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Practice Policies


David Coram
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I have always found it very difficult to find practice instruments. Even my local diddly church with a horrible 1920's ratbag was wanting me to pay £5 an hour. Other much (MUCH) larger places nearby have quite different policies - along the lines of if there's nobody else using the building, help yourself, and that goes for anyone who wants to use it. Can we, in the spirit of the "learn the organ" campaign, begin a "use the organ" one? I will volunteer to open and run a website (something like organpractice.co.uk) if others will offer the use of their instruments.

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I have always found it very difficult to find practice instruments.  Even my local diddly church with a horrible 1920's ratbag was wanting me to pay £5 an hour.  Other much (MUCH) larger places nearby have quite different policies - along the lines of if there's nobody else using the building, help yourself, and that goes for anyone who wants to use it.  Can we, in the spirit of the "learn the organ" campaign, begin a "use the organ" one?  I will volunteer to open and run a website (something like organpractice.co.uk) if others will offer the use of their instruments.

 

Too late - done it anyway - www.organpractice.bravehost.com - two instruments on at the moment, post yours and I'll add 'em.

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Guest Roffensis
Too late - done it anyway - www.organpractice.bravehost.com - two instruments on at the moment, post yours and I'll add 'em.

 

 

Sad. I have always adopted the policy that "my" organ be used for private practice, so long as it is taken good care of, and respected. There is also the issue of wear and tear on the laready failing action, requiring frequent (and mercifully easy) releathering of motors, but it's all for the good. Perhaps such who practice can throw in odd services as "payment"?

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It may be interesting to note a fact I observed:

Pneumatic and electro-pneumatic actions should be used

everyday if possible. They worn out with time, not use,

quite to the contrary, the more you use it, the better

it works.

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

 

An interesting point - I would disagree regarding electro-pneumatic actions though, Pierre. Since they involve leather and moving parts and (in the case of my own church instrument) electro-mechanical coupling - less is more, particularly if the action is in excess of, say, twenty-five to thirty years old.

 

With the best will in he world, it is not always possible - nor even desirable to allow regular practice in certain cases.

 

My own church is extremely busy; day-time practice is often impossible, due to services, guided tours or simply because those who work there just want some peace and quiet!

 

I can only get in after-hours on one or two nights a week, since there also other events taking place on the intervening evenings. I have managed (wih some difficulty) to secure reasonably regular practice for those of my pupils who do not possess toasters. However, 'my' instrument has a forty-year-old electro-pneumatic action, which is beginning to cause trouble and parts of which are fragile and cannot now easily be replaced. An unfortunate corollary of this is that it does not improve with constant playing! There are, moreover, no funds to replace the action should it fail. Even if we were to charge five pounds per hour, it would take decades to raise enough money to replace the action.

 

One solution is to obtain an organist's post somewhere - this is not intended glibly. With that will normally come the right to practise on the instrument. For those pupils who are not yet at the stage of being able to cope with a job as organist, it might reasonably be supposed that they would be able to practise on the instrument upon which they are taught.

 

I am only too well aware that we need to encourage the next generation of organists, or indeed, anyone who is willing to serve as an organist. However, sometimes it is not a simple matter - particularly in larger churches. In addition, many churches need to be kept locked, due the risk of vandalism, theft or arson. I suspect that this is equally true whether the church is in a rural location or in the middle of a large conurbation.

 

In such cases, it is often not possible for someone to be in attendance regularly in order to let someone practise on the organ. It is also often impossible to provide keys for anyone wishing to practise - there may be covenants within the insurance policy of the church which would preclude this course of action. Whilst it is occasionally possible to have a designated key-holder, practice-times would, of course, need to be pre-arranged.

 

As is the case with many things in life, the solution is not always easy.

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Of course it is not, save, maybe, here in the middle-of-nowhere

forgetted southern Belgium.

There are many old organs (I mean from the 1930 for instance)

that are near to never played, in churches that are used say

two hours a week.

 

Here is an example:

A friend of mine found here in Namur, in an Abbey church, a 1936

electro-pneumatic organ, absolutely original up to the lamp at

the console.

I took pictures of these chatterton wires, crescendo mechanism etc.

First trials revealed about one note out of two didn't work.

After two hours of trials, things got better already.

Now this organ is played at least once a week, several hours at

a time, and all notes are working.

 

And a second example:

20 years ago we (me and my teacher in organ history) found a 1907

Friedrich Goll organ in Brussels, about 35 stops, three manuals plus a

Fernwerk (whose tubular conducts had been sectionned).

Organ out of use since at least thirty years.

We succeeded having the blower running and passed two hours to

adress -momentarily!- the leakages (the ones we found!) with tape.

After a quarter of an hour sollicitating the keys the organ began to

come back into life, and it was at least possible to get an idea how

splendid this organ actually is.

 

Of course now we need to know what the actual problem with your action is,

if you have holes in the membranes you won't cure them that way.

What I am convinced with is the first maintenance task you need to do with

organs having pneumatic action parts (thus pneumatic or electro-pneumatic)

is to maintain them in form with exercise.

The same can be said for electric contacts too. In the 1936 organ mentionned

above, the contacts work after the manner of Klais: there is a aimed at friction

between parts when a key (or stop-key) is depressed, in order to clean the

contact from dust and rust.

This of course won't work if you wait until the contact is completely eaten by

rust before you use it...

 

Best wishes,

Pierre

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It is heartening to read of the two examples which you mentioned.

 

However, the instrument in my own church already has considerable use each week.

 

Parts of the pedal combination action are somewhat fragile and are now impossible to replace - we would have to fit new components. In addition, it is likely that the manual under-actions will, at some point in the near future, need re-leathering. Then there are the electro-mechanical couplers, which are also rather fragile and beginning to cause trouble. None of these items will benefit from even greater weekly use - trust me, here!

 

Because we are on contract maintenance, we are limited as to what emergency repairs we can attempt without recourse to our organ-builder. He has, in any case, placed a sign inside the console, disclaiming responsibility for the state of the wiring and action, notably the drawstop solenoids and the wiring of the capture system. These were installed by a previous organ-builder and in certain instances the work is, shall we say, not of the best quality.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk

1. I endorse Pierre L's comments. Typical swtichgear in use in this country (eg Kimber-Allen or R.Williams switching) are definitely better served by regular use. Contacts are designed to be self-cleaning in use. Un-used, there is time for condensation to form and all manner of dirt can build up. Sparking is more likely on dirty contacts.

 

2. Please could pcnd tell us where he/she plays? - it sounds good. I have been racking my brains for some while trying to guess who he or she is. I have read pcnd's posts reasonably carefully and some hints are dropped but not many. PCND itself gives us no clue - I assume it stands for Pierre Cochereau Notre Dame which would accord with the 'motto'. Not least, I think at some point in the not too distant past he/she and I were definitely resident in the same area (Glos.).

 

3. Re practice: Some churches can take disinterest in organ students too far. One past pupil of mine (now at Oxford with an Organ scholarship) had to pay serious money in order to practice on the organ of the church where he was in the choir and his parents were regular members of the congregation. For a short spell he worked as church cleaner to earn the money to pay for his practice. Not many years later, they were happy to appoint him as their organist! A less determined student might have given up, a less patient one would have gone elsewhere on being told he had to pay for such a privilege. In my youth I was not so polite as he is and (when the ideal moment came up) I would have told them what they could do with their lack of an organist.

 

I reckon that churches (eventually) get their just deserts. All those churches who did not support their choirs now don't have them. Some realise that there is a gap where young people, faithtful attenders, large numbers of adult male worshippers (otherwise very thin on the ground) and serious music-making used to be. Given time, it will be the same with organists. Mind you, some churches still have (in some cases) considerable amounts of filthy lucre to tempt us with when it suits them. I've always admired Paul Joslin for refusing to stay on at a much increased salary at Holy Trinity Brompton when the clergy there closed his choir down at short notice some years ago. Not everyone can be bought.

 

Do you think a later generation will ask the question

"why can't we have one appointed musician who we can always rely upon to support the worship, able to play on an instrument of our own which is flexible enough to support any number of voices?"

And the attendant thought:

"If we had a really good musician to provide the music, maybe they could select something nice for the congregation to listen to, in order to prepare them for a service."

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interesting topic this, I have a page on my website which pleads for practice organs in the Salisbury Diocese:

 

www.fromtheshed.bravehost.com/practiceorgans.html

 

maybe a pooling of resources and some publicity for all those youngsters looking for 'safe' churches to practise their Oortmerssen trios!?

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I'm very saddened by this discussion.

 

What on earth is going on!

 

Surely we all want to encourage the next generation of organists. I've always believed that its better for any organ to be played than not to be played.

 

I've a little simpathy for those churches with busy vistors' schedules but only up to a point. These same churches expect to appoint the best available organists & choirmasters. Where do they think they come from?

 

To relagate organ practice, whether for beginners or for the titulaire, below the requirements of of group of (perhaps fee paying) tourists is to sum up the nature of the challenge facing parish church musicians today.

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''maybe a pooling of resources and some publicity for all those youngsters looking for 'safe' churches to practise their Oortmerssen trios!?''

 

'Not just youngsters - I used to be lucky enough to have free use of a local (as opposed to the 1 man. that I usually play) 2 man. instrument in the evenings until insurance policy changes at the church stipulated that only a certain number of individuals could be key holders - in the past I borrowed the organist's key. Now, if I want to practice I have to have the organist (or another keyholder) present - either sitting listening or doing 'whatever' in the vestry! She is an obliging friend and has always said that she would not mind doing this if it helps me but I do not really want to impose on her time or subject her to the sound of my practice. It is getting more difficult generally.

 

AJJ

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I'm not sure that it is necessarily getting more difficult to practice. I think that there have probably always been churches where the attitude of the incument/PCC beggars belief. Twenty five or so years ago I remember reading an adverisment for an organist's post (note organist, not assistant, occasonal funeral-filler-in or suchlike) in which he chuch authorites proudly procalimed that...

 

'possible use of the organ for private practice will be considered'

 

Why did or do we bother?

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I'm not sure that it is necessarily getting more difficult to practice.  I think that there have probably always been churches where the attitude of the incument/PCC beggars belief.  Twenty five or so years ago I remember reading an adverisment for an organist's post (note organist, not assistant, occasonal funeral-filler-in or suchlike) in which he chuch authorites proudly procalimed that...

 

'possible use of the organ for private practice will be considered'

 

Why did or do we bother?

 

Thinking back to early days trying to find an instrument to practise on, I had to go out of my way to satisfy a real need to learn the music I wanted to play. Without this yearning and perhaps an expectancy for things to fall into ones lap, it may seem more difficult to find a way these days. Those who really do want to practise will usually find some way of doing this - perhaps it has always been thus for organists. Bach (et al), would have required someone to light his way and accompany him up to the organ loft to pump air into the bellows! Who were these unsung heroes? Even Widor would require someone to work the swell-box mechanism at Saint Sulpice.

 

RCF

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Across the ocean here in Canada, the situation seem quite different. Or maybe the situation I encountered was different. I went to the local university with an organ department and asked for permission to use their organ for practice.

 

I was told that there was a practice schedule drawn up for the enrolled students and that I would take last priority (only allowed to use the organ when there is no one signed up and that if a student arrives, I would have to yeild). This was okay with me. During the school year, the building was open until 10pm and then locked by campus security. In the summer time, it was open until 6 pm but there would be practice schedule so it was more flexible). I wonder if the situation is similar at UK and European universities.

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