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Organ (music)

The pipe organ at Notre-Dame de Montréal Basilica, Montreal
The organ is a type of keyboard musical instrument, distinctive because the sound is not produced by a percussion action, as on a piano or celesta, or by means of vibrating strings, as on the harpsichord.

Instead, pipe organs produce sound by means of flowing air. Organs date back to medieval times, when they originated as portable instruments used for accompaniment in choral music. As the instruments became larger, they were installed permanently in a fashion similar to the church organs of today.

The sound-producing elements in pipe organs are generally reeds and flutelike pipes. The flutelike pipes, which work using vibrating columns of air, are to be found in organs of all sizes. Reeds --thin strips of metal fastened at one end with the rest allowed to vibrate freely-- are only used commonly on instruments from a certain size.

Other instruments which are played from a reservoir of gas and have separate tone-producing mechanisms for each pitch include:

Other wind instruments that have no reservoir of gas but use a separate tone-producing mechanism for each pitch Other wind instruments that are played from a reservoir of gas but do not use a separate tone-producing mechanism for each pitch Organs were the first keyboard instruments, even though technically they belong to the most complex products of human craftmanship one can possibly imagine.

The pipe organ is a common kind of organ, with churches often housing such an instrument - when the word "organ" is used on its own in a classical music context, the pipe organ is most often meant. It is this instrument that is sometimes called the "king of instruments" in that, when played by a capable perfomer, richer and more complex music can be produced than with any other single instrument.

The organ's typical, stable and broad sound has become associated with divinity, having been established in churches and cathedrals for hundreds of years, although many major concert halls around the world boast organs too. Saint-Saens' popular Organ Symphony is a good example of how the sound of a large organ can be effectively combined with that of a symphony orchestra.

The versatility of the organ is attributable to the builders' ability to attach any number of instruments, or 'voices', to the keyboards which can be selected individually or in multiples by the operator. A good organist can produce a complex symphony of sounds simply by selecting which voices are used by which keyboard.

Voices are selected by 'stops'. The colloquial phrase "to pull out all the stops" originates from the simultaneous use of the multiple voices of an organ to produce a rich and complex sound. Much air is used to power an organ when all the stops are pulled out, and in days when there were no electric motors, the profligate use of air required much labor, and was used only for special occasions.

The word organ, which has nothing to do with anatomical organs, originates from the latin word "organum", the earliest predecessor of the instrument used in ancient Roman circus games and similar to what we now know as "portative".

There are also various electrically operated and electronic organs, such as the Hammond Organ. While the Hammond was of imitative intent, it has developed something of a cult following and is at its best when used to produce a sound of its own rather than an attempt at a pipe-organ-like sound. The Hammond B3 model is an important instrument in jazz, and in particular was the central instrument in soul jazz. Other significant electronic organs are sold today by Allen and Rodgers companies. These companies also feature electronic instruments that incorporate small groups of real wind blown pipers, adding to the effect of a more natural tone and ensemble. Electronic ograns have suffered from poor installations where harsh electronic tone, or sheer high volume levels discourage listeners and performers alike. Done well, electronic instruments can be convincing replications of their wind based predecesors.

Electric organs figure prominently in rock and gospel. Pipe organs were popular at theatres during the early 1900s, where they provided an audible accompaniment to silent movies.