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Highest/scariest Organ Loft?

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I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. I am ***** scared of heights and nothing on this planet would get me up there! Even St Michaels Croydon worried me quite a bit at first! Anyone else uncomfortable with heights and had to play with your fingernails digging into the top manual?

 

Regards, Oliver.

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Guest Cynic
I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. I am ***** scared of heights and nothing on this planet would get me up there! Even St Michaels Croydon worried me quite a bit at first! Anyone else uncomfortable with heights and had to play with your fingernails digging into the top manual?

 

Regards, Oliver.

 

 

Not a problem as to height specifically, but the scariest place to turn pages so far in our travels has been Shrewsbury School Chapel where the R&D console is (or was when I last played) at right angles to a very low parapet wall. The player is fine, but there's a good twenty foot drop onto marble for a dozy page-turner who stands to the right of the bench 'as usual' and fails to take care. There's enough room between the console and a pillar for a serious, indeed life-threatening accident.

 

Sur le continent, access to many organ consoles in west end positions is by rickety stairs and aged hand-rails. I seem to remember Sarlat Cathedral and St.Jan's Catholic Cathedral, s'Herzogenbosch as cases in point. One often risks Psitticosis in France because access to so many lofts is via rooms virtually filled with Guano built up over many years. Let's face it, the further Health and Safety officials are kept from organs the better: if they took some of these cases seriously we'd find ourselves restricted from playing and/or maintaining some of the most fascinating organs in the world.

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I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. I am ***** scared of heights and nothing on this planet would get me up there! Even St Michaels Croydon worried me quite a bit at first! Anyone else uncomfortable with heights and had to play with your fingernails digging into the top manual?

 

Regards, Oliver.

 

You have my sympathy, Oliver. I'm a chicken when it comes to heights too! Every time I play an organ up in a gallery, even one storey high, (and it's reasonably frequently that I do) I have to remind myself not to look behind me. That picture of Cologne Cathedral makes me go weak at the knees.

 

A little while back I was taking a rehearsal in a certain church. After the rehearsal, when most of the people had departed, the verger noticed that one of the ceiling lights was giving out quite a bit of smoke. He - and the other three of us left behind - was rather worried about the church going up in flames, and fetched a long ladder to investigate. He got half-way up before deciding that he'd had enough of that altitude, and subequently retreated. The other chap then had an attempt at it, got to about the same height, and decided it was too much for him too. The other person there - my wife - of course politely declined. So there I was, with the ceiling of a rather beautiful church looking as if it was about to catch light, the only person there who might be prevailed upon to scale the heights. Well, I got to the top (eventually!) with my stomach in my mouth and with thoughts of the fire brigade being called not only to extinguish a fire but also to rescue me from gripping the ladder like grim death to find the remains of a moth and a thick spider's web gently burning itself out.... :)

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I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. I am ***** scared of heights and nothing on this planet would get me up there! ...

Some numbers and facts, just to inspire your imagination a bit more ...

The nave of Cologne Cathedral is about 40 m high (roughly 140 feet). The organ sits on triforium level, or rather is suspended there on four steel rods that are fixed in a square of steel beams over the vault. So, sitting on the bench, you are about half way up, with 20 m (ca. 70 ft) between you an the floor. The case itself is about 19 m in height. You get there by way of an external escalator and a system of open gangways on top of the north aisle vaulting. Then you open a tiny door behind the organ and step over to the loft -- it is a bit like stepping on a plank from one ship to another --, take some stairs down, and there you are, sitting safely at the keydesk with its chewy tracker action.

 

I visited there when the organ was under construction in 1997, doing research for an article in "Orgel International". There was a suspended construction platform crossing the nave entirely on triforium level. The case was already in place, complete with most of the display pipes, but still empty, and hidden behind scaffolding all the way up to the vaulting. I climbed up the many steel ladders until my feet literally refused to go on (one ladder further, and I could have touched the vaulting). Glancing to either side, I found myself in he very middle of the length of the nave, and having a steep view of the main gate to the left and the high altar to the right, both in a distant haze. Fine, I thought, this is a view usually exclusively taken by angels visiting occasionally. What a privilege. And having had really, really enough of it, I started my descent, which took me much longer than the way up.

 

The organ is quite fascinatingly engineered, and there is some remarkable organbuilding to be seen there. Soundwise, I did not find it entirely satisfying, though the sound of the pedal is remarkably successful, even beautiful.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. ...

"The organ is comprised of a back positive, a keyboard register, a swell box and pedal work. 3963 pipes can be played on 53 registers."

Oooh now, this is a description that really tells you everything you need to know.

(BTW, actually what *is* a keyboard register?)

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. I am ***** scared of heights and nothing on this planet would get me up there! Even St Michaels Croydon worried me quite a bit at first! Anyone else uncomfortable with heights and had to play with your fingernails digging into the top manual?

 

Regards, Oliver.

 

 

I don't like crossing bridges, and sometimes just the sight of chaps up a scaffolding doing all sorts of complicated things with hammers makes me queazy. But curiously I don't mind flying.....

 

St German's in Cardiff is pretty hairy, and probably the scariest I have played and insist on someone being there - usually Jane - just to be a security blanket; even my own church (St Peter's Cardiff) worries me sometimes! I played St Michael's Croydon a few years ago but curiously can't remember how I felt. At St David's Hall you have a feeling of exposure and it's quite high up. But no, St German's takes some beating!

 

Peter

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"The organ is comprised of a back positive, a keyboard register, a swell box and pedal work. 3963 pipes can be played on 53 registers."

Oooh now, this is a description that really tells you everything you need to know.

(BTW, actually what *is* a keyboard register?)

 

Best,

Friedrich

 

Dodgy translation, that's what. Best to read the page in German.

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Many years ago, a cathedral choir visited Trier Cathedral. I don't know the height of the console, but if memory serves, it was probably higher than the new one in Cologne. The Assistant Organist didn't like heights and declined to play. The Organ Scholar (now DoM at another cathedral) took over and acquitted himself very well.

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I saw this page of Cologne Cathedral http://www.koelner-dom.de/16955.html?&L=1 and the Klais mounted high up on the wall. I am ***** scared of heights and nothing on this planet would get me up there! Even St Michaels Croydon worried me quite a bit at first! Anyone else uncomfortable with heights and had to play with your fingernails digging into the top manual?

 

Regards, Oliver.

I have no head for heights either, but I'm generally OK with organ lofts. Lichfield worried me a little, its quite high up and feels as if there's absolutely nothing behind you (although you couldn't possibly fall out), but once I got sat down & started it was not a problem.

 

I used to be very active as a bell ringer and once forced myself to overcome my fears enough to get onto the ringing platform in Pershore Abbey. Never again!

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How about Chartres and Bruxelles cathedrals?

In both these cases, the organist has behind himself some piece of casework that screens him from the empty space. In Chartres, it is the huge Positif de dos behind which the player is buried; in Bruxelles, designer Simon Platt included a small fake-Rückpositiv in the railing behind the bench.

 

But then, there are steep stairs leading from the triforium down to the loft. Can't be so very nice to look down from the top of those.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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St Michael's Croydon is indeed vertiginous, likewise St Mary's Brighton with its Bevington organ in a high gallery.

 

It is not just the height that makes you feel a bit queasy, but the closeness of the bench to the drop, and the comparatively low level of the wall behind you when you play.

 

Westminster Cathedral is high up, and there is very little room behind the bench, but you feel fairly closed in and secure.

 

The organ of La Madeleine in Paris is very high up, and the console is set out on a platform springing out of the organ case. There is a railing round the edge, but the platform is very narrow, and I felt distinctly uneasy approaching the low balustrade. It is a long way down !

 

Other than this, the most dizzying experience I have had in a cathedral was actually climbing the tower of Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. As you approach the top, you go up a stone staircase winding round the outside of the bell chamber. The combination of the vast space, the low wall, and the enormous drop beneath made me hold on to the handrail and press against the wall very hard indeed.

 

I used to sing with a now famous Cathedral organist when he ran our parish church choir. He used to suffer badly from vertigo and I know it stopped him playing on at least one or two occasions. I always remember visiting New York with him on a choir tour. In an heroic attempt to overcome his vertigo by the 'kill or cure' method, he very bravely went on to the rooftop of the World Trade Centre and walked round, clutching his wife hard. It is the only time in my life I have seen anyone look, literally, green with sickness and fear.

 

M

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Guest Barry Williams

The worst loft I have experienced was Liverpool Cathedral Lady Chapel. When I played it many years ago there was no barrier behind the organist. My wife, who has a head for heights, was not happy turning pages with so low a parapet.

 

Nowadays, Health & Safety requirements apply, though apparently not always to organ builders. Even Guildford's staircase is altered to comply and I think that at one time there were going to be rails put behind its little Lady Chapel organ.

 

Barry Williams

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Nowadays, Health & Safety requirements apply, though apparently not always to organ builders.

The organ loft of a former church of mine was a rather worrying place to be. It was on three levels. To climb up to the Great wasn't too bad. It was getting up to the Swell that was rather worrying! One had to climb up an awkward ladder and then - somehow! - turn round through 180 degrees at the very top of the ladder and, without any handholds, mount a wobbly and very narrow gangplank to walk across to the front of the Swell organ. If you fell one way, it was two storeys down to the ground. If you fell the other way, it was only one storey, but you'd land on the Great pipework which would finish you off just as effectively. I used to walk across it on all fours. I didn't mind tuning the odd pipe that went out of tune on the Great organ, but it would have to be quite badly out of tune on the Swell for me to consider going up there.

 

Every organ tuner who tuned it said to me that they wouldn't be allowed to tune the Swell if "Health and Safety" saw it although, of course, they all did.

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The organ loft of a former church of mine was a rather worrying place to be. It was on three levels. To climb up to the Great wasn't too bad. It was getting up to the Swell that was rather worrying! One had to climb up an awkward ladder and then - somehow! - turn round through 180 degrees at the very top of the ladder and, without any handholds, mount a wobbly and very narrow gangplank to walk across to the front of the Swell organ. If you fell one way, it was two storeys down to the ground. If you fell the other way, it was only one storey, but you'd land on the Great pipework which would finish you off just as effectively. I used to walk across it on all fours. I didn't mind tuning the odd pipe that went out of tune on the Great organ, but it would have to be quite badly out of tune on the Swell for me to consider going up there.

 

Every organ tuner who tuned it said to me that they wouldn't be allowed to tune the Swell if "Health and Safety" saw it although, of course, they all did.

 

Mmmm, I think I know where that is, and they're still all saying that it shouldn't be allowed!!!

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Mmmm, I think I know where that is, and they're still all saying that it shouldn't be allowed!!!

Yep, you've guessed it! I had an idea you would...... :lol:

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I heard the proverbial story of a novice organ tuner being taken to Armley and after tuning the famous Schultz asking if there was anything else left to do. "Yes, it's your job to clean the gold ttrumpet that the angel at the top of the case is playing". Any somehow he managed to shimmy up and do just that.

 

On a related note, I just posted a question on the "nuts and bolts" forum asking for suggestions as to nightmare organs to tune.

 

Contrabombarde

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Sur le continent, access to many organ consoles in west end positions is by rickety stairs and aged hand-rails. I seem to remember [...] St.Jan's Catholic Cathedral, s'Herzogenbosch

 

You mean this staircase, Paul? ISTR you can just get your heels on the treads on the way down. Superb instrument though, and a fabulous case. Did they stop drilling when you where there? They didn't when I was :(. Here's a picture of the organ from the church floor. Note the size of the organist in the right hand corner. He's six foot two and standing on a podium! He's called Rein Donkersloot and he's a pupil of Ben van Oosten at the Rotterdam Conservatoire. We were impressed by both his playing and his modesty.

 

There's another Dutch organ tour next April, if anyone's interested. Last year's was excellent. Get in touch if you want more details.

 

My worst height experience was on a KWVR staff outing to the Forth Bridge about 25 years ago. We walked to the middle on the deck at rail level. Then our guide opened a trap door. Through the opening we could see the sea some 150ft below. We descended an iron ladder and stepped off it onto a plank about 8" wide, with a piece of wire rope to hold on to at one side, and nothing but a 130ft drop to the water at the other - and every time a train went across the bridge (which was pretty often) the whole thing bounced up and down by about four inches.

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It's nearly 30 years ago that I was there but I recall that the approach to the organ at Marienkirche, Lubeck was a hairy experience - not that I went up, I just heard about it afterwards. Has anyone here been up there?

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Again, not in terms of height, but the organ loft at Exeter College, Oxford is quite dangerous. For some reason, at the time of the installation of the new 'Walker' organ, the case designer had seen fit to lower the impost dramatically. The result is that page-turners have to bend almost double and players need to exercise great care when arriving at or leaving the organ. I almost knocked myself out twice. I cannot imagine why this was seen as a good idea.

 

Another 'dangerous' organ loft (and I can supply photographs, should anyone desire to see them), was that in a church in Santiago di Compostela, Spain. I played for a choir tour there last October. We arrived at this particular church one hour before the concert was due to start. The choir were to sing from the Sanctuary steps and I was in a stone west gallery about forty feet from the pavement of the church and around a hundred feet from the Sanctuary. The organ was a small short compass one-clavier instrument, with split ranks - most of which were trompetas or bajoncillos. The pipes of the longest reed (most were en chamade) were mounted on the front of the case, just above my head. The organ case faced across the width of the gallery, so looking at the conductor was interesting. The pedals were twelve or thirteen inch-square studs, which protruded from the foot-board at the base of the case. Two of the reeds were operated by knee-levers.

 

However, the worst part was that the entire gallery smelled as though the resident organist had recently lost a hard-fought battle with incontinence. Further investigation revealed a large brass urn behind the organ. Further, further investigation was considered unwise by my nose.

 

I have to say that trying to sight-read accompaniments (sent at the last minute), whilst turning my head through ninety degrees, in an attempt to see the conductor's right hand occasionally drift into view - and improvise two solos - was almost as dangerous as the organ loft of Chester Cathedral or Saint Stephen's, Bournemouth....

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Guest Barry Williams

"....almost as dangerous as the organ loft of Chester Cathedral. "

 

Someone told me that an assistant organist left the Chester post because of severe vertigo. I do not know who it was or even if the story was true.

 

Barry Williams

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"....almost as dangerous as the organ loft of Chester Cathedral. "

 

Someone told me that an assistant organist left the Chester post because of severe vertigo. I do not know who it was or even if the story was true.

 

Barry Williams

Do I remember hearing - a number of years ago - that Roger Sayer left a job as an Assistant Organist somewhere or other after only a couple of weeks and returned to his previous post because of severe vertigo?

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Chester - yes, Roger Sayer did leave fairly promptly for this reason.

Off topic, but in case you hadn't heard, Philip Rushforth has been appointed DOM at Chester. To avoid any suggestion of nepotism, I understand that the interviews and tests were very vigorous, overseen by an RSCM representative and someone from the clergy at Ely. Well deserved appointment.

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

Try St Mary's Nottingham if you want the opportunity to cause yourself serious head injuries on the steel girder as you climb up to the Marcussen. I did on several occasions. The organ platform itself is potentially scary, though quite why it didn't affect me I don't know (I certainly was green on the way up the Eiffel Tower).

 

For danger and potential 'vertigo' mixed with a fascinating trip through the innards of the organ (32 flue, 32 reed, 16 metal, 8 and 4 flutes all at floor level) on the way to the console, and no guard whatever except behind the player (at triforium level), try St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. I suppose Lichfield must be similar.

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I reckon the old loft at Truro cathedral must have seemed pretty daunting. I haven't been up there but it's a fair old way and the route up there, I believe, was also fairly cirtuitous and winding.

Martin.

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