Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Scariest Organs To Tune?


Recommended Posts

Thanks for those fascinating illustrations.

 

Now, something I've often wondered. How the heck do you tune an en chamade reed when it's sticking out over the ether high above the floor of a cathedral, espeically if you can't get in the case immediately "behind" it so to speak without removing all the case diapasons. Or is that you how do it?

 

Curious,

 

Contrabombarde

Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks for those fascinating illustrations.

 

Now, something I've often wondered. How the heck do you tune an en chamade reed when it's sticking out over the ether high above the floor of a cathedral, espeically if you can't get in the case immediately "behind" it so to speak without removing all the case diapasons. Or is that you how do it?

 

Curious,

 

Contrabombarde

 

 

In Chamades the heavy lead block (what would in a normal reed be 'at the bottom' of the resonator, covered by a boot) usually plugs into a wooden block on the front edge of an interior chest and individual resonators usually hook into a mild steel frame or individual rods, these are virtually invisible from below. The end of the pipe nearest the organ thus has the tuning spring and assuming that the display is carefully designed these would be within arms reach from below. Even if a ladder is involved, the 'business end' is only fractionally outside the case proper. Obviously no regulation is possible at the flared end of the pipe because this would severely spoil the look of the display, quite apart from the fact that the ends of the longer pipes may be some good distance out from the case.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Whilst not strictly about tuning......my story goes back to school days in Smethwick, when our very talented and enthusiastic music teach, the sadly late John Sidebottom, had a vision of enlarging the School's rescued Compton (ex Empire Smethwick) by melding it with a 3 manual from St Chad's Smethwick, which was redundant.

 

John, with us boys, did the dismantling. The organ was located above the vestry, and spoke into the chancel and down the nave, with a piperack masking both arches.

 

Removing the Great and Choir pipes was a doddle.

Getting the soundboards out was terrifying!! We took the rails off the backs of the scrap pews lying around (the church was being demolished), and used them to slide the great, heavy contraption (and it weighed a ton!) from the organ chamber down into the chancel. How nobody was killed I cannot say.

 

After that hair raising adventure, dismantling the swell box was a breeze....NOT.

 

The swell soundboard stood behind the unenclosed choir, raised about 4-5 feet, and by that point in the procedure, stood over a gaping hole which looked down, through where the great had been to the vestry floor, maybe 30 feet below.

 

Being tall for my age, I and another lad stood on chairs inside the swell box, and held the roof up, lifting it off the dowells which secured it, whilst my "friends" removed the walls.

 

At this point the entire edifice wobbled so alarmingly (the removal of the great had also removed any stability within the building frame) that my mate and I were nearly pitched, swell box roof and all, into the void. St Chad was clearly fond of school boys (in a proper sort of way), and we were spared.

 

Happy days!

 

Will

Link to post
Share on other sites
Is Sherborne the instrument that has had three tracker actions in twenty years?

 

Barry Williams

 

Cynic is correct. This time, it also had a new coupler chassis and new soundboards. New ranks included a Gamba 8ft., Flageolet 2ft. and a Mixture III on the Choir Organ; a Flute 4ft. and a Double Trumpet 16ft. on the Swell Organ. The existing G.O: and Swell chorus reeds were also revoiced - not necessarily to their advantage.

 

However, it lost (crucially) a bold chorus Trumpet 8ft.from the Choir Organ, which used to aid projection into the Nave. In addition, the Choir Mixture was again reduced in ranks.

 

Having played the instrument both before and after the recent work, I have to say that it was louder prior to the Tickell rebuild (something which is important at Sherborne, since as it stands, it does not project well into the building). I also dislike the new ranks - there appears to be no finesse to the voicing; the Nave section actually sounds synthetic.

 

I was further disappointed with the decision to replace the mechanical action. Cynic is correct in stating that this is the third attempt since John Coulson's rebuild. It seems surprising to me that no-one questioned the wisdom of fitting yet another tracker action. The new action is not particularly light, nor did I find it easy to play cleanly on this instrument.

 

On 6th January, I had occasion to play the organ of Chichester Cathedral for the services that day. I actually switched off the new electric coupling assistance, since this action is superbly designed and is not at all uncomfortable to play - even with all four claviers coupled. However, I am delighted that this glorious instrument now possesses a Swell to Choir (which is achieved using electric contacts) and that the Solo Sub Octave now plays through the Solo to Great coupler. This organ is such a contrast to Sherborne. There is not an unpleasant sound anywhere on it. In fact, the only changes I would make (well, organists are known to be rarely completely satisfied with any particular instrument) would be to remove the G.O. Flageolet 2ft. to the Choir Organ and to use this vacant slide (and that of the Tierce, if necessary) for a Cone Gamba - which, I would suggest, is more usual in 'Hill' organs that a flute Cornet composé.

 

Unfortunately, as far as the organ of Sherborne Abbey is concerned, I think that the latest rebuild was a mistake. Perhaps it will be my next candidate for inclusion in the 'A Second Chance' thread.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Unfortunately, as far as the organ of Sherborne Abbey is concerned, I think that the latest rebuild was a mistake. Perhaps it will be my next candidate for inclusion in the 'A Second Chance' thread.

 

I think this may be a teensy bit harsh. The only bit I see as really mistaken is the attempts to excuse the weighty action and coarse reeds on the basis of a G&D pedigree which actually it no longer has.

 

Stuck right at the back of the north transept, I think action choice has virtually nothing to do with the capabilities of the instrument; you could put anything you wanted on any action in that location on as much wind as you like, and it would still be rather poor. As it stands, it's manageable and useable rather than spectacular, and much of the coarseness disappears once you go around the corner.

 

It does an adequate job of moving congregations; gives the choir an adequate experience of the accompanied Anglican repertoire; gives students at the school (who I believe use it quite a lot) an adequate experience of a large mechanical organ and managing a console. What's more, it seems to be proving reliable. I think to take the situation that has been there for some years and turn it into what it is now deserves considerable credit.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I think this may be a teensy bit harsh. The only bit I see as really mistaken is the attempts to excuse the weighty action and coarse reeds on the basis of a G&D pedigree which actually it no longer has.

 

Well, I am certainly not alone in being unimpressed with the voicing of the new ranks.

 

Stuck right at the back of the north transept, I think action choice has virtually nothing to do with the capabilities of the instrument; you could put anything you wanted on any action in that location on as much wind as you like, and it would still be rather poor. As it stands, it's manageable and useable rather than spectacular, and much of the coarseness disappears once you go around the corner.

 

I did not suggest that it had. However, in the case of this instrument, I am unconvinced that a return to a good electro-pneumatic action, with a detached console downstairs (and rather nearer the choirstalls) would not have been a better option.

 

It does an adequate job of moving congregations; gives the choir an adequate experience of the accompanied Anglican repertoire; gives students at the school (who I believe use it quite a lot) an adequate experience of a large mechanical organ and managing a console. What's more, it seems to be proving reliable. I think to take the situation that has been there for some years and turn it into what it is now deserves considerable credit.

 

Yes, but for £350,000, I would not be satisfied with 'adequate' in any of those contexts. The instrument (without the Nave section, granted) actually managed to lead congregations better before - particularly with the additional Trumpet on the Choir Organ. In fact, as Bishop's left it, there was also a 4ft. Clarion.

 

I also took a colleague with me when I went to play the rebuilt organ; he made the same criticism of the new action - as did, interestingly a former assistant, who has played the new organ and described it to me as 'deeply disappointing'.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Indeed - it IS disappointing in many respects, it is a very long way from perfect and leaves a great deal to be desired.

 

In value for money terms, £350,000 has bought them something which works reliably and is well engineered and well made, however agricultural it may feel. This is undoubtedly money better spent than the previous two occasions, which (at a cost I do not know) bought them something which DIDN'T work.

 

Perhaps an EP detached console scheme might have had more going for it - or perhaps it might have been another disaster. I think that having spent fifteen or so years selling the church authorities on the benefits of mechanical action, to totally switch tack and ask them to spend half a million quid on an electropneumatic one (like the one they were told to throw out) as an end to all their woes would have been a retrograde step politically, and one which made all the previous organists, organ advisors and organ builders look extremely foolish. They probably would have ended up with nothing at all. Mr Sentance has at least put an end (of sorts) to the saga and in the light of the seemingly insurmountable problems of the instrument, 'acceptable' and 'adequate' must surely come as a blessed relief.

 

It should be considered tonally that a good deal of the coarseness/irregularity of the reeds could owe much to the current maintenance arrangements. This seems to be a common feature on many organs attended to by the firm charged with its care.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Barry Oakley

Having looked at the NPOR listing for Sherborne Abbey I see that the pedal organ has a 32ft "Contra Batten." Could someone enlighten me, please, about such a stop as I can't find any reference elsewhere.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Having looked at the NPOR listing for Sherborne Abbey I see that the pedal organ has a 32ft "Contra Batten." Could someone enlighten me, please, about such a stop as I can't find any reference elsewhere.

 

Named after a former member of the back row of the choir, I believe.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Indeed - it IS disappointing in many respects, it is a very long way from perfect and leaves a great deal to be desired.

 

In value for money terms, £350,000 has bought them something which works reliably and is well engineered and well made, however agricultural it may feel. This is undoubtedly money better spent than the previous two occasions, which (at a cost I do not know) bought them something which DIDN'T work.

 

Surely it cannot be that well-engineered if it is that heavy? I have no problems with the mechanical actions at Chichester Cathedral or Christ Church, Oxford, for example. These are both four-clavier instruments and even with everything coupled are both more comfortable and more responsive (or, if one prefers, more user-friendly) than Sherborne.

 

Yes, the previous two actions did not work well - which is one of the reasons why I would have investigated the cost of returning to a good electro-pneumatic action. The other reason is that I regard the present console as inconvenient: it is too far from the choirstalls, it is too far from the Nave and balance is difficult to judge. Rehearsals are awkward - not least due to problems of communication (cameras and microphones can fail on occasion).

 

Perhaps an EP detached console scheme might have had more going for it - or perhaps it might have been another disaster. I think that having spent fifteen or so years selling the church authorities on the benefits of mechanical action, to totally switch tack and ask them to spend half a million quid on an electropneumatic one (like the one they were told to throw out) as an end to all their woes would have been a retrograde step politically, and one which made all the previous organists, organ advisors and organ builders look extremely foolish.

 

In the same way that Christchurch Priory were 'told' (perhaps 'forced' is a more accurate description) that they should have a mechanical action console situated upstairs in the gallery with the main organ? I cannot remember for certain that, at the time of the 1986-87 rebuild, the old action had failed totally. Remember that, even then, it was the 'trendy' thing (I use the word deliberately) to have an organ rebuilt with mechanical action. This was not necessarily the best course. In any case, as I am sure you know, to have rebuilt the organ with a new electro-pneumatic action (even with a detached console) would have been unlikely to have cost as much as £500,000.

 

Again, surely the fact that various organ builders have had to try to 'sell' the mechanical action(s) to the various organists and other church officers over the last twenty years - and the fact that this instrument is on its third transmission in the same period - should have set people thinking that perhaps this was not the only course of action worth considering.

 

They probably would have ended up with nothing at all. Mr Sentance has at least put an end (of sorts) to the saga and in the light of the seemingly insurmountable problems of the instrument, 'acceptable' and 'adequate' must surely come as a blessed relief.

 

I would not wish to quote Joseph Sentance here, but I am well-acquainted with his opinion of the rebuilt instrument - and the words 'blessed' or 'relief' did not figure in his comments!

 

It should be considered tonally that a good deal of the coarseness/irregularity of the reeds could owe much to the current maintenance arrangements. This seems to be a common feature on many organs attended to by the firm charged with its care.

 

I doubt this. I played it soon after the rebuild was completed. I did not like them then, either. As I mentioned, the G.O. and Swell chorus reeds had been specifically 'revoiced' at the time of the present work - though I cannot imagine why. It is true that the Swell 8ft. Cornopean would have benefitted from some careful regulation - but as it now stands, I find it to be quite unpleasant.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I would not wish to quote Joseph Sentance here, but I am well-acquainted with his opinion of the rebuilt instrument - and the words 'blessed' or 'relief' did not figure in his comments!

 

Fair enough to all points. I have heard JS make some unguarded remarks about it too, but the fact remains that the saga (and it was a saga) IS basically over, and that in my view is a great achievement in itself.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Having looked at the NPOR listing for Sherborne Abbey I see that the pedal organ has a 32ft "Contra Batten." Could someone enlighten me, please, about such a stop as I can't find any reference elsewhere.

 

Yes, David is correct. It was, I believe, given in memory of a former gentleman of the choir. I think that I am also correct in stating that it was manufactured from marine-ply by Derry Thompson - and that he apparently installed it without the assistance of anyone else. However, I cannot begin to imagine how he could have performed this remarkable feat, given the height of the organ gallery and the further problems of accessibility.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Fair enough to all points. I have heard JS make some unguarded remarks about it too, but the fact remains that the saga (and it was a saga) IS basically over, and that in my view is a great achievement in itself.

 

David, I have no wish to prolong the point unduly, but I am not so certain that the saga is over. There still remain the problems of the awkward console position, the fact that one has to rely on a new Nave section, which was grafted on - and which does not blend tonally - and the fact that the action is cumbersome and does not aid clean playing. I doubt that any experienced organists who have regular contact with this instrument would be happy with this state of affairs.

 

I am afraid that I still view it as a waste of good money - particularly in view of the fact that if I had access to that kind of sum for the Minster organ I know that I would not waste one penny. It does make me a little annoyed, when I think of how easily Sherborne found this amount - and how hard I know we will have to work, in order to raise money for our own instrument.

Link to post
Share on other sites
...if I had access to that kind of sum for the Minster organ I know that I would not waste one penny. It does make me a little annoyed, when I think of how easily Sherborne found this amount - and how hard I know we will have to work, in order to raise money for our own instrument.

 

Agreed entirely.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes, David is correct. It was, I believe, given in memory of a former gentleman of the choir. I think that I am also correct in stating that it was manufactured from marine-ply by Derry Thompson - and that he apparently installed it without the assistance of anyone else. However, I cannot begin to imagine how he could have performed this remarkable feat, given the height of the organ gallery and the further problems of accessibility.

 

 

Derry Thompson does seem to have a gift for finding ways of incorporating new ('home made') 32' reeds. Milton Abbey has one of his too, that also is invisible. The case there is very much smaller... mind you a 32' reed does not need to be even 16' tall and the scale can be pretty narrow and still make its presence felt.

 

As regards the question of when we will ever reach the end of this 'saga', I think if Sherborne Abbey currently holds The Record for the most rebuilt, prominent and expensive pipe organ in the UK, surely everyone will wish to keep this great distinction by carrying on applying popular dogmatic approaches and inordinate amounts of the folding stuff towards achieving their musical Nirvanah. This is the musical equivalent of the archetypical man driver who settles for being lost because on principle he will never ask for directions.

 

Why should Sherborne PCC and advisers change tack when their tactics over the past twenty or so years have produced such remarkable results?

 

C.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Derry Thompson does seem to have a gift for finding ways of incorporating new ('home made') 32' reeds. Milton Abbey has one of his too, that also is invisible. The case there is very much smaller... mind you a 32' reed does not need to be even 16' tall and the scale can be pretty narrow and still make its presence felt.

 

I have played this instrument quite a number of times - particularly for the Milton Abbey Festival. About two and a half years ago, I accompanied a performance of The Passion According to Saint John (JSB) on this organ. It is a lovely Victorian instrument with, as Cynic states, an 'invisible' 32ft. reed. This is invisible in two senses. Firstly, the pipes (which are extended from the Fagotto, supplied by Bishop & Son in 1978) are buried in the south side of the stone pulpitum. Secondly, the draw-stop insert is blank - and the stop is kept isolated with an ignition-style lock. In the past, I have had to telephone the organist and inform him that it will be me playing - and ask him to unlock the stop. It (the reed) is an interesting sound. However, in the sensitive acoustic of the abbey (quite the best in Dorset) it sounds reasonably well. One also has to remember not to pull out the Pedal 'Grand Open Diapason xvi' draw-stop too far - or the rank will not sound.

 

The following link may also serve to illustrate the difficulties faced by the tuner, when attending to this particular instrument:

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...77#PhotoSection

 

I took the last five photographs myself and, although I do not have a particular problem with heights, I was quite careful when standing on the bench in order to photograph the console and the G.O. Trumpet.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Well, quite.

 

(I can only speculate....)

 

 

I was told by a former Head of Music at the school (immediately next door) that this key arrangement was employed to keep 'non-approved' people off this stop!

[it may be relevant to mention that I understand that the organist of Milton Abbey is not currently on the staff of the school.]

Link to post
Share on other sites
I was told by a former Head of Music at the school (immediately next door) that this key arrangement was employed to keep 'non-approved' people off this stop!

[it may be relevant to mention that I understand that the organist of Milton Abbey is not currently on the staff of the school.]

 

Yes - and yes.

 

:blink:

Link to post
Share on other sites
Derry Thompson does seem to have a gift for finding ways of incorporating new ('home made') 32' reeds. Milton Abbey has one of his too, that also is invisible. The case there is very much smaller... mind you a 32' reed does not need to be even 16' tall and the scale can be pretty narrow and still make its presence felt.

 

As regards the question of when we will ever reach the end of this 'saga', I think if Sherborne Abbey currently holds The Record for the most rebuilt, prominent and expensive pipe organ in the UK, surely everyone will wish to keep this great distinction by carrying on applying popular dogmatic approaches and inordinate amounts of the folding stuff towards achieving their musical Nirvanah. This is the musical equivalent of the archetypical man driver who settles for being lost because on principle he will never ask for directions.

 

Why should Sherborne PCC and advisers change tack when their tactics over the past twenty or so years have produced such remarkable results?

 

C.

 

The Sherborne problem will probably never be overcome because of the position of the organ. The only place it will ever be successful is on a choir screen, but then that would block the vista!

 

Jonathan

Link to post
Share on other sites
I have played this instrument quite a number of times - particularly for the Milton Abbey Festival. About two and a half years ago, I accompanied a performance of The Passion According to Saint John (JSB) on this organ. It is a lovely Victorian instrument with, as Cynic states, an 'invisible' 32ft. reed. This is invisible in two senses. Firstly, the pipes (which are extended from the Fagotto, supplied by Bishop & Son in 1978) are buried in the south side of the stone pulpitum. Secondly, the draw-stop insert is blank - and the stop is kept isolated with an ignition-style lock. In the past, I have had to telephone the organist and inform him that it will be me playing - and ask him to unlock the stop. It (the reed) is an interesting sound. However, in the sensitive acoustic of the abbey (quite the best in Dorset) it sounds reasonably well. One also has to remember not to pull out the Pedal 'Grand Open Diapason xvi' draw-stop too far - or the rank will not sound.

 

I believe it was the organist, Trevor Doar himself, who donated the invisible and anonymous 32 reed. "I'll call it what I like", he once remarked, "even 'Double Doars', if I feel like it".

 

It's a very fine instrument which sounds magnificent in the Abbey acoustic, quite belying its modest size. What a pity the money is not forthcoming to complete the casework.

 

JS

Link to post
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...