The Art of Music Arranging
by Stephen Simpson
The art of music arranging - Is it a dying art?  A letter from Member Glynn Davis of Kent asked the following:-

When I listen to keyless organ music, I am usually left wondering how such a small number of pipes, e.g. 20 or 31, can produce such 'full' sounding and interesting music.  As a classically trained musician, I hear a melody, a harmonic middle section of 1or 2 notes (sometimes as a counter melody) and a bass line, often of two notes alternating.

Can you tell me what the organ music arranger does to get his music sounding so 'full' and lively, i.e. the special tricks and devices used that do not appear in ordinary Band or Piano music?

Similarly, I as a little puzzled about the different numbers of pipes used in hand turned organs. Which are the most common numbers of pipes used? Is it mainly 20 and 31 pipes, or are there other common numbers used? And what is the reasoning for the selection of the particular range of notes chosen?

Is there a knowledgeable person willing to share his thoughts on these subjects? If there is, I should be very grateful.

Editor - with hat as Stephen Simpson of Happy Cow Music on - replies:-

Well, as a music arranger who has been producing books and rolls for over 25 years, I suppose I can reply to this, at least to start the reply.  When I started being interested in organs beyond just listening to them many years ago there were only two sources of music for fair organs - through Chiappa in London and from Arthur Prinsen in Belgium.

I met Arthur and was invited to visit him at his home in Belgium which I did in 1975.  Here I was shown how the music was arranged and the mechanics of perforated music. In addition, I made a visit to another Belgian arranger, Albert Decap who also showed me many of these tricks of the trade.  It was apparent that the continentals were musically ahead of the British producers of organ books and it is appropriate to include some of Romke De Waard's comments on music arranging at this point. Romke says:-

An arranger of organ music will have to have the following capacities:

1. He must have a thorough knowledge of harmony and counterpoint. In this respect he must be the equal of the arranger of orchestral music.

2. He must be creative. In a certain sense, he will have to have the capabilities of a composer, since his task is to arrange a given piece of music correctly regarding harmony, counterpoint, and instrumentation. He will have to follow his own ideas, and develop them himself. For instance, he may have to create a counter-melody to play the harmony section against the melody line. This is indispensable in street organ music. To put the whole thing simply, an organ is comparable to an orchestra in every respect, as you may have perceived for yourself from the explanation of the disposition.

3. Furthermore, he must be thoroughly acquainted with the musical possibilities of the organ for which he is arranging the music. The most accomplished arranger of orchestral music will be entirely unable to arrange street organ books if he has not previously puzzled out the secret of the instrument.

Thus if you look at an average organ, maybe a Raffin 20-note organ, you will find that the organ's scale is divided into three sections: bass, accompaniment and melody; which run from one to the other. The bass may have two pipes playing together as does the melody, but the bass pipes are often an octave apart to give strength to the bass, whilst the melody pipes are tuned celeste, or slightly out of tune to each other, to give a bright and more powerful sound. More notes, maybe 31, will give a wider range to the organ, more musical possibilities with available semitones, but more notes means a bigger and heavier organ, that's why most are small at 20 notes and medium at 31, but larger organs, like Alan Pell's 45-note are available, and of course the Dutch have street organs which need a trailer to shift!

If you imagine each separate division as a separate instrument, the melody plays the tune, with a simple harmony or counterpoint, the accompaniment plays a rhythmic chord sequence and this is supported by the bass. In addition to this, a harmony or counter melody is often fitted in over the accompaniment. Thus maybe seven or eight notes may be playing at any time, but not as to render the organ short of wind.

Now this is where the art comes in. At a time when music processing programs are available on computer and one can turn MIDI files from the internet into organ rolls and books, it is very easy to get inappropriate music playing on your organ at a fraction of the cost of a properly arranged music book or roll.  MIDI files are not made for mechanical organs, they are made for electronic keyboard instruments and unless you know about music and organs, it is rarely possible to make a good organ arrangement from a MIDI file.

Whilst I use a computer and MIDI for music arranging myself, the organ is first and foremost in my mind and the MIDI files produced would not be much use for the internet crowd.  I see many organ builders and system vendors offering MIDI methods of playing organs. Fine if the music originates from an organ music arranger, but if the trend for cheap and nasty music files continues, the proper music arrangers, such as Melvyn Wright, Jeremy Brice, Ian Alderman and myself will be forced out of business and our organs will never sound the same.