Jump to content
Mander Organs
SinaL

Badly Positioned Organs

Recommended Posts

Lincoln Cathedral organ going flat out is inaudible in a full nave.

It's ugly too.

Peter Godden

 

Colin Walsh has asked me to put up the following on his behalf:

 

"I have played this magnificent instrument every day for 21 years: I never tire of the quality of the workmanship that is found in one of Father Willis's most noble works of art. That opinion is shared by Organists from all over the world who come here to play Concerts.

 

Reviews of many CDs which I have made on this instrument never fail to mention the quality of the tone. True, the organ does not have a great impact in the western regions of the Nave, but the building is huge. My dream would be to build an additional instrument near to the West end but at present there is little money and, in any case, I suspect that Architects and Heritage people may have a view on that!".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thank you for the considerable time and effort to write all that up, much appreciated.

 

As someone who has enjoyed your playing on recordings from Truro (particularly the PS disc), and also the sounds of the York organ (as recently seen on the JSW/French disc), is there a Sharpe/York recording in the pipeline? Or is it classified information!

 

 

You're welcome. It was rather a long job but so much is speculated about this organ that I felt some facts would be useful. I meant also to add that in 1960 the console was moved to the east (where it was in the Hill incarnation when the soundboards of the Great ran north to south) and the nave console added. As the layout remained unchanged, the player is able to hear very little of the organ when playing from the screen.

 

I'm glad you have enjoyed the Truro recordings. I have not made any definite plans for recordings in York yet, as I'm so busy with the choir (I train the girls and the boys so it is a pretty non-stop job) and occasional recitals. There are one or two possible ideas, however!

 

Best wishes

Robert

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would also like to thank Robert Sharpe for his extensive posting! And also to add my admiration for his Truro Vierne recording.

 

I hope I don't sound in any way presumptuous if I say that your story of the organ's metamorphosis in the 1960s and the resulting problems illustrates my point in far more detail that I could provide.

 

"The sliders vacated by the Trumpets made room for the Cymbal and Cornet introduced in 1993."

 

Is it only me who finds it crazy that the 1993 work in a sense continued the aesthetic begun in the 1960s?!

 

"Perhaps I may meet some readers at one!"

 

In fact I was sitting about 20 feet from you at one all of 3 weeks ago. I'm sorry time didn't allow me to come and ask you difficult questions about the Great reeds. Although I'm sure you're not! ;) Your choir sounded very fine indeed.

 

Bazuin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Colin Walsh has asked me to put up the following on his behalf:

 

"I have played this magnificent instrument every day for 21 years: I never tire of the quality of the workmanship that is found in one of Father Willis's most noble works of art. That opinion is shared by Organists from all over the world who come here to play Concerts.

 

Thanks HW (and CW) - having also been involved at Lincoln as a singer (albeit a while ago now) I can tesify to this also. Likewise the half hour or so I had on the organ before organ lessons was much valued. Not much actual 'piece preparation' went on I' afraid and it's probably because of this that my organ playing did not get quite as good as perhaps it should have done despite the good intentions of Roger Bryan my very patient teacher!! I had enormous fun though.

 

A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Not really. SB was an organ historian/designer and commentator of the first order. Francis Jackson was a Cathedral musician of the first order. Organists' opinions about the instruments under their fingers are important but organs should be (and are in almost every country outside the UK and the USA) protected by higher authorities for this simple reason: organists have a bad track record of destroying valuable organs. As Hans Steketee used to say "an organ's greatest danger isn't fire or flood, it's man".

 

Since humans are the best we've got, I suggest we have to accept destruction by fashion as a by-product of the fashion which caused the creation of the instrument in the first place.

 

I see no particular case for arguing that historians or other higher life-forms are any less infallible than organists. I'm sure we all have our own personal thoughts and anecdotes about that, probably best not shared.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Many thanks to Robert for taking the considerable time to supply us with such a comprehensive and accurate account of the York organ (and correcting my error concerning the reeds!).

 

DT

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

May I also offer my thanks to Robert for his information about the York Minster organ, of which I have a particular interest. Any further information would be most welcome, especially if this could extend to copies of diagrams of layout, etc!

 

If I may be allowed one specific question, what is the likelihood of realisation of the plans to add a new Nave Organ, and were there any specifications drawn up? (Sorry, that's two!)

 

John

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Colin Walsh has asked me to put up the following on his behalf:

 

"I have played this magnificent instrument every day for 21 years: I never tire of the quality of the workmanship that is found in one of Father Willis's most noble works of art. That opinion is shared by Organists from all over the world who come here to play Concerts.

 

Reviews of many CDs which I have made on this instrument never fail to mention the quality of the tone. True, the organ does not have a great impact in the western regions of the Nave, but the building is huge. My dream would be to build an additional instrument near to the West end but at present there is little money and, in any case, I suspect that Architects and Heritage people may have a view on that!".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

All credit then to the Willis firm when it was run by the Willis family.

Pleased to see that Henry Willis is alive and well and still finds time to contribute to the threads on the Mander site. He must be very proud of the credit given to his Grandfather.

Colin Richell.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Pleased to see that Henry Willis is alive and well and still finds time to contribute to the threads on the Mander site.

Colin Richell.

 

Don't get beguiled by user names on the forum. Someone may go wild.

 

H

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Is it just me, but does the famous Tuba (described by Mr. Bicknell as "grotesque") sound very unevenly regulated in the recent York dvd?

 

There is a story that a few years ago, in order to reach a troublesome pipe, a tuner (or perhaps an organist) had to ease past this rank and, to avoid getting hooked up on the pipes, closed all the tuning slots on either the C or the C# side. However, I had thought that it had been carefully re-regulated after this, by Phil Burbeck.

 

It would be interesting to know if this actually happened.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Exeter is ideal for accompanying the choir, but was decidedly underpowered for leading a full nave of people until they added the nave division.

 

I once heard Lionel Dakers tell this tale at an RSCM course he was leading:

 

"People used to say I played too loudly, which was nonsense, of course. One day, I asked my assistant to play while I sat in the nave. I gave him a list of stops to use; he looked at it, gulped, and said 'All of them?' And do you know? I had been playing too loudly."

 

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I once heard Lionel Dakers tell this tale at an RSCM course he was leading:

 

"People used to say I played too loudly, which was nonsense, of course. One day, I asked my assistant to play while I sat in the nave. I gave him a list of stops to use; he looked at it, gulped, and said 'All of them?' And do you know? I had been playing too loudly."

 

Ian

 

He may have been referring to the instrument as it was prior to the 1965 rebuild, when the G.O. had fifteen stops (including three Open Diapason ranks and two 4ft. chorus stops). The Tuba was on a higher pressure (to which I believe it has since been restored) and the general effect was probably somewhat fuller.

 

If this was the instrument to which he referred, then the assistant in question was probably Christopher Gower - Paul Morgan would not have gulped at anything.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

But does this tale relate to the accompaniment of the choir or a nave congregation? I would still maintain that it is quite impossible for the screen organ at Exeter (i.e. without the nave division) to drown a packed nave. I speak from experience. The new nave division and that new sore thumb, the Gt Octave, do help immensely, but even then you can tell from what you hear and "feel" of the singing while playing that the organ is still not too much.

 

If LD was referring to drowning just the choir, then, in the nave, I suppose it might have been possible, but even then I'm not convinced. On a previous occasion (before the rebuild), I was accompanying a Choral Evensong in the quire and was asked by the choir's director to pile on full Great + Swell at the end of the Magnificat (one of the Howells services, if I recall correctly). I did as instructed, but protested, quite certain that I must be drowning the singing. The choir director was adamant that the balance was OK. I wasn't convinced at all, so a couple of his singers listened from beyond the eastern end of the choir stalls and agreed with him that the balance was fine. Mind you, I still don't quite believe them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
He may have been referring to the instrument as it was prior to the 1965 rebuild, when the G.O. had fifteen stops (including three Open Diapason ranks and two 4ft. chorus stops). The Tuba was on a higher pressure (to which I believe it has since been restored) and the general effect was probably somewhat fuller.

 

If this was the instrument to which he referred, then the assistant in question was probably Christopher Gower - Paul Morgan would not have gulped at anything.

 

I don't think Christopher is a gulper either!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The new nave division and that new sore thumb, the Gt Octave, do help immensely, but even then you can tell from what you hear and "feel" of the singing while playing that the organ is still not too much.

Oh - I quite like the new G.O. Octave. I must admit, it was me who suggested this change to Paul Morgan (and the conversion of the Viole Octaviante* to a C13 Viole Céleste).

 

 

 

* This was originally the Swell Celestina - a stop whose presence apparently was criticised by all who played the instrument - but which was generally also used by all.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I once heard Lionel Dakers tell this tale at an RSCM course he was leading:

 

"People used to say I played too loudly, which was nonsense, of course. One day, I asked my assistant to play while I sat in the nave. I gave him a list of stops to use; he looked at it, gulped, and said 'All of them?' And do you know? I had been playing too loudly."

 

Ian

I know I should let this go, but another thought has just occurred to me. Did he specifically say he was talking about the Exeter organ, or might he have been referring to his previous post at Ripon?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But does this tale relate to the accompaniment of the choir or a nave congregation? I would still maintain that it is quite impossible for the screen organ at Exeter (i.e. without the nave division) to drown a packed nave. I speak from experience. The new nave division and that new sore thumb, the Gt Octave, do help immensely, but even then you can tell from what you hear and "feel" of the singing while playing that the organ is still not too much.

 

If LD was referring to drowning just the choir, then, in the nave, I suppose it might have been possible, but even then I'm not convinced. On a previous occasion (before the rebuild), I was accompanying a Choral Evensong in the quire and was asked by the choir's director to pile on full Great + Swell at the end of the Magnificat (one of the Howells services, if I recall correctly). I did as instructed, but protested, quite certain that I must be drowning the singing. The choir director was adamant that the balance was OK. I wasn't convinced at all, so a couple of his singers listened from beyond the eastern end of the choir stalls and agreed with him that the balance was fine. Mind you, I still don't quite believe them.

 

The strange thing with apocryphal stories is that that the originator is frequently deceased and so we maintain glorious embellishments! However, the situation of the Exeter instrument (like a good number of others) was surely only to provide music within the choir - hence the positioning of Choir/Chair cases. The ex-Lichfield Green Organ is a delightfully sweet (though large instrument) which was only created for Choir services (now in Armitage PC nearby). Our problems of Pulpitum-positioned organs only happened when Naves began to be used for large services - mainly Diocesan based. I therefore blame the train and the omnibus for the enlargements to cope with such demands. The results are never happy and we suffer the results in over-large instruments stashed into magnificent old cases. Exeter grew another West case. Gloucester I think was pushed and pulled in all directions. King's Cambridge made a superlative architectural case obese and filled the screen with endless pipes as if it were a Tudor (1533) vol au vent. Nowhere in any building with such a placed instrument can surely a musical instrument sound at its best, I aver. The reasoning surely comes from accompaniment and lack of a simultaneous compositions for repertoire, - unlike the French. We did (in the UK) progress with actions and the secretion of pedal registers (and other departments) in Triphoria - positioning departments in arches as if treating 'up a-loft' like railway carriages. (Lincoln & Canterbury perhaps)

Of course it will sound too loud in one place whilst distinctly too soft in another. As for Choirs - the most important of Anglican instruments, they are often swamped with decibels when a Nave is being accompanied/led/pulled along. One rather noted place is exploring having just a large and very proper instrument to cope with Nave demands and certainly not connected to any other in the edifice, Eastwards. Bravo. Of course, all this comes under Badly Positioned organs. Music I sometimes feel, seems frequently to come a very lowly second best in all this.

Best wishes,

N

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I know I should let this go, but another thought has just occurred to me. Did he specifically say he was talking about the Exeter organ, or might he have been referring to his previous post at Ripon?

 

This seems more likely, Vox - this organ is quite loud enough in the Nave.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The strange thing with apocryphal stories is that that the originator is frequently deceased and so we maintain glorious embellishments! However, the situation of the Exeter instrument (like a good number of others) was surely only to provide music within the choir - hence the positioning of Choir/Chair cases. The ex-Lichfield Green Organ is a delightfully sweet (though large instrument) which was only created for Choir services (now in Armitage PC nearby). Our problems of Pulpitum-positioned organs only happened when Naves began to be used for large services - mainly Diocesan based. I therefore blame the train and the omnibus for the enlargements to cope with such demands. The results are never happy and we suffer the results in over-large instruments stashed into magnificent old cases. Exeter grew another West case. Gloucester I think was pushed and pulled in all directions. King's Cambridge made a superlative architectural case obese and filled the screen with endless pipes as if it were a Tudor (1533) vol au vent. Nowhere in any building with such a placed instrument can surely a musical instrument sound at its best, I aver. The reasoning surely comes from accompaniment and lack of a simultaneous compositions for repertoire, - unlike the French. We did (in the UK) progress with actions and the secretion of pedal registers (and other departments) in Triphoria - positioning departments in arches as if treating 'up a-loft' like railway carriages. (Lincoln & Canterbury perhaps)

Of course it will sound too loud in one place whilst distinctly too soft in another. As for Choirs - the most important of Anglican instruments, they are often swamped with decibels when a Nave is being accompanied/led/pulled along. One rather noted place is exploring having just a large and very proper instrument to cope with Nave demands and certainly not connected to any other in the edifice, Eastwards. Bravo. Of course, all this comes under Badly Positioned organs. Music I sometimes feel, seems frequently to come a very lowly second best in all this.

Best wishes,

N

 

Absolutely right Nigel, and the business of drowning choirs also relates to many chancel derived positions. Indeed, in my local Cathedral, the nave congregation have oft been heard to say that they wish they could hear the choir during sung services, but can only hear the organ. Unfortunately, whilst we continue to adhere to typical organ building designs and practices, these principles will continue to dominate. Some of the principles were challenged at Gloucester and Norwich for example in very differing acoustics, and I think with some success. The sad thing is that it is not difficult to achieve, barring space for larger pedal pipes, and without stuffing the cases so full that nothing except a tuba can speak clearly. We could stop thinking about 4 divisions on 4 manuals designed in a traditional way. A pulpitum organ can speak both ways with equal success if it is designed to. Problem comes with nave choir stalls, which can produce a limiting factor on the accompanist, but unless someone can come up with a way around it, I suggest this might just be a prompt for imagination.

 

AJS

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Perhaps a tiny bit of artistic licence in the telling of the story!

 

Oh dear - I didn't mean to start anything like this!

 

It happened in a church in what is now Harare in Zimbabwe; I was there from 1972 - 76, so it was sometime in that period. Common sense says that my account is probably not verbatim, but I remember it well because it's a story that I've often told in the appropriate context, so I'm confident that the gist is absolutely right. He was talking about Exeter, and I understood him to be talking about his congregational accompaniments.

 

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
......... Some of the principles were challenged at Gloucester and Norwich for example in very differing acoustics, and I think with some success. The sad thing is that it is not difficult to achieve, barring space for larger pedal pipes, and without stuffing the cases so full that nothing except a tuba can speak clearly. We could stop thinking about 4 divisions on 4 manuals designed in a traditional way. A pulpitum organ can speak both ways with equal success if it is designed to. ....

AJS

 

The Gloucester organ as left by Downes had a roof to try and focus the sound down into Nave (and Choir). Unfortunately during the last work on the organ it was removed resulting in a very swimmy sound (although some would say louder). I would like to see it put back.

 

PJW

Share this post


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...