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How Not To Build A New Organ


Jeremy Jones
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The story behind Manders heroic efforts at a new build at St Peter's, St Louis in the US in your portfolio section is surely a good example of how not to build a new organ, and well worth reading.

 

Perhaps the coup de grace on this project, which I notice has diplomatically not been mentioned but which I had heard about from another source, was that so much of the Manders team's good work at voicing the instrument was summarily undone once the opening recital had been given when carpet was put down all the way down the central aisle by the client.

 

Is the customer always right?

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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Guest Geoff McMahon

Sadly, it is true that the central run of carpet (which one can just see in the photograph) was introduced once we were safely out of the way, but equally sadly, before the opening concert. Much to the consternation of the incumbent, the organist and I proceeded to take all the seat cushions out of the pews and to pile them up in various parts of the rest of the church complex. That helped a little. But what took even me by surprise was the effect of that strip of carpet in the church. There is a compromise in the layout and situation of that organ and I think it would have been better as a two manual instrument if one considers the organ on its own. One has to accept that there is an argument that the third manual is necessary for the liturgy and the accompaniment of the choir in particular. I don't personally go along with it, but this is point of view and not fact. But the organ worked and was used in its incomplete state for the first time in a hastily arranged service on the afternoon of the 11th of September, hours after the destruction of the World Trade Center. The organ had a presence in the room in spite of the chamber locations. I was surprised frankly that it worked as well as it did. It reverberated around the church rather well. But when the carpet went in, that all went out. Somebody going to the church now would probably not complain or notice, but the difference is marked. Now the organ sounds as if it is in the chancel area rather than in the body of the church. The sound is much more focused which in this instance is not an advantage at all.

 

We did our best. The case is very open in design, so much so that if you look at it head on, it looks a little sparse. But you don't see it that way usually and having it open is an advantage in getting the sound out. The Swell reeds are excellent, very largely because they are in the front of the swell box, so also in the front of the organ. The Great reeds are at the back of the organ (possibly a mistake in layout, but not something which could have been done differently anyway) are stunning in the organ, but (to me) a little disappointing in the church even before the carpet went in. The piece in the Portfolio mentions that the shallots of the 32ft are leathered. What it does not mention is that I leathered them on site having sweat blood for half a day in trying to make a decent match between the half length 32ft 8ve and the 16ft 8ve (or more accurately, the other way about of course). That organ presented us with challenges on a number of fronts, but challenges are fun and I don't have a bad feeling about it at all.

 

John Pike Mander

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That organ presented us with challenges on a number of fronts, but challenges are fun and I don't have a bad feeling about it at all.

I think it is good that you were able to take some positive aspects from the project, and you probably learn more from these situations than when everything goes swimmingly. Mention of looking at the case head on, do my eyes deceive me or are some of the case front pipes not symmetircal?

 

Jeremy Jones

London

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Guest Barry Oakley

Unless I have not read the text correctly, the specification reads great, choir, swell and solo. Clearly the stops listed under solo are the pedal organ. Have I got that right?

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Guest Geoff McMahon
I think it is good that you were able to take some positive aspects from the project, and you probably learn more from these situations than when everything goes swimmingly. Mention of looking at the case head on, do my eyes deceive me or are some of the case front pipes not symmetircal?

 

Jeremy Jones

London

 

I had never really thought of it that way, but certainly problems and challenges can be good teachers and that can be useful for other instances where there are not problems. The cases are indeed different. The right hand case is the Pedal of course and there are different pipes to accommodate. The manual case has pipes from both the Great Open Diapason and the Choir Principal in it. Rather than put in dummy pipes or do something contrived for the Pedal case, we thought we would be honest and allow the cases to be similar but different. Nobody has complained yet.

 

 

John Pike Mander

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