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What Do You Expect For £20k?


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Picture this. A small parish church has a two-manual organ, built in 1876, enlarged by someone else in 1891 and restored by someone unknown in 1960-1:

 

Gt: 8 8 8 4 4 Sw-to-Gt

Sw: 8 8 8 8 4 16 8 Octave, Suboctave

Ped: Bourdon, Echo Bourdon, Gt-to-Ped, Sw-to-Ped

 

Hope Jones would have been proud of it, given the dedication with which it has been assured that none of the stops blends. The Violin Diapason can cut diamonds; the Cornopean can saw down forests. But at least you can swamp a lot of this raucousness simply by drawing the enormous Gt Open.

 

Only about 75% of the keys now work. The pipes are choked with dirt and many are off-speech, there are wind leaks, etc, etc. Hardly surprising, given that no major work has been done for over 40 years.

 

It is touch and go whether the organ is worth saving. Eventually the church opts to retain it at a cost of £20,000. This price includes three tonal modifications: (1) the Great Salicional becomes a Dulciana; (2) a Fifteenth is added to the Great and (3) the Pedal Bourdon is extended to an 8ft Flute.

 

The restoration was completed two years ago. The other day I had occasion to play the instrument and noted some uneven speech in the trebles of both the reeds. Also the action, which I think must be tubular pneumatic, felt inordinately heavy on both manuals; I have played tracker instruments that are lighter.

 

My first instinct was to cry “bodge!”, but that might be unfair. I know nothing of the economics of organ building and this got me wondering. What would a really thorough restoration of an organ this size cost? (It is free-standing at the east end of the north aisle and there appears to be no space/access issues that would bump the cost up.) Given that the PCC nearly decided to ditch the organ for an electronic, the quote for its restoration might very well have been a matter of what could be achieved for a price acceptable to the church.

 

With an organ this size, what would you expect £20,000 to cover?

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Soft cleaning, without any agressive, modern product.

Re-leathering only where needed in the winding system.

Little repairs on the failing parts.

 

Point final/ Das war's/ That's it.

 

This is exactly the way such organs are restored in Belgium

now, and it works surprisingly well.

Never try to "better" it.

 

So the changes:

 

"(1) the Great Salicional becomes a Dulciana; (2) a Fifteenth is added to the Great and (3) the Pedal Bourdon is extended to an 8ft Flute."

 

I'd forget immediately, spending the money in the repairs and cleaning only.

(A change today= one other later, and, and, and. The perfect organ never exists)

 

Pierre

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Picture this. A small parish church has a two-manual organ, built in 1876, enlarged by someone else in 1891 and restored by someone unknown in 1960-1:

 

Gt: 8 8 8 4 4 Sw-to-Gt

Sw: 8 8 8 8 4 16 8 Octave, Suboctave

Ped: Bourdon, Echo Bourdon, Gt-to-Ped, Sw-to-Ped

 

 

 

 

 

My first instinct was to cry “bodge!”, but that might be unfair. I know nothing of the economics of organ building and this got me wondering. What would a really thorough restoration of an organ this size cost? (It is free-standing at the east end of the north aisle and there appears to be no space/access issues that would bump the cost up.) Given that the PCC nearly decided to ditch the organ for an electronic, the quote for its restoration might very well have been a matter of what could be achieved for a price acceptable to the church.

 

With an organ this size, what would you expect £20,000 to cover?

 

Hi

 

That really depends on who does the work! I had 3 firms estimate for the restoration of our chamber organ here at Heaton, including replacing one short-compass stop. The highest quote was4 times the lowest (both from professional organ builders) with the one we accepted being the third - closer to the higher end of the range.

 

Given what we paid - admittedly for a much older organ that had suffered at least 5 moves during its life - £20k would only cover a basic clean & getting things working - I suspect a fair proportion would have gone on pipework for the new stops (even if they were S/H some voicing would be required).

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Soft cleaning, without any agressive, modern product.

Re-leathering only where needed in the winding system.

Little repairs on the failing parts.

 

Point final/ Das war's/ That's it.

 

This is exactly the way such organs are restored in Belgium

now, and it works surprisingly well.

Never try to "better" it.

 

So the changes:

 

"(1) the Great Salicional becomes a Dulciana; (2) a Fifteenth is added to the Great and (3) the Pedal Bourdon is extended to an 8ft Flute."

 

I'd forget immediately, spending the money in the repairs and cleaning only.

(A change today= one other later, and, and, and. The perfect organ never exists)

 

Pierre

 

However, this does not address the problem that the instrument is tonally unhelpful. One cannot simply say that an organ should never be changed tonally or that it should be left in the state in which it is presently found. It does sound from the description by VH that it is unsatisfactory. There appears to be a lack of blend, with some rather cutting tonalities - and with an enormous G.O. Open Diapason. Leaving an instrument in this state may well mean that it will gradually fall into disuse - simply because it happens to make an unpleasant sound. In fact, it sounds far removed from being 'the perfect organ'.

 

Pierre, it is all very well to try to preserve things, but one cannot simply insist on that in every case, without weighing the merits (and the practicalities) of every situation. Not every organ makes a beautiful sound. This can often be more of a problem in smaller organs than in those which are of a reasonable size.

 

Having said that, even without hearing it, I cannot see the point of spending money converting a Salicional into a Dulciana - on English organs these stops are usually roughly equal in output - and often similar in timbre. Perhaps some regulation or rebalancing could have been carried-out on the more ascerbic ranks.

 

There is surely little point in preserving something which is unable effectively to perform the task for which it was acquired. Again, this organ cannot be treated solely as a historic document - it needs to be able to function on a practical level.

 

A church at which I was formerly organist possessed a two-clavier instrument of mixed parentage. It was quite incapable of supporting adequately the large congregations which gathered regularly at the time. We were fortunate in being left money earmarked for the organ project. I had no hesitation in specifying several additions, including a reed chorus on the G.O. and Pedal, alterations to the 8ft. flutes of both claviers and sundry other additions. The instrument also received a new action, capture system and a re-modelled console. I do not regret any of the changes which I made. The instrument is now acknowledged (by colleagues in the area) to be greatly improved - and far better-equipped to perform the task for which it was designed.

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"the instrument is tonally unhelpful"

(Quote)

 

Of course, on this point, we shall never agree, dear Pcnd.

 

After decades of "betterings", which ended invariably in disasters

(hotch-potches that always finished on the trash, because tinkered with organs

lose their value completely, like the Joconde would if "corrected" with acrilyc paint),

we have learnt in Belgium that a "tonally unhelpful" organ exists in our heads only.

Nobody ever designed any organ to be a bad one -save cheap jobs the worms already

ate-.

 

Pierre

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"the instrument is tonally unhelpful"

(Quote)

 

Of course, on this point, we shall never agree, dear Pcnd.

 

After decades of "betterings", which ended invariably in disasters

(hotch-potches that always finished on the trash, because tinkered with organs

lose their value completely, like the Joconde would if "corrected" with acrilyc paint),

we have learnt in Belgium that a "tonally unhelpful" organ exists in our heads only.

Nobody ever designed any organ to be a bad one -save cheap jobs the worms already

ate-.

 

Pierre

 

 

I'm afraid, Pierre, that Belgium must be much better served by its organbuilders than we have been if you cannot sympathise with a situation where an organ is quite simply musically inadequate. I completely accept that one should not spoil an organ which is in any way already complete and coherent as a musical instrument, but where the case is one of an organ by a (let's be kind) middling-ability builder with an inadequate specification - no proper chorus, for example, I think small changes can make a huge difference.

 

If one stores redundant pipework carefully so that present changes can be reversed, I think that such work is not only 'not doing any harm' but can do a lot of good. As pcnd says, a poor organ is more likely to remain in use if such changes as octave transposition of lower pitches takes place. I should declare an interest in that I have carried out precisely such works over the years and have no feelings of guilt about it. Now if I'd cut down wonderful strings to make useless mutations, well, there I agree with you.

 

On Saturday I am due to play in a composite recital given on one of the most famous romantic organs in London. This organ was recently restored by Harrison and Harrison (its original makers) who returned several stops to their normal functions after changes in the 1970s but....this is where you might disagree with them....they have retained (albeit re-regulated) a later quint mixture because it was decided that the organ would be very much less effective without it. This attitude serves both the church and its musicians well, and I don't think the original builder would have too much to complain about either.

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On Saturday I am due to play in a composite recital given on one of the most famous romantic organs in London. This organ was recently restored by Harrison and Harrison (its original makers) who returned several stops to their normal functions after changes in the 1970s but....this is where you might disagree with them....they have retained (albeit re-regulated) a later quint mixture because it was decided that the organ would be very much less effective without it. This attitude serves both the church and its musicians well, and I don't think the original builder would have too much to complain about either.

 

I wish you all the best for your recital, Cynic.

 

If I am thinking of the correct instrument, are you playing anything which features the gorgeous strings or the Echo Claribel on the Choir Organ? This organ has an almost inexhaustible variety of soft to mf ranks, all of which are excellent examples of the voicer's art.

 

Regarding the G.O. quint Mixture - am I correct in thinking that the composition has also been slightly re-arranged? I seem to recall that it was a

IV-rank 19-22-26-29* mixture when I played it and it now commences as a III-rank mixture (15-19-22) - but increases to four ranks further up the compass.

 

I spent a number of happy hours on this instrument as a student - and once played it for a Chinese wedding. Have H&H removed the unsightly extra draw-stops below the key bench, which were installed by a former organist (Dr. Eric Arnold), and which used to operate a couple of nasty electronic 32ft. basses?

 

 

 

* This replaced the former standard H&H Harmonics in 1957.

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I wish you all the best for your recital, Cynic.

 

If I am thinking of the correct instrument, are you playing anything which features the gorgeous strings or the Echo Claribel on the Choir Organ? This organ has an almost inexhaustible variety of soft to mf ranks, all of which are excellent examples of the voicer's art.

 

Regarding the G.O. quint Mixture - am I correct in thinking that the composition has also been slightly re-arranged? I seem to recall that it was a

IV-rank 19-22-26-29* mixture when I played it and it now commences as a III-rank mixture (15-19-22) - but increases to four ranks further up the compass.

 

I spent a number of happy hours on this instrument as a student - and once played it for a Chinese wedding. Have H&H removed the unsightly extra draw-stops below the key bench, which were installed by a former organist (Dr. Eric Arnold), and which used to operate a couple of nasty electronic 32ft. basses?

* This replaced the former standard H&H Harmonics in 1957.

 

My ignorance is going to show again! Actually, I've never yet been in the church let alone tried the organ.

I will be on a bit of a learning curve for this 'do' (but it's in an excellent cause - tribute recital for the late Colin Goulden)...I only have about 10 minutes of the programme to provide. I'm sure others will exploit it all expertly even if I play safe. [And yes, you have guessed the organ correctly.]

 

The Harmonics has been replaced (i.e. there is a new one in keeping with the original concept); as I said before, the additional Great mixture has been retained after small adjustments.

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My ignorance is going to show again! Actually, I've never yet been in the church let alone tried the organ.

I will be on a bit of a learning curve for this 'do' (but it's in an excellent cause - tribute recital for the late Colin Goulden)...I only have about 10 minutes of the programme to provide. I'm sure others will exploit it all expertly even if I play safe. [And yes, you have guessed the organ correctly.]

 

The Harmonics has been replaced (i.e. there is a new one in keeping with the original concept); as I said before, the additional Great mixture has been retained after small adjustments.

 

Thank you, Cynic.

 

I think that you will like this instrument - I will be interested to hear your views on it after the event.

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Thank you, Cynic.

 

I think that you will like this instrument - I will be interested to hear your views on it after the event.

 

And don't forget the former Gloucester Cathedral Tuba!

 

AJJ

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"...Belgium must be much better served by its organbuilders than we have been ..."

(Quote)

 

This is of course possible, as we had extraordinary baroque and romantic builders here.

(To the point I am conviced our Le Picard organs could be better suited to Grigny than

18th century french organs. But to explain why would fill a whole thread).

 

But why, then, are those "inferior" british organs so much appreciated the other side

of the Channel, whenever they land in the Netherlands or Germany ?

(Belgium will follow if ever there is some money again).

 

Pierre

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"...Belgium must be much better served by its organbuilders than we have been ..."

(Quote)

 

This is of course possible, as we had extraordinary baroque and romantic builders here.

(To the point I am conviced our Le Picard organs could be better suited to Grigny than

18th century french organs. But to explain why would fill a whole thread).

 

But why, then, are those "inferior" british organs so much appreciated the other side

of the Channel, whenever they land in the Netherlands or Germany ?

(Belgium will follow if ever there is some money again).

 

Pierre

 

 

Ah well then, Pierre - the grass is always greener....

 

You may find that if you heard the instrument, you would also conclude that it did leave something to be desired - to say the least.

 

Whilst I have not heard this particular organ, I have heard plenty like it. Sometimes a stop is just too unmusical (by any standards) simply to leave alone.

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And don't forget the former Gloucester Cathedral Tuba!

 

AJJ

 

I was trying not to mention this rank!

 

Actually, I have a vague memory of trying a couple of notes (since I was aware of its provenance) - and thinking that it did appear to be rather out of scale with the size of the church - which, compared to Gloucester Cathedral, is considerably smaller.

 

I much preferred the Orchestral Trumpet - which was revoiced (when the 1911 rebuild was nearing completion), to satisfy Walter Vale's exacting requirements.

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Excuse my ignorance but I can't help hoping that at least some of the publicity is a bit more forthcoming about time, date and venue <_<

 

 

No secrecy exactly, only I'm not sure just how public an event this is.

I'll give you the information now since I don't think anyone would mind a few extra 'keenies'.

 

Saturday's recital (17th Nov) is being arranged by The Organ Club because Colin was one of our all-time Leading Lights. The players are to be myself, Robin Coxon (currently President), David Gammie, Harold Britton, Adrian Gunning and Gerard Brooks (but not necessarily in that order). It will be at 2.30pm at All Saints' Margaret Street (probably admission free but with a collection); there is also a Memorial Service at 11.30am (earlier the same day) at All Souls' Langham Place, where Colin was Assistant Organist and Organ Curator for many years.

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I was trying not to mention this rank!

 

Actually, I have a vague memory of trying a couple of notes (since I was aware of its provenance) - and thinking that it did appear to be rather out of scale with the size of the church - which, compared to Gloucester Cathedral, is considerably smaller.

I much preferred the Orchestral Trumpet - which was revoiced (when the 1911 rebuild was nearing completion), to satisfy Walter Vale's exacting requirements.

 

To put it mildly!

 

AJJ

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

Financial things, budgets and ceilings: these are really difficult areas to discuss with some churches as so few people fully understand the implications of 'doing up' the organ. I think every builder also will have a different approach. Perhaps the most costly quote at the outset might be a worthwhile investment for the future as certain jobs might be included that are not entirely a priority. For example the re-leathering of bellows that would necessitate dismantling a good part of the instrument again in another decade.

But, how far will £20,000 go? Not so far really in today's money - certainly in the UK. The overheads, pensions and tax take so much. One only has to scrutinize a service bill for a car to find that the actual replacement cost by mechanics of a necessary part seems quite disproportionate to the cost of the item.

As a OA for my Diocese, I try to urge churches to have a realistic on-going maintenance so that many minor faults can be corrected on routine visits. It (in my mind) should be seen as that extra form of insurance. If things are not done on a proper basis, these small minor faults grow into a substantial catalogue and before long, all conspire to render the instrument unplayable.

There is the consideration of how 'musical' the particular organ is. There comes the time when one reaches a threshold of restoration cost falling into the 'new organ' territory. This is a difficult and emotive subject as the 'musical' means so much to so many. The one thing that I become entirely passionate about is the fact that many High-Romantic instruments are needing considerable rebuilds and the cost every generation or generation and a half is lumbered with a catastrophic financial burden. Electrics and other wizard things are frequently the cause of much difficulty. But if they are there, I suppose they need attention if they go wrong. I know of one cathedral organ (H & H) that lasted a nice 50 years or so with its pneumatics. Then it went electric - twice in 30 years. The last rescue (not rebuild - I say), cost the same amount as the totally new organ going into St John's College, Oxford. Elsewhere I read and hear of hundreds of thousands to be spent on work. Two financial figures that people have been writing about on here concerning rebuilding/restoring/tweaking organs - is the same figure for the entirely new organ in St Louis, Paris or two brand new organs like St John's. I only quote these two organs, because they are the only figures I know and thus I can speak decisively about it.

I am worried that many instruments are in most ancient buildings and often the building must take financial priority. Therefore, I gradually am coming to the conclusion that we must spend every penny as wisely as possible, not for now, but for those that come after us. It is they who undoubtedly will have a far higher bill to pay than we have now, if some strong, decisive and heart-felt decisions are not made now. So - just as some vast machines appeared 150 years ago to replace elegant 17th and 18th Century instruments, I do think that we must seriously make the same radical replacements to provide lasting instruments. If a substantial organ will demand a major restoration in 30 or 40 years I think it a doomed article.

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" I do think that we must seriously make the same radical replacements to provide lasting instruments. "

(Quote)

 

Well, I won't start (again) a polemic here....

Just one point.

The great french builder, Aubertin, with his excellent co-worker,

Michel Gaillard, has a second highmark in his works.

Namely -sit down please-: they are very great in restoring of

late-romantic and post-romantic organs.

Michel Gaillard even built a complete new pneumatic organ (with ancient pipes).

 

It is here:

http://eisenberg.pagesperso-orange.fr/orgues/bergheim.htm

 

Enough for today.

 

Pierre

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
" I do think that we must seriously make the same radical replacements to provide lasting instruments. "

(Quote)

 

Well, I won't start (again) a polemic here....

Just one point.

The great french builder, Aubertin, with his excellent co-worker,

Michel Gaillard, has a second highmark in his works.

Namely -sit down please-: they are very great in restoring of

late-romantic and post-romantic organs.

Michel Gaillard even built a complete new pneumatic organ (with ancient pipes).

 

It is here:

http://eisenberg.pagesperso-orange.fr/orgues/bergheim.htm

 

Enough for today.

 

Pierre

 

Brilliant isn't it? Pneumatics and Barker Lever work! It will last for ages as in Thann. They got rid of all the electrics. Deo Gratias. And what voicing, too. Utterly stupendous.

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Brilliant isn't it? Pneumatics and Baker Lever work! It will last for ages in Thann. They got rid of all the electrics. Deo Gratias.

 

More than brillant: beautifully voiced also.

(Why not have them in England restoring some things, while building also french organs ?).

I want them in Belgium too -whenever some money comes back, as always- .

 

Pierre

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
More than brillant: beautifully voiced also.

(Why not have them in England restoring some things, while building also french organs ?).

I want them in Belgium too -whenever some money comes back, as always- .

 

Pierre

 

Indeed. What a revelation we would have. But it takes an age to 'open the window'. However, I would say that M. Aubertin has not created any French Style organs in the UK. What we have and about to have, are just organs for today without any allegiance to any 'school'. One of the most difficult hurdles that we have in the UK is that so few people have actually made the journey from these shores to play his organs. The greater percentage of people on this Forum (I dare bet) have yet to even hear a CD even though there are well over 100 made. C'est la vie.

All the best,

N

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I'm afraid, Pierre, that Belgium must be much better served by its organbuilders than we have been if you cannot sympathise with a situation where an organ is quite simply musically inadequate. I completely accept that one should not spoil an organ which is in any way already complete and coherent as a musical instrument, but where the case is one of an organ by a (let's be kind) middling-ability builder with an inadequate specification - no proper chorus, for example, I think small changes can make a huge difference.

 

Indeed. It is vital that we learn to sympathise with good instruments whatever their style, but at the same time to remember that there have always been bad organ builders building terrible organs.

 

I am confronted over and over again when wearing my consultant's hat with the situation of a cash-strapped parish deciding to "restore" -meaning repair, more or less - an instrument which has often not been playable for decades, spending (for them at least) a good deal of money on it, and then finding that the action is so terrible that no-one wants to play the thing (in this part of the world the action is usually worse than the sound....). Often one can see straight away that they aren't going to have more than a few years joy with it - and you can bet the won't be doing it again, but will buy a toaster.

 

Chuck out the warped trackers and use new ones.....or whatever it takes to get the organ really playable; and if the shortcomings are tonal ones, be very sure that they aren't just possibly real ones. Nothing is gained by the assumption that the impression that an organ sounds terrible is in fact a reflection of personal prejudice.... it may be, but it may equally not be. Self-reflection is hard to learn, is it not? But the reflex judgement that the builder of the organ always knew best is actually no more worthy than its opposite.

 

Cheers

B

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