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Organ design for a parish church


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#1 innate

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Posted 06 December 2015 - 07:59 PM

Apologies if this has been done before or if it isn’t the right forum. This post is prompted by the lack of activity here.

 

This is hypothetical. What choices would you make if you were the final arbiter (organ consultant, builder, advisor, organist/DOM) for a new organ to fit into an historic organ case on a West End gallery in a medium-large parish church with a generous acoustic in a medium/large city? Main case and chair case (the chair case may be ditched). Money no object. Uses include parish worship with traditional (Choral Evensong) and modern (blended) services, Civic services, recitals, and concerts.

 

Please do not speculate actual locations but suggestions of existing instruments as exemplars would be welcome.

 

Areas for discussion might include, but needn’t be limited to:

 

Tone (for want of a better word: style of voicing)

Number of manuals

Compass

Pitch (although A440 would be advisable, given the likely use of the organ with other instruments)

Temperament

Type of action (key and stop) and position of console

Number of enclosed divisions

Potential builders (I appreciate this might not be appropriate but I would certainly include our hosts in any such list)

Console “facilities”

Stoplist

 

As it happens, I have prepared my “ideal” spec for such a situation but will refrain from posting until you’ve all had a chance to dive in.

 

Off you go.



#2 sprondel

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Posted 06 December 2015 - 11:30 PM

Apologies if this has been done before or if it isn’t the right forum. This post is prompted by the lack of activity here.

 

This is hypothetical. What choices would you make if you were the final arbiter (organ consultant, builder, advisor, organist/DOM) for a new organ to fit into an historic organ case on a West End gallery in a medium-large parish church with a generous acoustic in a medium/large city? Main case and chair case (the chair case may be ditched). Money no object. Uses include parish worship with traditional (Choral Evensong) and modern (blended) services, Civic services, recitals, and concerts.

Those last three points – historic double case, money no object, mixed use – pose, in their interdependece, the pivotal problem in this interesting question. 

 

If there is a historic double case, then I would expect it to have hosted an 8' organ, 12' at best, without space provided for a full pedal division and limited space for a swell box. With a clever stoplist and good voicing, one might end up with a stylish, versatile organ of modest size and interesting sound. To venture a guess, I would expect a limit to the number of stops at 40, more probably 35 (perhaps Great 10, Chair 8, Swell 10, Pedal 7).

 

Unlimited means, however, tend to compromise intelligent concepts in favour of stoplists that don’t match the case, neither in size nor in style. It always seems so easy to come up with a stoplist that should do everything required – but matching it to the actual situation can be a real challenge. The late Stephen Bicknell was most outspoken about this, and did not spare his own work.

 

That said, it would seem to me the best way to find a builder who has shown the ability to cope with such a situation in a sensible, empathic, sincere and musical way, and ask him/her for a proposal. Starting from there, one might well find oneself ending up exactly there again, after some debate.

 

Best,

Friedrich



#3 innate

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 08:16 AM

Friedrich, many thanks for a very thoughtful and perceptive response. The Stephen Bicknell article is extremely interesting and relevant to this discussion. My hunch is that fitting a new organ into an old case and building has probably been done more often and more successfully in Germany and other Northern European countries than here but of course the musical requirements will differ from most Anglican churches.



#4 Tony Newnham

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 09:32 AM

Hi

 

You include use for blended worship - this raises a couple of questions.  Firstly, the location of other musicians in the church - a West End organ with band/choir at the other end of the Nave is always going to be problematical in terms of balance, and also possiby sightlines.  Also, as is well knwon, the pitch of a pipe organ shifts significantly with temperture, so unless the church is consitently heated to the same temperature, tuning, especially with brass & wooding, can become a big problem.  Maybe, if money really isn't an object, put in a West End organ to make the best use of the existing case, and in an appropriate style, and do something else at the other end of the building. Maybe even a digital - the one advantage of which is that the tuning is stable.

 

The real starting point though has got to be the more detailed musical aspirations of the Parish.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony



#5 AJJ

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 06:01 PM

Smaller scaled than perhaps suggested here but built with some ingenuity - I quite like this instrument.

http://www.npor.org.....html?RI=N09198

A
"…We can’t criticize the organ for being boring. In such cases it is the organist that is boring. There is no such thing as a boring organ."

#6 David Drinkell

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 09:34 PM

Stephen cites Kenneth Jones's organ at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  I agree - this is a very fine instrument indeed and very well suited to the surroundings in which it stands.  Kenneth, I think, had a knack for sizing up the requirements of individual jobs and providing (most times) something which was just right, but yet imaginative, in contrast to the rather predictable specs that keep appearing.  Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin was similarly effective (although the brust positive was a bit over the top and I believe has since been altered).  It had a warmth which was a welcome change in those days and managed all the majesty of an Anglican cathedral organ as well as a comprehensive classical one, and all within a reasonably small number of stops.

 

I never liked his damn great stop knobs though....



#7 innate

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 09:48 PM

I haven’t heard Emmanuel College, but it’s a neat spec. Would you want to add anything to it? A Sw.Sub8ve/Gt coupler or a Sw 16' reed? A Clarion for some extra fire?



#8 sprondel

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 10:52 PM

I haven’t heard Emmanuel College, but it’s a neat spec. Would you want to add anything to it? A Sw.Sub8ve/Gt coupler or a Sw 16' reed? A Clarion for some extra fire?

Of course, this depends solely on the acoustics. To venture a guess, with the various Cornets and Mixtures, fire should not be a problem. Thus, a 16' Basson on the Swell seems the logical option. A III/II 16' coupler, in my opinion, would require a more substantial pedal division in order to make up for the lack of 16-foot tone in the lower range.

 

Best,

Friedrich



#9 davidh

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 10:54 PM

 Also, as is well known, the pitch of a pipe organ shifts significantly with temperature, so unless the church is consistently heated to the same temperature, tuning, especially with brass & wooding, can become a big problem.  

 

Curious. Pitch changes with temperature, to a very small amount because thermal expansion makes the pipes longer, but to a much larger extent because the speed of sound in air changes. Surely the same factors will affect the tuning of the brass and woodwind instruments to a similar extent. Pianos and electronics (if present, heaven help us) won't move in the same way, and nor will the organ's reeds where the pitch is largely determined by the vibration of the reed, with the air column having a smaller contribution.



#10 sprondel

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Posted 07 December 2015 - 11:13 PM

 

Curious. Pitch changes with temperature, to a very small amount because thermal expansion makes the pipes longer, but to a much larger extent because the speed of sound in air changes …

True, but instrumentalists nowadays tend to use electronic tuners in order to obtain equal pitch unter all circumstances. Those do not react to changes in temperature.

 

Best,

Friedrich



#11 davidh

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Posted 08 December 2015 - 11:35 AM

True, but instrumentalists nowadays tend to use electronic tuners in order to obtain equal pitch unter all circumstances. Those do not react to changes in temperature.

 

Best,

Friedrich

O tempora, o mores!  Have they no ears? How can you tune a choir to sing at the same pitch as the organ?



#12 David Drinkell

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Posted 08 December 2015 - 01:18 PM

When a fixed-pitch instrument is involved - organ, oboe, harmonica, etc - the other instruments have to tune to it.  Electronic tuners are no use in such cases.



#13 innate

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Posted 08 December 2015 - 01:24 PM

I did mention tuning in my OP so can’t complain. Let’s assume that the heating is stable, more so than in a cathedral such as Peterborough! In my experience the temperature of, say, a trumpet or flute just brought in from the garage (!) has much more effect on its pitch than the temperature of the room. The use of the organ in “blended” music is something I’m theoretically in favour of, Tony, as it should be something that can if done well confirm our similarities and celebrate our differences but maybe it’s something to be reserved for special occasions.



#14 David Drinkell

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Posted 08 December 2015 - 02:29 PM

Regarding Emmanuel, Innate pinpoints what might be seen as the principal omission from the scheme - a 16' reed in the Swell.  Furthermore, the classic Victorian provision of Cornopean and Oboe, without Clarion, is unusual these days.  However, it's not a large building and the exigencies of the space and case must have suggested what was done.  In practice, it seems to work perfectly well and gravitas is not lacking.  An example, as I mentioned earlier, of Ken providing the right stuff, even if it's not quite what one might expect.

 

Checking the Kenneth Jones website just now, I was struck by the specification of the organ at Carlow Cathedral in Ireland.  I didn't know about this one - when I lived in Ireland there was a nondescript box of whistles skulking in the south transept.  I never played it or found out much about it, but it started off as a three-manual Bevington, maybe somewhat like the one at Kilkenny.  The Jones organ has a fine neo-English Classical case, presumably in a gallery, and the specification looks very Victorian, more specifically Hill-ish (including a Choir organ of 8.8.8.4.2.Clarinet, Orchestral Oboe), including the same provision of Swell reeds as at Emmanuel. Here, however, there are octave and sub couplers in the Swell (as well as a Lieblich Bourdon and five 8' flues, including two flutes).  There are also three 32' stops - Major Bass, Sub Bass and Contra Trombone!

 

Was it Stephen Bicknell or Ian Bell who wrote that the gravitas of a Full Swell does not necessarily depend on a 16' reed?  Sam Clutton observed that, on light pressure as in a typical Victorian organ, a bourdon and appropriate voicing of the reed basses could achieve an effect which was just as appropriate. 



#15 AJJ

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Posted 08 December 2015 - 04:39 PM

The original organ in Carlow Cathedral was installed in the 1850s and was a Bevington as David Drinkell writes above. This was taken out in 1944 and a secondhand William Hill organ installed incorporating some elements of the Bevington.

The 2009 restoration was aimed at being faithful to the original Hill design and Includes a rebuilt main frame and an attractive new case in European oak. The front pipes are gilded in gold leaf and the 'internals' restored with apparently only glues and materials that would have been used in the 1800s. I believe also that this recent work was done by the 'new' manifestation of the firm since the retirement of Kenneth Jones. I am not sure how the 32's and mobile console downstairs (the organ sits in a rear gallery) fit in with these ideals however.

The opening recital was given by Dr David Adams from Dublin and included a rather exciting piece by his then teenage son Sebastian who is now making a name for himself as a composer.

A
"…We can’t criticize the organ for being boring. In such cases it is the organist that is boring. There is no such thing as a boring organ."

#16 Henry Willis

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Posted 08 December 2015 - 04:40 PM

 

Curious. Pitch changes with temperature, to a very small amount because thermal expansion makes the pipes longer, but to a much larger extent because the speed of sound in air changes. Surely the same factors will affect the tuning of the brass and woodwind instruments to a similar extent. Pianos and electronics (if present, heaven help us) won't move in the same way, and nor will the organ's reeds where the pitch is largely determined by the vibration of the reed, with the air column having a smaller contribution.

 

If thermal expansion (of the pipes) were a factor, the pitch would be lowered by a rise in temperature whereas the pitch rises with temperature - in fact the thermal expansion factor is negligible in the tuning of flue pipes as the standing wave is virtually unaltered; 

 

More important even than the speed of sound in air is the density (and therefore the weight) of the air in the column (pipe) - 'damping',  therefore not only the tuning changes,  but also the volume of the sound due to changes in 'resonance' in the column.

 

As the vibrating tongue in a reed is part of a 'coupled system',  the rules all change: as temperature rises the reeds go marginally flat, so when an organ with reeds "goes out of tune",  the fluework moves a great deal further than the reeds (but in the opposite direction to the reeds and usually mostly together) the perception is that the reeds have gone out of tune - actually not!

 

DW



#17 Colin Harvey

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Posted 27 February 2016 - 08:21 AM

Friedrich, many thanks for a very thoughtful and perceptive response. The Stephen Bicknell article is extremely interesting and relevant to this discussion. My hunch is that fitting a new organ into an old case and building has probably been done more often and more successfully in Germany and other Northern European countries than here but of course the musical requirements will differ from most Anglican churches.

 

Just as Stephen Bicknell's brilliant article relates "Your architectural sense of the space you are given should affect the kind of organ that you think would work", surely it would be most effective if the organ case also influences the kind of organ in it too? Not just in size and layout but also stylistically?

 

If the main and chaire case are to be retained from an earlier instrument, would it show the right sensitivities and artistic/musical imagination to raise the idea that "the chair case may be ditched" (sic) so early on in the discussions?

 

I had the pleasure of working with Stephen Bicknell on just such a project (building an organ, not ditching a chaire case), resulting in what amounted to a new instrument in an old case, although for a slightly smaller church than the one considered here.

 

Stephen was also involved in the early stages of  St Giles in the Fields, which I would consider to be an excellent example of the sort of thing you're considering here: http://www.npor.org.....html?RI=P00119

Although he found working at JWW difficult and he never quite managed to do what he wanted, I think he was quite proud of Oriel College Oxford: http://www.npor.org.....html?RI=N09161

Emmanuel College Cambridge came up, an organ which I encountered (as have many others) at Oundle Summer Schools. It's OK but I think one of the best examples of a college chapel organ I've played has to be this: http://www.npor.org.....html?RI=H00727

This organ is one of the most musically engaging and beautifully made organs anywhere, capable of a far wider scope of literature than one might imagine and entirely at home accompanying choral evensong.



#18 innate

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Posted 27 February 2016 - 09:13 AM

Interesting and considered points all, Colin; thank you. I think use of the word “ditched” regarding the Choir case related to the historic main case being listed and the much later choir case not, so schemes using solely the old case or constructing a new choir case may be considered. The Jesus College, Oxford instrument would be an excellent exemplar. The organ in St Paul’s, Covent Garden could also offer some inspiration. [Edited to add: the last sentence was not in reference specifically to choir cases or lack of them but I can see it might read like that; I was talking more broadly about instruments, stop lists and sound.]



#19 AJJ

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Posted 27 February 2016 - 09:22 AM

Still using a 'historic' case (that is if you can call the rather fine stencilled piperack a case) the Tickell at Keble College Oxford is one of the best newer instruments I have encountered recently. Eclectic yet centred on a stylistic era it does all it should superbly well and the look and sound somehow go together - or does that sound a bit naff?

http://www.npor.org.....html?RI=H00775

A
"…We can’t criticize the organ for being boring. In such cases it is the organist that is boring. There is no such thing as a boring organ."




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