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Save The British Organ Heritage


Pierre Lauwers

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Although I don't think I've ever actually heard the organ or attended a service there, I have been in the church a number of times (years ago I had a girlfriend who lived very nearby at Fisherton Island, not to mention many SCF's) and I've always got the impression that they took their musical tradition very seriously, with ambitious music lists and an organist who seemed to have been there a long time. I think he had initials GS or something like that.

 

Fashions in liturgy and church music do change and, certainly in my recent experience, there seem to be encouraging signs of the start of a return to more traditional forms of both. I am sure the church and Mr Heckelphone should be encouraged to do what he is suggesting. If they still can maintain Choral Evensong, despite the competition from the bigger place down the road, they can't be doing too badly.

 

Malcolm

 

 

The GS was a chap named Garnet Swatridge who was an average organist but a very good choir trainer. For some 30 or so years he maintained a pretty good choir of boys and men. I don't know the current organist, but the choirmaster was (many years ago) my school music teacher. We used to hold school services in the church and for my final two years I played the organ for the school carol service. I remember lots of stops, a very gentle tone and a terribly heavy action!

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I must be being very thick today (more than usual, even). I assume pcnd's reference to a misogynist has something to do with a rather sulky former Prime Minister.

 

Going back to St T's, I'm sure I've read recently (perhaps on another website) that Heckelphone has just made the action on the organ much lighter. There's a couple of 3 manual instruments in central Brighton that would benefit greatly from this treatment - St Mary's (Bevington) and St Martin's (Hill), especially the latter. Both have recently been given BIOS certificates.

 

Malcolm

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Well, they've now had three organists since 2000, and are spending a lot of time devising a Mission Action Plan. In practice this will mean thinking up ways to spoil what is still a very attractive church, full of important furnishings.

 

Mission Action Plan needn't be about carpets and canned music. I think this is an important misconception to lay to rest. I personally believe it has a lot more to do with an institution tacitly accepting that it went the wrong way in recent years, and devising a realistic and useful strategy for assessing how to enhance its own relevance to the community in all sorts of ways - as bringer of comfort, as place of learning, as concert venue and in terms of hospitality. This is made all the more important in light of the big pointy job up the other end of the high street. An AM congregation of 250 or so against that sort of competition suggests to me that they are doing all the right things, and happily doing so without dumbing down.

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Mission Action Plan needn't be about carpets and canned music. I think this is an important misconception to lay to rest. I personally believe it has a lot more to do with an institution tacitly accepting that it went the wrong way in recent years, and devising a realistic and useful strategy for assessing how to enhance its own relevance to the community in all sorts of ways - as bringer of comfort, as place of learning, as concert venue and in terms of hospitality. This is made all the more important in light of the big pointy job up the other end of the high street. An AM congregation of 250 or so against that sort of competition suggests to me that they are doing all the right things, and happily doing so without dumbing down.

 

 

I wish I had your confidence...

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Mission Action Plan needn't be about carpets and canned music. I think this is an important misconception to lay to rest. I personally believe it has a lot more to do with an institution tacitly accepting that it went the wrong way in recent years, and devising a realistic and useful strategy for assessing how to enhance its own relevance to the community in all sorts of ways - as bringer of comfort, as place of learning, as concert venue and in terms of hospitality. This is made all the more important in light of the big pointy job up the other end of the high street. An AM congregation of 250 or so against that sort of competition suggests to me that they are doing all the right things, and happily doing so without dumbing down.

 

 

To put this into some sort of context, I can confidently say that ANY Anglicn church in central Brighton would be overjoyed if it got a Sunday morning congregation approaching anywhere near 250 - most get less than half that number, some struggling to get even 50.

 

There are, of course, many more churches in central Brighton, but that is another story.

 

Malcolm

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I'm sorry to be a terrible spoilsport, but I should point out something which, as far as I can recall, hasn't appeared on this thread yet. (Please feel free to correct me on this point.) The vast majority of churchgoers would know relatively little/next to nothing about organs, yet it is people such as these who would be involved in making decisions about organs. Even if we organ-lovers can easily see the merits of a particular instrument, or its historical importance, even if it's not to our taste (let's ignore the question of objectivity in such judgements for a moment), how on earth are we to persuade those not in the know that an instrument for which they are responsible is worth maintaining? If an instrument is not in good working order, it won't sound good for all the world, even if all that needs doing is a particular kind of renovation, for example, repairing split soundboards, or sorting a leak in the wind supply, etc. It may have the best pipework ever made, but if it's not working properly, it won't sound as it should, and thus persuading a church of its merits and getting it renovated may be very difficult, unless someone who is in the know is involved. In addition, if it can't do the job that is required of it in a particular church, for example, if it is at just the right volume for accompanying the choir but too quiet for a full congregation, then any investment is that bit less likely to be forthcoming.

 

Another important issue is money. In many cases, an organ may have been the gift of a wealthy benefactor, or a church in a once-prosperous area may have been able to pay for an organ at one time. If a church's financial situation is such that it barely keeps going anyway, it doesn't really make sense to spend a large proportion of their money on maintaining an organ. It does seem to me that many (smaller) churches require little more than a machine for playing hymns, and perhaps the odd voluntary for funerals and weddings. In such churches, if a new organ is needed, the provision of a good-quality smaller organ whose upkeep costs are much smaller, and which can do all that the church asks of it, is of much greater advantage to everyone than a larger organ. The main reason for wanting an unnecessarily large organ is vanity, whether that of a benefactor, or of an organist!

 

I don't intend to be comprehensive in my amateur-ish assessment of the threats facing our organ heritage, but I think I should point out another foe, namely self-proclaimed church modernisers (in the Anglican churches). These people have a deep-seated antagonism towards anything that smacks of traditionalism (by definition, just in case anyone wishes to accuse me of generalising), and the organ is just one of many of their pet peeves. Of course, I don't wish to deny people the opportunity to worship in the way they see fit, and ultimately everyone has to make their own spiritual journey, but all I see from self-proclaimed church modernisers is another kind of iconoclasm, partly guided by a Romantic notion that any order or discipline is antithetical to freedom (I have seen this at first hand spelt out by the actions and practices certain modernising clergymen, and for my part think it's complete bunkum), but also a Puritan antipathy towards anything that smacks of High Church. This latter point is obviously informed by the former. Choirs and organs are clearly the most obvious manifestation of discipline and order in worship, and are also, for obvious reasons, associated with High Church, but in the Anglican church the tradition of organ and choral music has stubbornly survived, despite all that's been thrown at it, including Cromwell et al. Ironically, the main excuse given for not having a choir by such modernisers as I have met is that is detracts from congregational singning, whereas my own experience tells me that a congregation often needs a strong lead from a choir (or at the very least a dedicated group of leaders in the singing, called codwyr canu in the Welsh chapel tradition). It is to these self-proclaimed modernisers that we need to appeal, if we possibly can, if we are to have a chance of saving our organs before it becomes too late.

 

Thank you very much for this post which (I'm afraid, alarmingly) sums up the situation very well indeed. I particularly like the way Mr.Bach (whoops! I suppose it could be Ms Bach) completely nails the subject of unnecessarily large organs*. Unfortunately, I cannot think of anywhere the text

"The main reason for wanting an unnecessarily large organ is vanity, whether that of a benefactor, or of an organist!"

could be posted where the culprits would ever see it. Part of the nature of being OTT in your decisions is that you completely miss the fact yourself!

 

*It is those instruments that present the biggest problem to those that come after. There are two things to be said for them, however, which are

1. a larger than usual instrument will have the chance of attracting a good player, all other things being equal.

2. An instrument that already has everything anyone could possibly want ought to escape being added to - ranks on clamps that block the passage board, tubular pneumatic chests scattered around in spaces that ought to be left clear etc. etc.

 

As to how do you justify spending huge sums on instruments, try the following:

1. properly maintaining a well-made pipe organ preserves one of the church's assets with the longevity and durability that no electronic organ can so far claim to have (pace Allens, who make the outrageous claim 'the most successful organ-builder in history')

2. repairing/cleaning an existing organ is doing for the next generation what your predecessors have done for you i.e. providing and passing on something worthy

 

I often wonder what happened to 'only the best is good enough for God' which I used to hear repeated frequently in my early years? Judging from many churches I see (of various denominations), largely gone is the overt and un-embarrassed quest for truth and excellence. It has been replaced by the anxiety to do/say/sing nothing that could even slightly offend an agnostic novice. Mind you, I am a middle-aged man, and it is in the nature of middle age that one looks back and notices with sorrow how everything has 'gone to the dogs'!

 

Forget relevance for a moment (!) I want to share with you a truly fabulous tale I heard yesterday.

It concerns a country church which physically stands in a green and well-established diocese.

I'll precis the story as far as I can. I believe every word of this story is true. I hope that enough of you get to enjoy it before some well-intentioned but suspicious moderator removes it from the board. Out of respect for the living, I have avoided including identifying information.

 

The church in question was provided by a benefactor many years ago, originally built because of a disagreement with the diocese. Said benefactor endowed it well, left funds in appropriately rigidly-designed trusts for the purpose and it flourished. This little church operated independently from the diocese for many years before being fully adopted, serving as a daughter church to a larger one fairly close by. It stands in a small village, and (as is often the case) the church provided a focal point for many citizens who kept it in excellent order, even though the services dwindled to a very small number.

 

You are way ahead of me - of course it was suddenly announced that there would be no more services, the church would close. To emphasise the point, an expert declared that the fabric was unsafe. The congregation were given no chance to rescue anything and after the customary period for objections, in which many objections were received but ignored, the doors not only closed, but the locks were changed and all possible methods of ingress firmly boarded over. So far as the villagers knew, still inside the church were many costly gifts, in particular an expensively-repaired altar frontal restored only the previous year. Every approach to the diocese was rebuffed, or so I understand.

 

One local farmer moonlights as a church organist, playing weekly for services on a three-manual rattletrap in a Victorian church just outside the old town centre of the county town. A resourceful man, having given this sore point his 'best shot' publicly he kept his powder dry for some months.

 

Providence and the farmer go hand in hand. A property developer appears on the scene, he is interested in a small parcel of the farmer's land for his dream house; he and the farmer do a particularly clever deal. Planning permission will not be given for a normal house on the desired parcel of land - but (upon certain undertakings) the farmer is prepared to lend his friend a field of cows for two years, the new dwelling thus becomes a worker's cottage and subject to fewer planning restrictions. In exchange - in fact, in complete purchase of the land required - he asks the developer to buy for him (and eventually the village itself) the deeds to the church and its land which (you guessed it) were promptly sold at a pretty knock-down price by the diocese because they confidently expected that complete destruction would follow.

 

A little time passes, all the legal side of the various property transfers is complete .. the time has come for a representative of the diocese to bring over the keys of the church. A date and time is agreed. When the official arrives, he is greeted by a huge crowd of happy villagers - so many that he turns to flee (I kid you not). Behind him blocking the road have appeared several farm vehicles. He is suddenly aware that the church is not only no longer the property of the diocese, but is actually going to be used again!!

 

How can this story show the Church of England in a worse light? Not easily, but the story continues.

A shocked diocesan hierarchy suddenly realises that it has been out-manouvred. An edict goes out from on high:

'no clergy who wish to retain their pensions must ever officiate!'

The villagers are quite shocked when they eventually see inside. The church has been gutted, save the pews and a tatty organ. When parishioners ask, they are informed that all the costly fittings, including a brass eagle, the special altar frontal etc. have been either sold on or put safely beyond reach.

 

Memorial brasses have gone, of course. Fortunately, surviving relatives were able to prove their connection and reluctantly no valid legal objection can be found that can stop them being recovered. The church now boasts new heating (donated, of course), and every effort has gone into making it fit for the worship of Almighty God once again - what splendid people and what a clever benefactor.

 

Bringing this over-long post back to the topic: of course, our farmer friend has worked on the old and tatty organ himself, renewing rusty wires and failing buttons. It works!

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Splendid story Cynic (wish I knew where it was!).

 

I've thought something like it might happen, the way things seem to be going. Although, whenever I've mentioned whimsically anything like it to clergy of my acquaintance they have pooh-poohed the idea saying that the laity would always need a parish embedded in diocesan structures and with an ordained priest.

 

My suspicion was that sooner or later a number of enthusiastic church musicians might well purchase a church somewhere and provide a diet of Matins, Evensong, Compline ... for similarly inclined people!

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My suspicion was that sooner or later a number of enthusiastic church musicians might well purchase a church somewhere and provide a diet of Matins, Evensong, Compline ... for similarly inclined people!

 

 

Which would display a singular ignorance of the purpose and nature of the church as an institution and worshipping community.

 

Malcolm

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Cynic kindly answered my request for information about the wherabouts of the subject of his interesting story, and pointed me at the places where the whole story is in the public domain.

 

Thank you Cynic.

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Which would display a singular ignorance of the purpose and nature of the church as an institution and worshipping community.

 

Malcolm

That begs some questions that are off topic for this forum (as does the conversion of certain Anglican clergy to Rome), but it is not at least possible that it would provide some people with a meaningful mode of worship not easily available elsewhere?

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That begs some questions that are off topic for this forum (as does the conversion of certain Anglican clergy to Rome), but it is not at least possible that it would provide some people with a meaningful mode of worship not easily available elsewhere?

 

Certainly the Church has to be a worshipping community (and it IS veering dangerously off topic, but where are the fora for this sort of discussion?). Meaning no disrespect to a previous post, I look back over a number of years and see again and again how many of my choir men AND their families have made choices to worship elsewhere when a new vicar dumbs down everything, all for the sake of relevance and needding a 'new kind of music'. Four of my previous parishes ‘lost’ their music and entire choirs . . . and years later want it all back, but with less use of the organ! Choirmen can be strong minded people, but bring along young families to church who are then involved in church activities and so on. In some of my previous parishes clergy have upset the boat so much that when three choirmen threw up their hands in horror and left there was a large hole in the pews because their families went with them. In my own parish I am wrestling with the validity of preparing three worthy voluntaries every Sunday for tiny congregations, (no prizes for guessing who caused them to vote with their feet). Acoustics are great but what am I playing for?

Saving our organ heritage is fine and to be commended - but given the number of fine organs that are used less and less in their church role, we are going to need a very large warehouse for them all!

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There are almost countless blogs &c., on-line where people discuss their liturgical &c., preferences and hates. Some of them get very heated and uncharitable and I wouldn't like to vouch for the sanity of everyone who contributes to them.

 

The London church I attend on Sundays whenever possible has an excellent blog called "Ex-fide" (written by a very erudite young sacristan-cum-subdeacon-cum-server) and a popular one is called "Liturgical notes" written by Fr John Hunwicke who compiles a well known Ordo and used to teach Classics at Lancing. A large number of parishes have their own blogs. I have to say I have got rather fed-up with most of them, especially as it seems that the Ordinariate is the only thing most of them talk about at the moment. I'm not sure how useful these blogs are.

 

I agree, though, that this is not an appropriate forum for such discussion unless it relates directly to organs.

 

Malcolm

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Splendid story Cynic (wish I knew where it was!).

 

I've thought something like it might happen, the way things seem to be going. Although, whenever I've mentioned whimsically anything like it to clergy of my acquaintance they have pooh-poohed the idea saying that the laity would always need a parish embedded in diocesan structures and with an ordained priest.

My suspicion was that sooner or later a number of enthusiastic church musicians might well purchase a church somewhere and provide a diet of Matins, Evensong, Compline ... for similarly inclined people!

 

Is it essential for a group of people who wish to worship collectively to have an ordained priest in attendance? Can they not talk to God without the presence of an intermediary?

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I'd hope that other areas of the world were proving that factions aren't really the way to go about things.

 

So, get stuck in. Anyone serious about saving the future of ministry will be doing a bit more than hanging fairy lights on the altar front and singing Bind us together. That's exactly what the C of E's current exercises appear to be trying to do away with.

 

My most recent experience of anything calling itself a mission audit involved doubling the number of choral evensongs held each month, since it was clear from the collections that more people came on weeks where a full-blown service was held. Be optimistic and positive; find somewhere where your skill is wanted and appreciated (some clergyman somewhere will be delighted to meet you, even if they don't currently have anyone able to play trad music and run a choir); but be prepared to get involved at the grass roots and make the case for the spiritual growth and outreach potential music has, to anyone who will listen. No, you shouldn't have to, but you will need to, as most of your audience won't have experienced it first- or even second-hand.

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Thank you very much for this post which (I'm afraid, alarmingly) sums up the situation very well indeed. I particularly like the way Mr.Bach (whoops! I suppose it could be Ms Bach) completely nails the subject of unnecessarily large organs*. Unfortunately, I cannot think of anywhere the text

"The main reason for wanting an unnecessarily large organ is vanity, whether that of a benefactor, or of an organist!"

could be posted where the culprits would ever see it. Part of the nature of being OTT in your decisions is that you completely miss the fact yourself!

 

*It is those instruments that present the biggest problem to those that come after. There are two things to be said for them, however, which are

1. a larger than usual instrument will have the chance of attracting a good player, all other things being equal.

2. An instrument that already has everything anyone could possibly want ought to escape being added to - ranks on clamps that block the passage board, tubular pneumatic chests scattered around in spaces that ought to be left clear etc. etc.

 

As to how do you justify spending huge sums on instruments, try the following:

1. properly maintaining a well-made pipe organ preserves one of the church's assets with the longevity and durability that no electronic organ can so far claim to have (pace Allens, who make the outrageous claim 'the most successful organ-builder in history')

2. repairing/cleaning an existing organ is doing for the next generation what your predecessors have done for you i.e. providing and passing on something worthy

 

I often wonder what happened to 'only the best is good enough for God' which I used to hear repeated frequently in my early years? Judging from many churches I see (of various denominations), largely gone is the overt and un-embarrassed quest for truth and excellence. It has been replaced by the anxiety to do/say/sing nothing that could even slightly offend an agnostic novice. Mind you, I am a middle-aged man, and it is in the nature of middle age that one looks back and notices with sorrow how everything has 'gone to the dogs'!

 

"Gwas Bach" is the Welsh for "dogsbody" or "errand boy"!

 

Thank you for thanking me! I just pointed out what I have seen, living as I do in a musical wilderness (in relative terms). I agree with all your addenda, I did not intend to be entirely comprehensive. I have tried to make the point to local clergy that a choir brings extra congregation in because the choir families come along to services to listen to their relatives. The "agnostic novice" comment seems very apt to me. There's a desperate scrabble to be accessible, with plain liturgies bordering on the theadbare, and a desperate fear of saying anything vaguely controversial, or seeming too stuffy or traditional. It flatters no-one, is rather patronising to people who don't go to church regularly, and just makes the church look weak. In fact, people who want church weddings but don't otherwise go to church want the traditional! What a sad irony, that the iconoclasts don't understand this!

 

I have been asked by local clergy and churchwardens about electronic organs, and I always tell them that a small pipe organ is more cost-effective, being more reliable than electronics, depreciating much less in value, and not becoming obsolete within 5 years! In addition, for an electronic organ to resonate within a space properly as a pipe organ would, the speakers need to be pretty big, taking up just as much space, if not more, than a pipe organ of the appropriate size.

 

How can this story show the Church of England in a worse light? Not easily

 

I happen to know the Wallbanks well, they were the couple caught in the long legal battle with the church over glebe land. I´m sure they could tell you all about the C of E's darker side.

 

Speaking of organ heritage, the church where this organ (http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=D00050) resides/resided is now redundant. Unfortunately, since the church now contains a dwelling built inside it, so if the organ is still there, it might take persuading to ask to remove the organ. It has an HOC, so presumably it's worth keeping.

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"Gwas Bach" is the Welsh for "dogsbody" or "errand boy"!

 

snip

 

Speaking of organ heritage, the church where this organ (http://www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=D00050*) resides/resided is now redundant. Unfortunately, since the church now contains a dwelling built inside it, so if the organ is still there, it might take persuading to ask to remove the organ. It has an HOC, so presumably it's worth keeping.

 

 

*Christ Church, Welshpool. If this is the one on the top of a hill (south) and opposite the other, with the town down below both, then I've played it...some years ago, mind.

 

I thought it was nice - not the same sort of beast as the parish church's Father Willis of course, but still a decent musical instrument.

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Mr. Cynic, I see from your website that you were once at Shrewsbury, so your having played at Welshpool doesn't surprise me, but did you ever play the Willis at St David's, Newtown, further up the Severn ? (www.npor.org.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch.cgi?Fn=Rsearch&rec_index=N11857) I never got the chance to hear it myself, and it was sold off for scrap a few years ago now. :D All I have is reports that it was a gem, but I can tell you little else.

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'the Willis at St David's, Newtown, further up the Severn'

 

 

Oh dear. 'sold off for scrap.? I don't know how much it had been altered (NPOR is pretty garbled), but it was perhaps Willis's first substantial organ apart from Gloucester, and was opened in September 1847.

 

I spoke to the people with the house inside Christ Church Welshpool a few years ago, and they were very pleasant, and wanted to keep the organ and use it perhaps for concerts.

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Oh dear. 'sold off for scrap.? I don't know how much it had been altered (NPOR is pretty garbled), but it was perhaps Willis's first substantial organ apart from Gloucester, and was opened in September 1847.

 

This is what I'd heard second-hand. The church is definitely closed, has been bought by a Mr. Powell and is going to be turned into a children's fun centre or some such thing. I had been to the church only a few times; for one thing, it was in the next diocese to me. I wonder if there is something in this idea of state protection for organs of value.

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I'd agree with state protection being desirable if it were to be flexible and very carefully organised.

 

Unfortunately, regulation could too easily become the fiefdom of particular interest groups, given the current fashion to place regulation in the hands of outside agencies, and work against the interests of the communities in which organs may exist to serve an evolving purpose. Where organs are in the position of being de facto 'museum pieces' then of course no one would oppose protection.

 

A traditionalist at heart, I am nevertheless very conscious that many British instruments are the sum of their alterations over the years, and, whilst some are currently not in perhaps the most felicitous state, others are very usable and serve their milieu well - and the process of 'organic' natural selection may take care of the stragglers in time!

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