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Everything posted by S_L

  1. Isn't that the famous Hoffnung cartoon?
  2. This thread has gone a long way 'off topic' - its possibly my fault - and, for that, I apologise!! I'll try not to post any more on my experiences 'in foreign parts'
  3. That's all very well - and I don't disagree with any of that, particularly the comments about language and communication - but sometimes it isn't practical or possible to to a) do a recce or talk to the resident organist. (Can you imagine trying to contact the 'organist' of St. Peter's in Rome?). It's usually possible to find someone who knows the place - particularly in Rome or the big Italian cities - but, again, in my experience, advice given isn't always reliable!! I wouldn't touch a tour company with a barge pole apart from allowing them to organise accommodation and travel and, even then, I would be wary. (We sang Palestrina 'Missa Pape Marcelli' in the Cathedral at Palestrina, some 30 miles outside Rome and months and months later I was still haggling over the £300 the tour company wanted to transport us there!). Sometimes you just have to trust to instinct - but it's worth remembering that it's all a different mind-set - especially in Italy and also, to a lesser extent in France. But, to those of your planning tours this year - enjoy them!!
  4. I also know the organ at Shrewsbury Abbey - though only very very slightly. I know slightly more of the 'new' set-up - which could be really exciting for all concerned. I knew the place had some 'history' but I do wonder how many ex-Directors of Music there actually are lurking in the wings!!! I'm very happy to admit that, compared to many on this board, I know little about organ restoration and, had I been in a position where I had an instrument like Shrewsbury in my care, I would have sought lots of different opinions and asked for lots of advice. However it seems to me that you can talk as much as you like about restoration, about sympathetic restoration, about returning the Shrewsbury instrument to its original/intended state - but remember this - the instrument has a weekly job of work to do - and any rebuilding/restoration and so on has to enable the instrument to do that job of work. If, at the end of the day, you have an instrument, returned to its original or even its intended state but an instrument that doesn't do the job then, as far as I can see, you've wasted your money!!
  5. I think anywhere in Italy is a bit of a 'hit and miss' affair. The week we were in Rome we were due to sing in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls on the Tuesday morning. We arrived at about 9:00 to do a rehearsal at 9:15 for 10:00 a.m Mass, to be greeted by a fairly truculent official who had it in his diary that an American choir were supposed to be singing that morning. - he had us down for the following day. I speak some Italian, he spoke no English, and so I did my best to explain to him that this was impossible as, the day after, we were singing to John Paul II at an audience. I also had the letters from the Dean of the Basilica confirming our visit for the Tuesday. Mention of the Dean and John Paul II and he got the diary and triumphantly drew a pencil line through the name of the American choir, wrote our name in its place, became very friendly, got the key to the organ and showed us were we could put our things and change prior to a short rehearsal. About 10 minutes later the American choir turned upl!!! - they weren't too pleased but stayed for Mass and seemed to appreciate a programme that was entirely unaccompanied and included the Vittoria 'Missa O quam gloriosum'. As for using the organ, it was in a dreadful state, virtually unplayable, miles from the sanctuary where the choir were singing. Our organist used it to improvise during the offertory of the Mass and to, somehow, manage to play a fairly spectacular voluntary afterwards. The American choir had brought with them music for choir and organ. Quite how they would have performed it, i'm not sure. Moral of story. It's not like a Cathedral visit in the UK. Don't expect big, prestigious churches, in Italy, to have wonderful instruments. Turn up early, be prepared to argue, take all the paperwork with you, don't expect the organ to work or be anywhere near where you are expected to sing from and be prepared to change your programme, at the last minute, to suit the ciurcumstances. ................................... and if you can, try and find someone who has been there before and ask them what it was like!!!
  6. I did the Thursday morning English Mass there in 1990. Fortunately, the year before, the choir of Lichfield Cathedral had sung at the same celebration and I had written to Jonathan Rees-Williams to ask him of his experiences. Somewhere I still have his very witty letter, written in reply. It basically said to forget doing anything major that involved choir and organ and sing unaccompanied music. It also warned me of a 'mad nun' who had a habit of grabbing a microphone and singing Taize chants, loudly, down it - without warning! When we arrived she was, fortunately, nowhere on the scene - but, from his warning, I suspect he must have experienced her!! My worst experience was one Sunday morning taking a choir to sing in the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. The coach broke down just off the motorway outside Liverpool. The driver tried to get another coach but eventually several members of the choir, having changed to save time at the other end, and so dressed in cassock-albs, flagged down a service bus and persuaded the 'good Catholic' bus driver that it was an emergency with a "take this bus to the Metropolitan Cathedral". Where his destination was we had no idea but, at that time in the morning the bus was empty and he did as he was asked and they arrrived outside the great 'wigwam' at 10:20. The rehearsal had to finish at 10:40, prior to High Mass at 11:00 - on the programme that morning the men of the Abbey choir were singing the Durufle 'Cum Jubilo' Mass - in an acoustic, much maligned and, actually, quite comfortable - when you are used to it!! As someone else has said - I'm sure that, between us, we could write a book - and we would all recognise the scenarios and the characters that we had met on the way - even if we really find it difficult to believe that it happened to us!!!!
  7. SS Nicholas & Peter ad Vinclua, Curdworth in the Diocese of Birmingham. The organ and console are in a rood loft above the chancel arch. You reach them via a, none too safe, ladder from the nave of the church. Sitting at the console there used to be only a wooden rail between your back and the nave floor, some twenty feet below. I don't have many bad dreams - but the nights I do usually involve the one time I played at Curdworth.
  8. I'm glad, for Elizabeth Stratford and those at Arundel, that 'Songs of Praise' was a good experience. What I wouild ask her to remember is that my comments were borne from an experience in about 1984/5. It wasn't a pleasant experience. It was a time of national industrial unrest in the country, those of us who lived through it won't forget it. The BBC was engaged in its own battle with the unions - which is why we had to record on one night instead, in those days anyway, of the usual two! The stress and threats of industrial action and a programme to record the following day from a Cathedral where the Dean & Chapter were being difficult about the union action, together with our tiny little Abbey, made the situation, amongst the crew, tense. My comments about the Organist and Conductor/animateur being brought in were borne from a conversation I had with the, then, Director of the programme when I asked him what they did when either the organist or the conductor wasn't up to the job. "We get someone else in" was basically the tenor of his reply. Clearly, twenty five years later, things have now changed with contractually engaged musicians! I'm not sure I agree with the BBC policy on this - although I can see it has its merits. I hope Elizabeth Stratford doesn't think my comments were, in any way, a reflection or criticism of the programme from Arundel. As I said at the outset of my original post, I didn't see the programme and, as a point of principle anyway, I would never criticise a fellow musician in public. They were comments, perhaps in reflection best left unsaid, from an experience twenty five years ago which has coloured my perceptions of the programme ever since.
  9. We don't use the organ at all during Lent - all music is sung unaccompanied (we don't sing hymns at High Mass!) and there are no organ voluntaries. The only exception to that is on Laetare Sunday. Similarly during Holy week the organ is silent except for the Gloria on Maunday Thursday and then until the improvisation before the Gloria and the singing it at the Easter Vigil.
  10. I wondered where I had heard it and thank you for reminding me. I had forgotten 'Organo Pleno' and 'Full Swell', both absolute classics with Gordon Reynolds' wit and Bernard Hollowood's cartoons making them some of the funniest little books I have read for a long time. And so I am idebted to the late Prof. Reynolds for the story. As an aside, I hadn't realised, until I read his obituary, that he was born in Hull, my own home city! ............................... of course, all of this is a long way from Ronald Shillingford's original post.
  11. I like that story - very amusing!! It reminds me of the story, probably apocryphal, of a young 'clever' organ scholar, I'm told at Halifax Parish church but that may be incorrect, who could hear a rather wayward tenor in the choir and decided to help him out in one of the hymns by 'decorating' the organ part and soloing the tenor part on the solo tuba! At the end of the hymn or whatever all that could be heard around the church was the comment - in a broad Halifax accent "If tha does that agin, I'll brek thee bl***y neck!!!" As to the comment on my, rather too long, post. You will notice that I used the word 'frequently' - not the word 'always' when referring to musicians being 'imposed' on a church by Songs of Praise - Ron Shillingford has misrepresented or perhaps misunderstood this aspect of my comments. I also, on purpose, didn't mention any names - and I don't think it was appropriate of him to do so!
  12. I didn’t see the ‘Songs of Praise’ from Arundel and so I can’t comment about the pitch of the hymns or the loudness of the organ playing but I can, albeit from experience from just over 25 years ago, add my ‘two-pennorth’ concerning the whole ‘Songs of Praise’ scenario. It is a pet-hate – and correspondents may, when they have waded their way through this, see why! About 25 years ago we were asked to do a broadcast from our little Abbey and two things surprised me about the whole experience. Firstly was the appalling way that, in those days, the ‘SoP team’ behaved and, secondly, and conversely, was the amount of care that went into the actual, non-musical, side of the broadcast. It was Lent. Back then, and to a certain extent today, they seemed to think that Catholics did Lent rather well and, so, only ever went to Catholic churches during the penitential season. I have to say that doesn’t seem to have changed that much although Arundel, and I’m sure correspondents will correct me, seems to be an exception. We had hymns imposed on us. My Rector gave me a short list of hymns that would be sung, others to be added by other denominations in the village, and I duly started to write, or put together some ‘arrangements’ of those hymns. (For ‘arrangements’ read, the occasional descant or subtle alterations of organ or vocal harmony – not the type of full-scale instrumental ‘arrangements’ now heard on a weekly basis) Eventually the ‘SoP’ came back with their list of hymns which didn’t include any of the hymns I had been working on. Our Rector, who was desperate to be seen on TV, wouldn’t stand up to them and so all my work was wasted. It was decided that the large Abbey choir of forty voices would fill the small chancel, as they normally did on a Sunday and the production team felt the, rather splendid Victorian chancel, would be better seen without the choir sitting in it – and so they were sent to sit as members of the congregation apart from one item, recorded right at the very end, when they were sent to change into choir robes and take their usual place in the church. Again I tried to fight the choir’s corner but was overruled by the Rector and the choir spent almost the entire broadcast in the congregation. At the time the BBC were involved in a dispute with one of the unions and so filming took place on one evening, rather than, certainly in those days anyway, the usual two evenings. At 11 o’clock at night we were still at it – the cameramen were having difficulties with our tiny Abbey and kept getting each other in shot, the ‘congregation’ were getting fractious and, in the choir piece, a ‘sop’ to their being relegated to the congregation and recorded at about 11pm, tiredness started to show. The pitch started to be affected and they looked tired. This was a good choir, with an extensive track-record of hard work and a lot of experience but these people had done a days work, had given up their time for the broadcast in the evening and had another day to do the next day! The pre-hymn ‘interviews’ took place at a different time and were mostly held in the grounds in and around the Abbey. I have a recollection of a certain, very well-known, TV presenter, under stress to get the broadcast done because of the industrial action, shouting at a member of the community for walking down the cloister when they were trying to film and having to be, gently, reminded by the normally quiet, retiring brother “This is my home – I live here”. Having said all of this, at least I didn’t have a ‘Songs of Praise’ musician or organist imposed on me. A ‘visiting’ organist, it seems, played at Arundel. Frequently conducting is someone else. One is tempted to ask why? Doesn’t Arundel Cathedral have an organist who can accompany hymns? – we know this not to be the case! Why are the music staff, who work in the churches/cathedrals/abbeys used for broadcasts and know the buildings acoustics and peculiarities, frequently pushed to one side in favour of, I’m sure, a very fine ex-Cathedral organist? Some 20 years ago I was interviewed for the post of Director of Music in a Cathedral. In my letter of application I commented that I thought the BBC’s whole attitude to religious broadcasting was going down the wrong road. At the interview I was asked about this. 20 years later I still think this to be so and possibly more so. I do worry about the BBC ‘pedalling’ their view of sacred music! I notice that broadcasts from Cathedrals are usually more conservative in their musical taste than when the broadcast comes from somewhere less exalted – presumably because the Precentor/Master of the Choristers etc has some veto on the ‘garbage’ the BBC wants to present! Having said all of that I do have a few positive, but non-musical, points that I think might be worth making. In our broadcast the production team took enormous care in the way the building was presented. Yes, they booted the choir out of the chancel but we had two, very fine, Victorian painted glass windows at the West and East end of the church and the team spent two days building huge scaffoldings outside the Abbey on which to hang lights so that the windows would show to good effect when filmed, at night, from inside the church. More amazingly was the problem they encountered with filming in our little Abbey, at that time, the smallest building a broadcast had ever come from. Our central aisle was only just wide enough to take a movable camera. The problem was that it had uneven central heating grating on the outside of the aisle where the wheels of the camera went. The production team decided to ‘build’ a false aisle! They painted it red, the same colour as the carpet underneath and one man spent two days on his knees painting, onto the false aisle, the pattern of the grating underneath!! I’m sure correspondents here have lots of positive comments to make about the programme. I apologise for the length of the comment – ‘Songs of Praise’ paid me a decent fee and I got a couple of ‘repeat’ fees too but it is one of my ‘pert-hates’, it wasn’t a good experience – and correspondents might be able to understand why!
  13. I didn't hear the Tewkesbury broadcast, being in church, at that time, on Christmas morning where we had a Mozart Mass K140, Victoria 'O magnum mysterium' & Handl 'Resonet in Laudibus', but I did watch the Midnight from Liverpool - the Widor Mass is a 'meaty' piece of work, to say the least, and could not, I would have thought, in any way, be described as safe or predictable. I thought, also, Timothy Noon, conducting from a chair after an accident in the snow, and, particularly, the boys of the Cathedral choir worked their socks off!
  14. A very Happy and Holy Christmas to everyone.
  15. It all sounds so good doesn't it - and I have no doubt that it is!!! ............................... but it only takes the Archbishop to send you a new Parish Priest who isn't quite with your way of thinking and it will all collapse around you! Depressing and you may very well say slightly defeatist. I never believed it would happen to me - .............. but it did - and all in the course of one weekend! All the very best to you - long may it continue!
  16. I went to Evensong at Hereford, one Friday night, a number of years ago, when Roy was Master of the Choristers. The cathedral was dark, the nave empty and in the choir there were the choir and clergy and, perhaps, two or three others. The music was all unaccompanied, beautifully sung and it remains one of the 'highspots' of any cathedral visit I have ever made. It entirely summed up, for me, "where two or three are gathered....................." It must be ten years ago but I shall remember that night for the rest of my days.................... Wonderful!
  17. The Regal (16') now on the Oberwerk that, until 1983, was on the Brustwerk at York University was a pretty fearsome sound. I remember standing in the hall in about 1970/71 with an old organist who had been a pupil of Bairstow. "I don't care what Mr. ****** says, it's not a musical sound" she exclaimed!
  18. A long time ago I was sitting, prior to Evensong, in a Cathedral church in the North. A lady came up to me and said "Excuse me, but that's my seat". I looked at her, slightly astonished, and she added "I'm Mrs ...................." (the wife of the Master of the Choristers) I knew the name and I moved - but, all these years later, I wouldn't again!!
  19. I've been prepared to play some pretty dreadful stuff on occasion. I don't think I have ever actually refused to play anything but there have been times when I have come close to it and times when I felt that I have to make my feelings known and made mild, or even not so mild, protestations. Some of the above are awful but I think that one just takes the biscuit!! I don't want to say "I don't believe you" - because I do - but "I don't believe it!!!!!!!" One wonders why the church was closing!
  20. It's a long time ago, maybe twenty years, but I have a vague recollection that I once went into the 'Star Inn' at Harome in North Yorkshire and that there was an organ in there - or have I imagined it?
  21. The trouble is that there is so much rubbish on the market. I always used a variety of books - mostly 'A Responsorial Psalm Book' - for Sundays & Feast Days' by Geoffrey Boulton-Smith. There were a whole variety of settings in there of varying quality, and of varying difficulty - some were good, some were ok and some were awful - but at least you will have the words if you are prepared to compose music of your own. I'm, not sure whether the book is still in print though! I also used 'The Responsorial Psalter' - edited by Stephen Dean - it came in three volumes - but I used it rarely, the quality in here was less good. A Responsorial Psalm was an integral part of our Sunday Mass - my Cantor and I would sit down at the beginning of the term and go through the next three months - which we were going to use - and which I was going to write or re-write! Hope that helps.
  22. I have a good friend, an organist, well qualified, with three highly respectable perfomers diplomas, who simply cannot play from memory. The complexities of Messiaen and Langlais, the counterpoint of Bach or the 19th century 'Romantic' school hold no fear for him - but ask him to play 'Crimond' from memory and he couldn't do it! ............... and I don't understand it!
  23. I had a bride on the phone not one hour ago! Would I be able to play the organ for her wedding on Sunday - this Sunday - at a church some 10 miles away? (Clearly good planning - or perhaps she had been let down!) I told her that I didn't see a problem with that, providing the church authorities were ok with it, and asked her what she was wanting. She didn't know - the Priest was going to tell her BUT - more importantly was my fee!! I don't do many weddings nowadays and I told her the fee - a good deal less than, I know, quite a number of people in the locality charge. She told me that she would ring me back, it was clearly an issue and I didn't expect to hear anymore. Half an hour later she rang back, this time trying to bargain me down by telling me that it wasn't a Nuptual Mass. I don't think my fee to be unreasonable and explained to her that my travel to and from the ceremony plus the ceremony itself would involve me in about an hour and a half's work and that I thought the fee, for a highly qualified professional person, was not unreasonable. Her plumber would charge twice the amount and a call-out charge for the Gas board is £75 before they do any work! "I've got the organist of the church to do it" she shouted down the phone - so why did she bother to ring me back? Clearly this was one to be kept away from and, clearly, could have put me in a difficult position.. Over the 20 years I was DOM at a large Abbey Church I played for hundreds of weddings and encountered a number that one could write an epic book about - indeed, if I did write a book, I suspect no one would believe me. I suspect that there are quite a number of us in the same position.
  24. S_L


    £225 does seem a little excessive! I went through a time of having to attend a number of formal events where academic dress was required - and so I always just wore my old BA hood with an MA gown, despite having 'moved on' a little from there. Some time ago my wife suggested that I really ought to fly my proper colours and I paid £75 for my Ph.D hood - since then I've never worn it! My wife's father was a Colonel - his brother was an Army Chaplain (killed at the very end of the war). Her father, very occasionally served Mass for his brother, wearing the battle dress of a private, without emblems of rank or the very considerable honours he had collected. I wouldn't wear a hood if I was playing or directing at Mass. I might, just, wear it at Evensong if wearing hoods was the tradition - but I never play or conduct Evensong these days - and every time I go back to my College, where the wearing of hoods at Evensong is common amongst members of that particular institution, I always forget to take my gown and hood with me!!!
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