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York Minster Organ Recitals


Shropshire Lad

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I was privileged to hear Dr Francis Jackson play his recital at the Minster on August 14th which for me was a milestone. Despite being the modest age of 37!, I've always wanted to hear FJ, one of my heroes, play and at long last it was worth the wait. It was great to see an organist use hand registration, departmental pistons and use of swell pedal in the Bach (shock horror!) I can just about remember hearing GTB live although that feels an age ago.

 

Having limited knowledge of the Minster, I was wandering why the nave console wasn't used for the recital. Presumably it would give the audience greater visibility and also mean that the audience were sat in the position where the majority of the organ speaks. I couldn't help feeling that I was sat behind the organ whilst sat in the quire area which I suppose I was. Is this traditional for the audience to be sat in the quire or does this vary from concert to concert?

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I was privileged to hear Dr Francis Jackson play his recital at the Minster on August 14th which for me was a milestone. Despite being the modest age of 37!, I've always wanted to hear FJ, one of my heroes, play and at long last it was worth the wait. It was great to see an organist use hand registration, departmental pistons and use of swell pedal in the Bach (shock horror!) I can just about remember hearing GTB live although that feels an age ago.

 

Having limited knowledge of the Minster, I was wandering why the nave console wasn't used for the recital. Presumably it would give the audience greater visibility and also mean that the audience were sat in the position where the majority of the organ speaks. I couldn't help feeling that I was sat behind the organ whilst sat in the quire area which I suppose I was. Is this traditional for the audience to be sat in the quire or does this vary from concert to concert?

 

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No, you were sat in the best place to hear all the organ except the big Tuba. The other reasonable place is just to the West of the organ screen, but even then, the clarity of the pedal division suffers.

 

I'm afraid that the building is so immense and the interior of the central tower so big, the sound just vanishes.

 

I've played three Evensongs at York, and on first sitting at the console, the jumble of sound is quite disconcerting.

 

As I've mentioned previously, the space occupied by the transepts alone, (without the tower space above), is almost exactly the same as St Lauren's, Alkmaar in its entirety.

 

That puts the relative scales into perspective, I think.

 

MM

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I agree with MM. I suspect the quire is the best place to hear the organ in balance, especially the Choir organ.

 

It is interesting to note, however, that Francis Jackson, in a leaflet about the organ published prior to the Coffin alterations/additions, states that "...it is now possible to accompany a nave full of people on nothing more than the Choir Organ with its high-pitched Cymbal..." (this latter stop now, of course, has been removed).

 

I wonder just how effective the Choir organ is in the nave, it being on the other side of the organ. Moreover, I have heard that the sound of the organ fails to carry appreciably into the nave, so how the Choir organ alone (even with a Cymbal) can accompany a nave full of people beats me!

 

I too, incidentally, very much enjoyed FJ's recital.

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All,

 

Interesting points.

 

As MM states, the vastness of the space (if that's a legitimate piece of phrasiology) at York Minster imposes a particular effect upon the sound of the organ, which is very hard to describe concisely. This of course gives it a rather grand and spacious feel, but also creates difficulties for the organ, not only with listening, but as we have heard, in playing as well. Whilst never having played it myself, I hear of the challenges from those who have - and the interesting ways of compromising or overcoming the various issues that are presented.

 

The organ, overall, is best heard in the Quire, and there is no doubt about that. However, in many ways, the organ is heard to stunning effect when stood beneath the central tower, in the crossing (or at the top of the nave, at a push. As soon as you travel further west, the 'distance' of the sound becomes enormous, and we're talking a tangible change that can be noted step by step), and as such this is the area from which to hear the distinctly west facing (and rather loud) Tuba Mirabilis. Whilst slightly reduced in power from what it was (24" pressure rather than 25" pre 1993, I think) it is still the saving grace for big nave services. The organ in itself sounds very distant (but albeit very grand and in some nerdy ways appealing for it) from the nave without this significant leader.

 

Returning to the notion of sitting in the Quire, I am told much of the pipework is actually turned to face east, but I aren't 100% sure on this. I suppose the thing to remember is that the organ is situated east of the tower, so the sound is far more concise in the Quire rather than the gradual 'blur' at the other side anyway. Obviously things like the east pointing Bombarde are really only effective in the Quire, and whilst this is the counter-foil for the Tuba Mirabilis (although I'd vote for it to be beefed up a few notches (only on 10" wind) and stuck on top of the case rather than on the north side where it can be heard to be distinctly seperated), it can actually still be used to effect in the nave, as it 'brightens' the sound somewhat. In the same way, the Tuba Mirabilis can still be to some extent enjoyed in the Quire as you hear it coming back at you, and if you're familiar enough with York, you can tell it is there by the tone anyway.

 

Whilst it would be attractive to sit at the top of the nave and observe the nave console, much in the same way as say the nearby Ripon Cathedral do, it simply wouldn't give you the right feel for many works, nor would it enable any intimacy in it, and my vote most certainly lies with the Quire for recitals. The variety and scope of the York organ, and the sounds it can create (not least) in different parts of what is, to be fair, an absolutely enormous Cathedral, fills me with great enthusiasm and interest in what it can do.

 

That FJ quote sounds intriguing - remember though that he is known for his sense of humour and general mischief! Did he mean a nave of 10 people? I have heard some very funny stories concerning his time at York, but perhaps we should leave those for another day!

 

Regards,

Tosher

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.....the vastness of the space.......

 

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I quite like that personally. It's no worse than "an infinity of infinities" or even "millions of cats in the garden."

 

Spatial vastness is a bit clinical......but what about "Vastitudenal" or the 'inner vastitude?"

 

We could even give it a new category and call it a 'Manderism' couldn't we?

 

We're at the cutting edge of language here. :)

 

MM

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Whilst it would be attractive to sit at the top of the nave and observe the nave console, much in the same way as say the nearby Ripon Cathedral do, it simply wouldn't give you the right feel for many works, nor would it enable any intimacy in it, and my vote most certainly lies with the Quire for recitals. The variety and scope of the York organ, and the sounds it can create (not least) in different parts of what is, to be fair, an absolutely enormous Cathedral, fills me with great enthusiasm and interest in what it can do.

 

Regards,

Tosher

 

Or you could do what we did successfully at a recital at Ripon a couple of weeks ago. Ask the audience as they arrive to sit in the quire to hear pieces suitably registered for that more intimate setting, and then invite them to move into the crossing or nave for the more substantial (and louder) fare.

 

For instruments that have to "face both ways" - and that includes most cathedral instruments sited on the pulpitum - the listener gets the best of both worlds. And two quite different architectural settings into the bargain.

 

JS

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Or you could do what we did successfully at a recital at Ripon a couple of weeks ago. Ask the audience as they arrive to sit in the quire to hear pieces suitably registered for that more intimate setting, and then invite them to move into the crossing or nave for the more substantial (and louder) fare.

 

For instruments that have to "face both ways" - and that includes most cathedral instruments sited on the pulpitum - the listener gets the best of both worlds. And two quite different architectural settings into the bargain.

 

JS

 

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The original meaning of the Promenade Concert presumably.....what a good idea.

 

I don't know why, but I just saw a vision of Michael Palin as the vicar in the film "The Missionary," when he went to the stately home, and the butler tried to find his way around; eventually walking down every corridor, losing his way time after time and exiting the house by a small door in the basement.

 

Trying to retain his dignity as he led the vicar back to the front entrance, he said loftily, "Largely 16th century you know."

 

MM

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All,

 

That FJ quote sounds intriguing - remember though that he is known for his sense of humour and general mischief! Did he mean a nave of 10 people? I have heard some very funny stories concerning his time at York, but perhaps we should leave those for another day!

 

Regards,

Tosher

 

No. I don't think it was humour, or even mischief! The leaflet is dated 1974 and he was describing the 1960 changes (as part of a brief history of the instrument) noting the various improvements. It was all written in a very matter-of-fact way.

 

I'd be interested to know how effective the Choir organ is in the nave, never having had the privilege of hearing it thus. Perhaps some people on here have. I understand, incidentally, that reflecting boards were positioned above the organ with a view to improving the sound.

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York Minster Organ photographs were taken earlier in the year when I went up to play and rummage around. It is vast in every way and the distance between the 32ft in the North Aisle must be a good 100ft or more away from the 32ft reed secreted away in the aisle of the South Transept. There are pipes everywhere in all sorts of positions. There is even a roof over newish pedal upper-work stashed in the screen with the odd pipe cut through the lid of it. The screen console is gloriously encased with wooden carvings and vaulting and is all rather spectacular. You can see I enjoyed myself by having a glance if you like at the pictures. There are a couple of close-ups of the famous Tuba too.

Best wishes,

Nigel

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York Minster Organ photographs were taken earlier in the year when I went up to play and rummage around. It is vast in every way and the distance between the 32ft in the North Aisle must be a good 100ft or more away from the 32ft reed secreted away in the aisle of the South Transept. There are pipes everywhere in all sorts of positions. There is even a roof over newish pedal upper-work stashed in the screen with the odd pipe cut through the lid of it. The screen console is gloriously encased with wooden carvings and vaulting and is all rather spectacular. You can see I enjoyed myself by having a glance if you like at the pictures. There are a couple of close-ups of the famous Tuba too.

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

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

 

 

I love the way you have to watch your head going through the door, turn sharp right up those creaking stairs, then sharp left, squeezing along to short passagway to the console, banging you knees getting on to the console; all the while surrounded by tubes and pipes and cables. It's all a bit of a mess really

 

I recall once, when the late Charles MacDonald was organ-scholar there, he, a young lady, David Barker (then Assistant at Halifax) and myself managed to squeeze into the console area while "Francis" played Evensong.

 

"Francis" was on form and playing to the gallery, as he rummaged among a pile of music; asking who we all were.

 

We introduced ourselves, and "Francis" said, "Well, I expect we all know each other now. That's very cosy."

 

"Francis" then turned on the organ-bench and started to change his shoes, asking David Barker to give an "A" on the Dulciana for the responses.

 

We all scrambled to find the Dulciana, and the 'A' was duly sounded.

 

Clearly stage-managed, "Francis" was still changing his shoes when the Psalms of the day were announced, and Charles MacDonald hissed, "Francis....the Psalms!"

 

"Oooooh, I'd better play something" came the reply, as Francis swung his legs across the organ-bench in a well practised spin; flicked a couple of pistons and played the gathering chord.

 

What absolute magic it was, as "Francis" painted pictures in music as only he knew how at the Minster: no psalter and no chant book on the music-desk.

 

To our utter delight, the final voluntary was his own "Toccata, Chorale & Fugue."

 

MM

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York Minster Organ photographs were taken earlier in the year when I went up to play and rummage around. It is vast in every way and the distance between the 32ft in the North Aisle must be a good 100ft or more away from the 32ft reed secreted away in the aisle of the South Transept. There are pipes everywhere in all sorts of positions. There is even a roof over newish pedal upper-work stashed in the screen with the odd pipe cut through the lid of it. The screen console is gloriously encased with wooden carvings and vaulting and is all rather spectacular. You can see I enjoyed myself by having a glance if you like at the pictures. There are a couple of close-ups of the famous Tuba too.

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

Always good to see the normally inaccessible insides of this organ. Thank you Nigel.

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