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Organ Anecdotes For Book Wanted

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Just seen Durham Cathedrals web site and the assistant would have to have been Alan Thurlow. so the story must have been made up somewhere along the line

 

I'm fairly certain it is true actually- a friend and former boss of mine at St Oswald's Durham, David Higgins (now sadly no longer with us) was a friend of Alan Thurlow's both at Sheffield and in Durham. David used to say that he heard the story direct from Alan Thurlow himself.

 

My own favourite Conrad story (for there are many!) is the story of Conrad going to an RSCM do in Darlington and driving Alan Thurlow. Finding nowhere to park he pulled up in an office car park (it was a Saturday). A porter came running out and said to Conrad "Excuse me, this is a private car park". To which Conrad nonchalently replied "that's ok my good man. This is a private car!"

 

David also told me of the time when Conrad was conducting a large choir (possibly the University Choral Society). The soporanos missed an entry in one of the choruses in Judas Maccabeus. Conrad stopped the choir and shouted "ladies, I know it says 'chorus of virgins' but please all sing". :lol:

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Vox, can you tell any other stories about Sydney Campbell? He sounds a character...

I think he'd calmed down a bit by the time I knew him. I've already mentioned the few anecdotes I have (there must have been more - probably I've just forgotten).

 

John Wellingham tells a good one from Campbell's time at Ely when Arthur Wills was his assistant. The BBC were recording a choral Evensong for broadcast on their Overseas Service. Arthur was at the organ. The producer asked for a 20-second improvisation at the start of the service. Arthur duly obliged - in spades, and in his inimitable style. Afterwards Campbell was seen tottering with his hands shaking limply in front of his chest in mock shell-shock saying, "The producer asked for a 20-second improvisation and what did we get? Five minutes of diarrhoea all over the keyboard!"

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I think he'd calmed down a bit by the time I knew him. I've already mentioned the few anecdotes I have (there must have been more - probably I've just forgotten).

 

John Wellingham tells a good one from Campbell's time at Ely when Arthur Wills was his assistant. The BBC were recording a choral Evensong for broadcast on their Overseas Service. Arthur was at the organ. The producer asked for a 20-second improvisation at the start of the service. Arthur duly obliged - in spades, and in his inimitable style. Afterwards Campbell was seen tottering with his hands shaking limply in front of his chest in mock shell-shock saying, "The producer asked for a 20-second improvisation and what did we get? Five minutes of diarrhoea all over the keyboard!"

 

:lol: I remember John Wellingham being a good source of anecdotes. Mind you, there are one or two about him too! Several years back I attended a recital of his. As he had always told me that "music finished in 1750", I was surprised to find him playing some Rheinberger in the concert. I tackled him about this afterwards and he replied "Well, Rheinberger didn't have a swell box"!

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sorry - pushed the wrong piston!..........................................

 

I was going to say:

 

I'll be seeing him again very soon and will ask again ( it has been 17 years since the last time, on a train to London to make a recording of him playing all of the Whitlock Sonata at the RAH) if this would add verisimilitude.

 

There are so many of these stories and so many of them ARE good, but with little basis.

 

DW

 

oh yes, please - if you can establish more of the facts that would be great. Although I'd hate the truth to get in the way of a good yarn .... :lol::P:lol:

But if a story can come directly from the horse's mouth, all the better!

Cheers

Jenny

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The harvest of Sidney Campbell stories seems to be a fruitful one and the experiences of Vox Humana, especially, make for very entertaining reading; one looks forward keenly to the final results of all of these anecdotes, at some stage, in Churchmouse’s compilation.

 

The organist at Bristol Cathedral when Canon Edmund Fellowes was precentor found himself in a legal tussle with the Dean and Chapter; the case, having gone to court, was won by the organist, who returned to the Cathedral, choosing for the voluntary after evensong “Fixed in his everlasting seat” from Handel’s Semele.

 

But surely the palm for eccentricity should be awarded to the former organist of Truro Cathedral, Guillaume Ormond (1929 - 1970). I’m sure it was Gerald Knight (whose name I mention, not as an unreconstructed name dropper, but merely to suggest the veracity of the story) who told me one or two yarns about this gentleman. As is on record that the detached console did not appear until 1963 and thus Ormond was marooned upstairs for much of his tenure. It was possible to view some parts of the organ loft from the choirstalls and the dean was surprised, one day, to glance idly upwards during one of the spoken parts of the service and thus chance to espy bacon and eggs being fried on the organist’s bench.

 

On another occasion, it transpired that Dr Ormond had absentmindedly taken all the copies of the anthem upstairs to the loft and discovered his mistake during “Lighten our Darkness”. It was far too late to go downstairs and so the whole lot was jettisoned over the side. There must be more stories about this marvellous man; does anyone out there know any more?

 

DRH

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The harvest of Sidney Campbell stories seems to be a fruitful one and the experiences of Vox Humana, especially, make for very entertaining reading; one looks forward keenly to the final results of all of these anecdotes, at some stage, in Churchmouse’s compilation.

 

The organist at Bristol Cathedral when Canon Edmund Fellowes was precentor found himself in a legal tussle with the Dean and Chapter; the case, having gone to court, was won by the organist, who returned to the Cathedral, choosing for the voluntary after evensong “Fixed in his everlasting seat” from Handel’s Semele.

 

But surely the palm for eccentricity should be awarded to the former organist of Truro Cathedral, Guillaume Ormond (1929 - 1970). I’m sure it was Gerald Knight (whose name I mention, not as an unreconstructed name dropper, but merely to suggest the veracity of the story) who told me one or two yarns about this gentleman. As is on record that the detached console did not appear until 1963 and thus Ormond was marooned upstairs for much of his tenure. It was possible to view some parts of the organ loft from the choirstalls and the dean was surprised, one day, to glance idly upwards during one of the spoken parts of the service and thus chance to espy bacon and eggs being fried on the organist’s bench.

 

On another occasion, it transpired that Dr Ormond had absentmindedly taken all the copies of the anthem upstairs to the loft and discovered his mistake during “Lighten our Darkness”. It was far too late to go downstairs and so the whole lot was jettisoned over the side. There must be more stories about this marvellous man; does anyone out there know any more?

 

DRH

 

Ormond was apparently also very forgetful. It is said that - more than once - he would drive somewhere to go shopping, do his shopping, forget that he had driven there, and return home by train. Subsequently, on finding his car missing, he would 'phone the police to report the "theft" of his car!

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Ormond was apparently also very forgetful. It is said that - more than once - he would drive somewhere to go shopping, do his shopping, forget that he had driven there, and return home by train. Subsequently, on finding his car missing, he would 'phone the police to report the "theft" of his car!

 

It is also alleged that Ormond had a typewriter in the loft that he used during sermons. He was not a fast typist and to those not `in the know' feared death watch beeetle had got into the organ.

 

I was also told that he was a member of the local lifeboat crew having to leave the organ stool in mid service if there was a call out. Can any one authenticate this?

 

FF

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I'm fairly certain it is true actually- a friend and former boss of mine at St Oswald's Durham, David Higgins (now sadly no longer with us) was a friend of Alan Thurlow's both at Sheffield and in Durham. David used to say that he heard the story direct from Alan Thurlow himself.

 

My own favourite Conrad story (for there are many!) is the story of Conrad going to an RSCM do in Darlington and driving Alan Thurlow. Finding nowhere to park he pulled up in an office car park (it was a Saturday). A porter came running out and said to Conrad "Excuse me, this is a private car park". To which Conrad nonchalently replied "that's ok my good man. This is a private car!"

 

David also told me of the time when Conrad was conducting a large choir (possibly the University Choral Society). The soporanos missed an entry in one of the choruses in Judas Maccabeus. Conrad stopped the choir and shouted "ladies, I know it says 'chorus of virgins' but please all sing". :blink:

 

I used to see David Higgins nearly every friday evening, he used to give my father lessons either at St. Michaels,Witton Gilbert ( copeman hart analogue toaster 1970's) or st Oswalds, then on for a beer or three. Some of the stories he told about various durham musicians would be told over the odd beer, but they could never be told , as I am sure libel action would be taken :lol:

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Bishop Runcie when dedicating the new Marks and Spencer window in Durham Cathedral, said somethinng like,, " I would like to thank Marks,,,,Marks,,,,Marks,,,,Marks and his friend :blink:

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A few years back when I was a lowly organ scholar, I remember a final choir rehearsal before a Nine Lessons and Carols. The trebles were a little bored and rather distracted by the activity of sidepersons preparing for the service in a distant side-aisle. Finally, the choirmaster lost his cool and shouted, "For goodness sake, concentrate! Even if the Lord Himself appears in front of you, you keep singing!" A moment of silent contemplation followed, then a sardonic tenor remarked, "Now that WOULD be a miracle..."

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Just remembered another Sidney Campbell story.

 

Campbell was a heavy smoker. It was quite usual to see him light up to walk the 50 yards from his house to the chapel for Evensong. He smoked Senior Service - we both did actually - high tar, untipped and possibly the most lethal cigarette on the market. At one Evensong we were chatting in the interval between the Nunc Dimittis and the anthem while down below the choir sang the Creed and the responses. Campbell had swung his legs over the organ bench and was sitting facing me with his back to the console. As we chatted I saw him reach into his pocket and pull out his cigarette packet. My eyes widened as he nonchalantly extracted a cigarette and began tapping one end on the packet to compress the tobacco, talking all the while. Then, as if unaware of what he was doing, he casually put the cigarette in his mouth and brought out his lighter. Utterly horrified, I hissed urgently, ‘You can’t smoke that in here!!’ – at which Campbell dissolved into silent laughter. I had been well and truly ‘had’! Two weeks later he tried the same trick again. This time I offered him a light.

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Another story of smoking at the console told to me by a friend many years ago so I hope it can be confirmed. Bairstow was a pipe smoker and at that time the console at York M. was enclosed (I assume it's not now). He would often light up while at the console but when the fug got too much he'd open a hatch above him and the smoke would come pouring out much to the alarm of all those below who wondered whether the brigade should be called. Even if it's not true it's a nice tale.

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I rember on a holiday to Germany, my father and I came across a lovely church (cannot remember where) in the southern wine strasse, where on entering and talking to the organist who was practicing, he lit up a cigar, I asked if that was legal in Germany, well iI was only young at the time (28yrs :P ) but he said,as his full time job was as a church musician, and he was at work, he would have a smoke. I suppose you could get away with this maybe if the console was "up a height", but the cosole was of a newly built organ sat at ground level and only a few yards from the altar.

Regards

Peter

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I rember on a holiday to Germany, my father and I came across a lovely church (cannot remember where) in the southern wine strasse, where on entering and talking to the organist who was practicing, he lit up a cigar, I asked if that was legal in Germany, well iI was only young at the time (28yrs :P ) but he said,as his full time job was as a church musician, and he was at work, he would have a smoke. I suppose you could get away with this maybe if the console was "up a height", but the cosole was of a newly built organ sat at ground level and only a few yards from the altar.

Regards

Peter

 

When a student in Spain I attended Mass quite often in a little village church in Viana de Cega, near Valladolid where I was studying. The priest (now dead) would be smoking while he vested for Mass and as soon as Mass finished would get back to the sacristy and light up again before removing his vestments! Another somewhat eccentric brother I knew (of the Rosminian order, also now deceased) often lit his cigarettes from the sanctuary lamp!

 

Peter

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Guest Barry Williams
When a student in Spain I attended Mass quite often in a little village church in Viana de Cega, near Valladolid where I was studying. The priest (now dead) would be smoking while he vested for Mass and as soon as Mass finished would get back to the sacristy and light up again before removing his vestments! Another somewhat eccentric brother I knew (of the Rosminian order, also now deceased) often lit his cigarettes from the sanctuary lamp!

 

Peter

 

 

Smoking and taking snuff were both forbidden by a papal bull of 1650!

 

Barry Williams

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I rember on a holiday to Germany, my father and I came across a lovely church (cannot remember where) in the southern wine strasse, where on entering and talking to the organist who was practicing, he lit up a cigar, I asked if that was legal in Germany, well iI was only young at the time (28yrs :P ) but he said,as his full time job was as a church musician, and he was at work, he would have a smoke. I suppose you could get away with this maybe if the console was "up a height", but the cosole was of a newly built organ sat at ground level and only a few yards from the altar.

Regards

Peter

 

 

===============================

 

 

This is as nothing compared to what I found in the Netherlands when I first started going there about 30 years ago.

 

On a particularly memorable visit, (when I stayed with, and was taken around some of the finest organs in that lovely country, by a very fine organist) I was often quite taken aback to find a church caretaker mopping floors with a cigarette in his mouth, or in the more important venues, people sitting in church reading a book, enjoying a cup of coffee and smoking a cigarette or a pipe. This happened quite often until very recently at Alkmaar, but I suspect that the EU has turned a little more health-conscious and PC since then.

 

I seem to recall a notice on the organ of the Waalsekerk, Amsterdam (the Muller organ where Gustav Leonhardt was the organist), which said in both Netherlands-speak and English, "No smoking at the console please!"

 

However, the biggest surprise, (shock was no longer my reaction), was when the WIFE of my host, wandering around a small, but exquisite country church, took out a clay-pipe and proceeded to puff on the most acrid of blends; sending plumes of blue-smoke into the air.

 

Considering how priceless are the organs, and also many of the paintings by old masters in so many churches, I could never quite reconcile the smoking with the effect it may be having on such treasures. I wasn't too bothered about the religious aspects, because I tend to agree with the view that the church is just a building like any other, and the spiritual temple that of humanity.

 

I am also informed that the organ of the Royal Albert Hall once had a well-used ashtray sitting there, with lots of burn-marks in the wood, when a longer piece resulted in a fag rolling off and burning away!

 

MM

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Smoking and taking snuff were both forbidden by a papal bull of 1650!

 

Barry Williams

 

But Benedict XVI is reputed to be a 20 Malborough a day man!

 

Peter

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Another funny story came to mind which I had forgotten about until this last week, and which should delight Jenny Setchell.

 

An organist was invited to a fancy-dress party organised by parish-members as a fund-raising exercise. Children went as ghouls and witches, Little Red Riding Hood, princesses, scary animals and, in one case, as a little red-devil complete with pointed-tail and horns. The adults, less successfully, went variously as 'Farmer Giles,' monks, nuns, the Grim Reaper and other well hackneyed objects of curiosity.

 

One of the adults arrived dressed (very convincingly), as Count Dracula; having gone to great lengths to do justice to his role. He had obtained plastic fangs from Woolworths, a black cape hired from a theatrical shop, smeared fake-blood around his mouth, and even gone to the discomfort of obtaining clear-red contact lenses. The whole thing was terribly realistic, and quite alarming; some children bursting into tears as he bared his teeth at them and breathed huskily.

 

It wasn't so much human-blood on which he imbibed; more "Bull's Blood", but it was red-enough, and alcoholic enough, which was all that mattered.

 

By the end of the evening, many people were a little worse for wear, as they departed in taxis, but Count Dracula was only a student at the time, and therefore queued for the last bus into town; rather drunk, swaying perilously and with the cape drawn tightly around his body against the cold.

 

With now blurred vision from the powerful effects of the Bull's Blood, "Count Dracula" almost missed his stop, and with an inebriate lunge, launched himself towards the steps of the open-platform, double-deck bus; immediately tripping on his black-cape and plunging headlong down them. Barely touching the rear-platform of the old bus, Count Dracula bounced onto the pavement in a crumpled heap. Quite unconcerned, the bus-conductor rang the bell and the bus set-off, leaving the unfortunate Count Dracula lying dazed on the pavement.

 

A few moments later, the living-dead was discovered by a policemen on the beat, but at the same time, a passing taxi came to a halt, and various princes, potentates and one Tom Thumb leapt out; having recognised Count Dracula lying there semi-concious.

 

The policeman didn't do much to assist the afflicted.....they never do.....but as he grasped for his radio, he looked upwards; his eyes searching for the name of the street. Instead, they fell upon the brass plate on the door, announcing that the building outside that of which Count Dracula lay slumped and dazed, was used as the offices and collection clinic of the local Blood Transfusion Service.

 

The unfortunate policeman's face turned a slightly whiter shade of pale than normal at this point, but the fellow fancy-dress party-goers tried to re-assure him.

 

"It's all right," said one, "it's just our church organist.He's had a bit to drink."

 

Count Dracula, with almost full conscience regained, fixed his red eyes upon the constable, opened his mouth, bared his fangs and confirmed his identity with a husky, "Aye!"

 

:unsure:

 

MM

 

 

PS: This is a true story, and if the initials DHB mean anything to anyone in the Halifax area, they will know who it was!

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Muso,

 

Thanks for that Dracula story: almost cried with laughgter upon reading it.

 

Dave

 

 

 

Another funny story came to mind which I had forgotten about until this last week, and which should delight Jenny Setchell.

 

An organist was invited to a fancy-dress party organised by parish-members as a fund-raising exercise. Children went as ghouls and witches, Little Red Riding Hood, princesses, scary animals and, in one case, as a little red-devil complete with pointed-tail and horns. The adults, less successfully, went variously as 'Farmer Giles,' monks, nuns, the Grim Reaper and other well hackneyed objects of curiosity.

 

One of the adults arrived dressed (very convincingly), as Count Dracula; having gone to great lengths to do justice to his role. He had obtained plastic fangs from Woolworths, a black cape hired from a theatrical shop, smeared fake-blood around his mouth, and even gone to the discomfort of obtaining clear-red contact lenses. The whole thing was terribly realistic, and quite alarming; some children bursting into tears as he bared his teeth at them and breathed huskily.

 

It wasn't so much human-blood on which he imbibed; more "Bull's Blood", but it was red-enough, and alcoholic enough, which was all that mattered.

 

By the end of the evening, many people were a little worse for wear, as they departed in taxis, but Count Dracula was only a student at the time, and therefore queued for the last bus into town; rather drunk, swaying perilously and with the cape drawn tightly around his body against the cold.

 

With now blurred vision from the powerful effects of the Bull's Blood, "Count Dracula" almost missed his stop, and with an inebriate lunge, launched himself towards the steps of the open-platform, double-deck bus; immediately tripping on his black-cape and plunging headlong down them. Barely touching the rear-platform of the old bus, Count Dracula bounced onto the pavement in a crumpled heap. Quite unconcerned, the bus-conductor rang the bell and the bus set-off, leaving the unfortunate Count Dracula lying dazed on the pavement.

 

A few moments later, the living-dead was discovered by a policemen on the beat, but at the same time, a passing taxi came to a halt, and various princes, potentates and one Tom Thumb leapt out; having recognised Count Dracula lying there semi-concious.

 

The policeman didn't do much to assist the afflicted.....they never do.....but as he grasped for his radio, he looked upwards; his eyes searching for the name of the street. Instead, they fell upon the brass plate on the door, announcing that the building outside that of which Count Dracula lay slumped and dazed, was used as the offices and collection clinic of the local Blood Transfusion Service.

 

The unfortunate policeman's face turned a slightly whiter shade of pale than normal at this point, but the fellow fancy-dress party-goers tried to re-assure him.

 

"It's all right," said one, "it's just our church organist.He's had a bit to drink."

 

Count Dracula, with almost full conscience regained, fixed his red eyes upon the constable, opened his mouth, bared his fangs and confirmed his identity with a husky, "Aye!"

 

B)

 

MM

PS: This is a true story, and if the initials DHB mean anything to anyone in the Halifax area, they will know who it was!

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Count Dracula, with almost full conscience regained, fixed his red eyes upon the constable, opened his mouth, bared his fangs and confirmed his identity with a husky, "Aye!"

 

:o

 

MM

PS: This is a true story, and if the initials DHB mean anything to anyone in the Halifax area, they will know who it was!

You're a ripper, MM!! :rolleyes::blink::P Loved it - thanks a zillion!

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The reason I'm searching for organ stories is that I'm preparing a book for publication containing tales from the organ loft - or console -or at least something to do with the organ. Many of the tales already on this board are also about choirs - I think they would take a separate book, so at the moment I'm keeping it strictly to organs.

 

So far I have approached about 266 organists from around the world to contribute (and am still writing frantically). People who will be contributing include Christopher Herrick, Dame Gillian Weir, Massimo Nosetti, Roman Krasnovsky, Gordon Stewart, Hans Hielscher, Robert Ampt, Jennifer Bate, and a host of others.

 

This is just an update for those of you whom I have pestered about organ yarns - the list of contacted organists and builders and camp followers has now passed the 700 mark and still climbing. But with such a large forest of material to comb through I've fallen short of my Christmas deadline to get the book completed, printed and available. BUT: never fear, it's coming! Much better to be a good, readable result than hastily cobbled together.

 

So I'm still always keen to hear from people with their favourite yarns and memories - and to that end I'm about to put up an online page where you can write your stories directly. I'll post that up here when it's ready. And thanks to all of you who already contacted me - I do hope I have managed to reply to you all.

 

Meanwhile, back to the sifting and writing lark. This must surely be one of the happiest jobs in the world... :rolleyes:

cheers

Churchmouse

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Guest Lee Blick
the list of contacted organists and builders and camp followers

 

I'm sure not all connected with the organ world are that way. :rolleyes:

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Hello,

 

Oh dear! Another creeps out of the woodwork which I had forgotten about until I mentioned a name in a previous post.

 

This story concerns Simon Gledhill, the very talented international theatre organist, who studied whatever he studied at Cambridge, in between touring the world as a performer, appearing with Carlo Curley and cutting CD's.

 

Anyway......the story goes like this:-

 

Simon Gledhill attended a classical organ recital at one of the Cambridge College Chapels, and afterwards, he shuffled up to the recitalist, (an organ-scholar at the chapel), to offer his thanks and congratulations.

 

No sooner had he greeted the organ-scholar, the poison vitriol surfaced, when he said, "Well, I'm very surprised to see a mere theatre organist here! I thought I played quite well though, did you enjoy it?"

 

Being a talented Grade 8 pianist as well as an organist, Simon tapped his foot and eyeballed the organ-scholar; coming out with the devastating reply, "Well, to be absolutely honest, when I was awake I was bored!"

 

:angry:

 

MM

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