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biggestelk

Highest/scariest Organ Loft?

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What organists who suffer from vertigo should do, is to take a trip to Blackpool and go up the tower, where you can stand on a glass-floor and look down.

 

You soon get used to it if someone holds your hand. I've done it many times.......amazing how many friends you make.

 

B)

 

MM

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Guest Barry Oakley
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.

 

I wholeheartedly agree with Philip's appointment as DOM at Chester Cathedral. I'm surprised he he had never been snapped up before by some other cathedral and can only assume he had never applied for these vacancies. I've long been an admirer of his all-round capabilities as an organist and choir trainer. He did a fine job at Southwell some years ago when Paul Hale underwent hip surgery.

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So how high up is the loft at Chester, from photos it doesn't look as high as Bath Abbey?

 

I'm due to play at Truro for the first time later this year, should I be nervous?

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So how high up is the loft at Chester, from photos it doesn't look as high as Bath Abbey?

 

I'm due to play at Truro for the first time later this year, should I be nervous?

 

Truro's fine!

 

AJJ

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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.

 

I agree, it's a killer. I ended up with concussion and blood everywhere on a visit a decade or more ago. As I recall, the girder comes at the end of a short flight of steps, and somehow you just don't see it coming. This is one case where H&S considerations really do matter.

 

Moving further afield, the Kern organ at Toulouse Cathedral is pretty terrifying, requiring a trek along an open triforium and then a narrow traverse over a flimsily railed wooden bridge to reach a very cramped loft about 60 feet above the floor.

 

The Grenzing organ at Brussels Cathedral is suspended from the north triforium of the nave. After a tortuous route across the roof and through the triforium gallery you seem to launch out into the void as you step down into the swallow's nest about 6 feet lower down. Almost as disorienting is the sound of the Récit and Positif coming from beneath one's feet.

 

The loft of the Klais at Trier is also pretty vertiginous, but at least you get there by lift!

 

JS

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Moving further afield, the Kern organ at Toulouse Cathedral is pretty terrifying, requiring a trek along an open triforium and then a narrow traverse over a flimsily railed wooden bridge to reach a very cramped loft about 60 feet above the floor.

 

Do you mean http://cathedrale.toulouse.free.fr/edifice/Orgues.html perchance?

Gulp....

Oliver.

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So how high up is the loft at Chester, from photos it doesn't look as high as Bath Abbey?

 

I'm due to play at Truro for the first time later this year, should I be nervous?

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Sorry about that folks, clicked the wrong button. I don't think Chester is particularly high - I don't like heights at all, but find I can get up there without difficulty.

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Moving further afield, the Kern organ at Toulouse Cathedral is pretty terrifying, requiring a trek along an open triforium and then a narrow traverse over a flimsily railed wooden bridge to reach a very cramped loft about 60 feet above the floor.

 

Do you mean http://cathedrale.toulouse.free.fr/edifice/Orgues.html perchance?

Gulp....

Oliver.

 

Yes, thanks for the reminder in the picture! The walkway along the top of the arches between the pillars is bad enough, but I seem to remember the little wooden bridge that makes the final link to the loft was even worse. Once there, however, with the Positif behind you and a high, solid balustrade on either side, you feel a lot more secure - until, that is, you have to make your way back again.

 

JS

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Guest Cynic
Sorry about that folks, clicked the wrong button. I don't think Chester is particularly high - I don't like heights at all, but find I can get up there without difficulty.

 

 

The worrying bit about Chester is that a lot of that organ balcony is see-through (wrought-iron, isn't it?). The rail isn't that high either.

Mind you, one would have make a conscious effort to get over the top.

 

Some lofts are so safe that you practically get no view. I seem to remember that Canterbury is like this.

 

In the days before televisions, several cathedral organ console arrangements must have offered a serious challenge to coordination - reflecting the fact that (in the old days) most choirs had rather to keep with the organ (played by the boss himself) rather than a young assistant upstairs having to stick with a wayward beat somewhere downstairs and virtually out of sight. Sometimes there would seem to be no view at all without the recent blessing of TV screens, examples are Ripon, Peterborough and Ely; whereas, Exeter, Norwich, Southwell and Gloucester give [pretty] useful views down both nave and choir from the console. The one that always amused me was the old Willis console at St.Paul's where the player was completely hidden within, but little sections of (Father Smith) case could be opened from the inside - these were oblong in shape but essentially behaved like portholes. The old Truro console (mentioned earlier) was veritably 'up in the Gods' and I think I'm right in saying that using the (primitive) official sight line involved opening a hole in the floor. The Mander console at Truro is nowhere near as high, and feels completely safe. Heavyweight organists, however, beware of the back rest on the bench - or have I muddled that up with another organ? Senility may be setting in......

 

 

We were discussing unsafe lofts, Hereford is potentially unsafe. The loft is so small that one gains access by means of a specially made ladder which is not far off vertical. This goes up via a hatch in the floor, or rather a double hatch, both parts of which are usually raised. They should then really be put back down after ascent; however, anyone following you up has to come through, turn on the proverbial sixpence and shut the floor more or less exactly where they hope to stand while they chat/light up/swig from the hip-flask/turn pages. Anyone lazy who puts back down only half the floor leaves themselves a potential trap worthy of the psalmist. Oh what fun!!!

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....reflecting the fact that (in the old days) most choirs had rather to keep with the organ (played by the boss himself) rather than a young assistant upstairs having to stick with a wayward beat somewhere downstairs and virtually out of sight. Sometimes there would seem to be no view at all without the recent blessing of TV screens, examples are Ripon....

 

But don't they have that wonderful wooden hand with which to conduct from the console at Ripon?!! Or is my memory playing tricks? ;)

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Guest Cynic
But don't they have that wonderful wooden hand with which to conduct from the console at Ripon?!! Or is my memory playing tricks? ;)

 

Indeed they do - for those of you who have never seen this: there is a lever by the side of the console hidden within the Victorian case on the screen at Ripon not unlike a hand-blowing lever. It moves a larger-than full-size carved wooden hand that can be seen projecting from the organ near the middle of the underneath of the case. I heard a tale of how one day (fairly recently) some wag (N.B. not either 'wife or girlfriend' in this case) had stuck a bright yellow Marigold glove upon it, but the Dean was not amused. I think this proves my point, the hand was surely for conducting the few unaccompanied things like responses!

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Indeed they do - for those of you who have never seen this: there is a lever by the side of the console hidden within the Victorian case on the screen at Ripon not unlike a hand-blowing lever. It moves a larger-than full-size carved wooden hand that can be seen projecting from the organ near the middle of the underneath of the case. I heard a tale of how one day (fairly recently) some wag (N.B. not either 'wife or girlfriend' in this case) had stuck a bright yellow Marigold glove upon it, but the Dean was not amused. I think this proves my point, the hand was surely for conducting the few unaccompanied things like responses!

 

I took a boys and mens choir to Ripon twice in the '90s - they loved that hand (demonstrated by the organist during a rehearsal on both occasions). I cannot think of anywhere else where such a contraption appears!

Back to the original post: How about St Paul's Church Bedford. The organ is on the North side of the chancel and the console on the South in its own loft (via spiral stairs). It is not particularly high (perhaps 25 feet from ground), but there is no back rest on the bench, and behind this, the drop is straight down to the choirstalls! Just lean back a bit, forget where you are, and you are a gonna!

Paul Edwards was DoM there for some years and had a large square of wood put up behind him just in case of drowsy moments. I wonder whether that is still there?

Off-post somewhat - who else knows that organ?? c.80 speaking stops, little borrowing, yet it sounds so timid in the church!

Best wishes

Richard

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In the days before televisions, several cathedral organ console arrangements must have offered a serious challenge to coordination - reflecting the fact that (in the old days) most choirs had rather to keep with the organ (played by the boss himself) rather than a young assistant upstairs having to stick with a wayward beat somewhere downstairs and virtually out of sight. Sometimes there would seem to be no view at all without the recent blessing of TV screens

Off topic, but...

 

It was like that at Windsor too. No CCTV, no mirrors, no view. When I first arrived the choir mostly sang unconducted. The westernmost gent on cantoris and the easternmost gent on decani would discreetly beat the beginnings and ends of things and any rallentandos etc.* I would peer through the woodwork near the entrance to the loft and relay these beats to Campbell or his assistant at the organ. When services were in the nave the congregation would be greeted with the rather incongrous sight of a head and shoulders suddenly appearing above the stonework doing one-armed semaphore!

 

An accompanied choir item was rarely conducted unless it was a tricky one which the assistant played. But, except on Sundays, rarely were all three of us in the loft together. (I seem to recall hearing that in days long gone the assistant at Rochester - Joe Levett?? - was only required to attend on days when the organist was not present and it was a little like that at Windsor.)

 

Later on a lad from a local school took to coming up to the loft very regularly for Evensongs and it became quite usual for him to relay the beat while I conducted and Campbell played (or, more rarely, vice versa).

 

On days when I was playing on my own I just had to communicate with the choir by telepathy and hope for the best!

 

Apologies for dragging up memories yet again, but I thought someone might be interested in how one place used to do it.

 

* Previously I believe the two head boys on either side used to signal the starts and ends by nodding. This was certainly the case at the service I attended after my audition. One of those boys was Francis Grier, who was already well capable of accompanying a choral service, but he left the choir at the end of that term and the practice appears to have changed then.

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It was like that at Windsor too. When I first arrived the choir mostly sang unaccompanied.

Did you mean unaccompanied or unconducted?

 

An accompanied choir item was rarely conducted unless it was a tricky one which the assistant played. I seem to recall hearing that in days long gone the assistant at Rochester - Joe Levett?? - was only required to attend on days when the organist was not present.

 

Correct. The Cathedral Organist was just that - he played the organ. If he was absent, Joe played.

Many of the choir copies from Bobby Ashfield's time have a note (in ink, in Bobby's fair hand) with an up or down arrow and the word "Boy" - the middle boy on either side would signal the start or end of a piece (or section). The choir was only conducted in those days when the Supernumeraries were in (12 men rather than the usual 6, about once a month). And if something "modern" - like Leighton - was down, Bobby would play and Joe would conduct (in his own inimitable style, like making the sign of the Cross with karate chops!).

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Indeed they do - for those of you who have never seen this: there is a lever by the side of the console hidden within the Victorian case on the screen at Ripon not unlike a hand-blowing lever. It moves a larger-than full-size carved wooden hand that can be seen projecting from the organ near the middle of the underneath of the case. I heard a tale of how one day (fairly recently) some wag (N.B. not either 'wife or girlfriend' in this case) had stuck a bright yellow Marigold glove upon it, but the Dean was not amused. I think this proves my point, the hand was surely for conducting the few unaccompanied things like responses!

 

I believe Ron Perrin used it once, but the boys got the giggles. It would have been a different matter, however, in the 17th century, when the organist sat facing west in the little oriel gallery from which the hand projects. In those days it was operated by a foot pedal and the organist, of course, sitting with his back to the choir, had nothing better to do with his feet while playing.

 

JS

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Did you mean unaccompanied or unconducted?

Sorry, yes, I meant unconducted. If you find my brain, let me know.

 

Original text corrected accordingly.

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About the Toulouse cathedral organ...

 

It's pretty scary at the first time indeed, but you rapidly get used to it !

The "legend" of the cathedral organ tells that when they dismantled the previous organ (an ACC, the same period as the Madeleine in Paris, enlarged by Puget), because the wood beams supporting the organ had begun to collapse slowly, the organ suddenly "fell" of nearly one meter. You can imagine the poor organ builders inside...

( By the way, I do bitterly regret the ACC/Puget.)

 

It's also told that the voicer voiced the positif de dos facade pipes without the scaffoldings...

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Go to the Odeon, Leicester Square, sit on the organ console, ensuring the orchastra lift is at the bottom of the orchestra pit, bring the console fully up, turn round and take a bow - but only if you have a head for heights.

 

FF

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The loft at Chartres Cathedral is extremely high up but I'm not sure how it ranks in the league tables.

 

A slightly different experience, but has anyone ever experienced a "ride" on the console lift at the Odeon Leicester Square in London? - not a loft, but it's like going into the black hole of Calcutta, especially if you take it all of the way down or vica versa!

 

Neil

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A slightly different experience, but has anyone ever experienced a "ride" on the console lift at the Odeon Leicester Square in London? - not a loft, but it's like going into the black hole of Calcutta, especially if you take it all of the way down or vica versa!

 

From personal experience I should also mention that the ladder down into the relay room is precipitous in the extreme and, not having fallen from the console, I did manage to make contact with the relay room floor a little more forcibly than I would have liked!

 

S

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I have a vague memory that this organ was up high on the North side of the choir in this remarkable church (St Mary, Clumber Park) but I was only about 12 when our church choir paid a visit.

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I remember playing at All Hallows Twickenham years ago. The organ was that built for the old church at All Hallows Lombard Street by Harris, although much altered over the years. The organ is worth playing however, if you can cope with being on a gallery at the back of church, the wall of which is roughly the same height as the stool, with no rail, no bar on stool to rest your feet, and only a handful of mechanical aids to registration, meaning you have to prepare your registrations sufficiently in advance. Just to add to it, I remember starting my practice in the light but ending in the dark, meaning leaving the organ loft mean negotiating my way out in the dark. Maybe its changed now, but I must admit I was nervous.

 

Jonathan :rolleyes:

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I remember playing at All Hallows Twickenham years ago. The organ was that built for the old church at All Hallows Lombard Street by Harris, although much altered over the years. The organ is worth playing however, if you can cope with being on a gallery at the back of church, the wall of which is roughly the same height as the stool, with no rail, no bar on stool to rest your feet, and only a handful of mechanical aids to registration, meaning you have to prepare your registrations sufficiently in advance. Just to add to it, I remember starting my practice in the light but ending in the dark, meaning leaving the organ loft mean negotiating my way out in the dark. Maybe its changed now, but I must admit I was nervous.

 

Jonathan :rolleyes:

Crumbs!

 

There's a photo of it on NPOR. Although it isn't terribly clear, it looks as if they might have put up some sort of screen behind the organ console. Let's hope they have!

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Guest Cynic
Crumbs!

 

There's a photo of it on NPOR. Although it isn't terribly clear, it looks as if they might have put up some sort of screen behind the organ console. Let's hope they have!

 

I know this organ well - about a third of it is original Renatus Harris - it's very fine indeed. The handsome case includes carving ascribed to Grinling Gibbons.

It was rebuilt by Kingsgate Davidson after WW2 to a design by Cecil Clutton - so, naturally, it gained a Krummhorn unit along with some more sensible modifications. More recently the Shepherd Brothers restored it, undoing some of the previous alterations so, for instance, the original front pipes actually play again.

 

This organ is difficult to play for anyone with, shall we say, generous proportions, however, it can be done. Richard Lester while organist there in the 1980s made an excellent cassette of Stanley, Handel and Stanford. About six years ago I manged to record some items to my own satisfaction upon it, despite slowly spreading feelings of cramp during the session! Much more worrying is that the present organist (apparently) dislikes it and has acquired a toaster of some kind for the church which is in use and this gorgeous, historic thing isn't!!

 

 

To return with a jolt to the subject of this topic, the console/gallery position may look dangerous but it isn't really - this is because [lacking the unconventional physique of Zebedee from The Magic Roundabout] you would first have to extricate your lower limbs in order to scale the low gallery front. Anyone who has successfully made their way to the console is already more-or-less wedged in!

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