Landmark Organ Sound, Performance, and Luxury
by Rosemarry Bailey
Chicago is where I was born. There, I was raised to love music (and the Cubs, of course). But what a coincidence it was to be living in the city that was also national headquarters for the Hammond Organ Company. So when I started playing the organ at the age of nine, I began demonstrating for the local Hammond dealer. When the folks at corporate offices heard of this little girl who was performing at their retail store, it didn’t take long for them to offer a contract whereby I would be part of their artist team.
Now, fast-forward to my years with Roland and you’ll understand my excitement and delight to see real drawbars on the Atelier “Next Generation” series. They’re identical to those appearing on the Hammond models that popularized organ music and the home organ. This is truly an important part of Roland’s multi-faceted technology. But how is one to learn to utilize them without prior Hammond experience? Well, my friends, as they say “the doctor is in.”
The first thing to recognize is the various colors of the drawbars…brown, white and black. Every drawbar creates a separate tone and the intensity of each frequency is governed by how far out the player has pulled control. Simple, right? Actually it is, once you stop being afraid to manipulate them. Most people use predominately the white harmonic bars which are the tonic or basis of drawbar settings. In addition, the first brown drawbar provides a tonic note that sounds an octave below the note being played on the keyboard. Each white harmonic bar (plus the first brown drawbar) can be combined for a total of six octaves sounding while depressing only one note! Yes, that’s right. When playing a three-note chord with these, you hear 18 notes at the same time!
The black drawbars, known as the harmonics, are what provide the color or dissonance to the tone. This is good! Because you may prefer a fuller, more comprehensive effect, the black (and the second brown drawbar) fill in the sound to create typical organ registrations. The secret of easily changing drawbar combinations rests in thinking of them in terms of shapes….not numbers. Even though you’ll find 1-8 on every harmonic bar as you pull out the piece, most of us choose to configure the drawbars according to various patterns. The most common ones are the “pistol,” “half moon,” “right triangle” and “inverted triangle.” By setting the harmonic bars to conform to these shapes, the musician automatically hears flutes, strings, a combo of these and reed effects. Another way of understanding the drawbars is to think of them in three separate categories. The first two (brown) are the sub tones, lower than the tonic note; the next four (black and white) are the foundation, the main component of the sound; the final three (black and white) provide the brilliance or higher frequency of the combination of tones.
It is up to the performer to determine which setting is appropriate for the music. Select combinations (or shapes) that appeal to your style and preference. Take the time to configure the ones that sound pleasant to your ears, and explore the various combinations. However, bear in mind a total of some 253,000,000 possibilities are available to you! Make certain to store your favorite ones on presets to use over and over, or change them instantly while playing. The harmonic bars add a degree of nostalgia and spontaneity to your arrangements that is timeless. Even some 70 years after their introduction, drawbars are still an important part of numerous recordings and performances. Have fun with them and enjoy the results!