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Colin Pykett

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  1. Yes Stanley, I'm sorry, but I have to agree with SL here! But never having been one to let go once having got a rat between my teeth (a bit like Stanley in this respect I think, and I know he won't mind me having said so), how abouts a bit of the truth about at least some professional organists? I'm of an age when I was lucky enough to be have been able to attend the weekly organ recitals at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesdays at 5:55 (because I spent 7 years at King's just across the river in the 1960s/70s). So twixt then and now I've attended an awful lot of them, and not only in this country either. Here's just a sprinkling of the less impressive memories. I'm naming only those who can't sue me. It's far from a complete list. Jacques van Oortmerssen: shuddered to a dead stop in the middle of 'the' toccata at the Royal Albert Hall. Slow hand clap at the end. So embarrassing but, as the unknown guy sitting on my right said, "I'll be asking for my money back". Robert Joyce: casually let his foot produce an extended pedal drone, which is not in any edition I've seen, during the Pastorale of Guilmant's 1st sonata at Llandaff cathedral. Knowing glances between knowledgeable members of the audience. A cathedral organist, not performing on his home instrument, who accidentally brought on full organ (or something approaching it) in a quiet movement of a Mendelssohn sonata. To be fair, it might have been his registrant who was performing near-lunatic acrobatics at the console. (And as an aside, how many other instruments need more than one player? Might this have anything to do with the low esteem in which the organ is held by many other musicians?). I could go on - at length. However to counter all this, we need to remember that the perfect renditions we hear on recordings are largely synthetic and unrepresentative of reality. The average CD contains over 1000 edits. Some recordings are produced by snipping the best bits out of, and then replaying via the instrument itself, several MIDI recordings which many modern pipe organs facilitate. None of this is ever made clear to Joe Public who has to shell out hard earned cash to buy the result. Prior to the days when such things could be done, Walter Alcock at Salisbury Cathedral was said to cough discreetly when his blemishes appeared on his 78 rpm recordings when friends persuaded him to play them. We simply cannot demand this level of flawlessness in live performances and it is unreasonable to expect otherwise. But by the same token, I would respectfully ask that some of these self-styled paragons of virtue might therefore temper their criticisms of the amateur, without whom Christianity as we have come to know it in countless thousands of churches and chapels across this country would be the poorer. There is a parallel forum to this one where there is currently and regrettably not much activity, but quite often amateur organists (who typically style themselves 'reluctant pianists') ask for, and receive, a lot of assistance from kindly professionals without a hint of the cant which I am afraid sometimes surfaces here. Wouldn't it be nice if the reluctant pianists felt able to join our ranks?
  2. I find it odd to hear the pejorative remarks aimed directly or indirectly at amateur organists. We've had quite a few of them on parallel threads recently, and there are hints on this one as well. It often seems that this breed of musician is thought to be uniquely associated with the instrument, and as though amateurs do not exist in connection with any other. It's nonsense of course. Of those who attempt to learn any instrument, how many become professional in the sense that they succeed in making a living by playing it? Surely the answer has to be only a minority in all cases? Therefore, why single out and pillory the poor amateur organist when the majority of those who play all other instruments are also amateurs? The answer, of course, is that it is only the courageous amateur organist who has the temerity (please read this as guts) to regularly play in public for the benefit of their community. To do something useful, in other words, and often for nothing - quite unlike the professional I might add. But by doing so, they necessarily reveal their shortcomings for all to hear, and to be reviled for it. A professionally qualified organist wrote yesterday on this forum of the cliqueiness of the organ world. How right he is.
  3. It's odd isn't it, the empty church syndrome, considering the number of people who nevertheless seem to have an interest in organ music as per my original post. There were 7530 downloads of my so-called Top 20 titles alone, which was just a small fraction of the total in the stats I analysed. And that's just for my humble minority-interest site buried within the detritus of the billions out there. But of course it's much more of a commitment to actually go to a venue and pay to hear the music. So why does live pop music attract such crowds? One reason might be that it costs money however you do it (if you stream it legally), so the lazy internet option isn't so financially attractive as it is for the out-of-copyright material which comprises the bulk of most organ recitals. And bedroom downloaders get none of the herd attractions of actually being at Glasto etc. There are instruments for which the situation is even more dire than it is for the organ. The bassoon is one example. What sort of career, if any, is on offer for a young aspirant bassoonist? Or a violist? So maybe the situation isn't quite as negative as we might think. A degree of latent interest seems to be there if my stats have any meaning, which is some small comfort perhaps. But it's nonetheless going to be an uphill struggle to get people to go to recitals when they can hear the same stuff for free on the internet or Alexa, etc. Come to think of it, maybe it's people like me who put stuff for free on the web who are actually making things worse for live music events.
  4. Some recent posts have discussed things like youtube performances and various pieces of organ music. This has reminded me of a related topic I ponder about from time to time, which is how to construct a recital programme. There seem to be several aspects|: 1. Who are we playing to? Sometimes it might be an audience 'of the cloth' so to speak, in other words made up largely of organists. Such occasions will include recitals given to organists' associations. Compiling a recital programme for this sort of audience is probably not seen as particularly difficult by most players. But at the other pole, if we want to attract an audience from a wider and more catholic musical background, or those who are merely curious, which pieces should be selected? Perhaps another way to pose the question is to ask what organ tracks would you choose if you were hosting a Classic FM radio programme, where the advertisers have a keen interest in maximising the listening figures? Should we attempt to educate audiences by instilling into them our own (possibly arcane) preferences, or include a selection of lollipops perhaps? Should the programme be all lollipops? These questions seem important, because they are related to the very survival of the instrument at one extreme. And getting people through the door is also advantageous to the church, town hall, or whatever because it enhances the weight of the collection plate which helps to pay for the upkeep of the instrument and the purchase of the next one. 2. How do we know what people's preferences are in the first place? Has the audience research for organ music ever been done? If so, are the results available in the public domain? As it happens, I do have answers to such questions. Whether they are the right ones might be debated, but on the other hand, who could say whether they were 'right' or not? And if they were thought to be wrong, where are the alternative answers to be found? For what it's worth, I analysed the download statistics relating to the organ music tracks on my website over a six month period during which many thousands of people across the globe listened to (or at least downloaded) them. I could even give you the IP address of each individual download in theory, from which possibly interesting geographical and even demographic information could be extracted if desired. Several hours' worth of music is available on the site, played on various types of organ ranging from Arp Schnitger to WurliTzer and representing music from the 15th to the 20th centuries. From these stats, I compiled a Top Twenty list which had some interesting properties, including: 1. J S Bach did not appear, even though the number of items by him on the site is five times larger than the next most common composer. (This does not mean that nobody listened to Bach; merely that the number of those who did were not able to propel him into the Top Twenty). 2. People strongly preferred romantic music played on organs from the romantic era (19th & 20th centuries) rather than earlier music played on baroque instruments, no matter how interesting people such as us on this forum might regard it. Somehow I feel that this information has to be at least slightly useful. Firms and broadcasting organisations spend huge sums on similar market research, and precisely for this reason they are not about to throw their hard-earned data into the public domain for their competitors to see. But I think the bottom line is that recitalists might consider paying attention to results such as these, even if they do not reflect them in their programmes in every particular. Nobody likes playing to an empty church - do they?
  5. David, your question is interesting though as I said in my post above, everyone's preferences for audio equipment are heavily subjective, so I would not wish to impose mine on you or anyone else who reads this. But as you are seeking opinions ... Having listened to the multi-mic clip in your initial post, it did sort of confirm what I would have expected from dynamic and capacitor mics, and it was an interesting listening opportunity - thank you. Dynamic mics seem to me to have noticeably lower bass compared with their mid-range, but this makes them good for vocals which they are often used for. But for organs and pianos I personally would go for the flatter and more predictable response of a capacitor mic, especially in the critical area of specialist piano tuning you mentioned. Nevertheless I share your irritation about the problems of powering them, and indeed have come across the noise and hum problems you mentioned. In one case this turned out to be generated by the mains power supply used by the phantom power unit. It was a switched-mode PSU which I would not have bought had I known this beforehand, as I always use linear PSUs for audio work especially in the low-signal-level front ends where mics are involved. When I replaced the SMPSU by a linear one everything was as quiet as batteries were. At the end of your post above you also said: "Likewise in that vein I heard a nice explanation about the rationale of the Shure SM57 with rising frequency response. Apparently people used to like them on account of their raised treble so that then they could turn down the treble on playback and reduce tape hiss . . . We don't understand that context any more today." Well, I would say that we do still understand that process - (adaptive) pre-emphasis prior to recording followed by (synchronous) de-emphasis on playback - because that's how Dolby noise reduction works!! But I do take your wider point about some of the 'white haired knowledge' having been lost. Another example is the universal habit of today's design engineers of doing everything possible in analogue signal conditioning by using integrated circuits, which often contain far too many transistors for the job you want them to do. One of the 'white haired brigade' who has indeed, and sadly, passed away was John Linsley Hood who designed a discrete op amp circuit in the 1970s using just three transistors. He called it the Liniac and I've used it widely in my own designs. But if I go on like this I fear my posts will, probably rightly, get deleted so I'd better stop now. However the topic itself is of considerable relevance to making decent recordings of the organ and other musical instruments, so it was reasonable of you to raise it I would suggest.
  6. Mention of curtained organists brought to mind John Betjeman's description of St Enodoc's church in Cornwall: ... "A rattle as red baize is drawn aside, Miss Rhoda Poulden pulls the tremolo, The oboe, flute and vox humana stops; A Village Voluntary fills the air And ceases suddenly as it began, Save for one oboe faintly humming on" ... I think she was playing a reed organ, as the poem ends with: ... "The Lord's name by harmonium be praised" ... To me this is particularly and sadly evocative at a time when it's next to impossible to envisage visiting that beautiful place.
  7. Like any other component in the recording and reproduction chains, one's choice of mics is as much subjective as anything else. I'm wary of posting on this topic because one can so easily sound preachy on audio matters, which isn't my intention at all. And David has probably at least as much if not more experience as anyone else. However, here goes. Steve makes some valid points with which I agree. One is that the inbuilt mics which come with the little Zoom, Tascam, etc recorder products are really quite good both for the modest financial outlay and for many recording situations. But positioning is indeed vital as he says, and to optimise this you desirably need separate mics. If, for example, you want to record the sounds of an organ at short-ish range, they become almost essential in some situations. Doing this is sometimes necessary to cut down on the excessively wet ambience of some auditoria, and if the organ case is elevated then proper mic stands are also necessary so the heights of the mics can be adjusted to taste. I've been recording for decades, and started my 'career' with some Calrec studio capacitor mics back in the 1970s which I thought were rather splendid at the time, though a bit expensive. Unfortunately my son cast envious eyes on them and eventually I gave in and thus they went in his direction. He was running a recording studio at the time and made some professional recordings with them for well known artists, including of the Gosport Compton theatre organ. His client was so impressed that he wanted some additional recordings of surfy sea sounds from the nearby seashore which were duly faded in and out on various tracks. However these mics became obsolete long ago, and they were also inconvenient to use in that they used non-standard (non-phantom) power arrangements and unbalanced audio outputs, together with unusual (Tuchel not XLR) connectors. Nevertheless they can still be obtained on the retro/pre-owned market should David's interest have been aroused. Cutting this exceedingly boring story short and coming back to the present, the latest semi-decent mics I've tried are Behringer C-2s. I think they might have been superseded since, but for the money I have to say that I find them pretty amazing value, and I've tried a few in my time. They are still available. Amazon's current price is £65 for an allegedly matched pair, and they come in a robust foam-filled carrying case with various accessories including a stereo bar. Without wanting to indulge in hyperbole, I would say that they complement the quality of the Zoom/Tascam type recorders quite nicely, though I usually record into a wave editor (WaveLab) running on a laptop when using separate mics. I also record in parallel onto a completely separate backup medium in case of computer disasters so that all would not be lost, such as a Zoom/Tascam or even a Minidisc recorder. I've been very happy with the quality of the organ pipe sound samples made using these mics. The downside of separate mics like this is, of course, having to drag around all the collateral bits and pieces including mic stands, cables and something to provide the phantom power such as a small mixing desk or at least a preamp. However if you are doing a job for somebody else they will certainly be impressed when you arrive with all this gear! Happy recording.
  8. I agree with this sentiment Stanley. Even ordinary age related hearing loss (presbyacusis) is so gradual that it comes upon you almost unnoticed over decades, often starting in the late 40s. Yet unless one has an audiometry test done and sees the resulting audiogram (which can be a shocking experience the first time round - take my word for it!), many people won't even know they have it. The consequences can be profound, especially for those whose professions involve their ears such as tuners, voicers and sundry 'organ experts'. Consequently some of them blithely continue to do what they have always done, relying on their aural memory which was hard-wired into their brains when they were children yet which becomes increasingly detached from the reality of their defective hearing as they age. Since I now have moderate presbyacusis, I no longer attempt to pontificate on the tonal characteristics of organs either pipe or digital, except for my own purposes. As you implied Stanley, it's not much different to taking pocket money off infants otherwise and quite wrong in my view. A recent example concerns a sample set which I developed for my digital organ using my uncorrected ears. Yet when I played it using graphic equalisers set to compensate for my hearing loss (using a recent audiogram as a guide), it was intolerably shrieky in the upper reaches of the compass especially with higher-pitched stops and it required completely re-regulating. I'm not implying that the problem affects everybody in the business, but at the same time it's not one which should continue to be swept under the carpet. John Norman is a respected professional who set a good example when he wrote an article entitled 'The ear can't hear as high as that' (Organists' Review Feb 2011) in which he admitted that his own hearing no longer allowed him to hear the top few notes on a typical organ. That's my experience also, for what it's worth, but the reality is that it's worse than that in practice because it also means that I can no longer properly regulate such a stop over its top two octaves or so without using some form of audio correction. Nor can I properly assess the timbres of many stops even lower in the compass because of their extended harmonic retinues. As we've debated exhaustively on previous threads, hearing aids are of dubious value to a musician, and I've found the best form of correction to be graphic equalisers which can be set to compensate for my audiometry curve to a reasonable extent (though not completely, and this disparity is likely to get worse as time passes). Yes, it is off-topic, but it's important in view of the fact that many of those involved in the organ world are members of the gerontocracy, a good proportion of whom will have varying degrees of presbyacusis if not more severe hearing impairments. So I agree that it's worth airing the subject now and again in my opinion. You suggested that organ tonal "experts" should have a certificate of normal hearing. Maybe prospective customers should ask to see a recent audiogram before retaining them?
  9. Yes, this is a commonly-performed demo, but of itself it doesn't mean that more sound is emitted from the mouth than the top. I obviously cannot know what Prof Wilkes intended or said at his lecture though. However the air flow through a pipe consists of two components: the bulk unidirectional flow of air coming up the pipe foot from the chest and through the flue slit formed by the lower lip and languid, plus the vibratory (to and fro) component starting at the mouth and going into the resonator which results in the sound. It might be easier to comprehend by taking an electrical analogy in which both DC and AC can exist in a conductor at the same time. In a flue pipe no sound is radiated by the bulk flow, and most of this air exits at the mouth into the atmosphere, with a minority carrying on up behind the upper lip and through the resonator (the pipe body) to exit at the top. It is the bulk flow which blows out the candle, not the vibratory component, so this is most readily blown out near the mouth where most of the flow emerges. (There is also an additional effect to take into account in that the bulk flow speed is greater at the mouth owing to the restricted area of the flue slit from which it emerges, whereas at the top of the pipe the area is much larger so the flow rate per unit area is much smaller for the proportion of the flow which travels up the pipe. Thus the flow speed is also smaller at the top. It's similar to the familiar garden hose in which one restricts the outlet area to get a faster jet and vice versa). I haven't done the experiment with a candle, but have used a piece of paper instead with various large flue bass pipes in organs which allowed safe access to both ends of the pipe. Both at the mouth and top the paper flutters, whereas at the mouth it also gets blown noticeably sideways by the bulk flow.
  10. OK Stanley, since you asked so nicely, and because it's far too hot to think of going outside, here goes (with apologies to John if he thinks I'm paddling in his pond) ... Avoiding comment on your criticisms of specific organs and instead taking your words generically at face value, one which is 'hopelessly inadequate in the nave' is by definition unfit for purpose. It simply cannot be loud enough, because if it was loud enough then it would be heard better. But loudness is not simply a matter of making the pipes louder e.g. by increasing the wind pressure, although this can work after a fashion. It's a subjective phenomenon which also depends on how the acoustic power of a given sound is distributed in frequency, and for an organ this means that its sound at or approaching the full power of the instrument should have the benefit of lots of high frequency reinforcing ranks (i.e. mixtures) as well as loud harmonically-rich stops (i.e. reeds). Robert Hope-Jones did not realise the importance of mixtures because (a) the music establishment of the day since approximately Berlioz increasingly hated them anyway so he probably wouldn't have landed so many important contracts had he used them; (b) he happened on the scene when gas or electricity was suddenly becoming more available in towns for raising the wind and thus for delivering hitherto undreamed of pressures more easily (even his hand-blown tiniest instruments were voiced typically on 6"); and (c) his electric action was the means whereby he was able to confidently open his valves against these pressures even with the full coupler complement he provided. So his organs were usually deafeningly loud in the absence of mixtures. Although this approach therefore worked as far as sheer loudness was concerned, it meant that many of his stops were coarse-toned. But if mixtures will do the job without resorting to the H-J loudness method, then this defect can be avoided, or reduced. Often, though, one needs to use both approaches, and it's worth recalling that Gottfried Silbermann seemed to have twigged that high-ish pressures were the thing to generate power and presence even when mixtures were used as well. He used typically nearly 4" even in his smallest 2-deckers in village churches such as Fraureuth. I imagine that some members of the congregation (plus the organist) could well have left a service with tinnitus if they were sitting near the instrument. It confirms that organs of that era were probably not of the shy and retiring type often assumed (at least by some in this country) in the mid-20th century when the neo-baroque movement was at its height. So maybe in some organs from that period there had been misguided or uninformed pushiness from sundry advisers who insisted on something which might have been beautiful and 'authentic' in some ways, but in others it resulted in instruments which just twittered uselessly away because they were ill-matched to the building. As to the other architectural acoustics issues you raised, I can't comment much on lanterns, but glass has a low acoustic impedance (because windows flex, diaphragm-like, whereas the walls of the building do not) and therefore it lets the sound out. The lower the frequency the worse this gets, thus buildings with acres of glass can allow too much very low frequency energy to escape and so the organs within can sound thin and scratchy. (This effect is why one often hears the pedal stops faintly booming away first as one approaches a church through the churchyard). But returning to where we came in, an organ which isn't loud enough in the first place simply won't be adequate - which seems to be rather stating the obvious, and I now wonder why it has taken me so long to say it. As far as Southwell is concerned, it would be nice to get a view from John Norman or Paul Hale perhaps ...
  11. As usual, it doesn't look like an organ builder is going to be bothered to respond to this so you'll have to put up with my purple prose. Answer to Q1 above: from the apertures at the mouth and top if not stopped. There is some radiation from the body but it's less. Uniform mouth orientation - not so much because it looks good as for convenience for the voicer, but sometimes nearby pipes have to be rotated to prevent acoustic interaction such as pipes 'pulling' each other in frequency. Sometimes ranks are made with staggered mouth heights for similar interaction reasons when planted on crowded soundboards. One reason can be the acoustic screening one rank by another which occurs on crowded soundboards, or to provide better acoustic line of sight for unenclosed ranks so they are not screened by a swell box for example. Doesn't matter too much for big flues as opposed to reeds because they have so few harmonics of such low frequencies that the sound can bend round obstacles which are small compared with the wavelength. What is the wavelength? Open pipes are half a wavelength long; stopped ones a quarter. Therefore an obstacle would have to be enormous in all three dimensions for it to be 'noticed' by a sound wave at such low frequency. (It's the diffraction phenomenon). The issue is the same as where do you site your sub woofers for your hifi - it's not particularly critical compared with where you site your tweeters, which must have direct line of sight to your ears. Same for organ pipes. So, yes, LF sounds do behave very differently at the lowest frequencies, particularly below 16 foot C - that 32 foot bottom octave is quite singular acoustically. There's a particular issue in this lowest octave re open vs stopped. An open pipe radiates from top and mouth. The two signals are out of phase, so there is a horizontal plane halfway up the pipe where you get phase cancellation - in an anechoic chamber. But organs are seldom built in anechoic chambers, so in practice this effect is not an issue in ordinary spaces. This is due to reflections which mix up the sound and prevent the 'cancellation circle' being formed. However a stopped flue in this 32 foot lowest octave only radiates from its mouth, and this means the sound space is robbed of a very useful additional source of sound as far as mixing-up is concerned. Consequently one can get 'acoustic holes' more often at certain points in the building with a stopped 32 foot flue than one does from an open rank. The holes form at certain locations if the direct sound from the pipe mouth happens to be in antiphase with that of a strong reflection from a wall. Because of the very long wavelengths the physical extent of these holes is very considerable. With the open rank there is an additional sound source, which therefore fills in the holes to some extent. Moral: don't be tempted to economise by using 32 foot stopped basses. They are not as bad at 16 foot because the wavelengths are shorter so the holes aren't so large and noticeable. Can't speak for Ralph D - who can? Maybe he mentioned it in 'Baroque Tricks' which I haven't got the time to look up for you at the moment. The top or wherever else the aperture happens to be, and to a much less extent from the body. Re hoods, good question. Cost has to be a factor. All that clever skilled mitreing and soldering costs time and money. Thank heavens for that.
  12. But if merely playing it at sight as written isn't demanding enough, how about transposing it at sight as well (one or two semitones up or down, I don't care - the student may choose), and for good measure carry on extemporising at the end in the same manner for another couple of pages' worth? Why keep life simple when it can be made more difficult?
  13. There's an entire 2-page exercise entitled 'Thumbs on a separate manual' on pp. 93/94 of W G Alcock's organ tutor ('The Organ'), originally published by Novello but now available on IMSLP when I looked recently. It's quite interesting, euphemistically speaking, to attempt it as written as Allegretto in 6/8 ... A diploma-level sight reading exercise perhaps, anyone?
  14. Rather more than two months later I've succeeded in getting hold of this book which I had not come across before. However I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone who wants to augment their knowledge of the physics of music as it's pretty hopelessly out of date. Mine is the first edition (1969), published in the UK in 1970, thus 50 years ago now. Consequently it does not (because it could not) address a lot of the research into musical instruments which has been done since. For instance the explanation of how organ flue pipes work is now quite wrong and merely repeats what was currently understood in the Edwardian era when people such as Audsley were active. And of course, the chapter on electronic and computer music is similarly pretty useless now. Damian's later edition might be somewhat better in these respects. However if, like me, you enjoy reading material for its historical value then it's a book that is more worthwhile. This is as true for the physics of music as it is for the organ itself, where few would criticise Dom Bedos, Hopkins & Rimbault or Audsley for writing works which perforce can represent only their time and place.
  15. This week we did some decluttering as it's now getting easier to get to the council tip (though you still have to book your visit two days in advance). So among other stuff I just picked up from my shelves, without going through it in detail, some substantial piles of sheet music I hadn't played, not only for some years, but for decades. Most of it was light music including a multi-volume set of G&S piano scores (I can't abide it anyway but used to play it to satisfy certain audiences in the distant past). The other numbers were mainly what I used to play occasionally on theatre pipe/digital organs, including odd stuff which pressed some people's buttons such as songs going back to the pre-1920s, plus South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Frank Sinatra's and Nat KIng Cole's output, etc, etc. There was also a multi-volume set of books called The New Musical Educator, dating from the 1940s and edited by Harvey Grace, as I've since bought a much better quality version of the original from the early 1900s edited by John Greig. Having looked around on the web none of this seemed to have enough monetary value to justify the pain and grief involved in ebaying it so I just chucked the lot of it away. The resulting empty shelf space was very satisfying to contemplate and has not been completely filled yet, thereby providing opportunities to acquire future items which will be more useful. A potential downside is that most of this stuff was not out of copyright so in that sense I've burned my boats since it's also out of print, but it's a risk worth having taken. Paraphrasing what Stanley said, if you don't use it, then lose it.
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