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David Coram

The Worst Organ In The World

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The worst organ in the world?

 

The Orgue-de-Choeur, at Chartres Cathedral.

 

 

I know what you mean. I took my school choir there a couple of years ago. We ended up getting the clavinova out of the bus. Still, the other organ in the place is quite fun, is it not?

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Yes, it is.

 

In fact, the nearest English equivalent of the Danion-Gonzalez at Chartres, is Gloucester Cathedral - they sound very similar. However, as Philippe Léfébvre said, upon trying Gloucester: "This one (Gloucester) is much better." Since he had been Titulaire at Chartres before his translation to N.-D. de Paris, I suppose he ought to have some idea!

 

I would quite like to have played the Grandes Orgues at Chartres but, typically, the organ builders were there, doing some tuning.

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Having been the founder the organists association in the Chester and North East Wales area I have greatly enjoyed this thread, particularly with reference to the Chester organ which is certainly everything other posters to this site say it is. I gather that the incumbant organist would greatly like to see it rebuilt in the not too distant future. Having played it on a couple of occasions, it is pretty thrilling and the 32 reed positioned to the rear of the case is the musical equivalent of a pneumatic drill. All great fun nevertheless!

 

Since the theme of this thread is The Worst Organ in the World, I was wondering whether or not to nominate the organ in Prestatyn Parish Church for the award of worst organ. On reading the message by Lee Blick, I take courage and nominate the organ by Leonard Reeves as being the worst organ I have ever encountered in my life!

 

It was a fairly respectable moderate sized two manual by Abbott and Smith of Leeds which was greatly enlarged with a "new" three manual console, which is the most hideous thing you have ever seen. For a new console (I am sure a "rebuild" of a Compton console - though why on earth they had to interfere with the console at all, I will never know!) It has flat front keys for the positive manual which to my eye looks very odd on a modern console. Further it has a bunch of thumb pistons, all of which are un-marked as to what they are for. The whole thing looks dreadful.

 

But consoles essentially are not what makes the noise, and just across the chancel is where a bonfire needs be lit - perhaps with the console as kindling. When the organ was enlarged to its present 40 stops, no increase was made to the wind trunk, so there is the most enormous wobble. This occurs on flutes and reeds alike across the organ.

 

As a curious aside, the Vicar at the time that this organic abortion occurred was famous for his Guinness Record book attempts, and at the time of the opening recital, the church hall contained a swimming pool with the largest jelly ever made. To wander into the church hall was something of a surreal experience to see bunches of fridges with their doors open attempting to set the jelly. (The things we do for Jesus!) I guess that just as the jelly wobbled so doth the wind wobble in Prestatyn.

 

The so-called positive organ is a selection of second hand pipework of all varieties and due to the wobbly wind is almost impossible to tune. The bellows have been screwed down to solve a windleak problem - and right now all the old pneumatic drawstop machines are bursting, and the sound boards knackered. Even the organ tuner who now maintains this hideous monstrosity says that there is nothing that can be done to improve it! Oh and in a spec of 40 voices there are but two reeds - a trumpet unit on the great and a cornopeon on the swell ... (vox humana, clarinet, oboe strings and celestes???? What are they????)

 

Essentially the organ is in such a state that I can only see replacement as a reasonable possibility. With a diocesan quota of £65,000 to pay and a rapidly reducing congregation, it is certain that the next organ will not have pipes - if there is ever a next organ.

 

Do you suppose that BIOS has a certificate for the world's worst heap of junk? B)

 

 

I was organist at a church in Chingford (Barry Rose was organist here apparently) and it had an organ installed by Leonard Reeve, an organ builder from the Leicester area?

 

It was squashed into a tiny tower, very drafty with no insulation, so you can imagine, it never kept in tune.  The Swell soundboard was starting to split and was emitting strange noises.  It had a horrid scratchy viol d'orchetre on the Swell, which sounded even more horrid coupled to the Voix Celestes.  The Pedal organ had a Bourdon at 16, 8, 4 pitches and then a 4ft Rohr Schalmei which I can only describe sounded like 'baby farts'.  The tremulant didn't extend as far to this stop either.  The console was a rehashed Compton tab version, originally not designed to accomodate thumb pistons, but there they were, too close to the black keys. Not so good when the combination suddenly changes mid-flow.  What else was bad about it, oh yes... the detached console was placed right in the middle of the congregational seating, so you can imagine what is like to concentrate at the final voluntary.  The organ has been replaced by a digital organ since.

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This thread is beginning to sound like the Monty Python sketch involving four gentlemen who assume Yorkshire-type accents and utter such phrases as:

 

(First gentleman) "Eeh, when ah were a lad we lived by the side o't lake - only had summat 't eat every three days..."

 

(Second gentleman) "Three days? - Luxury! In mah day we were only allowed food at 't week-end..."

 

Well, you get the idea.

 

B)

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I've revised my original statement. A building I played at yesterday (not listed on NPOR) contains a 1968 Willis, rebuilt in a new case and restored by John Coulson of Bristol in 1993/4/5 "at a cost of £8900" according to a plaque on the wall. The case has to be seen to be believed - chipboard panels made to stand upright. The specification is as follows:

 

Swell Rohr Flute 8, Salicional 8, Spindle Flute 4, Block Flute 2, Terzian 12.17, Tremolo

 

Great Gedackt 8, Dulciana 8, Gemshorn 4, Flageolet 2

 

Pedal Subbass 16, Gedackt 8, Gedackt Flote 4, Klein Flote 2 (all extended)

 

Usual couplers, plus:

Swell super/duper/unison off

Sw to Gt 16, 4

Sw to Ped 4

 

This is just the most hopeless musical instrument I have yet encountered. It's either much too quiet, or it emits loud wailing squeaks of indeterminate pitch but at least providing a rhythym for the poor sods trying to sing with it. A choral society of 60 and a congregation of 200 actually dropped a semitone in pitch while singing a hymn against full organ. I believe the church's bat problem has been solved however.

 

In fairness to Willis it wasn't made for the building, it was made for a nunnery - so the lack of any kind of diapason tone anywhere on it is therefore understandable. My disbelief is that even a layman could consider this thing suitable for installation in a fairly ample village church, especially with all the nice Vowles' and Bishops etc etc floating around looking for homes.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
I've revised my original statement.  A building I played at yesterday (not listed on NPOR) contains a 1968 Willis, rebuilt in a new case and restored by John Coulson of Bristol in 1993/4/5 "at a cost of £8900" according to a plaque on the wall.  The case has to be seen to be believed - chipboard panels made to stand upright.  The specification is as follows:

 

Swell  Rohr Flute 8, Salicional 8, Spindle Flute 4, Block Flute 2, Terzian 12.17, Tremolo

 

Great  Gedackt 8, Dulciana 8, Gemshorn 4, Flageolet 2

 

Pedal  Subbass 16, Gedackt 8, Gedackt Flote 4, Klein Flote 2 (all extended)

 

Usual couplers, plus:

Swell super/duper/unison off

Sw to Gt 16, 4

Sw to Ped 4

 

This is just the most hopeless musical instrument I have yet encountered.  It's either much too quiet, or it emits loud wailing squeaks of indeterminate pitch but at least providing a rhythym for the poor sods trying to sing with it.  A choral society of 60 and a congregation of 200 actually dropped a semitone in pitch while singing a hymn against full organ.  I believe the church's bat problem has been solved however.

 

In fairness to Willis it wasn't made for the building, it was made for a nunnery - so the lack of any kind of diapason tone anywhere on it is therefore understandable.  My disbelief is that even a layman could consider this thing suitable for installation in a fairly ample village church, especially with all the nice Vowles' and Bishops etc etc floating around looking for homes.

 

 

Ah! John Couslon..... that great artist.

Have you played the choir organ at St.James the Great, Dursley?

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The organ above looks like one of the things that the later Willises called (for some reason) 'Junior Development Plan' or something similar. There are a few around still - seemingly a small and inexpensive way of getting an organ. They seem to have been simply a stoptab console etc. with functional pipework planted on top on electric action. The 16,8,4,2, Gedackt arrangement was characteristic on the pedals as was the lack of a reasonable Diapason chorus elsewhere. Smaller one manual versions were also built. The 1-3/5 and 2-2/3 stop was often called 'Sext'.

 

AJJ

 

By the way - whatever happened to Coulson?

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This thread is beginning to sound like the Monty Python sketch involving four gentlemen who assume Yorkshire-type accents and utter such phrases as:

 

(First gentleman) "Eeh, when ah were a lad we lived by the side o't lake - only had summat 't eat every three days..."

 

(Second gentleman) "Three days? - Luxury! In mah day we were only allowed food at 't week-end..."

 

Well, you get the idea.

 

:blink:

 

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

 

Well now, I know that "pcnd" posted this in the grips of winter, but in view of more recent assertions as to which is the worst organ in the known world, I think a certain Yorkshire instrument could have claimed the utlimate accolade.

 

"Eeh, when ah wer a lad, I used to trample two miles barefoot through t'snow, wi'hout gloves an' coat, just to play th'old organ at Cullingworth church, near Bradford, tha knows. An when ah got theer, I'd leight a candle to thaw out t'music and get mi fingers so as they'd bend a bit."

 

The rewards of this march, which must have equalled the withdrawal of Russian troops from Hitler's advance into Russia, was to play an organ which was like no other ever made.

 

I believe the organ may well have been assembled (rather than built) from kits of parts supplied in packets of Corn Flakes and weekly editions of "Boy's Own": the first kit possibly being a model of a pocket battleship and the second being a bening reconstruction of a German Heinkel bomber.

 

Basically, it went something like this......

 

Switch on mains box at rear of church, then proceed stiffly, with frozen limbs, to the organ console; attempting to open heavy warped pine doors of organ console.

 

After ten minutes, the first door was open; the second finally yielding to the extreme force of a large Bible swung with all the wrath that God could summon.

 

Switch on blower; located somewhere in the bowels of the church. If the church-floor started to vibrate, everything was fine. If not, the thing was frozen up or had a nest of birds cowering in the blades of the fan.

 

Whilst the fan gathered enough speed to supply wind to the leaking bellows, it was possible to remove outer garments, warm one's hands on the candle and prise the semi-frozen pages of the music apart.

 

Eventually, the organ would give out a great groan signalling that the bellows were up and ready for action; plus any pipes that cared to string along for the experience.

 

Then one would place a thick cloth on the bench to avoid sticking to the frozen surface.

 

Then one would place music on the music-desk, draw enough stops to ensure that some sort of musical noise emerged from the beast, and play; avoiding the very sharp edges of broken ivories and the middle C# which had been, according to the tuner's book, sticking since 1897.

 

The organist of the church was something of a boy virtuoso who could play the Middelschulte 'Perpetuem Mobile' because he was built like a stork and no-one loved him anyway because he was ugly, had spots and used an inhaler.

 

The Great organ was, shall we say, "Great?" Gross is possibly a better description of the awful flood of mangled sound which oozed down the nave, before briefly bouncing off the roof; only to be killed stone-dead by the largest collection of Mother's Union hassocks ever assembled under one roof.

 

The organ had a devious secret deep within its rotting bowels. The grand crescendo was awesome, with the climax to the whole thing being the Viole-d-Orchestre, which could scratch out eyes quicker than Lilly Savage.

 

In fact, full organ was once kindly described by a visiting organist as "A good chapil sound": by those of a more sane disposition as "a bloody awful din."

 

But still the organ would not yield up its' secret: that being left to the last climax stop of all......the Sub-Octave to Great!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Drawing that stop was peril on a stick, for no sooner did it start to send a message

to the ruinous collection of lead and wood within, the whole instrument would start to vibrate violently.

 

So violent was the effect, it ratttled display pipes and caused vibration white-finger to anyone daring to touch the console; let alone press the keys. In fact, (and this is gospel truth), there was a major incident during " 'arvest festival' when some clown had tied loaves and fruit to the organ case. They hadn't reckoned on the effects of the "Sub-Octave Mirabilis," and when the spotty, ugly, asthmatic youth played the opening of "We plough the fields and scatter," all hell broke loose....or rather...the strings holding the "fullness of the earth" did.

 

There was an immediate cascade of produce, like Jesus entering the supermarket, as loaves, grapes, bananas, oranges and two very heavy pineapples bombarded the unfortunate young virtuoso. Like the trouper that he was (he could play theatre organs) he carried on, as I hissed, "Eat the fruit! Vitamin C is good for spots!"

 

In the history of organ-building, (unless it was the 'Winchester Organ') not a single instrument was as un-musical, as awful, as loud or as coarse as this dreadful example from the stables (which is what they were) of Driver & Haigh Ltd. The organ would be condemmed to-day; if only by EU "Health & Safety" legislation.

 

In fact, when they eventually ripped the organ out and burned it, there was a unanimous purr of approval; even though it was replaced by an electronic which was the organist's equivalent to the Dansette record player.

 

Memories! Memories!

 

I'm just happy to have survived the ordeal, but the reason for the intense vibration of the entire instrument remains, like those who built it, one of life's unfathomable mysteries.

 

MM

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Guest Roffensis

On the subject of tinkering with Romantic Organs by adding/strengthening the upperwork, does anyone share my views about the Hereford Cathedral Willis? I've got Graham Barber's disc of the Howells Sonata & Six Pieces and both the organ and playing sound wonderful in every way - except for that horribly tinkly and percussive Great Mixture IV that H&H added in 1978. At least, I assume that's the culprit; I can't see what else it could be. It just doesn't sound part of the same instrument. I'm not saying that it's necessarily H&H's fault; in cases like this how do you know whether to blame the organists or the builders? I'm only guessing, but I bet the needs of congregational accompaniment were behind that addition too.

I agree, the new mixtures were not needed at Hereford and stand away from the rest, making the job too brilliant. The two horrible new mixtures at Canterbury were also a mistake, but some people just cannot hear, and love to spike up organs.

R

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Same problem on the continent with 90% of the organs that were rebuild between 1945 and 1985....It is not a problem of hearing, rather "X says in his book a Mixture must be made after this and that model".

The number of ranks, their pitch, the place where the breaks occur, ALL was determined

by the consultants, after one book (or whatever other reference) while the builder only had to say:

"YES SIR!"

 

Pierre

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The organ above looks like one of the things that the later Willises called (for some reason) 'Junior Development Plan' or something similar. There are a few around still - seemingly a small and inexpensive way of getting an organ. They seem to have been simply a stoptab console etc. with functional pipework planted on top on electric action. The 16,8,4,2, Gedackt arrangement was characteristic on the pedals as was the lack of a reasonable Diapason chorus elsewhere. Smaller one manual versions were also built. The 1-3/5 and 2-2/3 stop was often called 'Sext'.

 

AJJ

 

By the way - whatever happened to Coulson?

 

Yes - there's a little 1m at Rockbourne, Hampshire, which is actually quite a nice musical sound in the church. It too has a Dulciana masquerading under the title "Sanft Prinzipal". Like the horror mentioned above, it had a common bass with the Gedackt only using slightly less wind. On the horror, this had been very poorly regulated and it dropped pitch significantly when the Dulciana alone was used.

 

You're right about the name of Sext for the Mixture stop.

 

I am told Mr Coulson is still alive, well and keeping his tunings going, notably this instrument, and also the machine at Edington Priory.

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CHRISTCHURCH OXFORD............................  :lol: 

 

As an aside to this - does anyone know who looks after this machine? We spotted what we thought was a rather cheaper looking 'extra' added foot piston when we visited with the local organists and they would not say who had put it there or who tunes etc. I wonder why.

 

AJJ

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Guest Lee Blick

So what is wrong with the organ at Christchurch, Oxford, then.

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As Roffensis has been so bold as to nail his colours to the mast, I must say, that whilst it would be an exageration to call it the worst organ in the world, I thought Sherborne Abbey was pretty foul when I accompanied the RSCM cathedral singers there last November. Trying to play Howells Coll. Reg sympathetically on this awful box of f*rts was no joke.

 

Good luck Worcester!

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As Roffensis has been so bold as to nail his colours to the mast, I must say, that whilst it would be an exageration to call it the worst organ in the world, I thought Sherborne Abbey was pretty foul when I accompanied the RSCM cathedral singers there last November. Trying to play Howells Coll. Reg sympathetically on this awful box of f*rts was no joke.

 

Good luck Worcester!

 

 

Well I thought that the old organ in Worcester was positively one of the very least attractive sounding cathedral organs I have ever played, and that's saying something!

 

Stringy Diapasons, honking reeds, bland flutes, thin strings, forced and shrieking upperwork, all far too loud at close quarters and in a very poor position for sounding throughout the building - almost all the worst aspects of English organ building thrown into one instrument (except the console) - and now all of these abominations are being copied by Schoenstein in America. Hurrah ... let's send them some of the real thing ... andgood riddance!

 

But then I don't have to/choose to play an electronic every week. :D

 

So it would be in my list for the Worst Cathedral Organ in Britain! :lol:

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Dear Alsa,

 

This W.... thing already filled (too) many pages here.

You may dislike it, no problem. I may like it, like others.

And I may think there would be little work to have it in

order -I mean tonally-. The organ is not the culprit for

the later Upperwork that was added, nor the tinkered

with reeds.

 

Ite Missa est!

Pierre

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As Roffensis has been so bold as to nail his colours to the mast, I must say, that whilst it would be an exageration to call it the worst organ in the world, I thought Sherborne Abbey was pretty foul when I accompanied the RSCM cathedral singers there last November. Trying to play Howells Coll. Reg sympathetically on this awful box of f*rts was no joke.

 

Good luck Worcester!

 

To be fair to it, it improves vastly at a distance and by the time you get to the crossing it's quite reasonable. It's possibly the worst positioned organ ever. I understand the positive has been deliberately voiced loudly as a mini-Great.

 

Compared with what was there before... I mean 3 or 4 organs before, the Coulson masterpiece...

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QUOTE(nfortin @ Jun 24 2006, 11:43 PM)

As Roffensis has been so bold as to nail his colours to the mast, I must say, that whilst it would be an exageration to call it the worst organ in the world, I thought Sherborne Abbey was pretty foul when I accompanied the RSCM cathedral singers there last November. Trying to play Howells Coll. Reg sympathetically on this awful box of f*rts was no joke

 

I turned pages for a friend playing for a visiting choir at Sherborne Abbey not long ago and the whole service including piece after was Howells - it seemed to cope OK to me at least. The instrument doesn't have a lot of 'awe and wonder' about it but it seems to me that it never intended to have. Once that is taken as read the sounds were as good as those from other similar instruments and certainly much better than Howells on the Von Beckerath at Clare College Cambridge the other day on Choral Evensong. This latter experience reminded me of someone ('can't remember who) writing about the Marcussen at St Mary's Nottingham when it first went in - saying that the 8' Gedeckt had the same presence in the building as the Tuba on the old organ.

 

AJJ

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Guest Lee Blick
To be fair to it, it improves vastly at a distance and by the time you get to the crossing it's quite reasonable.

 

That doesn't sound much like an endorsement to me. How can a good organ be one that you have to walk away from? I've been in there and heard the organ. It seems a bit so so to me. Not sure what the fuss is over about getting rid of it.

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That doesn't sound much like an endorsement to me.  How can a good organ be one that you have to walk away from?  I've been in there and heard the organ.  It seems a bit so so to me.  Not sure what the fuss is over about getting rid of it.

 

I'm going to defend Sherborne. It's buried way back in quite a deep transept, not even visible to anyone except the first two rows or so of congregation. There have been umpteen attempts since the Coulson organ, by all accounts, collapsed: Bishop, John Budgen, and now Tickell. This last is by far the most successful, mechanically and tonally. The point at which you want the sound to be heard is the point at which it becomes sociable and musical. At the console it's as if you were sitting on the passage board, and needs must be, if you're going to retain mechanical action and a non-megalomaniac stoplist, which was the whole point of the work in the first place. By comparison with my instrument at Romsey, it has a scattering of prospects that make the knees tremble; a reasonably beefy 32' reed, a double reed in the Swell, and strings (albeit v. poorly and irregularly tuned when I last saw it). Also, a very fine and comfortable console. For accompaniment, such things are crucial in the organists' battery, and while I am bound to say that I don't think there's much that can hold a candle to Romsey tonally (I still can't believe how well it managed Spirit of the Lord, harp effects and all), I certainly wouldn't be complaining about Sherborne. It's a carefully thought out and voiced musical instrument which I found far more capable than, say, Christchurch Priory, to name another very badly positioned and roughly contemporary instrument in the area. Whatever my personal views are on the shortcomings of Mr Tickell's choice of tuning and maintenance contractor, it's a very, very long way from being the worst organ in the street, let alone the world.

 

I've just returned from 7 hours of accompanying choral works from the 16th century up to Leighton on a Percy Daniel 4 rank extension at my old school. I would have to admit there were certain challenges and compromises involved in this, and a few composers will be turning in their graves tonight. Nevertheless, it managed it, with a respectable amount of tonal variety and quite admirable controllability.

 

By comparison with that little Willis* that re-awakened this thread the other day, it was a positive joy - that Willis* was the sort of machine that just makes you weep and tear your hair out for just not having a single discernable organ-like sound anywhere on it, and yet still people with straight faces ask you to sit down and do everything from Purcell to Rutter on it, probably because they think it's an organ. Against such complete ineffable cruddiness as that, Sherborne, Christchurch and even my little Daniel extension job seem like the promised land indeed.

 

* - just to reiterate, the Willis wasn't made for the building it's in, and has been modified by a voicer who was some years ago sacked from Percy Daniels for being Not Very Good, which is probably saying something. No reflection upon the present Willis firm is meant...

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