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Mander Organs

John Mitchell

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  1. I see now that one of the organs I was thinking of (Rochdale Parish Church) has finally got it's prepared for stops installed. It's taken 52 years, but I guess better late than never.
  2. I didn't know that Colin Hele had died. We were friends and had joint charge of the Pietermaritzburg City Hall organ for several years. The Durban B&F was rebuilt by Willis IV in the 70's. He crammed it with extra stops and maintenance became next to impossible. The last I heard it was no longer working. The same can be said for Johannesburg City Hall. Another Willis IV disaster, in fact it was already falling apart before he'd finished the rebuild. I know because I was in the hall rehearsing the Johannesburg Bach Choir the evening it happened. We suddenly heard the soundboards cracking. Mr W went mad !! I played the organ a few times after that and it was very feeble. You had to tie all 4 manuals together to get a reasonable full Swell to Great. It was generally agreed that the Pietermaritzburg organ was by far the finest English organ in the country. I'd say it certainly deserved that reputation.
  3. The organ is the largest and finest instrument built by Brindley & Foster. It was designed by Sir George Martin (St. Paul's Cathedral) and installed in 1903. Martin liked the B&F pipe-work and voicing, but despised their patented actions. He insisted that the Pietermaritzburg organ must have normal slider chests and that was how it was built. It was renovated in the late 70's by Colin Hele.and thus escaped the attentions of Willis IV who was touring the country 'rebuilding' several organs with terrible results. Fortunately the Pietermarizburg council couldn't afford his price, so the local builder, Colin Hele got the job and the renovation was superb. As city music director I had the great pleasure of taking charge of the organ for 12 years. Colin and I looked after it like our baby. I hear now that it's been allowed to deteriorate although it is still playable It can still be heard and seen on YouTube and is certainly worth a visit.
  4. I see it's a Harrison organ and I regret to say that they seem to specialise in 'Prepared For' stops. Probably because their instruments are so expensive in the first place. When we were planning a new or used organ at my last church I rang Mark Venning and asked him for an estimate. He quoted me an eye watering price, but said that much of the design could be prepared for. I told him to forget it!
  5. How many times have I seen those fateful words on consoles around the world. They denote an unfinished job, usually when a church runs out of money before the tonal scheme has been completed. In my experience those stops never get installed and the console promises what the organ doesn't provide. I get the feeling that the congregation get used to what they hear and don't see the need for any more. On one organ I played a whole manual was missing. The chest was there and the action connected up, but no pipes at all. In another church various stops, including a pedal reed were prepared for, but 40 years later they were still missing. Nowadays if a builder offers me a scheme that involves 'prepared for' stops I just say 'No thank you'. I wonder if other members have had the same experience.
  6. We had one of those jealous organists in Rochdale. The organ was quite nice - a Hill organ rebuilt by Harrisons A 3 decker. A friend of mine was to get married there and asked me to play the organ. The organist refused despite the fact that he would have been paid for doing nothing. The friend asked me instead to be an usher and help her to select the music. For going out I suggested the Moulet Carillon Sortie. At that stage I couldn't have played it myself, but I suspected that the organist couldn't either. I was right! He kept repeating the first bar until we all got out of the church. I small victory for me !!!!!
  7. We had a Peter Conacher in the Lytham Parish Church. It was a 3 manual instrument and must have been quite impressive when built. The pipes were made in France.and the organ faced the nave. When it was still fairly young the whole instrument was turned around to face the chancel and there the problems began. It was now much too loud in the chancel and feeble in the nave. All sorts of efforts were made to rectify this problem. Wind pressures were changed. New upperwork was added. The swell Cornopean 8' became a 16' stop and an extra chest for 8' and 4' reeds was added, but on higher pressure than the rest of the division. All the balance of the instrument was lost and it became an ugly mongrel of an organ. A pity really as the original pipes still sounded pretty good. It just goes to show that, like your house, 'Location, location, location' is vital to any organ......
  8. I was not aware of the distinction, but the gentleman concerned was introduced to us as the DOA. He was determined to have us take his proposal and vetoed or subverted every other scheme. It was also clear that our organ builder was 'In his pocket'. I became angry when at a general meeting, having quoted us £200,000 to carry out another plan, agreed with the DOA that the organ concerned was of poor quality. At that moment I became so furious that I dare not speak as the words I would have used were seldom heard in the vicarage!!
  9. Maybe I should explain why we opted for a Copeman Hart organ in Lytham. It was far from our original intention. We had an organ by Peter Conacher which had been moved early in its life. Being designed to speak into the nave only it did a fine job, but then it was turned around to face the chancel where it blasted the heads off the choristers but sounded feeble to the congregation. It was altered and added to several times after that to try and correct that, but location prevailed. My first job was to try to solve this problem and I proposed to turn the organ back around, beef up the choir organ in the chancel and add side shutters to the swell to project a second manual behind the choir. Our organ builder, David Wells agreed that the idea would work, but said that the old organ had become such a mongrel with all the alterations that it was not worth spending more money on. We therefore started looking for a suitable replacement instrument. At that point the organ adviser came into our lives. We visited several used instruments together, but he was fixated on one scheme only and refused to consider anything else. The scheme was to combine two organs by Willis III into a single organ. One of them both the organist and I knew and didn't like and the other was in pieces in David's workshop. Both the churches wanted ridiculous money so we crossed them off our list. The adviser was so obstructive to any other solution that the time came when we gave up on a pipe organ and opted for digital. We chose Copeman Hart as he could build is an instrument to our exact design and voice it just the way we wanted it. I was in charge of the church organ and based it on the organ in Pietermaritzburg City Hall, South Africa. This was Brindley & Foster's largest and finest instrument. I had the joy of being in charge of it for 12 years and knew every stop intimately. I added a few things to make it work as a church organ as well as a concert organ. Other than that it was an exact replica. Some people may not like the voicing, but I assure you that it's totally accurate. The original can be heard on You-Tube if you're interested. Peter Jebson is the organist and is famous in the theatre world. We wanted an organ on which to show his skill. Our solution was to fit variable tremulants which could give the church organ a more theatrical sound when required. Ernest came up with a counter suggestion. For an extra £5000 he would give us a complete theatre organ played from the same console and through the same sound system. Peter and Nigel Ogden took charge of the design and voicing and got exactly what they wanted. So that's how we got 2 organs in one and why they are digital.
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