern amenities. To build an organ without pistons and a sequencer is a bit like making a modern car without power steering. It’s so fundamental and such well-established technology that it’s utterly unacceptable to not include it. Instruments are so much more limited without it. And we all know that having a bevvy of capable registrants during a recital is just not feasible anymore barring a few notable exceptions (St. Sulpice).