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Scariest Organs To Tune?


Contrabombarde
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I hope noone gets prosecuted by our dear friends at the HSE for responding to this thread...but reflecting on a similar thread elsewhere on scary organ lofts, I couldn't help wonder which the most difficult organs to tune are, or how tuners access apparently inaccessible instruments. The Willis in Wolverhampton parish church springs to mind, diaposons high above the nave and no obvious way to get at them or at the case, but there are many other organs i can think of that I wouldn't want to have to tune. How do you do it in the trade, do you "cheat" by hiring scaffolding, or do you ever have to admit defeat and leave part of the organ untuned?

 

Just curious!

 

Contrabombarde

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Most Cathedral organs involve a marathon to get from console to pipes, or from one side to the other. At Worcester for instance one has to go out onto the roof to eventually get to the pipes! For a tuner I think Sky Hooks come as standard with a set of doubles!

 

Most parish organs are a nightmare to get into. Usually because the access to organs are universally perceived to be junk storerooms, normally by flower ladies. First job is often to remove 27 old flower stands, 14 vacuum cleaners (usually dating from the early 1960s) and 4 jars of unidentifiable liquid!

 

Two of my worst experiences were Liverpool Met and Coventry Cathedral. Both have ladders which start off in the basement so you have an extremely long way to climb before you get into the job. The Met has a long ladder in a very small concrete square 'tube' - so narrow that at two points you have to go up on the diagonal as there isn't enought space for your shoulders! not good! One time as I was coming down, I felt something sliding down my leg - after a moment of panic (or was that expectation?)I realised it was my mobile phone, which ended up on my shoe. Imagine the scene - stuck up a ladder, with a mobile phone siting on your shoe. What would you do next?

Anyway, Coventry is slightly better in that there is plenty of space around you, but it results in a leap of faith from the ladder to each 'platform'.

 

I believe Blackburn Cathedral was a nightmare to get into before the 'recent' work.

 

On a more serious note I remember, many years ago, listening to a record of Westminster Cathedral. When I read the sleeve notes I saw that the recording was dedicated to 'XXX the organ tuner who fell to his death while tuning the organ for this recording' (Ashamed to say I can't remember who it was)

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On a more serious note I remember, many years ago, listening to a record of Westminster Cathedral. When I read the sleeve notes I saw that the recording was dedicated to 'XXX the organ tuner who fell to his death while tuning the organ for this recording' (Ashamed to say I can't remember who it was)

That's terribly sad.

 

On another thread, I mentioned an organ whose Swell box was very dangerous to access. When I spoke to one of the tuners of this instrument (about 12 years or so ago), he said that each time he climbed inside this instrument he thought of an organ tuner who had fallen a long way down onto a soundboard and had died as a result of having pipes penetrate his body. I wondered if this gruesome story was merely anecdotal, and hope it was. Has anybody any knowledge of this happening?

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I don't know of anything quite so bad as that, but the old Bath Abbey instrument was a nightmare internally, and Westminster Chapel (Willis/Rushworth) is quite special too - a real clambering act necessary to get anywhere, and when you finally balance yourself somewhere you can get at the Swell reeds, the surprise when you remember that they are on 15" is enough to topple you off.

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Guest Barry Williams

"On a more serious note I remember, many years ago, listening to a record of Westminster Cathedral. When I read the sleeve notes I saw that the recording was dedicated to 'XXX the organ tuner who fell to his death while tuning the organ for this recording' (Ashamed to say I can't remember who it was)"

 

It was Arthur Seare.

 

Barry Williams

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That's terribly sad.

 

On another thread, I mentioned an organ whose Swell box was very dangerous to access. When I spoke to one of the tuners of this instrument (about 12 years or so ago), he said that each time he climbed inside this instrument he thought of an organ tuner who had fallen a long way down onto a soundboard and had died as a result of having pipes penetrate his body. I wondered if this gruesome story was merely anecdotal, and hope it was. Has anybody any knowledge of this happening?

 

On unsaid organ did you ever work out how to get to the middle of the swell Bassoon? I haven't.

 

A friend got married a couple of years ago and I tickled the reeds, which were surprisingly easy to tune considering the 'pick 'n' mix' nature and generally poor quality of all of the reeds. Anyway, I tuned the top end and the bottom end (so fine for the Pedal reed borrowed stop) but couldn't see how to get around the Diapason to even see, let alone reach the middle! Played round it, so wasn't a problem...

 

I don't touch them normally, especially as with an organ appeal looming it works in our favour for it not to sound as good as it can! Plus it gives the French stuff a satisfying edge!!

 

P.

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I have one delight that is high up on the west wall. I have to get the double-extension wooden ladder from the side aisle and extend it to its maximum. I then Place it carefully on the polished wooden floor.... - asking myself all the while why I risk life and limb to tune 4 ranks - and rest it against the casework. With tuning tools about my person, I make the ascent and when I get up to the organ I have to heave the whole of the front grille (7ft sq) out from the bottom - at least it is hinged from the top. I didn't mention that the wooden ladder is not exactly modern and so one can wave around like a kite whilst going there. Eventually I get inside to tune the 4 ranks and then come down white-faced.

 

I wouldn't mind, but it takes about 10 minutes to tune the pipes and 50 to get in and out of the b****y thing.

 

Peter

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Guest Barry Williams
I have one delight that is high up on the west wall. I have to get the double-extension wooden ladder from the side aisle and extend it to its maximum. I then Place it carefully on the polished wooden floor.... - asking myself all the while why I risk life and limb to tune 4 ranks - and rest it against the casework. With tuning tools about my person, I make the ascent and when I get up to the organ I have to heave the whole of the front grille (7ft sq) out from the bottom - at least it is hinged from the top. I didn't mention that the wooden ladder is not exactly modern and so one can wave around like a kite whilst going there. Eventually I get inside to tune the 4 ranks and then come down white-faced.

 

I wouldn't mind, but it takes about 10 minutes to tune the pipes and 50 to get in and out of the b****y thing.

 

Peter

 

Situations like this can be made safe by the church providing a ladder with hooks and a proper latch on which to locate the hooks, thus holding the ladder in place. Anything less is dangerous. Churches that ask tuners to work in such circumstances could find themselves in trouble with the law. Members of the PCC, as trustees, could be liable.

 

Barry Williams

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Situations like this can be made safe by the church providing a ladder with hooks and a proper latch on which to locate the hooks, thus holding the ladder in place. Anything less is dangerous. Churches that ask tuners to work in such circumstances could find themselves in trouble with the law. Members of the PCC, as trustees, could be liable.

 

Barry Williams

 

 

==========================

 

 

Indeed Barry, and this was why I breathed a sigh of relief on behalf of the tuners at Blackburn Cathedral. The thing about that instrument, prior to the recent re-build, ws the fact that the organ starts, at a guess, about 30ft or more above the marble chancel floor, and has an open, functional display. There was absolutely nothing to stop the tuner pitching head-first from the end of the windchest walk-way, and down to the chancel floor, should anything go wrong.

 

Even worse, apparently, was the 8ft chamade trumpet, which is more or less nailed to the ends of the windchest on the other side of the chancel, and right at the top. At a guess, that would be at a height of well over 40ft, and I seem to recall that it was tuned on the end of a ladder.

 

I'm not sure what improvements have been made, other than the fact that the safety problem has been addressed. One thing I do know, is that the organ now has cable "fall arresters" as used by stunt-men on high-buildings, which must be very re-assuring.

 

Some of the old organs were horrendous, but then, in those days, men were men, and most had served in the armed forces.

 

MM

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On unsaid organ did you ever work out how to get to the middle of the swell Bassoon? I haven't.

Ah, yes, I remember that now! I think you'll need to develop the skills of a contortionist and also acquire x-ray vision. You'll be fine then!

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Churches that ask tuners to work in such circumstances could find themselves in trouble with the law. Members of the PCC, as trustees, could be liable.

 

How does this apply to an organist who may take the occasional trip into the organ loft to tickle the reeds?

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Guest Barry Williams
How does this apply to an organist who may take the occasional trip into the organ loft to tickle the reeds?

 

If it is not part of the organist's contractual duty to tune the instrument it would what used to be known in law (until we were stopped from using Latin) as 'volente non fit injuria', or 'no injury can be done to a willing party'. There would be no claim on the church whatsoever. (A mischievous lawyer might try and argue that an organ loft was an enticement!) Conversely, the organist would be liable for any damage caused.

 

If it is the organist's contractual duty to tune the instrument, then the same rules apply as to the official tuner and both should have the usual public indemnity insurance.

 

Climbing into an inaccessible organ loft is extremely ill-advised.

 

Barry Williams

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If it is not part of the organist's contractual duty to tune the instrument it would what used to be known in law (until we were stopped from using Latin) as 'volente non fit injuria', or 'no injury can be done to a willing party'. There would be no claim on the church whatsoever. (A mischievous lawyer might try and argue that an organ loft was an enticement!) Conversely, the organist would be liable for any damage caused.

 

If it is the organist's contractual duty to tune the instrument, then the same rules apply as to the official tuner and both should have the usual public indemnity insurance.

 

Climbing into an inaccessible organ loft is extremely ill-advised.

 

Barry Williams

In my position, I have no written contract - yet! The vicar and the churchwardens are aware that I tune the organ and correct faults from time to time. Whilst our organ loft is actually quite safe, and I know what I'm doing, I have wondered what the position would be if something did happen.

 

Thanks.

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Guest Barry Williams

Although you have no written contract, you have a contract nevertheless, albeit oral. It is wise to write down all that you are expected to do and actually do and what you are paid for the work, with other terms and conditions, such as the use of the organ, etc. Give the incumbent and pcc secretary a copy of this as a memorandum. (I will gladly check this for you.)

 

As your employer the incumbent is legally obliged to provide you with a written contract. A new form of Organist's Contract is available free as a downloadable pdf from :http://www.organistpublications.co.uk/Index.html (Go to Guidelines on the lefthand side of the page.)

 

I strongly suggest that tuning the organ should not be part of your duties, even though you may occasionally tune the instrument. All manner of legal complexities can arise if you are expected to do something that the tuner is also paid to do.

 

Barry Williams

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Ah, yes, I remember that now! I think you'll need to develop the skills of a contortionist and also acquire x-ray vision. You'll be fine then!

 

 

This fits that well-known organ-builders' maxim:

'You can either see it or reach it, never both!'

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

By far and away it is the Renaissance Organ in Metz Cathedral - not just tuning it, but getting to it to play it.

Best wishes,

N

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I believe the 'lantern' section of the Llandaff instrument is about a foot higher than can be easily reached from the highest tower scaffold the cathedral has, meaning the tuner has to clamber up said scaffold, then either jump or use a ladder balanced on top! Presumably if the Organ is to be rebuilt this problem will be sorted - I hope so.

 

I also recall, as a very junior key holder, visiting a church (a chapel in a hospital if memory serves) which had to tuned from a ladder. The tuner I was with commented that the previous time he couldn't get hold of the usual ladder, so used another which, as he wrote in the tuners book 'should have been burned years ago'. And there was one occasion when I was asked by the tuner, a rather large man, to walk up the tops of the 16' Open Wood to secure a tuning flap which was rattling, as I weighed rather less than he did. Normally this is not too bad as the rank is usually against a wall. This time it was free standing, and had a sheer drop of some 20' to a very hard lookng floor. Not fun.

 

Regards to all

 

John.

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The Willis in Wolverhampton parish church springs to mind, diaposons high above the nave and no obvious way to get at them or at the case, but there are many other organs i can think of that I wouldn't want to have to tune.

Contrabombarde

 

I used to have lessons on the Wolverhampton organ (St. Peter's) in the 70s. I can reassure you that one can get into the organ via a spiral staircase in the central tower and a door at the back corner of the organ case. It's a bit unnerving to know there's nothing underneath you when in the organ though. It's hard to believe there's a three manual Willis organ up there (including Pedal) when looking up at the case from the nave.

 

JR

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What about the old Walker (c1950) in Sherborne Abbey? My father was a chorister there when it was rebuilt and remembers one of the Walker staff saying (when the job was done) that it will sound lovely until it needs tuning, then heaven knows what will happen!

Quite how they squeezed so much into such little space is still beyond me!

Richard

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What about the old Walker (c1950) in Sherborne Abbey? My father was a chorister there when it was rebuilt and remembers one of the Walker staff saying (when the job was done) that it will sound lovely until it needs tuning, then heaven knows what will happen!

Quite how they squeezed so much into such little space is still beyond me!

Richard

 

 

Oh, you obviously didn't see it later on when that great artist John Coulson had added several additional stops, indeed something went in wherever there was a prepared for stop as Walkers had left it! At that stage (and remember that the organ at Sherborne has been rebuilt, by some calculations, more than any other in these isles) it was a thing quite unique, with some totally one-off stops too. I could state the obvious and gravely understate the situation when I say that some stops were inappropriate to a rebuilt Gray and Davison with a historic case. Even organ-building's own Dr. Shipman would not have given it some of the quasi-neo-baroque tones that it boasted for a brief while!

 

The Steiglitz III [to name but one addition....] - well, I hope never to hear its like again!

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Is Sherborne the instrument that has had three tracker actions in twenty years?

 

Barry Williams

 

I think it has that much attention, certainly. What a good thing it is to have Money!!

 

Heresy, I know, but IMHO making it quite a bit smaller and putting it on tracker action might have delighted the purists, but it just might not have been the most effective arrangement....

I know, 'soap and water'!

 

I feel sorry for decent craftsmen who have had to do as laid down by loftier minds only to see their good work undone by circumstance. Writing carefully now, (as you understand) I believe I am correct in saying that the organist who designed the latest scheme did not stay for even a year after it was finished. I wonder how long the Tickell 'version' will last!

 

Interestingly, the new Nave section is on electric action as the only practical way of solving a real problem - that of having an organ set back from the main axis of the church and sound not travelling well round corners.

There could be a certain amount of revolving in tombs going on at this solution for all that.

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