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History of the Pipe Organ 3 of 6: 1000 - 1400 AD

We know that pipe organs had been introduced into the church by the 900s. There are records of the “mighty organ” at Winchester Cathedral during this time period.


Through the end of the 15th century, pipe organs were always loud! Rows and rows of pipes were lined up on top of a large wind chest. There might be 15, 20, 25 or more rows of pipes, all sitting on the same wind chest. When the organ player depressed a note on the keyboard, all of the rows of pipes that corresponded to the note, played. It would be several hundred years before organ builders figured out how to stop specific rows of pipes from speaking. Today, the device on an organ console that stops rows of pipes from speaking is called a stop! Go figure!

Normally, a speaking stop represents an independent voice with its own unique row of pipes and unique sound. More independent voices mean more variety and creativity an organist can bring to the liturgy. More independent voices mean parishioners are not forced to listen to the same predictable sounds week-after-week, year-after-year. It is commonly agreed that until an organ hits 50+ independent voices, an organist must substitute and compromise historically-informed registrations. Our 1982 St. Joseph organ had only 16 independent voices. The current Allen electronic organ has 27 independent voices.

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