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St Mary's Portsea


Malcolm Kemp
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A good friend of mine who is curate at St Mary's Portsea has sent me details of activities organised to raise funds for the resoration of their fine organ.

 

If any of you are within travelling distance there is a Christmas Spectacular in St Mary's on Saturday 5th December at 7.30pm featuring various choral groups and admission is £5.

 

I don't know any further details of the proposed work on the organ but I do know that an application to Heritage Lottery Fund is imminent. I have only heard it once but I gather it is regarded as a fine instrument of its period.

 

The church has a comprehensive website.

 

Malcolm

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Thanks for posting this. It's good to hear that there is to be an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore this fine and historically important organ. It will be very interesting to know more of the details of the work proposed. I know one organ builder wrote a very good report on the organ and suggested what could be done - I'd be interested to know who's successful with their bid and what they do.

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Thanks for posting this. It's good to hear that there is to be an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore this fine and historically important organ. It will be very interesting to know more of the details of the work proposed. I know one organ builder wrote a very good report on the organ and suggested what could be done - I'd be interested to know who's successful with their bid and what they do.

 

I did a fundraising concert there in 1993. I don't think they'll ever get there.

 

The organ is no longer as historically important as it once was; the pipework and stoplist has been extensively altered (and in fact most of the upperwork has been jumbled up); the pitch has changed; the original action and console are no longer there.

 

Is it really in the best interests of a crumbling (fabric-wise) inner city parish church to spend 8-10 times what is strictly necessary on creating an instrument with trigger swell, no playing aids, pneumatic action, and a pitch which would make it more or less useless for use in combination with other instruments - a factor which, in time, may become increasingly important?

 

Given that this is such a poor area, if 10% of that sum would attend to the underactions and the bellows and cover some cleaning work (and it's only 25 years or so since the last clean and overhaul) - is that not the most appropriate thing to do at this stage?

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I did a fundraising concert there in 1993. I don't think they'll ever get there.

 

The organ is no longer as historically important as it once was; the pipework and stoplist has been extensively altered (and in fact most of the upperwork has been jumbled up); the pitch has changed; the original action and console are no longer there.

 

Is it really in the best interests of a crumbling (fabric-wise) inner city parish church to spend 8-10 times what is strictly necessary on creating an instrument with trigger swell, no playing aids, pneumatic action, and a pitch which would make it more or less useless for use in combination with other instruments - a factor which, in time, may become increasingly important?

 

Given that this is such a poor area, if 10% of that sum would attend to the underactions and the bellows and cover some cleaning work (and it's only 25 years or so since the last clean and overhaul) - is that not the most appropriate thing to do at this stage?

You could have said exactly the same of Peartree church, circa 1990. Thankfully, they took the plunge, HLF was prepared to put up the money and they've now got a solid little organ in a fully sustainable state that shouldn't need work on the action every 15-25 years. They're proud of their organ and they've attracted a number of good organists at the church, with a large and enthusiastic choir.

 

I don't think it's that positive or helpful to dismiss Portsea taking on this project because it's in a not-especially-wealthy parish and they've got other demands on their funds. Every church, rich or poor, has other demands on their funds. When would they ever have the money to fully restore the organ if they had your outlook? Why should Portsea not take on this project?

 

If we only support the rich churches restoring their organs lavishly, aren't we encouraging a situation where "the haves" have the best of everything and "the have-nots" have to make do? Where's the justice in that?

 

A large, ambitious project of national/international interest does a great deal of good for the church community. It helps draws the church community together and makes them appreciate their resources, which can only have a positive impact on visitors. It gives the confidence and a positive outlook raising money and improving the situation of their church, which can only have a positive impact. Much more depends on the leadership of the church than the wealth of its congregation.

 

Finally, may I point out that there isn't really that much evidence to suggest the organ will be used more with other instruments in the future and that pitches vary over time. Most continental makers of Oboes now make instruments at a variety of pitches, Steinways leave the Hamburg factory at A444, most professional musicians have a variety of instruments at their disposal, so we shouldn't let the tail wag the dog.

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Peartree has just (this year) had some fairly significant action work undertaken.

 

Portsea just managed to stop the tower falling down (and I mean falling down, not just looking a bit scruffy); there are huge and pressing problems for the building.

 

It is positioned very high up, nearly in the eaves of an intensively centrally heated building; would a new pneumatic action obtained at great cost be able to cope in the long term, do you suppose, with pressures of heat and dryness - and be any more sustainable than doing the necessary work to the underactions?

"Finally, may I point out that there isn't really that much evidence to suggest the organ will be used more with other instruments in the future..."

 

How interesting.

 

Youth music at the church is incredibly active and there is no reason to suppose that involvement with other groups, whether symphony orchestras or worship bands, would not be on the cards at some point, and the resources of those groups are unlikely to include people who have access to oboes and clarinets at various pitches. It is a terrific venue with an acoustic to die for and a fantastic performance space. Taking deliberate steps to make the organ unuseable with brass and woodwind would surely be utterly retrograde, particularly bearing in mind the six-figure cost involved in doing the job properly - cutting every pipe down at the lip, restoring the original cutup, resoldering, adding more metal to the length, etc etc etc - which is surely the only way to go if doing the job at all.

 

I am not attempting to promulgate a situation where the haves have more than the have nots. I am simply observing that every other shop in the street is closed and empty, the churchyard and surrounding area are awash with people sleeping in doorways, and that talk of restoration has been mooted for 20 years at least.

 

Surely it is better for everyone (including the organ) to take a pragmatic approach and raise £10,000 to make it work well without further deviation from its origins (which will be far better preserved by leaving alone than by going for drastic work by the cheapest tender - see 'historic work' elsewhere), rather than £450,000 to make it last no longer with, in all likelihood, less usefulness to the parish, and less reliability.

 

Far from being unhelpful or dismissive, as you suggest, I am merely suggesting that the area, the parish, the organ, the musicians and the music may all be better served by adopting a policy of careful and economical preservation, rather than reconstruction on a massive scale.

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You could have said exactly the same of Peartree church, circa 1990. Thankfully, they took the plunge, HLF was prepared to put up the money and they've now got a solid little organ in a fully sustainable state that shouldn't need work on the action every 15-25 years. They're proud of their organ and they've attracted a number of good organists at the church, with a large and enthusiastic choir.

 

To be frank, Peartree was a compromise and rather a waste of money. It really bears little resemblance to it's original design. The main stumbling block with all of these 'restorations' is to decide at which point in an organ's life is chosen as the restore point, without compromising the the instrument's ability to play the liturgy effectively. I think that the Peartree 'restoration' failed wholesale in this regard.

 

David Coram is quite right - With Peartree, after the restoration, The action was so heavy that it was really difficult to play - and the action was appallingly variable due (according to the tuner's book) to the different pallet sizes, particularly on the Great. It was almost impossible to play anything fast with any finesse with the Sw/Gt coupler engaged, and the Widor 5th toccata was almost out of the question, and that is silly. It is interesting to note that the present organist has arranged for another organ builder (not the ones who did the rebuild) to considerably modify and 'lighten' the action. It is now certainly lighter than it was, although I don't think it can ever be called good!

 

The church may be proud of the organ, but the incumbent is indifferent to it and the liturgy, resulting in the choir leaving and are now singing with other churches in the Southampton area.

 

Inspite of your rose-tinted rememberances of Peartree, the reality is somewhat different!

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Peartree has just (this year) had some fairly significant action work undertaken.

 

Portsea just managed to stop the tower falling down (and I mean falling down, not just looking a bit scruffy); there are huge and pressing problems for the building.

 

It is positioned very high up, nearly in the eaves of an intensively centrally heated building; would a new pneumatic action obtained at great cost be able to cope in the long term, do you suppose, with pressures of heat and dryness - and be any more sustainable than doing the necessary work to the underactions?

"Finally, may I point out that there isn't really that much evidence to suggest the organ will be used more with other instruments in the future..."

 

How interesting.

 

Youth music at the church is incredibly active and there is no reason to suppose that involvement with other groups, whether symphony orchestras or worship bands, would not be on the cards at some point, and the resources of those groups are unlikely to include people who have access to oboes and clarinets at various pitches. It is a terrific venue with an acoustic to die for and a fantastic performance space. Taking deliberate steps to make the organ unuseable with brass and woodwind would surely be utterly retrograde, particularly bearing in mind the six-figure cost involved in doing the job properly - cutting every pipe down at the lip, restoring the original cutup, resoldering, adding more metal to the length, etc etc etc - which is surely the only way to go if doing the job at all.

 

I am not attempting to promulgate a situation where the haves have more than the have nots. I am simply observing that every other shop in the street is closed and empty, the churchyard and surrounding area are awash with people sleeping in doorways, and that talk of restoration has been mooted for 20 years at least.

 

Surely it is better for everyone (including the organ) to take a pragmatic approach and raise £10,000 to make it work well without further deviation from its origins (which will be far better preserved by leaving alone than by going for drastic work by the cheapest tender - see 'historic work' elsewhere), rather than £450,000 to make it last no longer with, in all likelihood, less usefulness to the parish, and less reliability.

 

Far from being unhelpful or dismissive, as you suggest, I am merely suggesting that the area, the parish, the organ, the musicians and the music may all be better served by adopting a policy of careful and economical preservation, rather than reconstruction on a massive scale.

 

 

I completely agree with you, David. Far better to make the thing playable and enjoyable to play and to listen to in it's current state than to 'restore' it back to a previous (probably doubtful) incarnation.

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Most continental makers of Oboes now make instruments at a variety of pitches, Steinways leave the Hamburg factory at A444, most professional musicians have a variety of instruments at their disposal, so we shouldn't let the tail wag the dog.

 

There has been, for some time, a rather horrid tendency started among 'upper' string players, to want to play at A=444. they say, invariably, that it makes their sound brighter: it doesn't - merely sharper. It also puts many old instruments (violins that is, not organs) under a great deal of physical stress.

 

The arguments I've heard to justify are variously funny and pathetic and not one of them accounts for temperature! At what temperature do they require their 444? :P

 

DW

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I wonder whether, so far as Portsea is concerned, we are in the realms of fact or conjecture. I merely advertised the concert on Saturday week which, I think, will involve a certain amount of local talent.

 

At no point have I been told - neither have I suggested on this Board - what they are proposing to have done to the organ or how much they are intending to spend on it. Their November parish magazine (on their website) states that a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund is imminent; it doesn't say what they want to have done to the organ or how much they hope to spend.

 

What I am certain of is that the clergy team in that parish is well aware of the pastoral needs, and the social problems of, the area.

 

Clearly David Coram has good, up to date knowledge of the area. Perhaps he has more local conenctions and factual knowlege of the proposals for the organ than we do.

 

Malcolm

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I wonder whether, so far as Portsea is concerned, we are in the realms of fact or conjecture. I merely advertised the concert on Saturday week which, I think, will involve a certain amount of local talent.

 

At no point have I been told - neither have I suggested on this Board - what they are proposing to have done to the organ or how much they are intending to spend on it. Their November parish magazine (on their website) states that a submission to the Heritage Lottery Fund is imminent; it doesn't say what they want to have done to the organ or how much they hope to spend.

 

Nobody said you had done. It's reasonably well known (well, there have been enough organists) that the last set of reports on the organ was for full candlesticks and rusty screws reftoration. Any application to HLF would a) only match what the church raises £ for £, and bee) unless the rules have changed, only entertain work of a certain stated level of authenticity - however far behind the music desk that authenticity lasts.

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With Peartree, after the restoration, The action was so heavy that it was really difficult to play - and the action was appallingly variable due (according to the tuner's book) to the different pallet sizes, particularly on the Great.

 

Brief digression. Having been involved in the most recent work there, most of the problem was due to wildly different pallet spring strengths. Typically each was at least 20mm smaller or larger than its immediate neighbour (the largest difference I measured was 58mm), and most were far too strong.

 

The inherent sponginess which remains after these were regulated has more to do with the very long horizontal runs (especially to the Choir) and several sources of unintended friction which are not straightforward to eliminate. It will never be perfect, and (since a lot of action work was replaced - aluminium squares e.g. - at the major restoration) may even be better now than when it was new - G&D weren't exactly the greatest mechanical engineers of their day. It is certainly comparable in feel to Limehouse - manageable, just a touch agricultural.

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I'm glad David points this out now (after defending the mechanical design of the Peartree organ most vigorously to me once) as this was exactly what I thought about it. However, despite its shortcomings (which I saw little point in alluding to), I still think my point above is valid.

 

I know the full story of dispersal of the choir at Peartree too - I had a number of friends in the choir at the time.

 

As far as Portsea goes (and I wasn't going to say this), I'm aware of a number of proposals put to the church a little while ago, the majority of which were very well balenced between the historical desires and practical concerns and outlined a number of potential options for the organ. They were all mainly pragmatic and one or two of them were very good indeed. They were not all brass candlesticks and rusty screws as suggested. I'll be interested to know if one of these is going ahead or whether the church has decided on an alternative plan - or quite what is happening.

 

If the church is putting in an HLF bid, they must have a good idea what they're planning to do, although, if I remember from my own experience with the process, the level of detail required depends on what stage of the application process they're putting in for.

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My curate friend at Portsea (who is Chairman of the organ restoration committee) has read these posts and has promised to give me some text to post here, under his name, explaining exactly what is planned/proposed.

 

Malcolm

 

Excellent! I look forward to that.

 

Colin - the 'candlesticks and rusty screws' was clearly lighthearted. My information comes from three out of four previous directors of music, all of whom have alluded to pneumatic action, trigger swell and pitch restoration as a minimum, and those are the (very expensive) bits I personally believe would be a big mistake. Conjecture or fantasy or otherwise, this is a discussion forum, and I'm up for discussing!

 

If it DOES go ahead, then pcnd will be able to get his hands (probably quite cheaply) on three more Walker 1965 keyboards to c4 to REALLY complete the Wimborne instrument... or perhaps I'll have them for Bournemouth!

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Excellent! I look forward to that.

 

Colin - the 'candlesticks and rusty screws' was clearly lighthearted. My information comes from three out of four previous directors of music, all of whom have alluded to pneumatic action, trigger swell and pitch restoration as a minimum, and those are the (very expensive) bits I personally believe would be a big mistake. Conjecture or fantasy or otherwise, this is a discussion forum, and I'm up for discussing!

 

If it DOES go ahead, then pcnd will be able to get his hands (probably quite cheaply) on three more Walker 1965 keyboards to c4 to REALLY complete the Wimborne instrument... or perhaps I'll have them for Bournemouth!

Aha! Excellent....

 

Now I can have Nôtre-Dame de Wimborne....

 

:P

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If it DOES go ahead, then pcnd will be able to get his hands (probably quite cheaply) on three more Walker 1965 keyboards to c4 to REALLY complete the Wimborne instrument... or perhaps I'll have them for Bournemouth!

Really really? I thought M'sieur still needed a bottom octave for his kazoo.

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Excellent! I look forward to that.

 

Colin - the 'candlesticks and rusty screws' was clearly lighthearted. My information comes from three out of four previous directors of music, all of whom have alluded to pneumatic action, trigger swell and pitch restoration as a minimum, and those are the (very expensive) bits I personally believe would be a big mistake. Conjecture or fantasy or otherwise, this is a discussion forum, and I'm up for discussing!

 

If it DOES go ahead, then pcnd will be able to get his hands (probably quite cheaply) on three more Walker 1965 keyboards to c4 to REALLY complete the Wimborne instrument... or perhaps I'll have them for Bournemouth!

Interesting M'sieur... My source was from a consultant linked to the project, who had a slightly different story. One of the prefered reports gave a couple of options - one was to sort out the action (I think keeping it largely E-P) and mechanics - getting them into a workable state that wasn't too cheap and nasty, new console in Victorian Walker style (but a bit of a hybrid console with buttons, like, say, St. Albans Copenhagen so there was at least some sense of sitting at a Victorian organ but with a full supply of buttons to keep today's organist happy), reversing some of the tonal changes to get it to a more integrated tonal scheme. Option 2 was for full historical restoration, returning to T-P, fully authentic console (one wonders how those poor Victorians ever managed), careful restoration of the pipework and tonal scheme, attire of hobnail boots and waistcoats with growth of beards by the organ builders as they work on the organ, complete authentic disregard of Health & Safety, steam driven power tools, etc...

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Interesting M'sieur... My source was from a consultant linked to the project, who had a slightly different story. One of the prefered reports gave a couple of options - one was to sort out the action (I think keeping it largely E-P) and mechanics - getting them into a workable state that wasn't too cheap and nasty, new console in Victorian Walker style (but a bit of a hybrid console with buttons, like, say, St. Albans Copenhagen so there was at least some sense of sitting at a Victorian organ but with a full supply of buttons to keep today's organist happy), reversing some of the tonal changes to get it to a more integrated tonal scheme. Option 2 was for full historical restoration, returning to T-P, fully authentic console (one wonders how those poor Victorians ever managed), careful restoration of the pipework and tonal scheme, attire of hobnail boots and waistcoats with growth of beards by the organ builders as they work on the organ, complete authentic disregard of Health & Safety, steam driven power tools, etc...

 

Option two could be said to be unnecessarily limiting - this would give the church in question a two clavier instrument with twenty eight stops - five of them prepared for. This would include ten ranks of mixture work, but only two reeds - both at 8ft. pitch.

 

It does seem rather unfortunate that so much of the pipework became mixed between ranks at a restoration some time in the last twenty years or so. This appears to be a somewhat haphazard way of working. Are there clear markings on enough pipework to enable someone with a great deal of patience to restore each moved pipe to its correct position?

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