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John Sayer

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  1. The latest IBO Newsletter contains an interesting article by David Wickens on Schulze's scalings and their influence on organ builders in the North - Abbott, Binns, Conacher, Forster & Andrews, Brindley as well as Lewis. It gives examples of their scalings compared with both Töpfer A & B. JS
  2. I suggest the letter includes suitable reference to the 'ministry of welcome', woefully non-evident in this case.. Many of the larger cathedrals, including, presumably, St Paul's have a member of staff, lay or ordained, specifically charged with this overseeing this vital aspect of cathedral activity. Ultimate responsibility should lie with a member of Chapter itself. Our local cathedral has a mission statement of Welcome, Worship, Witness which all those who work there, whether paid or voluntary, do their best to live up to. Whilst patience may be sorely tried at the sheer insensitivity and crassness of a small minority of visitors who have no idea of how to behave in a sacred building, it is no excuse for rudeness. The 'friendliest cathedral in England' was how a Telegraph article a couple of years ago described us. Deserved or not, for those who work there, the accolade made the job doubly worthwhile. JS (P/T cathedral verger)
  3. Congratulations on your efforts to accommodate both traditions. That is surely the role of establishments such as cathedrals and major parish churches which are likely to have the resources to do so. It's a pity when people adopt blinkered attitudes to worship, whether through ignorance, laziness or sheer prejudice. Perhaps clergy and musicians should do more to educate their congregations, by explaining the differences in liturgical practice, maybe even handing out the Merbecke notation and rehearsing it. Too often they seem to take such things for granted. Intelligent worshippers are more likely to be sympathetic, more likely to make an effort at meaningful participation, if they understand why and how. That way they are more likely to appreciate the richness in diversity of Anglican liturgies. JS
  4. I'm sure this will be a well-attended farewell and a well deserved recognition of 35 years service. He played his own Passacaglia at Ripon a few weeks ago, a most intriguing and original piece, well worth hearing especially with JW's own descriptive programme note to hand. JS
  5. Or you could do what we did successfully at a recital at Ripon a couple of weeks ago. Ask the audience as they arrive to sit in the quire to hear pieces suitably registered for that more intimate setting, and then invite them to move into the crossing or nave for the more substantial (and louder) fare. For instruments that have to "face both ways" - and that includes most cathedral instruments sited on the pulpitum - the listener gets the best of both worlds. And two quite different architectural settings into the bargain. JS
  6. The story I heard is that Herrick Bunney was worried that he wouldn't have a really pianissimo stop for service accompaniment and the like, so Rieger, with a sense of fun, gave him a Souffle, a whisper. JS
  7. The Royal Albert Hall must have been at least 70% full for David Briggs's Bach Prom last Saturday. Those making a full Bach Day of it may only have come to fill the gap between the Complete Brandenburgs in the morning and the orchestral transcriptions in the evening, but, whatever the reason, it was a heartening sight to see the stalls, boxes and the central part of the gallery pretty well full, not to mention several hundred in the arena (incidentally probably the worst place to hear from, thanks to the impediment of the wretched orchestral canopy). The programme was a mix of original pieces and transcriptions, the two divided by a not-too-serious interview with DB himself. The Passacaglia gave us a big, classical plenum with all the Great mixtures (a tad relentless after a while) plus incisive pedal reed. In Wachet auf what sounded like a sprightly Choir Trumpet took the chorale melody. However, the true revelation came with the transcriptions, with registrations blowing dust out of long-unheard pipes and reaching parts of the organ other recitalists never seem to reach; delicate strings and flutes in Sheep may safely graze, massed Violes etc in Virgil Fox's incredibly lush arrangement of Süsser Tod and some Tuba pyrotechnics in DB's own realisation of Orchestral Suite No 3, served up with infectious energy and fun. All in all, the best £5 worth of organ music I've heard for a long time. JS
  8. ... and with only about a dozen bars to go! Could they not have cut a bit of Mr Trelawny's tiresome waffle instead? JS
  9. I happened to be in Gloucester last Friday - amid the semi-chaos of the Three Choirs preparations - and bought the above-mentioned booklet and CD (£10.50). The text by John Balsdon suggests that John Saunders and Ralph Downes had considered incorporating a solo reed back in 1970 (v an interesting revelation). The new Trompette Militaire stands at the far northern edge of the pulpitum, on the opposite side to the console, with just a few pipes to be seen from the north choir aisle. Tonally in seems rather less unobtrusive, at least as heard on the last track of the CD in Andrew Carter's Trumpet Tune. I suspect, however, a fair judgement requires a proper live hearing in the building. It may prove its worth in leading the singing of large congregations. Whatever its many virtues, this always seemed to me one role in which the organ has hitherto been slightly lacking. JS
  10. Excellent news. A wonderful instrument - with outstandingly beautiful individual stops and choruses - and truly inspiring, even humbling, to play. My CD alarm clock wakes me each day with the delectable flute sounds of a Pachelbel Ciacona played by Stef Tuinstra. For my money, it had a slight edge over the Martinikerk - although such comparisons are almost certainly irrelevant. I agree that Groningen should become a place of pilgrimage for all. Reil's work - from admittedly only limited acquaintance - is of the highest quality. Their 1999 two-and-a half manual instrument in the choir apse of the Bovenkerk in Kampen is most impressive, filling the building with sound and continuing the great classical tradition of organbuilding in the Netherlands. JS
  11. Or you can improvise like these two ... with a bit of practice! The 'snake-charmer' episode about 4 minutes in is delightful. JS
  12. Without wishing to sound unduly pious etc, is this sort of speculative, often ill-informed discussion really appropriate for a public organ forum like this? JS
  13. An explanation from one of the consultants may be of interest: "We're very excited about the Harmonics Division - it contains more than 100 microtonal steps to the octave throughout the entire compass of the organ (as compared to the normal 12 steps to each octave) and from its ranks we will be able to derive the vast array of mutations you see in the stop list. But it can of course also be used to create extraordinarily original undulating stops (celestes) ranging from just a hint of an undulation to an extremely thick and pulsating sound — all done with the use of normal, acoustic pipework. And each pipe in the Harmonics Division can be operated individually as well as assigned individually to each keyboard, it's entirely possible to work with microtonal scales of any complexity. Also, the custom computer network we are developing allows data to be processed by any number of computers in real time, it's possible to create extremely detailed and complex sonic patterns dynamically, spanning the gap between acoustic and electronic sound." OK fine, but how are they going to keep all those ranks in tune? Why do it acoustically - i.e. with real pipes - when it could be done electronically at a fraction of the cost? JS
  14. The new "21st-century symphonic organ" being built by Gerald Woehl for the Studio Acusticum in Pitea, Sweden seems to break new ground in the design of the modern concert hall organ, at least judging by the specification. See Stoplist which also has a live webcam monitoring work-in-progress on the construction of the instrument. Obscure mutations (Aliquoten) were fashionable in the 60s and 70s in Germany and now seem to be back on the agenda. The so-called Harmonics Division must offer the most complete tonal palette, from the 128ft series upwards, of such stops - every 'rumble and tinkle' you can think of. It's hard to think of an artistic use for such an overloaded musical paintbox. JS
  15. How about Widor with a Caribbean flavour.... I know nothing about steel bands, but the arrangement strikes me as quite clever, esp the way they manage the arpeggios. Fun too, even if they all look so miserable! JS
  16. Excellent news. This must be one of the Top Ten church buildings in the whole country; Bodley at his most devotionally inspired. A beautiful setting, a most impressive interior with beautiful crafted fittings, not least the stunning organ case. I look forward to hearing this long-silent yet fascinating instrument restored to full voice and wish the Meynell Trustees every success with their project. JS
  17. A stirring hymn, I agree, but fraught with risks. Strong nerves an two English Hymnals open on the music desk are a must if you are not going to be turning pages back and forth all the time, as is careful counting of verses - it's easy to get lost! We've had a few embarrassing moments in the past, particularly when singing in procession, and have decided to give it a miss in future. After all, there are plenty of other fine Easter hymns to choose from. JS
  18. I always felt Gilbert Scott's chaire case was out of proportion with the main Bernard Smith case, i.e. both too big and projecting out too far. Rieger reduced it in depth in 1979: it's a pity they didn't make it smaller at the same time, perhaps by scaling it down from 8ft to 6ft. But then the insertion of a swell division below the impost upset the whole ensemble anyway...... JS
  19. This Scheme, by which listed places of worship are able to reclaim 100% of VAT incurred on repairs, not only to the fabric but also on fixtures such as organs, is due to end on 31st March 2011. If that happens, churches struggling to raise funds for organ restorations will have to shoulder an extra burden often running into many thousands of pounds. To save the Scheme, and for the sake of the instruments themselves, please take a moment to sign the on-line petition to No 10 Downing Street at Petition Many thanks JS
  20. I am intrigued by the HW Mixtur VI "mit Vorabzug 16". Presumably this means the stop, fully drawn, gives an 8-foot based mixture, but the pre- or half-draw gives a 16-foot based composition. Is this just a case of an octave transposition? If so, how do they achieve it? JS
  21. The following remarkable and touching story may be of interest In an interview given in 1976, AW recalled an Easter Day eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral at which the congregation was joined by some 100 physically and mentally handicapped children from the Canadian organisation ARCHE, each accompanied by two helpers. "They brought with them little bells, which they rang when they sang their own things. And the great thing was this: when we sang the William Byrd "Haec Dies" as the Gradual, they rang their bells. When we got to the climax of the piece, they spontaneously rang their bells. In a second we learned that it doesn't have to be 'pop' music' to encourage that, it's any sort of ecstatic utterance. That was an Easter Day service such as I've never experienced in my whole life. When we went up to receive the sacrament, we were greeting one another. I met two people who had gone to live in Canada, years ago, and there they were on the altar steps. And we embraced on the altar steps. Now, we should never have done that if we hadn't had those children - they were grown-ups - but they were children, and we became as children". JS
  22. Does this debate not illustrate the inadvisability of generalised statements about mechanical action of which there are several different types? A suspended action, with the key literally hanging vertically from the pallet is likely to have a quite different 'feel' from a backfall action where the finger has to overcome the inertia of an intervening wooden lever. It's true that a suspended action, particularly on a small instrument with no or only partial use of rollerboards, may seem disconcertingly light and unforgiving of sloppy articulation - almost like a harpsichord in fact. The fact that this type of action is often combined with slightly foreshortened keys may reinforce that impression. Pieces with big, spread chords - even Wesley's Choral Song (in its original form) - are often diffcult to play cleanly on such instruments. This may explain why many of us feel happier and more secure on a slightly more robust action with full-length keys and greater touch resistance. A propos St Martin, a brief acquaintance with their new organ at Petersham left me with the impression of a very civilised form of suspended action - not too light and with a reassuring 'bottom' to the key depression allowing suitable control over release. JS
  23. I had the pleasure of visiting the church - thanks to JJK's hospitality - and of playing and hearing the organ last Saturday morning. This is indeed an impressive and exciting new instrument, not least as a visual adornment to this historic Georgian/Victorian church. The tonal design is ingenious with Manual II (Récit) and III (enclosed Résonance) offering a most versatilite 'split Swell' division. A comprehensive range of couplers is provided - including III to Ped and III to Ped 4 - offering Pedal reeds at 16-8-8-4, all under expression. The voicing is warm and relaxed - any tendency to forcefulness would be a disaster in the non-resonant interior crammed with wooden galleries and box pews. The suspended action is very comfortable to play, with a reassuring 'bottom' to the touch, not always found with this sort of action. The console layout is logical and uncluttered. Given the rather bland menu that mainstream English builders might have served up with 16 stops, this strikes me as a most welcome newcomer from Switzerland. Tom Trotter gives the opening recital in April, with further concerts by Simon Preston (Handel organ concertos) and Christopher Herrick. JS
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