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Playing in very cold churches


Peter Clark

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Where I play is quite a large church, and during the week, other than for such services as funerals and weddings, it is not used as a smaller chapel away from the main church caters for the usually small congregations which attend daily Mass, and thereforer the church itself is not heated. It would be unreasonable for me to expect the church to be heated on a daily basis just for me to do my 2 hours or so practice, so I am wondering what I can do to make conditions favourable for me to get the most out of my time. I recently bought a small halogen heater which I place next to the console but its positive effect is limited. I was once advised to soak my hands in a bowl of hot water just prior to playing (drying them first of course!) but this seems impractical as I would be heating the kettle every half hour or so. Fingerless gloves are, naurally, far too restrictive as for successful articulation, wrist action and so on. are concerned. A simple "wrapping up warmly" doesn't really help with the cold attaching to the extermities and in any case might impede the natural movement of the entire body. If others have had the same problems and have found a solution I would be very grateful to hear from them.

 

Best as ever

 

Peter

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Where I play is quite a large church, and during the week, other than for such services as funerals and weddings, it is not used as a smaller chapel away from the main church caters for the usually small congregations which attend daily Mass, and thereforer the church itself is not heated. It would be unreasonable for me to expect the church to be heated on a daily basis just for me to do my 2 hours or so practice, so I am wondering what I can do to make conditions favourable for me to get the most out of my time. I recently bought a small halogen heater which I place next to the console but its positive effect is limited. I was once advised to soak my hands in a bowl of hot water just prior to playing (drying them first of course!) but this seems impractical as I would be heating the kettle every half hour or so. Fingerless gloves are, naurally, far too restrictive as for successful articulation, wrist action and so on. are concerned. A simple "wrapping up warmly" doesn't really help with the cold attaching to the extermities and in any case might impede the natural movement of the entire body. If others have had the same problems and have found a solution I would be very grateful to hear from them.

 

Best as ever

 

Peter

 

 

Not necessarily a modification/addition you'd want to make to your wonderful organ in Cardiff, Peter, but my solution to the problem of practising on an organ in a severely un-heated space has been solved by the addition of a little shelf fitted in the space below the manual keys and in front of the kneeboard. Upon this I have set a small fan heater aimed directly towards the middle of the bench. It works! There's nowhere for the heat to go except straight at me.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Not necessarily a modification/addition you'd want to make to your wonderful organ in Cardiff, Peter, but my solution to the problem of practising on an organ in a severely un-heated space has been solved by the addition of a little shelf fitted in the space below the manual keys and in front of the kneeboard. Upon this I have set a small fan heater aimed directly towards the middle of the bench. It works! There's nowhere for the heat to go except straight at me.

That would give me chilblains on the fingers (which I get every winter, and which do not help my already questionable playing!) :o

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That would give me chilblains on the fingers (which I get every winter, and which do not help my already questionable playing!) :o

I have seen one Dutch church (in Delft?) in which the console has been boxed in with glass or plastic to make a little cosy cabin for the organist without having to heat all of the space, which would not be at all healthy for the instrument.

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Probably not much help, but, when starting years ago I used to practice for several hours a day in unheated churches of fairly large dimensions. No help was available, and it was, initially, excruciating. However, I found I just got used to it, and it no longer bothers me.

 

(The downside, of course, is that my tolerance of hot or even warm weather is zero, and of weather forecasters' value judgements. But it has cut down the heating bills, I guess, at home - we keep it at around 66-67F.)

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Quite apart from keeping the organist alive during extremely cold weather, what should the organist be doing to keep the organ alive? Our tubular pneumatic organ is creaking at the seams with such low temperatures (except on Sundays), and I might add, equally low humidity. I don't know if putting buckets of cold water under the organ would help, since it's so cold that they would hardly evaporate. Bucket of hot water near the blower intake? Industrial sized humidifier? Other suggestions?

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I've recently had this problem and my wife suggested that I try a pair of sheepskin bands which fit around the wrists. They are supposed to help keep the blood flowing into the hands warmer by insulating the blood vessels that are close to the skin at that point.

 

She obtained a pair from a supplier of goodies intended for elderly people and I find that they do help without restricting movement. She asked for them as a sample connected with her work in sheltered accomodation so I don't know what they would cost but a google search or visit to Boots may help.

 

I should maybe add that I'm not playing anything that involves a great deal of athleticism* and music requiring a great deal of movement may not be helped by the bands.

 

*Still trying to get to grips with the Dupré chorale on In Dulci Jubilo. I find that bellowing 1,2,3,4,5,6 to myself in order to count the quavers helps with the rhythm but I do get odd looks from flower ladies...

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Alkmaar had a little glass house (before the restoration) and Haarlem thick curtains (which I still believe are there). Therefore, the cold church can remain yet the organist has a little hide-away that is nicely warmed. You don't hear the organ so well, but when working we are not practising sound but fingering, co-ordination etc. so being warm and practical is a small price to pay I would say.

Best wishes,

Nigel

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This is such a common problem in British churches, and some of the cathedrals. The less visited ones are often especially poorly heated in the winter, and in such large spaces, all heat just disappears. A fan heater is the best solution by far, as oil radiators don't send heat in the right direction. But this can only help you so much.

 

During my time at St. Mary's Edinburgh, we got practically no heating except for at weekends, which was tough going in a daily choral foundation. My solution was to try and keep the body as warm as possible, thick trousers, a vest underneath the shirt, thick jumper overcoat, scarf, thick socks - and the fan heater blowing to the side of me. Maintaining a good body temperature will help keep the fingers from getting too cold.

 

Eventually you sort of get used to performing in such cold conditions. Last winter I somehow managed to get through the Widor toccata in those awful January conditions, the building being only a few degrees inside.

 

I'm currently in Canada and over here every church is fully heated - normally to a constant temperature. They simply have to heat buildings otherwise they would totally freeze up when it gets to minus temperatures for weeks and months. The organs tend to cope quite well - for a century now there has been a preference for Pitman chest action which avoids the problem of stuck sliders in low humidity.

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Thanks for all the replies and suggestions so far. A fan heater seems the best option so I'll try to get one this weekend but I am looking at the sheepskin wristbands too. Amazon have a pair at £26 which seems a fair price. As far as tuning is concerned, the reeds have now gone completely haywire which means a lengthy tuning soon - that's 4 manual and two pedal reeds as well as the rest of the jukebox.

 

Cheers, all

 

Peter

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Thanks for all the replies and suggestions so far. A fan heater seems the best option so I'll try to get one this weekend but I am looking at the sheepskin wristbands too. Amazon have a pair at £26 which seems a fair price. As far as tuning is concerned, the reeds have now gone completely haywire which means a lengthy tuning soon - that's 4 manual and two pedal reeds as well as the rest of the jukebox.

 

Cheers, all

 

Peter

 

One thing.......take care with the fan heater - I use one where I play and on occasions the manual keys have stuck with the unexpected heating/drying effect - the rapidly induced 'near tropical' conditions at last year's lessons & carols lead to at least one piece with quite a festively quaint drone to it as notes cyphered.

 

A

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... a festively quaint drone to it as notes cyphered.

Indeed. A fan heater can also shrink parts of the pedalboard, resulting in stuck pedals if the tolerances are tight.

 

For two hours a day, ever considered something at home?! (Not on Paul's scale, of course.)

Ian CK

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When I was young I practiced mostly on the organ in the Royal Free Hospital Chapel (then at Gray's Inn Road) - this was at pyjama temperature throughout the year; no cold fingers there! :o Another nice thing was that the patients said how much they liked the music.

 

I wonder if nowadays, with the rapid in-out style treatment that is available, the only people in hospital are those that are far too ill to be able to attend a chapel on Sundays, and that consequently hospital chapels are a thing of the past?

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Where I play is quite a large church, and during the week, other than for such services as funerals and weddings, it is not used as a smaller chapel away from the main church caters for the usually small congregations which attend daily Mass, and thereforer the church itself is not heated. It would be unreasonable for me to expect the church to be heated on a daily basis just for me to do my 2 hours or so practice, so I am wondering what I can do to make conditions favourable for me to get the most out of my time. I recently bought a small halogen heater which I place next to the console but its positive effect is limited. I was once advised to soak my hands in a bowl of hot water just prior to playing (drying them first of course!) but this seems impractical as I would be heating the kettle every half hour or so. Fingerless gloves are, naurally, far too restrictive as for successful articulation, wrist action and so on. are concerned. A simple "wrapping up warmly" doesn't really help with the cold attaching to the extermities and in any case might impede the natural movement of the entire body. If others have had the same problems and have found a solution I would be very grateful to hear from them.

 

Best as ever

 

Peter

 

Fingerless gloves - it depends on what you are playing. I played (successfully) the whole of Choral Matins in a pair, last Sunday. Admittedly that week Britten (in C) was not on the menu, but it was still possible to play cleanly.

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I forgot my fingerless gloves yesterday, and it was almost unbearably cold - probably colder than the outside temperature. Actually tried playing in ordinary gloves which is ok for slow practice but not for much else.

 

It occurred to me that perhaps sitting on something insulating might help; all I had available was a cardboard A4 envelope from a well known supplier of used organ music, and it didn't really help much. Thoughts then turned to polystyrene wallpaper lining or something similar. If I find any and it works, I shall report back.

 

None of this stops the Arctic blast across the legs and fingers from the blower (or whatever it is called). It's quite surprising how many draughts can come from a single instrument.

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I forgot my fingerless gloves yesterday, and it was almost unbearably cold - probably colder than the outside temperature. Actually tried playing in ordinary gloves which is ok for slow practice but not for much else.

 

It occurred to me that perhaps sitting on something insulating might help; all I had available was a cardboard A4 envelope from a well known supplier of used organ music, and it didn't really help much. Thoughts then turned to polystyrene wallpaper lining or something similar. If I find any and it works, I shall report back.

 

None of this stops the Arctic blast across the legs and fingers from the blower (or whatever it is called). It's quite surprising how many draughts can come from a single instrument.

I have no more to add to the advice given so far, but I do question the wisdom of letting churches go so cold. I have introduced a system this year that maintains the building at sixteen degrees Celsius. As the fabric never goes completely cold, the place warms up to comfortable temperatures in a relatively short time, as it does if there are any short-notice requirements that haven't been programmed into the system. It is too early to be certain, but the gas consumption doesn't seem to be any more than when we switched it off daily and there is a significant saving in electricity as we are not having to put in additional fan heaters. Even if it is slightly more expensive, our mainly elderly congregation are kept warm and comfortable, which we consider most important.

JC

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:lol:

 

for those that have only lived in the post transistor age my message of April 15 2008 will provide additional explanation....

 

 

 

"My late toaster really was a toaster! :lol: I think it was 1960s vintage and it came from St Marks Middleton Square London. Unlike many electronic organs that derived most of their notes from a single oscillator - it had a separate oscillator for each note. From 16 ft to 2ft for a 56 note range, I think it was, resulting in around 80+ vacuum tubes. These all glowed and generated much heat - as good as any toaster! Appropriately I kept it in my kitchen... :P "

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I've played in churches when the holy water inside the church is frozen. Fortunately, not where I currently work or live!

 

Fingerless gloves are available made from thermal material, hence much thinner than any made from wool.

 

Hiking and climbing outlets have little packages of clear liquid that, after clicking a metal disc in the pouch, change to a white solid, releasing heat. This is reversible by then heating them in boiling water, preparing them for being used again. These same outlets have thermal underwear, including what I know as 'Long Johns' - full length underpants, as well as thermal socks.

 

I have also used water bottles, only mildly warm, resting them on the keyboard before playing so that the cold keyboard doesn't draw the heat from my fingers. Be careful as none of us wants to damage keyboards, I'm sure!

 

Be careful with heaters when the humidity is low. I currently play on an organ where the bench split as a result of low humidity and a heater placed to close, fortunately before I was appointed to the position.

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At our church, we're lucky to have an architect on the PCC who advises us on such issues as heating. We have now set the thermostats to come on for a short while every day, even though the church is only generally used on Sundays. This is, I'm told, cheaper, and keeping the church at a fairly constant temperature is much more efficient. There are extra heaters just below the base of the roof arches, and these apparently reduce the size of the convection current in the church by warming a layer of air, thereby stopping the warmed air from the floor heaters rising too far. Again, this is more efficient. I think it's important to ask a heating expert/architect rather than a plumber or electrician about heating in a church. The organ is also much more reliable for being in a room with a more consistent temperature.

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I think it's important to ask a heating expert/architect rather than a plumber or electrician about heating in a church. The organ is also much more reliable for being in a room with a more consistent temperature.

 

Indeed. Our new(ish) heating system is designed to maintain at least 7 degrees C 24 hours a day, and lifts the temperature to 17C when programmed to do so on a 7-day timer.

 

Our tuner was very busy all through spring and summer 2010, repairing damage done during last winter (Jan-Feb 2010). We did not escape completely, because the humidity was so low.

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While playing in a very cold church recently, I found that after about an hours hard work my fingers, previously VERY cold from touching cold keys, became quite warm and practising became far easier. Unfortunately my time was up, other duties called, and I had to leave - you can't win!

 

Incidentally, spare a thought for the poor chap sitting at the console holding keys for the tuner - he is often absolutely frozen in this weather as he can take no form of excercise (like pedalling for example) to keep warm. And of course the tuner's hard work in such temperatures wll be largely wasted as the thing will be out of tune when the heat is on come Sunday. Good tuners can make allowances, but it's an uncertain business. And in any case, surely an organisation that is supposed to care about people should ensure that they are looked after properly when on the premises and the building heated to a reasonable level. Sorry about the rant, but I spent many frozen hours key-holding as a tuner's boy - it wasn't fun!

 

Regards to all

 

John

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While playing in a very cold church recently, I found that after about an hours hard work my fingers, previously VERY cold from touching cold keys, became quite warm and practising became far easier. Unfortunately my time was up, other duties called, and I had to leave - you can't win!

 

Incidentally, spare a thought for the poor chap sitting at the console holding keys for the tuner - he is often absolutely frozen in this weather as he can take no form of excercise (like pedalling for example) to keep warm. And of course the tuner's hard work in such temperatures wll be largely wasted as the thing will be out of tune when the heat is on come Sunday. Good tuners can make allowances, but it's an uncertain business. And in any case, surely an organisation that is supposed to care about people should ensure that they are looked after properly when on the premises and the building heated to a reasonable level. Sorry about the rant, but I spent many frozen hours key-holding as a tuner's boy - it wasn't fun!

 

Regards to all

 

John

 

I've often thought about this (your second paragraph).

 

Surely it's sensible for the church (even if the place habitually isn't kept heated) to ensure that it be at 'Sunday temperature' when the tuner visits? Otherwise what's the point? We do do this here, and as far as I recall it's been the case in previous posts, too.

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