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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Technical Questions”

January 1, 2007

Dear Michael,

Are “celeste” ranks always tuned sharp with respect to their matching ranks? In tuning these ranks, are the relative pitches chosen to try to produce the same beat frequency for each pair of pipes in the rank? Beside the usual string stops, are there any other stops that can or do have accompanying “celeste” ranks?

P.S. If my questions are too ‘technical’ to be of interest to your readers, I will understand!

Bob Bacon
Darien, IL

Dear Robert,

I put your question to Charles Hendrickson, my organbuilder friend in Saint Peter, Minnesota. He says:

String celestes are mostly tuned sharp, but not always, and the ultimate example of both flat and sharp tunings would occur in the famous Wanamaker organ where its 88 ranks in the string division include many examples of 1 rank tuned normal, 1 rank sharp, and 1 rank flat. Thus the Wanamaker string division has dozens of celestes tuned sharp, and dozens of celestes tuned flat.

It is also sometimes found that very soft celestes of Dulcianas are tuned flat (the Dulciana ranks is tuned to normal pitch, and the accompanying Unda Maris ranks is tuned flat).

Also in some organs with more than one pair of strings, the set/pair in the Swell will have the celeste tuned sharp, while the string pair in the Choir may have the celeste rank tuned flat so that, when the two pair are coupled together onto the choir manual, you will get the maximum ‘celestial effect’ - with one rank sharp and one rank flat around two of normal pitch.

The art of tuning celestes varies with the individual technician and the individual organist. Virgil Fox liked celestes tuned as wild as possible - maximum number of tolerable beats. Other organists and tuners will make the celeste just barely wave with the normal rank. Some tuners will have a slower beat in the treble to avoid dissonant sounds, In the world of celestes there are no rules, but many possibilities.

There is a report of an organ somewhere in which every rank has a celeste. It may be apocryphal, but would not surprise me. The method of tuning so may celestes would be beyond description.
–Charles Hendrickson

I hope that answers your question, Bob. You can read more from this link on the Resources page of our PIPEDREAMS site.&

Ultimately, no question is too ‘technical’ for us. The pipe organ is the most ‘technical’ of musical instruments, and understanding its inner workings is part of its charm, and mystery.




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