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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “Which Pitch?”

November 05, 2007

Dear Michael,

Do any organs have ONE SINGLE 32′-pitched bourdon to sound for the bottom five notes? The pitch of that bland pipe, with little upper harmonic content, would be difficult to discern. Since no one can identify such low pitches, it does not matter if in tune or not. Upper pitches: 16′, 8′, etc. would establish pitch definition/identity.

Love your program.
Wish it were here in Denver.

Thank you,



I won’t speak for you, but some of us can actually define the pitch of 32’ flue pipes (which pitch becomes even more apparent when combined with other, higher-pitched stops, locking into the ‘harmonic structure’). Having just one generic ‘low rumble’ might seem to be a cost saving, but such would be readily apparent to any discerning listener. And it does matter that these low pipes be in tune.

The same holds for the low notes of a 32’ reed stop, though these (when played alone) might appear to be generating an almost random frequency.

If cost is a problem, some builders use electronic means to generate that low octave of pitches.



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