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Badly Positioned Organs


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To try and authentically restore this topic, I think there is a valuable question to consider, hinted at a few posts above - concerning whether the identification and rectification of a poorly positioned instrument has, in the experience of other members, led to an instrument being improved without tonal changes being necessary.

 

My good friend Stephen Cooke has moved several instruments from buried positions. In some instances there have been alternative quotes given by others for the addition of upperwork 'to brighten the job up a bit'. I could name as examples several in a very small radius -

 

Westbury - 3m Bevington, several previous tonal alterations undone, instrument moved 1 bay west and pneumatic pedal made tracker

 

Erlestoke - very small (6 stop 2 manual) Beales moved out of a 'north transept cupboard' to just forward of the north transept arch, and pneumatic pedal made tracker - a previously undistinguished and inaudible little village instrument now fills the building with ease

 

Little Cheverell - apparently home-made chamber organ removed from top of chancel to west end, with marked improvement in congregational hymn singing; the opportunity was taken to reverse a previous hike in wind pressure to get more sound out

 

Marston Bigot - pleasant little chamber organ moved from buried position to west end - one of our correspondents knows more about this than I do (although I saw much of it in the workshop, I haven't seen it on site)

 

and several more.

 

I mentioned in a previous reply South Petherton, where the opportunity to move the organ was not taken and a number of drastic tonal alterations ensued, totally out of character with the (very fine and more or less original, except for a 1960s balanced Swell pedal) instrument.

 

And entirely conversely, in an un-named parish near Winchester a fine small 2-manual organ was moved from a west end position up into a chancel 'cupboard', and upperwork added to leave a curious specification whereby there is nothing smaller than an Open Diapason on the Great with which to accompany quite a soft Swell Oboe.

 

I am interested to know how many people have thought about changing the position of instruments for the better when considering rebuilding work, and whether many builders around the UK routinely perform such operations in preference to adding more stops.

 

I think David gives some very good examples here.

 

I'd like to pick up on "for the addition of upperwork 'to brighten the job up a bit'", which I completely agree with David's implied suggestion that it's not a good idea.

 

Higher frequencies are attenuated by air so only those churches with large distances need strong upperwork. In the intimate environment of most small parish churches, there isn't this need for lots of upperwork to make the sound of the organ "carry".

 

The problem with higher frequencies is that they're much more directional than the lower frequencies. The sound doesn't get round corners. Low frequencies go round a corner very nicely though - the bass of a 16' Bourdon will be heard quite happily throughout a church, even if it's tucked behind a corner but the pedal mixture in the same place will be all but inaudible. I'm sure we've all come across an organ with a pedal mixture hidden at the back of the organ which is all but a waste of a good stop knob.

 

Take this to the English church example, with the organ in the chancel. The sound of the mixtures will remain in the chancel because they're directional and only speak across the chancel, while only the lower frequencies get round the corner in the nave. Rather than try to compensate for this by making ever larger and more agressive mixtures (as we've done since the 1950s), the Victorians played to its strengths and developed massive foundation work to get round the corner and "carry" down the nave. Sadly, it actually works, even if today's organists don't like the all-pervading sound it creates. However, the low frequencies help to an extent to carry the higher frequencies around the corner into the nave.

 

A good example of this is at Sherbourne Abbey (before the nave organ arrived). The organ is against the North Wall of the North Transept and has a big corner to turn if the sound is to get into the nave. I remember playing there, sticking to 16,8,4 on the Great (the 16 was on nearly all the time for hymns) and lots of people commented how they could hear the organ fine and it gave good support for the hymns but it didn't seem to shriek at them. I got the impression that the lead from the organ was still fairly gentle but I don't know what the resident organists used: I suspect they were trying to lead the congregation with the mixtures and weren't using the full foundation work, which would give a harsher but less effective sound.

 

So yes, I thoroughly agree with David on this and deplore it when I see a scheme or work where extra upperwork or "the choruses have been rebalenced" (read: "we've opened up the mixtures and quietened down the 8s and 16s") to "make the organ carry and give better support to the singers".

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A good example of this is at Sherbourne Abbey (before the nave organ arrived). The organ is against the North Wall of the North Transept and has a big corner to turn if the sound is to get into the nave. I remember playing there, sticking to 16,8,4 on the Great (the 16 was on nearly all the time for hymns) and lots of people commented how they could hear the organ fine and it gave good support for the hymns but it didn't seem to shriek at them. I don't know what the resident organists used but I suspect they were trying to lead the congregation with the mixtures and weren't using the full foundation work.

 

I am sure the resident organists at Sherborne (three of whom read this board) will take this on board and alter their habits accordingly.

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This was a number of years ago now - I'm sure it's all change now. Besides, they've got their Nave division now. The action and soundboards of the organ when I played it were in a dire state.

 

In that case, they've had an entirely new chancel organ since then as well, with virtually nothing in common from the Budgen/Derry Thompson era.

 

Your observations about acoustics are not necessarily spot on. See, for instance, Wimborne Minster, where all you can hear is treble - and this applies to otherwise well-balanced choirs (who invariably appear sop heavy), not just to the organ.

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The general concepts remain the same but there are a lot of other factors to take into account, which would explain Wimborne (which doesn't exactly speak across the chancel) or the effects at other places.

 

You might be overstating the case at Sherborne - I understand the case and the core of the pipes remain from the old organ, brought back to something closer to their original concept. Ken Tickell wrote a good article about the work in Organ Building 2005 but I should really go and have a look sometime.

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I am interested to know how many people have thought about changing the position of instruments for the better when considering rebuilding work, and whether many builders around the UK routinely perform such operations in preference to adding more stops.

 

I think it likely that at least some Organ builders would prefer to move a good but buried instrument rather than 're-balance' an otherwise satisfactory tonal scheme, but are prevented from doing so by lack of a suitable alternative site, or lack of funds, or both. It's unfortunately much cheaper to 'tweak' the voicing than move the thing lock, stock and barrel.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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The general concepts remain the same but there are a lot of other factors to take into account, which would explain Wimborne (which doesn't exactly speak across the chancel) or the effects at other places.

 

Actually it speaks extremely well across the chancel. The organ bench is one of the better locations from which to listen to this instrument.

 

Neither would I agree that adding some upperwork is always a bad idea.

 

A number of years ago, I was organist at a smallish parish church in the West Country. The G.O. consised of Open Diapason, Claribel Flute, Dulciana (all at 8ft.) and a Principal. The church was well attended and, at a rebuild, we decided to ditch the Dulciana for a Fifteenth (voiced very brightly) and to strengthen the Open Dapason and Principal. In addition, the Claribel Flute was exchanged (from around C13) for a beautiful Stopped Diapason. I never regretted having these changes made. In particular, the Fifteenth transformed the organ and actually made it possible to lead packed congregations effectively.

 

I would also like to clarify David Coram's comment above. The compound stops are not the only things which can be heard at Wimborne Minster. Even Mark Venning agreed that the Pedal foundations were reasonably impressive (considering the lack of a 32ft. rank) in the Nave. Used carefully, the foundation stops on the claviers also carry fairly well - notwithstanding the location, which is certainly less than ideal.

 

For the record, I am also acquainted with at least three former organists at Sherborne - and, in addition to playing services there myself, I have observed the 'in-house' style of accompaniment. I am happy to relate that it did not consist of too much upperwork or not enough foundation stops.

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Our main organ at the West End of Kendal Parish Church is not very well-placed - accompanying on it is a nightmare, despite CCTV, as it tends to bathe the audience/congregation in more sound than a Choir at the East can produce. (There's a set of West Choir stalls in retro-choir formation, but these are placed underneath the casework so that the accompaniment is barely audible to any singers there.)

 

Furthermore, in its present position it is susceptible to plaster and water damage, both of which have already occured to the extent that tuners (etc.) are recommending a major clean and overhaul soon. Of course, any work they did would be easily undone within months by our local climate ... it would be better to have a rebuild in a new position. Either way, it would all come down to money...

 

C'est la vie!

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Actually it speaks extremely well across the chancel. The organ bench is one of the better locations from which to listen to this instrument.

 

Neither would I agree that adding some upperwork is always a bad idea.

 

A number of years ago, I was organist at a smallish parish church in the West Country. The G.O. consised of Open Diapason, Claribel Flute, Dulciana (all at 8ft.) and a Principal. The church was well attended and, at a rebuild, we decided to ditch the Dulciana for a Fifteenth (voiced very brightly) and to strengthen the Open Dapason and Principal. In addition, the Claribel Flute was exchanged (from around C13) for a beautiful Stopped Diapason. I never regretted having these changes made. In particular, the Fifteenth transformed the organ and actually made it possible to lead packed congregations effectively.

 

I would also like to clarify David Coram's comment above. The compound stops are not the only things which can be heard at Wimborne Minster. Even Mark Venning agreed that the Pedal foundations were reasonably impressive (considering the lack of a 32ft. rank) in the Nave. Used carefully, the foundation stops on the claviers also carry fairly well - notwithstanding the location, which is certainly less than ideal.

 

For the record, I am also acquainted with at least three former organists at Sherborne - and, in addition to playing services there myself, I have observed the 'in-house' style of accompaniment. I am happy to relate that it did not consist of too much upperwork or not enough foundation stops.

Thanks. I really ought to clarify what I meant about the Wimborne organ, in that as well as speaking across the chancel towards the console, there is also an arch to the west of the organ chamber into the South Transept, through which some sound from the Great and Swell Organs (and Pedal) seem to get to the nave. I tend to agree with Mark Venning's assessment and your comments about the manual foundation stops but am unsure (after my brief visit) how the location of the organ, although not perfect, could be improved. I suspect there will always be an element of compromise there.

 

I haven't experienced the in-house style of registration at Sherborne and can only relate what I was told. I'm sure they know what they're doing.

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Thanks. I really ought to clarify what I meant about the Wimborne organ, in that as well as speaking across the chancel towards the console, there is also an arch to the west of the organ chamber into the South Transept, through which some sound from the Great and Swell Organs (and Pedal) seem to get to the nave. I tend to agree with Mark Venning's assessment and your comments about the manual foundation stops but am unsure (after my brief visit) how the location of the organ, although not perfect, could be improved. I suspect there will always be some form of compromise there.

 

I haven't experienced the in-house style of registration at Sherborne and can only relate what I was told. I'm sure they know what they're doing.

 

With regard to the Minster organ: by returning it organ to its original gallery position, which stood under the central tower. This would, of course, only be a musical benefit. Both visually and practically, it would be a detrimental step. One of the more serious problems with the present site is that balancing the accompaniment is difficult. The Positive pipework stands level with Decani gentlemen's ears - and about two feet behind them. The Swell shutters are angled to open (vertically) in this direction and the G.O. soundboard is behind the Positive, but with the upperboards placed about two feet lower. For hymns, it is not possible to do anything other than largely drown the choir, otherwise the organ cannot be heard adequately in the Nave. For choral items I have a second divisional channel set, with what might seem visually odd combinations at times, yet they work well in supporting the choir, without overshadowing them. However, even then, the organ is still very prominent to the Decani gentlemen.

 

You are welcome to visit the Minster after hours, Colin. I am always happy to show this lovely instrument to interested parties. I would be glad to demonstrate its tonal qualities. Naturally, you would also be welcome to play it yourself.

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Our main organ at the West End of Kendal Parish Church is not very well-placed - accompanying on it is a nightmare, despite CCTV, as it tends to bathe the audience/congregation in more sound than a Choir at the East can produce. (There's a set of West Choir stalls in retro-choir formation, but these are placed underneath the casework so that the accompaniment is barely audible to any singers there.)

 

Furthermore, in its present position it is susceptible to plaster and water damage, both of which have already occured to the extent that tuners (etc.) are recommending a major clean and overhaul soon. Of course, any work they did would be easily undone within months by our local climate ... it would be better to have a rebuild in a new position. Either way, it would all come down to money...

 

C'est la vie!

 

I suppose that if it were returned to its original site (and assuming one had the spare funds), the other two Pedal foundation stops could be re-instated. I must admit that, good though the organ is, I really missed the extra weight and tonal spread when I last played it.

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You might be overstating the case at Sherborne - I understand the case and the core of the pipes remain from the old organ, brought back to something closer to their original concept. Ken Tickell wrote a good article about the work in Organ Building 2005 but I should really go and have a look sometime.

He may indeed.

 

After playing for an Evensong (for a visiting choir) at Sherborne a couple of Saturdays ago, I sent in a list of corrections to the NPOR (which they kindly incorporated within a day or two). According to the information I can locate, there were (not counting the Nave division) but five entirely new stops. However, it must be borne in mind that a further four ranks were revoiced, and the mixtures had their breaks (and in a few instances their pitches) revised. Notwithstanding, out of forty speaking stops, there is much that I recognise aurally from the former instrument. How close this is to the original concept of the organ is open to question. The present scheme may look similar on paper to the Gray and Davison stoplist of 1888, but I suspect that tonally they are somewhat less closely related - if the glorious survival at Milton Abbey is any indication.

 

And yes, I did turn off the electrically assisted coupling - this is for girls.

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I suppose that if it were returned to its original site (and assuming one had the spare funds), the other two Pedal foundation stops could be re-instated. I must admit that, good though the organ is, I really missed the extra weight and tonal spread when I last played it.

 

The original site is now used as a Chapel; it could be possible to return it to the Chancel area (where it was between original position and present position) although the Chancel itself could need some major building work in consequence. We'd also have to bid farewell to the Bevington Chancel organ, although that would then be available to anyone who wants it - and they'd be getting a decent little machine!

 

I agree that it could do with more foundation tone, perhaps even a digital 32'? Let's see what can be done in the years ahead...

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Higher frequencies are attenuated by air so only those churches with large distances need strong upperwork. In the intimate environment of most small parish churches, there isn't this need for lots of upperwork to make the sound of the organ "carry".

 

The problem with higher frequencies is that they're much more directional than the lower frequencies. The sound doesn't get round corners. Low frequencies go round a corner very nicely though - the bass of a 16' Bourdon will be heard quite happily throughout a church......etc

 

The sound of the mixtures will remain in the chancel because they're directional and only speak across the chancel, while only the lower frequencies get round the corner in the nave.......

 

The Victorians played to its strengths and developed massive foundation work to get round the corner and "carry" down the nave. Sadly, it actually works, even if today's organists don't like the all-pervading sound it creates. However, the low frequencies help to an extent to carry the higher frequencies around the corner into the nave.

 

 

I.....deplore it when I see a scheme or work where extra upperwork.....etc

 

 

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

 

 

 

The whole business of acoustics is still something of a black-art but when it comes to churches, there is only architecture.

 

Can anyone think of a single church which was designed around an organ, because I cannot?

 

Organ-builders need to work WITH a building, (warts and all), as I mentioned in the discussion concerning Selby Abbey.

 

Although by no means restricted to the UK, inferior church acoustics are very prevalent; especially in those typical churches with low side aisles, a lower roof line for the chancel and roofs forming an acute angle.

 

Sound waves do not turn corners, (even long-wave ones), and upperwork is no more directional than anything else. However, when listening to instruments, it is easy to believe that this is actually happening when it isn't, because that's what it sounds like. The phenomenon has more to do with positioning, acoustic reflection and acoustic absorbency. Lower frequency sound usually comes from pipes buried somewhere at the back if the instrument, which means that the sound emerges from the organ in many directions at once. Being attenuated to mid and higher range frequencies, (possibly due to survival instincts and the laws of natural selection), the human ear often has great difficulty in pin-pointing the precise location of, (for exmple), an individual pipe speaking in a 32ft front. If a 4ft middle C is sounding, it can be located visually with some degree of accuracy. In other words, it's all to do with cognition rather than different sound-waves being more "directional" than others.

 

The "shape" of an acoustic is probably more important than anything else, and it is often the case, that in spaces where there is a strict mathematical proportion, music is greatly enhanced. A good example of this is St.John's, Smith Square, London. Talking in esoteric terms, we all know what is meant by "musical bloom" in a big acoustic, and as musicians, we can all instantly recognise certain BUILDINGS in recorded musical performances. I haven't put it to the test, but I think I may be able to recognise certain buildings if I heard recordings of just 8ft and 4ft Diapasons. Buildings such as York Minster, Sidney Town Hall, the old Festival Hall and Liverpool Metropolitan RC cathedral would, I think, stand out as instantly recognisable.

 

I find myself bemused by all this talk about extra "Mixtures" and "Upperwork" and "choruses....rebalanced." That is the prime thinking behind so many musically unsatisfying re-builds. A chorus is a chorus is a chorus.....it produces, or should produce, a certain harmonious sound. Any Mixtures added to it should be in sympathy with the sound the chorus makes. Although using the extension principle, John Compton, (with wayward genius), knew all about this. Go and listen to one of the few remaining big Compton organs, which haven't been over-messed with, such as Hull City Hall (based on the original Forster & Andrews organ) and St.Bride's, Fleet Street; two organs that I happen to know quite well. In both those instances, the usual 16,8,4,2 Great choruses are topped by a substantial amount of upperwork, whether derived or not. Not only that, the stop nomenclature often hides the full truth on many Compton instruments, some of which have rather more higher pitches than was deemed fashionable in those days, and which are usually only labelled as "Cornet V rks," when the actual truth was more like VIII - X rks. (At Bournemouth, Compton even included strange aliquot pitches almost unique in the UK). So in effect, a big Compton organ, (and even smaller ones), often have choruses topped with as many as 10 or more "ranks" of mixtures. In fact, I know of one Compton organ, speaking into a diabolically dead acoustic, which has oodles of upperwork derived from Salicional and Dulciana ranks. It makes a lovely and thoroughly musical sound in the midst of an acoustic nightmare. I am quite sure that nothing would sound better; perhaps just different. Lest we forget, John Compton usually used high-pressure, leathered Diapasons, but his choruses had clarity and cohesion nevertheless.

 

Halifax PC is a lovely Harrison instrument, but the one stop which stands apart from the rest is the Great Mixture; put in to replace the old "Harmonics" so beloved of contemporary organists. Not actually a bad sound, it nevertheless sits on the musical borderline between "ah" and "oh," when it should be "ooooh!"

 

As Pierre often points out, the great continental organs usually have very subtle mixtures made from almost pure lead, even in buildings where "screech" might be tolerable.

They would not think of "re-balancing the choruses," simply because many are more or less perfect as they are. It is surprising, but if a listener wanders eastwards at the Bavokerk, Haarlem, the great west-end instrument, projecting sound eloquently straight down the nave, starts to sound quite distant quite quickly, At the crossing, it sounds smoother and richer, and at the extreme east-end, it sounds miles away. It suggests that in absolute sound output, it is not as powerful as it sounds at close quarters. (Nevertheless, it still has perfect clarity and sounds utterly beautiful throughout the building).

 

In parenthesis, as it were, upperwork should always complement what is already there, and if a chorus is "re-balanced" by quietening the fundamental tones, then the Mixtures and other upperwork needs to be quieter rather than louder, or else they will sound ugly and stand-apart. The York Minster re-build by Walker's was one of the more successful examples of this, because no-one made the mistake of thinking that upperwork alone would make the sound project further down the nave. (That's the job of the Tuba Mirabilus!)

 

Ending controversially, I would propose the argument that the last thing big acoustics need, are big wood basses and ophicleides, as well as big scale, leathered diapasons producing masses of fundamental. (Cinema organs did this, and did it well, because they were not obliged to have diapason choruses). What big acoustics really need are the slightly more incisive quality of tone associated with Lewis and Schulze, and which by default, happened to work quite well when Fr.Willis chose Geigens as the basis for his chorus-work. Unfortunately, the Fr Willis chorus-sound tends to evaporate quite quickly in a big space; leaving it to the reeds to act as front-line assault troops. The perfect examples of how this can work, are of course, the Schulze organs at St.Bart's, Armley and St.Geroge's, Doncaster, both of which speak into buildings of almost cathedral proportions; each with very different acoustics. Had Dixon and Arthur Harrison studied THOSE instruments a little more carefully, they may have changed the course of British organ-building history rather more favourably, but of course, the agenda of the Edwardian period was that of producing orchestral rather than symphonic tones, as well as massive "devotional" power to drive congregational hymn-singing along.

 

MM

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but of course, the agenda of the Edwardian period was that of producing orchestral rather than symphonic tones

Just out of interest, how are you defining the difference between these two? I always treat these terms synonymously when discussing organs.

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

 

Can anyone think of a single church which was designed around an organ, because I cannot?

 

MM

 

Strangely enough I can. It is the wonderful organ of 1770-1772 built by Guillaume Robustelly for the Abbey Church in Averbode (Belgium). In 1822 it was transferred to Helmond (Brabant), in the Church of Sint Lambertus. The church was taken down and the large neo-Gothic building that we see today was then constructed with Smits rebuilding/re-erecting the organ in 1860-1862 into the new church where it is quite a sensational instrument in the West Gallery. This part of the church was designed for it and fits perfectly, of course. Therefore this is the organ's third home, but twice on the same spot. However, it is like a musical tourist left behind in a different musical world. A wonderful case and a sound that is quite unlike that normally associated with The Netherlands' organs.

 

(Thanks to the countless people here for the kindly Emails. I took heed of them, as you can see.)

 

Best wishes,

N

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"As Pierre often points out, the great continental organs usually have very subtle mixtures made from almost pure lead,"

 

Beware of sweeping generalisations, the 'continent' is a place of great contrasts. In France or Austria you're not going to find as much lead as in Friesland I think.

 

"They would not think of "re-balancing the choruses," simply because many are more or less perfect as they are. It is surprising, but if a listener wanders eastwards at the Bavokerk, Haarlem, the great west-end instrument, projecting sound eloquently straight down the nave, starts to sound quite distant quite quickly,"

 

Yes, the sound of the plenum falls flat on the floor unless you double all the 8's, add the Sesquialteras and at least one trompet. This is due to the work of Marcussen in 1960. The wind pressure is much too low (among other things). Actually, compared to other churches in Holland, the Bavo organ carries quite well because all the walls are plastered. In Leiden, the sound of the beautiful Van Hagerbeer organ in the Pieterskerk is badly compromised by the fact that the plaster was removed from the walls in a church restoration from the first half of the 20th century (removing was plaster was fashionable because it allowed the viewer to see the mason's art. It was also completely anti-historic).

 

"Had Dixon and Arthur Harrison studied THOSE instruments a little more carefully, they may have changed the course of British organ-building history rather more favourably, but of course, the agenda of the Edwardian period was that of producing orchestral rather than symphonic tones, as well as massive "devotional" power to drive congregational hymn-singing along."

 

I am still struggling to understand why this board seems so anti-Arthur Harrison. Harrison was the most succesful English organ builder of his time and in my humble opinion his contribution to the English organ was far greater than the English neo-classicists of the 1960s and 70s who were already far out of step with what was going on elsewhere. Whether you or I happen to like the 'devotional' power, it found enormous favour in the UK at the time and was done with great panache (As Henry Willis III knew to his cost).

 

Helmond, by the way, is one of the most incredible organs you will ever hear. I know highly respected organists in Holland who consider it the most beautiful organ in the country!

 

Bazuin

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I am still struggling to understand why this board seems so anti-Arthur Harrison.

Bazuin

 

I wouldn't say that is the case! I, and no doubt many others are big fans of Harrison organs (I am also a Willis, Hill, Tickell, etc etc fan). Each builder has good and bad points not necessarily per instrument. One thing about Harrison, as others have mentioned is the wonderful consoles such as Redcliffe and Durham (the same care and attention is also poured into many small organ consoles by the same builders). I also love the Willis House look from the early to mid 20th century with the black jambs...

 

Richard

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Being attenuated to mid and higher range frequencies, (possibly due to survival instincts and the laws of natural selection), the human ear often has great difficulty in pin-pointing the precise location of, (for example), an individual pipe speaking in a 32ft front.

Actually, it's because the phase difference between the ears (the predominant directional hearing mechanism below about 700Hz) is so small at such wavelengths that the ear has insufficient information to do a sufficiently precise calculation. Also, in saying that low frequencies "don't go round corners", you are also ignoring the different behaviour around obstacles that are substantially smaller or larger than a particular wavelength - move behind a pillar and hear the tone quality change.

 

Paul

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Helmond, by the way, is one of the most incredible organs you will ever hear. I know highly respected organists in Holland who consider it the most beautiful organ in the country!

 

Bazuin

 

one! Does anyone have the spec.?

 

A

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I am still struggling to understand why this board seems so anti-Arthur Harrison. Harrison was the most succesful English organ builder of his time and in my humble opinion his contribution to the English organ was far greater than the English neo-classicists of the 1960s and 70s who were already far out of step with what was going on elsewhere.

 

If a lot of Harrison's success (and that of the firm from its very beginnings to the present day, apart from just one or two unexceptional instruments like Trinity, Oxford) comes of a feeling of continuity, solidity and completeness which can only be borne of a bunch of people under strong leadership doing what they do best, that feeling needs to remain come what may. Even when Downes was involved, that sense remained uncompromised.

 

Many Arthur Harrison instruments (I hesitate to write 'most', but it may be) no longer retain that timeless quality because of subsequent alterations such as removal of Harmonics stops in favour of indifferent quint mixtures (in my case, fashioned from cut-down Dulciana pipes), revoicing of reeds, and alteration of wind pressures, to name three common examples.

 

Since few, if any, of us have substantial hands-on experience of a significant Arthur Harrison in pristine mechanical and properly untouched tonal condition, it is understandably difficult to be generous about some of the parts which remain out of context; speaking for myself, I sit at a plywood box operating plastic stops and keys controlling distant fat leathered diapasons, opaque Trombae, nasty 1970s Mixtures and Spitzflotes, a chorus inaudible to anyone sitting beyond row 3 and some ravishing soft orchestral colours audible only to the tuner, if he can hear over the leaks of eleven gigantic (and inaccessible) reservoirs. It's a tall order to sit at that console marvelling at the genius of Arthur Harrison.

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I am still struggling to understand why this board seems so anti-Arthur Harrison. Harrison was the most succesful English organ builder of his time and in my humble opinion his contribution to the English organ was far greater than the English neo-classicists of the 1960s and 70s who were already far out of step with what was going on elsewhere. Whether you or I happen to like the 'devotional' power, it found enormous favour in the UK at the time and was done with great panache (As Henry Willis III knew to his cost).

 

Bazuin

 

Try living with one for a while - preferably one which is tonally much as Arthur Harrison left it*. You may for a time, revel in the warmth and spread of the Pedal Open Wood, or delight in the variety of tone colour available at 8ft, pitch. You may further enjoy the contrasts between the G.O. and Swell reeds, or the fullness of the G.O. chorus.

 

However, after a time, it is possible that you will bemoan the fact that you are unable to find two balancing choruses for works such as Bach's 'Dorian' Toccata and that the G.O. and Pedal heavy pressure reeds seem to engulf everything else. You may also wish for some Pedal upperwork, to provide some clarity, in addition to great weight. Then you may begin to hanker after just one mixture which can be used effectively to top a diapason chorus (as opposed to attempting to bind powerful, opaque reeds to it). You may also wonder what, apart perhaps from accompanying massed singing, the G.O. leathered Open Diapason No. 1 is for - or, for that matter, what you could do with an immensely powerful Tuba, with practically no harmonic development at all.

 

At this time, elegant and sumptuous consoles, with their thick ivory and ebonised departmental stop jambs may simply not be enough to outweigh the fact that, whilst a vintage 'Harrison' organ possesses a good variety of unison and octave ranks with which to accompany a choir, it is rather less adept at doing just about anything else - unless you desire only to play such works as Brewer's Marche Heroïque.

 

Success is, in any case, relative. It depends on how you wish to measure it. If one is thinking in financial terms, then it is doubtful that Harrison was successful to any great degree - for he was, undoubtedly, a great artist, who was sincere in his beliefs. Lauence Elvin hinted that his quest for perfection prevented him becoming wealthy. If a particular stop did not turn out to be exactly as he desired, it was returned to the melting-pot and begun once more. I suppose that nowadays, this cost would simply be passed on to the client, in some cases. Not so with Arthur Harrison.

 

 

 

*Notwithstanding David's valid point above, there are a few instruments around which still retain enough of Arthur Harrison's touch to be able to gain a fair insight into his tonal ideals.

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... "They would not think of "re-balancing the choruses," simply because many are more or less perfect as they are. It is surprising, but if a listener wanders eastwards at the Bavokerk, Haarlem, the great west-end instrument, projecting sound eloquently straight down the nave, starts to sound quite distant quite quickly," (Quote form a post by MM.)

 

Yes, the sound of the plenum falls flat on the floor unless you double all the 8's, add the Sesquialteras and at least one trompet. This is due to the work of Marcussen in 1960. The wind pressure is much too low (among other things).

Bazuin

 

So in reality, was this controversial 'restoration' a disaster - did it, whist rejuvenating the mechanical parts of the instrument, rob it of its essential tonal characteristics? If so, can anyone here tell us what it should sound like now? Clutton's article (and an earlier appraisal by W.L. Sumner) in The Organ give a somewhat confused picture.

 

On recordings (which can in any case, alter the perceived sound of an instrument), it sounds to me not unike a fairly large vintage 'Hill' - partcularly when Jos van der Kooy is playing German Romantic Music. Not that I regard this as a bad thing - it just was not how I expected this instrument to sound. Unfortunately I have never heard it in the flesh. Every time I go there, the church is either locked or the organ is standing silently, its vast presence dominating the west end of this large church.

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...unless you desire only to play such works as Brewer's Marche Heroïque.

 

I fully expect an email about this, but to quote William Drake -

 

"...my old-fashioned, cave-man approach is that, if guided by the facilities at hand, i.e. given an organ that has a strong identity and is in good playing order, the true musician will be able make music if they are just able to overcome perceived limitations."

 

... which is, I think, a true statement. It may not be exactly your or my taste or suiting perfectly the composer's intentions, but it will still be music. Hang on before you disagree...

 

 

Later in the same passage -

 

"I know that there are players who would ideally like every console and every keyboard to be as similar as possible but as every other musician knows, each piano, clarinet, trumpet or whatever has its own characteristics which require some accommodation. It is only the advent of non-mechanical actions that has given the opportunity to make any organ very similar to any other."

 

... which you might take one stage further and add what I think is implied, which is 'thereby enabling builders to pursue non-musical goals increasingly connected with mechanical innovation and corporate identity'. That makes rather a different proposition. Let's face it, playing the Dorian on a Harrison is not that different from playing Beethoven opus 2 and the Bach 48 on a modern concert grand - the difference in sound, feel and technical possibilities is comparable.

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