As a former Southampton music student, and one of the Collins team to install the Turner Simms organ, I'm delighted to learn that a new home has been found for this bold instrument. It is a very fitting location given the late Professor Peter Evans' love and scholarship for Britten's music. Sad that Piet Kee is no longer with us to repeat his opening programme from 1978.
I played a new organ with fully electric action in Witheridge, North Devon, a couple of years ago. This had four different settings available for the general crescendo pedal and they all were set to do exactly what most GCPs don't in that the superfluous quieter ranks were taken off as the louder stops came on. In this case it was clearly up to the player to choose the sound required in each of the settings. The level of playing aids was almost overwhelming to me; used to playing instruments with none! I do appreciate that older organs don't have the flexibility that a new state-of-the-art electric action can provide. Here is a rather blurred picture that Mrs H took on a very basic digital camera as i was playing. The GC pedal is the the right-hand (foot!) of the two.
This is the specification although the GCP isn't shown in the leaflet from which it was taken.
We always have to remember that the pipe organ is very much a niche market within a niche market (classical music). Even many church goers who regularly hear the organ played have never seen it close up, have no idea how it works or know that organists play with their feet. Members of the clergy are not necessarily interested in organs and organ music - why should they be? Pipe organs have suffered over the centuries from being smashed up by religious fanatics, atheists (French Revolution), anarchists (Spanish Civil War), or their activity has been restricted when the theology of church music changed (Tra Le Sollicitudini) and alternatim masses were banned. The Orthodox Church does not allow musical instruments at all.
Perhaps the best way to view pipe organ building (if you want to remain positive) is like the bespoke, handmade shoe or suit industries. You can always get them but they’ll cost you many hundreds or thousands of pounds. They’ll always be a demand, but only a limited one. I am constantly surprised at just how many new organs are still commissioned and installed in churches and elsewhere, here and abroad. Somehow, in spite of the sheer incompetence of many churches in managing and investing their funds, huge sums are stll found for new organs or to rebuild existing ones. Probably the greatest threat to pipe organs is fashion. The argument about pipe organs lasting 100 years is almost beside the point, since many new today will probably fail to impress in 30 years time and be subject to all kinds of alteration. It is impossible to predict where churches and organs will be in 100 years time - if the world hasn’t been blown to smithereens!
The latest sampling techniques make it possible to have a range of highly realistic recordings of organs installed in your computer and play them back in your home. This is great for practising, (or even making your own digital recordings), but we should never forget that these are samples of real pipe organs and would not be possible without them. The human brain needs constant stimulation and change, and these factors, together with fashion, will ensure that digital organs will never replace good, well maintained pipe organs. On the contrary, the availability of relatively cheap digital organs for practice has at last made it possible for new students to learn and practise the organ in their own homes. Nothing, but nothing in the world of music however, can compare with the experience of playing, say Widor or Vierne, on great Cavaillé Coll organs in Paris as I did on an organ course earlier this summer. Can anyone really imagine that a digital organ could be built that could ever come anywhere near the glorious sound of the organ in Saint Sulpice?