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Tewkesbury Abbey

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Thanks for posting up the videos of Henk van Eeken. I think this makes the points I was trying to explain about research, investigation and gaining a fuller understanding of the craft of building organs and how this involves taking full control and developing your understanding of everything you do. It isn't just about the pipes, it is about every aspect of the organ. I'm really delighted we have builders like Henk van Eeken that have been able to step out of the needs for commercialism and making ends meet (as David Wyld's post sadly illustrates - and I do feel for the people in this situation) and have been able to spend time developing a greater understanding of their craft, rather than churn out rank after rank of pipes. I think the entire craft of organ building benefits from such work.

 

It is very easy to try and pull builders like this from their position and try to do them down or prove their ways or ideals aren't the best or (just as divisive but subtler in approach) there's an alternative way of doing it that's just as good for half the effort or cost. I think we have seen this type of arugment very clearly on this discussion. But such an approach, for whatever motivation, is ultimately self-defeating. As Henk points out, it is the smallest detail that counts. It is the attitude and the approach of builders like Henk that one admires. As Jacques van Oortmerssen puts it so well - "an organbuilder could think very commercially. That would mean one should cut down on all sorts of important aspects. One could cut down on research, one could cut down on the choice of material, which would mean that the quality decreases. And Henk van Eeken is uncompromising in this regard." I would gladly support an organ builder that has the same aspirations as Henk to develop the way he builds organs, his craft, his skill, his overwhelming desire to build better organs, understanding all the side effects of all the processes and not compromising, finding ways out of the commercialism of a production line of building organs to have the time to devote to developing his craft and understanding of it.

 

Without getting too effusive, I feel Henk's work clearly demostrates the merge of modern scientific research with artistic development (as a physicist by education, I was delighted to hear an organ builder talk about crystal lattice structures in metal), while at the same time developing a greater historical understanding. It really is a thing to behold and entirely on the cutting edge of organ building today. And this company of just 5-6 people seems to have found a way to research pipe metal casting on sand, while also able to carve acanthus leaves beautifully, which I think negates some of the points made above...

 

While the organs of the past are Henk's inspiration for him to uncover their skills and processes (and I think it is so very important to have this inspiration), it is also important to think to the future too. One important part of the craft is to be able to pass the skills on to the next generation of organ builders and to keep mastery of the full craft alive. As Henk points out, it is necessary to be a master of all parts of the trade, to understand how they all fit together and interact. I feel that subbing parts out to sub contractors doesn't really support this necessary part of the craft.

 

I think it's the self-defeating attitudes I have an issue with. Of course, I know there are builders (like David Wyld) who are taking steps to improve their work and are starting to make their own pipes again (although I was alarmed at the " dragged himself out of the distant past in terms of hammered lead" comment - there's so much to learn and an open mind is the important thing). I think it's the complacency and closed mind that's the issue - the mindset of "so-and-so makes good enough pipes, so we'll use those. There's no need to make our own". This isn't the attitude of an artist or a worthy craftsman, this is the attitude of a chancer, a jobsworth, someone with a superficial understanding of quality and little desire to improve their craft. I think that is why I started to protest when this discussion seemed to have reached a consensus that subbed pipes were OK. of course, there are sometimes reasons why a builder can't make their own pipes - but the aspiration and mind-set needs to be demostrably there.

 

"That doesn't mean any fool could do it, as Colin stated;"

 

Actually, I stated the complete opposite... I'm really not interested in trying to argue the toss or the minutae with people that don't care to understand what I have written, or seem to deliberately misconstrue what I've written. I felt tremendously dispirited that this board had reached a consensus so quickly that there was really nothing wrong with subbed out pipes without any dissention or any real discussion of the subject because I saw it reached deep into the core of the craft and I was alarmed that nobody seemed to mind. As a result, I am really beginning to wonder if this board is really the right place for me and I find myself considering whether I really want to remain a member. It feels so much like an uphill struggle with nothing to show at the end of it.

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Indeed it is most illuminating to hear somebody talking about their work in such a way - and a person who is in the midst of such a vast array of old instruments. But one of the interesting parallels with my friend Bernard Aubertin, is that they both come from a family line of craftsmen using wood and knowing all their lives the excellence of design and construction that goes hand-in-hand with such a profession. This natural in-built knowledge seems to be invaluable in their organ-building work.

Another point that is made concerning the in-house construction of pipe making is the ability to analyse the metals and the copying of old models and perhaps experimentation. Perhaps the latter we didn't see here as Mr van Eeken seems locked more into the fashioning of instruments in the 'old style' without using the old to influence more new schemes that bring them into the present. I may be wrong, but I wonder if he has any instruments that are his alone - not copies. I notice that some carving was copied from another famous organ. It would be good to know the whereabouts of the soundtrack organ too. Did I miss where it was?

On the question of making pipes, I can say that builders swap scales and historical facts - especially when one has been restoring. The opportunity to make a few experimental pipes is so necessary. For instance, the triple over-blowing flute in the organ of St Louis in Paris came about because of that information swapping and subsequent experimentation. It is one of the most remarkable sounds created lately by organ builders anywhere. It could never have been born had the builder not had this facility. Nor arguably would the Cavaillé-Coll instruments have had such individuality if the father (Dominique) could not have used the information from the son (Aristide) sent home from his travels. These were all mostly new sounds to France.

In conclusion, these hands-on builders have a total tonal conception in their mind from the outset of design. They do everything. I suggest that they could never contemplate allowing others to provide the sound-source in this situation. Therefore, their output is about one major new organ every 2 or 3 years. It would be good to have a list of van Eeken organs for our knowledge and edification. The next Aubertin after these past three years is nearing completion with the Pedal Quint being installed today.

Best wishes,

Nigel

Yes, Henk van Eeken does build some new organs, generally in a very traditional Dutch manner. His website gives further details: www.henkvaneeken.com and http://www.henkvaneeken.com/english/completedprojects.html. I note there is an organ destined for Galway, Ireland. Yes, it's interesting to note both van Eeken and Aubertin come from a family line of craftsmen.

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I can't help picking up on this:

 

"...the mindset of "so-and-so makes good enough pipes, so we'll use those. There's no need to make our own". This isn't the attitude of an artist or a worthy craftsman, this is the attitude of a chancer, a jobsworth, someone with a superficial understanding of quality and little desire to improve their craft."

 

I quite agree with this, HOWEVER the majority of firms that do not, for all sorts of practical reasons already discussed, make their own pipes do not fall into this category. Don't tar us all with the same brush. How many IBO members cast their own metal? How many make their own pipes from their own cast metal? not many, 4 or 5 if that!

It is the input details that are crucial, not whose pair of hands puts the irons in the fire. There is probably more discussion and interaction between an organbuilding firm and a pipe making firm than between the office and the metalshop. I would argue that the presence of a fully equiped voicing shop is far more important than having a casting bench. Having a casting bench does not guarantee quality, neither does not having one make you a cowboy.

 

 

" felt tremendously dispirited that this board had reached a consensus so quickly that there was really nothing wrong with subbed out pipes without any dissention or any real discussion of the subject "

That's because, in the majority of cases, there really isn't anything wrong with dedicated, trained, skilled, independant pipemakes making pipes to firm's detailed specifications.

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I can't help picking up on this:

 

"...the mindset of "so-and-so makes good enough pipes, so we'll use those. There's no need to make our own". This isn't the attitude of an artist or a worthy craftsman, this is the attitude of a chancer, a jobsworth, someone with a superficial understanding of quality and little desire to improve their craft."

 

I quite agree with this, HOWEVER the majority of firms that do not, for all sorts of practical reasons already discussed, make their own pipes do not fall into this category. Don't tar us all with the same brush.

I'm trying very hard NOT to do this... I fully support lots of builders, including IBO members, who don't cast their own metal, manufacture their own pipes, etc, but know what they're doing. I know there are lots of practical reasons why not. I've got lots of respect for those people. I'm sorry if it doesn't always come across.

 

How many IBO members cast their own metal? How many make their own pipes from their own cast metal? not many, 4 or 5 if that!

It is the input details that are crucial, not whose pair of hands puts the irons in the fire. There is probably more discussion and interaction between an organbuilding firm and a pipe making firm than between the office and the metalshop. I would argue that the presence of a fully equiped voicing shop is far more important than having a casting bench. Having a casting bench does not guarantee quality, neither does not having one make you a cowboy.

Yes, agreed.

 

" felt tremendously dispirited that this board had reached a consensus so quickly that there was really nothing wrong with subbed out pipes without any dissention or any real discussion of the subject "

That's because, in the majority of cases, there really isn't anything wrong with dedicated, trained, skilled, independant pipemakes making pipes to firm's detailed specifications.

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Erhaling/ Wiederholung/ Rappel/ Reminder: That Video expresses

opinions from 1950, up to Schweitzer condemnation of the "Fabrikorgel",

while himself preffering Dalstein & Haerpfer post-romantic, pneumatic

organs for his Bach recordings!

(He called them "Silbermanns" because they had things like "Salicional Silbermann"

and the like.....Which never existed outside Emil Rupp's mind).

 

Playing "the good, the bad and the ugly" is, in Fine, to play God, and, like all boomerangs,

ever finish with a rather crude "come back".

 

The ear decides, not size of business, way of doing/buing the pipes etc.

 

Pierre

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I'm sorry this perfectly legitimate discussion has turned so nasty.

 

"Bazuin seems to want to play his cards very close to his chest...."

 

Do you blame me? :blink:

 

Pierre wrote

 

"Bazuin, some comments from Henk van Eeken on those videos are

to be regretted."

 

I think this needs further comment. I admire Henk van Eeken because his new organs are the best new organs I have ever touched in my life. But I am also aware (from knowing him personally) of his weaknesses so I'm not star-struck in any way! Please elaborate.

 

Nigel Allcoat wrote

 

"Perhaps the latter we didn't see here as Mr van Eeken seems locked more into the fashioning of instruments in the 'old style' without using the old to influence more new schemes that bring them into the present. I may be wrong, but I wonder if he has any instruments that are his alone - not copies."

 

and David Wyld added

 

"It seems to me that this vexed question of 'best' is propelled by a certain "only old-fashioned is good" attitude which is destructive, demoralising to those of us who have worked for a long time to bring standards up in the UK and so opinionated as to make one shudder."

 

Don't shudder! I agree entirely that Henk van Eeken's house style is limited to the North German school with elements (especially in the principal ranks) of Muller. In that sense his organs are never likely to find their way into Anglican churches. In the liturgical situations he builds for in Holland, his organs function spectacularly well. Go and play one, David, you will be stunned. (Perhaps you already did?) You might also be interested to know that Henk is very interested in Father Willis, and even owned the ex-St Stephen's Hampstead 1880 III/30 before it went to Gothenburg. In this sense, he is already far more open minded than Peter Williams, for example, whose much-admired standard texts of a generation ago denegrated anything built after 1800. There are many ways to build a fabulous organ, it just happens that Henk van Eeken's style is quite focussed on one era. This doesn't invalidate the quality. Can I politely suggest that once again we are confusing qualitative judgements with stylistic ones, just as the neo-barockers did? Or perhaps you simply have no interest in that style, David? Or actively detest it even?

 

"when the new (ex Fritts) man has fully acclimatized and dragged himself out of the distant past in terms of hammered lead, we will make some of our own flue pipes."

 

Like Colin I find this slightly disrespectful. What must be interesting about having somebody who has worked for the house of Fritts is that he will have had direct contact with the application of scientific research into 17th and 18th century organbuilding techniques to the building of new organs in churches with diverse modern music programmes. If it really doesn't matter, then why do you even state the ambition for your ex-Fritts man to make your own pipes for you eventually? I, for one, am very interested in the line taken by Willis in re-applying its own heritage (Willis levers, tierce mixtures) - it's actually not dissimilar to what Henk is doing. I'm sorry that your new magnum-opus is going to the other side of the world.

 

About myself, I really don't like to bleat about my credentials. If you must know, I spent 7 years studying and working outside the UK, and have performed solo concerts in half a dozen countries, largely on historic organs of various kinds.

 

Bazuin

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I'm rather sorry I started this thread - albeit on a different topic :blink: - which has caused quite a lot of personal animosity. These subjects to tend to crop up every few months - tempers flare, hasty things are said, positions become entrenched, sometimes somebody leaves the board. It's a price to pay for instant shared written communication, I suppose. As musicians, I guess our nature is for us to generate our own very personal motivation, and often in a passionate way. As organists in particular - often a lonely musical pursuit - perhaps we are used to 'going it alone' and fighting our own corner.

 

Whatever the facts of this discussion, we are each entitled to our own opinion, and it stands to reason that we believe quite strongly in our opinions. Mr. Wyld said that he believes that the Tewkesbury Grove organ is stupendous, and that the Milton isn't. I never got to play the Grove, but I felt it important to post about the Milton because I found it so inspiring - it actually made me play better, and for the first time in a long time, it made me feel good about how I played. There's the (rather unreliable) source of my own motivation, so I believe strongly that the Milton is a good instrument. Others may disagree, and their reasons are probably at least as good as mine, and always as valid.

 

I hate to dip a toe into the boiling water, but is it possible that the merits and drawbacks of engaging pipe-making firms are dependant largely on the individual builder and pipe-maker? There isn't a direct correlation between source of pipes and quality of sound produced by them, regardless of skill employed, surely?

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I'm sorry this perfectly legitimate discussion has turned so nasty.

 

 

 

Nigel Allcoat wrote

 

"Perhaps the latter we didn't see here as Mr van Eeken seems locked more into the fashioning of instruments in the 'old style' without using the old to influence more new schemes that bring them into the present. I may be wrong, but I wonder if he has any instruments that are his alone - not copies."

 

My comment was not at all nasty and am rather mortified to think that it was construed so. Sometimes copies are needed because of location - America, Japan even Scandinavia (the French Classical instrument in Stockholm's Maria Magdalena for instance). In fact it was a genuine question to learn what instruments he has made other than those seen in the video and especially those which were not copies. He has a streak of in-built excellence very similar to his confrère in France with the exception that in the video there was a most beautifully kept bookcase behind him, whilst in France it looks always as if a tornado had passed by 10 years before. But actually (as others might attest), Aubertin is the tornado at times. A list of van Eeken instruments would still be greatly appreciated and with links to photos as a bonus. Anyone who strives so passionately for his profession needs far more than mere discussion here.

 

best wishes,

Nigel

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Yes, Henk van Eeken does build some new organs, generally in a very traditional Dutch manner. His website gives further details: www.henkvaneeken.com and http://www.henkvaneeken.com/english/completedprojects.html. I note there is an organ destined for Galway, Ireland. Yes, it's interesting to note both van Eeken and Aubertin come from a family line of craftsmen.

 

Thanks indeed. You are a star. I missed this post amid the vitriol.

Nigel

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Mr. Wyld said that he believes that the Tewkesbury Grove organ is stupendous, and that the Milton isn't. I never got to play the Grove, but I felt it important to post about the Milton because I found it so inspiring - it actually made me play better, and for the first time in a long time, it made me feel good about how I played. There's the (rather unreliable) source of my own motivation, so I believe strongly that the Milton is a good instrument.

 

Oh, sorry - I didn't say that the Milton wasn't a good organ - it's just not as good as the Grove organ! if there were a choice forced upon one, I, personally, would wish to see the Grove saved and not the Milton.

 

My Grandfather used to say "Don't compare the bad with the worse.", but in this case I think it's more a case of don't compare the OK with the Stupendous!

 

DW

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"when the new (ex Fritts) man has fully acclimatized and dragged himself out of the distant past in terms of hammered lead, we will make some of our own flue pipes."

 

Like Colin I find this slightly disrespectful. What must be interesting about having somebody who has worked for the house of Fritts is that he will have had direct contact with the application of scientific research into 17th and 18th century organbuilding techniques to the building of new organs in churches with diverse modern music programmes. If it really doesn't matter, then why do you even state the ambition for your ex-Fritts man to make your own pipes for you eventually? I, for one, am very interested in the line taken by Willis in re-applying its own heritage (Willis levers, tierce mixtures) - it's actually not dissimilar to what Henk is doing. I'm sorry that your new magnum-opus is going to the other side of the world.

Bazuin

 

I can assure you that there is no disrespect - he's a first-rate chap and does excellent work: but - he is limited in his experience of making pipework in OUR style and he himself sees it as a limitation to be overcome.

 

He's had no lack of research since coming here, we are constantly looking at methods and materials (and style), often reinventing what has been lost in this firm in the past. For instance, I've spent a great deal of the past four months re-drawing ALL of our shallot scales and trying to get back in time, past the 1949 and 1958 revisions of the scales - with a deal of success I think.

 

DW

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Oh, sorry - I didn't say that the Milton wasn't a good organ - it's just not as good as the Grove organ! if there were a choice forced upon one, I, personally, would wish to see the Grove saved and not the Milton.

 

My Grandfather used to say "Don't compare the bad with the worse.", but in this case I think it's more a case of don't compare the OK with the Stupendous!

 

DW

 

No need to apologise - that's not how I took what you wrote. Tewkesbury are clearly very fortunate with their organs - I can see that I'm going to have to go back for the Grove experience in the near future :blink:

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No need to apologise - that's not how I took what you wrote. Tewkesbury are clearly very fortunate with their organs - I can see that I'm going to have to go back for the Grove experience in the near future :blink:

 

Excellent idea; by the way, some videos on Youtube would be usefull to

have the instrument better known !

 

Pierre

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"Bazuin seems to want to play his cards very close to his chest...."

 

Do you blame me? :blink:

 

Bazuin

 

To be honest, I think that some of the antagonism exhibited in this thread has arisen from the fact that you tend to make very strong claims about many things - and that this may be exacerbated by your refusal to state your identity.

 

I have, on a number of occasions, gained the distinct impression that you feel you are absolutely correct about everything on which you comment. Even by the law of averages, this is unlikely.

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Excellent idea; by the way, some videos on Youtube would be usefull to

have the instrument better known !

 

Pierre

 

Voila...

 

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This will be immediately posted on the french Forum.

More videos are needed, with detail registrations and

views of the instrument.

 

Pierre

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Oh, sorry - I didn't say that the Milton wasn't a good organ - it's just not as good as the Grove organ! if there were a choice forced upon one, I, personally, would wish to see the Grove saved and not the Milton.

 

My Grandfather used to say "Don't compare the bad with the worse.", but in this case I think it's more a case of don't compare the OK with the Stupendous!

 

DW

Well that's ignoring the issues that I raised earlier. If the Grove was going to replace the Milton as the only organ (ignoring the tiny Elliot instrument) then in my opinion, to make it usable, it would need:-

  • moving from its buried location in the transept
  • a case
  • a new console
  • adjustment to concert pitch

This would probably fundamentally alter the character of the instrument.

 

Put differently, if the Milton were to fall silent the abbey would effectively be left without a usuable instrument for its liturgy and for concert use apart from the odd organ recital. Whereas if the Grove were to fall silent it would not affect the life and worship of the abbey one jot.

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Well that's ignoring the issues that I raised earlier. If the Grove was going to replace the Milton as the only organ (ignoring the tiny Elliot instrument) then in my opinion, to make it usable, it would need:-

  • moving from its buried location in the transept
  • a case
  • a new console
  • adjustment to concert pitch

This would probably fundamentally alter the character of the instrument.

 

Put differently, if the Milton were to fall silent the abbey would effectively be left without a usuable instrument for its liturgy and for concert use apart from the odd organ recital. Whereas if the Grove were to fall silent it would not affect the life and worship of the abbey one jot.

 

 

....And this bring us back to a fundamental question: are organs works of Art or Fridges ?

 

Maybe the Grove organ could be -with utmost care- moved towards a better position, but the

very last thing to do would be to change anything at all, be it a case or a new console, not to

mention the pitch!

No vintage car owner would have the idea to paste a power steering and electric windows

to a 1920 Rolls-Royce.

Are the organists less educated than them ?

 

As for concerts, the Grove organ offers more than anyone could dream of. Not only

is it an historic organ of the very first class, but it seems capable to do justice to

a wide "Repertoire" as well, from César Franck to Tournemire + all what comes between them,

in France, England and even, up to a certain extent, Germany.

As a synthesis of two completely different styles, the Schulze-Lewis tradition and

Willis-inspired reed choruses, this organ was the first to break down the romantic

rules of organ design, and, as such, it was the first "Post-romantic" organ.

 

Pierre

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....And this bring us back to a fundamental question: are organs works of Art or Fridges ?

What a marvellous way of putting it !

 

No vintage car owner would have the idea to paste a power steering and electric windows

to a 1920 Rolls-Royce.

Are the organists less educated than them ?

mhm, having just suffered another weekend, complete with cyphers, in Bristol Cathedral I have a different take on that. (And dont get me wrong, I love the organ, just not its action and reliability.)

 

As for concerts, the Grove organ offers more than anyone could dream of.

I wasnt questioning its function for organ recitals, but the overwhelming majority of concerts in the abbey are choral and orchestral concerts for which the Grove is completely unusable.

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What a marvellous way of putting it !

 

 

mhm, having just suffered another weekend, complete with cyphers, in Bristol Cathedral I have a different take on that. (And dont get me wrong, I love the organ, just not its action and reliability.)

 

 

I wasnt questioning its function for organ recitals, but the overwhelming majority of concerts in the abbey are choral and orchestral concerts for which the Grove is completely unusable.

 

Just about the choral side, why is the Grove not suitable for these? Is it so very sharp?

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Just about the choral side, why is the Grove not suitable for these? Is it so very sharp?

 

I wouldn't know about the pitch of the Grove, but I would have thought that the location of the instrument (hidden away in the North Transept, with the console on the Eastern side) would make it very difficult to use alongside an orchestra at the head of the nave?

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mhm, having just suffered another weekend, complete with cyphers, in Bristol Cathedral I have a different take on that. (And dont get me wrong, I love the organ, just not its action and reliability.)

 

Is this a casualty of the weather at the moment? I think the low humidity is everywhere and it is rather a freak time. I have heard that somebody's voicing machine has for the first time ever in its life developed problems. I think every organ (certainly of note) should possess a good gauge to measure temp and humidity. Hands up those who have? I am told (but please correct me, please) that the ratio should be 20C to 60% humidity and from that you can work out the other levels. Over the past weeks at home I struggle to reach 55% with 24C in the home. (There is somebody nearly 99 living here so must be warm!) However, my piano is in good shape, as is the organ. It is surprising what a difference it makes to the speech of my wooden pipes to have the correct ratio - also the action. I get through 2 gallons of water a day at the moment in the humidifier.

Best wishes,

N

 

 

PS King's College Chapel in Aberdeen after they installed their new organ has the place littered with humidifiers and graphs made daily of the readings from the central control. Works a-treat.

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Out of interest, how often is the Grove played, whether in concert or for services? I have twice visited and heard and played the Milton, and whilst I was very impressed by it, I couldn't help feel a tinge of sadness that the Grove was locked up and at least on one occasion was out of action due I think to a blower problem. Does the Abbey make sufficient use of it, or even have the financial means to keep both instruments in top form?

 

Contrabombarde

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