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Couplers on Pistons

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Having just got in from helping out our local Anglican church playing the organ for a service of Infant Baptism and finding some rather strange piston settings, I thought I'd take a straw poll - when setting pistons do you include couplers or not?

I ask because virtually every piston at St Barnabas had either the Swell Octave, or Swell to Great plus Swell Octave to Great set - and every pedal piston that I tried had both Swell and Great to Pedal set.  No doubt Jim, the organist there, has his reasons for the piston settings, but I found them a nuisance!  I ended up hand registering everything.

My preference - except if I'm setting pistons for a specific piece - is to exclude all couplers (except maybe swell octave & sub-octave if they're needed - and all trmulants (perhaps more significant on Theatre organs).

What do others think?

Every Blessing


Colin Pykett:
I have two consoles here at home, both designed and made by myself.  They both have electronic capture combination systems. 

One console has departmental couplers included on each departmental piston setting.  This is not optional because there is no 'neutral' setting for the couplers.  So, for example, if you press 'Great 3', the swell to great will either pop in or out depending on how you set it.  The couplers are (of course) also included in the general piston settings, but this is usual.

The other console does not have departmental couplers included on the departmental pistons.  They are always 'neutral'.  They can only be controlled via the generals, or by hand of course.

On balance, I find I prefer the first arrangement.  I did it this way because of the logic which suggested that couplers affect the sound just as speaking stops do, therefore it seemed logical to include couplers on all departmental pistons.  I still go along with this.  With the second arrangement, it can be a confounded nuisance when, having shut down to a quiet great registration using 'Great 1', only to find full swell still bellowing through because the swell to great is still on!

However, there is an important proviso.  With the first arrangement (couplers included on all pistons), one absolutely must have a capture system in which quick changes can be made to the piston settings.  Multiple memory levels are almost as essential.  Otherwise registration via pistons becomes a nightmare, especially on a strange instrument, as Tony found.

Colin Pykett

Barrie Davis:
I always leave the couples in neutral on departmental pistons with the exception of Swell 5 and 6 but the Octave can easily be taken off if needed.


Jonathan Lane:
My preference is for couplers not to be available on departmental pistons, but as Colin said, available on the generals.  However, I know this is not always the case, and I too find it confusing when it is not so, as I would consider this to be the "norm".  Musicom lets us do what we want and we can change the settings after the event if necessary.

I think in this day and age where solid state systems, often computer driven have the capacity to carry hundreds of thousands of settings, multiple levels are desirable, and consequently, general pistons can be set up to operate changes where the need for coupler registration is also evident. 

Having said this, on strange organs I almost always register by hand!


I would agree with Jonathan Lane here; my preference is for the inter-departmental unsion couplers to be available on general pistons only.

On larger instruments, Harrisons used to provide two generals specifically for couplers (I have an idea that Willis III did something similar on his arguably over-supplied consoles). With regard to H&H, examples of this provision are the four clavier instruments in the cathedrals of Coventry and Exeter.

However, what I find even more irritating is the lack of a Great and Pedal Pistons coupler; fortunately this seems mostly confined to electronic organs - often of North American manufacture. Even allowing for the widespread U.S. habit of not normally setting divisional pistons in what might be termed 'crescendo order', I find this incomprehensible. I have never wished either to balance full G.O. with a solitary Pedal Bourdon (or vice versa) - nor have I a particular desire to have to stab at two pistons simultaneously, particularly when the Pedal and G.O. divisionals are placed on different keyslips.


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