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David Drinkell

Awkward Organs

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I think in 1971 they wanted to prepare for the eventuality of taking it up to C4.

 

 

As with so many things on that job at the time, I am completely sure that the double cheek was a mistake, indeed I seem to remember John Sanders telling me so. As to explanation, my personal guess is that they had already started work on the console before Ralph Downes told them he was only going for 58 notes.

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As with so many things on that job at the time, I am completely sure that the double cheek was a mistake, indeed I seem to remember John Sanders telling me so. As to explanation, my personal guess is that they had already started work on the console before Ralph Downes told them he was only going for 58 notes.

Do you have any idea why Ralph Downes would want to make that decision? I wouldn't have thought the difference in space or cost would be very significant in terms of the overall project.

JC

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Subsequently, I always ask about the instrument on which I am to play - even before enquiring about a fee.[/font]

 

Hi

 

This is one of the reason for the existence of NPOR!

 

I got caught out once when I agreed to play one item in an event at another church - the person who asked me said that the organ is "just like yours there (pointing to a 1/p with 5 stops). The organ - when I arrived 1/2 hour or so before the event started was indeed just like the one in my church - except for the lack of a pedalboard!!

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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As with so many things on that job at the time, I am completely sure that the double cheek was a mistake, indeed I seem to remember John Sanders telling me so. As to explanation, my personal guess is that they had already started work on the console before Ralph Downes told them he was only going for 58 notes.

 

I do not think it was a mistake. I recall someone telling me it was HNB saving money. They already had a console in stock and it was cheaper to reuse it than make a new one so fill in blocks of wood went where the extra 3 notes would have gone! Many commented at the time it looked terrible; and it still does! This was in the days when 61 notes were the norm, along with electric actions and most firms had a dedicated in-house console shop.

PJW

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I do not think it was a mistake. I recall someone telling me it was HNB saving money. They already had a console in stock and it was cheaper to reuse it than make a new one so fill in blocks of wood went where the extra 3 notes would have gone! Many commented at the time it looked terrible; and it still does! This was in the days when 61 notes were the norm, along with electric actions and most firms had a dedicated in-house console shop.

PJW

 

Wouldn't it have been better to put the keys in, even if the pipes ran out?

At St Paul's Birmingham (1964 HN&B console) the Great runs out at F, but the rest of the keys are there. It has caught me out though! At least it's more obvious, to those who don't know the compass of the soundboard, to find yourself playing on wood infill!!

I seem to recall Truro runs out of pipes before it runs out of keys too...

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Wouldn't it have been better to put the keys in, even if the pipes ran out?

At St Paul's Birmingham (1964 HN&B console) the Great runs out at F, but the rest of the keys are there. It has caught me out though! At least it's more obvious, to those who don't know the compass of the soundboard, to find yourself playing on wood infill!!

I seem to recall Truro runs out of pipes before it runs out of keys too...

 

 

Much more to the point, why didn't it occur to anyone to put a small filler piece each end and have the keyboards in the middle of the console?

No rocket science!

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Much more to the point, why didn't it occur to anyone to put a small filler piece each end and have the keyboards in the middle of the console?

No rocket science!

 

This would shift the keyboards 1 inch to the right so D on the pedals would not be under middle D on the manuals. And, if you already have the keycheeks attached to 61 note keyboards, possibly even wired up, you are spending money on alterations.

PJW

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The otherwise quite splendid Binns at St Mary's Shrewsbury has a distance of 33 inches between Choir and pedals, meaning you don't need organ shoes to play it so much as stilts. And the toe pistons are so close to the sharps that when stretching to play a note I find myself bringing on all sorts of stop combinations. If it ever gets restored I'd hope it would be preserved in all ways save for reducing the abyss between the keys and pedals.

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Wouldn't it have been better to put the keys in, even if the pipes ran out?

At St Paul's Birmingham (1964 HN&B console) the Great runs out at F, but the rest of the keys are there. It has caught me out though! At least it's more obvious, to those who don't know the compass of the soundboard, to find yourself playing on wood infill!!

I seem to recall Truro runs out of pipes before it runs out of keys too...

 

 

Less embarrassing than starting a piece and running out of notes. It happened to me at St-Roch in Paris. I thought I'd play Mulet's Carillon Sortie as I think he was organist there once, but it goes up to F# and the organ only goes up to F. Same thing at Mendlesham PC in Suffolk, although there the manuals had 61 notes and the soundboards 54 (cheap rebuild, not there any more), and I got caught in a Handel concerto at Ferns Cathedral in Ireland (Casson Positive one manual - not all Irish cathedrals are big). Music goes to D, keyboard stops at C....

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Guest Cynic
This would shift the keyboards 1 inch to the right so D on the pedals would not be under middle D on the manuals. And, if you already have the keycheeks attached to 61 note keyboards, possibly even wired up, you are spending money on alterations.

PJW

 

 

Pedalboards move, particularly electric ones!

 

Face it, that job was a shambles from day one.

 

Think of the other troubles:

A Swellbox that refused to give pp until extra walls were erected inside it

Voicers that didn't dare work with Mr.Downes - reeds were voiced by a flue-voicer

Historic front pipes that refused to work on Downes' specified pressures and had to be revoiced (without official permission)

Key actions that didn't work as planned and had to be disabled - made to work in gangs rather than working separately

etc. etc.

 

Don't forget the three court cases that followed it! Many people have done.

The results of these are public record. HN&B lost and Downes lost, the cathedral won.

 

Howells was white with rage 'they have smashed up my organ' (he was guest of honour at the Organ Opening)

The Organ Concerto at the Three Choirs where the organ could not match the orchestra (although it had done in previous years) - very unfavourable newspaper reports

Herbert Sumsion invited back to help hold the fort while John Sanders was very ill, refused to go anywhere near it...

 

I could go on.

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Pedalboards move, particularly electric ones!

 

Face it, that job was a shambles from day one.

 

Think of the other troubles:

A Swellbox that refused to give pp until extra walls were erected inside it

Voicers that didn't dare work with Mr.Downes - reeds were voiced by a flue-voicer

Historic front pipes that refused to work on Downes' specified pressures and had to be revoiced (without official permission)

Key actions that didn't work as planned and had to be disabled - made to work in gangs rather than working separately

etc. etc.

 

Don't forget the three court cases that followed it! Many people have done.

The results of these are public record. HN&B lost and Downes lost, the cathedral won.

 

Howells was white with rage 'they have smashed up my organ' (he was guest of honour at the Organ Opening)

The Organ Concerto at the Three Choirs where the organ could not match the orchestra (although it had done in previous years) - very unfavourable newspaper reports

Herbert Sumsion invited back to help hold the fort while John Sanders was very ill, refused to go anywhere near it...

 

I could go on.

 

 

Wow! I didnt know any of that! It seems odd that none of this appears in the otherwise excellent book on the organ published recently by John Balsdon

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Wow! I didnt know any of that! It seems odd that none of this appears in the otherwise excellent book on the organ published recently by John Balsdon

Not really. This is exactly the sort of thing which I suspect a few people worked hard to ensure that none of it ever appeared in print - save for those items which are, as Cynic states, a matter of public record.

 

I have also wondered why the claviers could not have been centered (and the pedalboard then centered to line up correctly, as it would on any other 58-note compass console) and thin pieces of wood inserted between the key-cheeks and the stop-jambs.

 

In fairness it should be stated that the old organ also had its detractors - apparently the full organ was found by some to be oppressive and unmusical.

 

I realise that Cynic does not like this instrument - and I have no problem respecting his viewpoint. However, in its defence, I should say that however the action is now arranged, it is one of the most responsive I have ever played - of any type of action. In addition, I would still rather accompany the liturgical music of the Anglican Church on this instrument than a vintage H&H * - with the possible exception of that at Durham Cathedral (although I would not class this as a vintage H&H - I am thinking more of the likes of Crediton Parish Church, where the Pedal and G.O. reeds and the Choir Tuba are possibly the most opaque, unmusical stops I have ever heard).

 

Having said this, I am well aware that Gloucester is not the perfect organ - some of the reeds, when tried solo throughout their compasses vary greatly in timbre and intensity. Furthermore, I have never been happy about Downes' habit of marrying German/Dutch flue-work with quasi-French reeds. I would have discarded the G.O. Spitzflute for a Harmonic Flute in a heartbeat - and had some real strings. Actually, no - I should have kept the Solo Organ in toto - apart from the Tuba. This was one instance where Downes was a little disingenuous. One of his arguments against keeping it (aside from maintaining integrity of the neo-Classical/post-Romantic scheme), was that he wished to avoid any 'excresences' outside of the screen. He then alomst manages to ignore the fact that the Pedal Flute (16ft. - well, 13ft, actually) still stands in the north 'well' of the Pulpitum. He fails to mention entirely that the Pedal Sub Bass is also in the same well, the pipes suspended upside-down - presumably in order that the mouths are closer to the opening at the top of the screen.

 

 

 

* This is not to say that I view the Gloucester organ as the most suitable vehicle for the accompaniment of choral services - I do not. Simply that I should prefer it to an unaltered H&H from the 1920s. I can think of several organs I view as superior in their suitability for this type of music - among them the instruments in the cathedrals of Exeter, Bristol, Coventry, Salisbury, Chichester and Saint George's Chapel (Windsor Castle).

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Don't forget the three court cases that followed it! Many people have done.

 

Never heard of these. Any more details?

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Guest Cynic
Never heard of these. Any more details?

 

 

I am 100% sure that there were three cases and that the cathedral won all of them. You will appreciate that I only have word of mouth for the reasons. Downes was sued because he had authorised alterations to the historic pipes which were supposed to receive pride of place as historic and original. They had to be cut up to get them to go at all - see page 209 of Baroque Tricks. Essentially his pressures and those pipes were incompatible. It could well be that he was also trying to get too much tone out of them. Additional cutting-up is generally required when something speaks with too much harmonic, i.e. when it's being blown too hard - or when the foothole has been opened too wide.

 

Apparently, HN&B were sued by Downes because when he tested the pressures on the completed organ, he found that they had raised them from his specification.

 

The Cathedral were profoundly dissatisfied with the finished organ (essentially because it wouldn't behave as its predecessor had done - not go as soft or as loud) and turned on them all. I understand that because HN&B lost, the firm changed substantially. The Normans (both Herbert and John) went and Frank Fowler was appointed managing director. A watershed in fact.

 

Do I hate it?

Actually, at the risk of repeating myself from other postings ad nauseam..I don't exactly. I'm more sorry than anything.

 

There is a lot to admire. If it had been a new organ, or if it had been in another building I'd quite like it. Above all, I disagree with pcnd that it is good for accompaniment. Like Christ Church Oxford, it will accompany if there is someone particularly skilful at the controls, but accompanying in the traditional Anglican style works only with major effort. We are told that the Choir Stopped Diapason was matched to a solo boy's singing, that may well be, but there are very few stops that sit comfortably under a choir. I fondly remember Roy Massey's (typical) remark after he had been covering a brief sub organist gap (in RM's early retirement). He bounced up with glee saying

'I've found out how to accompany at Gloucester!'

When asked what the trick was, he said

'play the whole service on 8 stops.'

p a u s e

 

'mind you, don't draw them all at once!!'

 

When I used to take my school choir to sing there (twice a year) we had a standing rule, 'no Mixtures while they're singing', and that certainly helps.

 

The saddest part of the rebuild is that one constantly misses stops that were there before. You think, wouldn't it be lovely to have just one nice solo stop at mp - like a Willis Corno di Bassetto for instance - then you remember, the beeper is still there, it's just been castrated. In the same way, you long for a nice Swell Clarion, a blending Swell Mixture or a 32' - well, they were all there! David Briggs of course found his solo noises...in some of his transcriptions you hear a splendid solo reed mp, it's the pedal Schalmei and he's turned the whole piece inside out and upside down simply because he could and there's no alternative!

 

People who judge the organ now are hearing it after interventions. One major intervention was the raising of the roof over the Great. David Briggs had this done - it has greatly increased both the power and resonance of that division. There were also some revoicings carried out (somewhat under wraps) at the Nicholson 'restoration'.

 

The fluework remains all of a piece and is all (mixtures apart) beautifully voiced. It is the work of one Philip Prosser* (still extant and living in Ireland). He managed to get on with Downes, who would (according to every report from every builder who ever worked with him) try the patience of a saint. PP also voiced the reeds, and once again they have a certain integrity albeit, because of the pressures, they sound like no traditional English reed ever did. It still creases me up to recall a comment by Herbert Norman in the inaugural booklet

'we have retained the Willis reeds, but they have been fitted with new shallots in accordance with the new tonal scheme'.

Q. What is a Willis reed with new shallots? A. Emphatically not a Willis reed at all!

 

Worth remembering in everyone's defence: the figures spent on organs now is out of all proportion bigger than what was spent on those (even the most high-profile) rebuilds of the 1970s. For a firm to be able to spend the time and money on the scale they now do in places like Redcliffe, Hereford, Cornhill etc. would have been unimaginable. In those days everyone cut corners. I am surprised at the suggestion that HN&B just had a spare four-manual console frame sitting around. I won't say they didn't, but it is hardly the sort of thing you make by mistake and have hanging around at the works. HN&B were generally very good with consoles. You can keep those (practically unvoiced, harmonically rich and therefore unblending) mixtures, but a 1960/70s HN&B console is always a most comfortable affair - with the possible exception of those square pistons which look smart but attack innocent knuckles as pcnd has said.

 

I'll get my coat now.

 

 

*He wrote an (unpublished) book about the Gloucester rebuild which I have seen and read - it's illuminating stuff!

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I am 100% sure that there were three cases and that the cathedral won all of them. You will appreciate that I only have word of mouth for the reasons. Downes was sued because he had authorised alterations to the historic pipes which were supposed to receive pride of place as historic and original. They had to be cut up to get them to go at all - see page 209 of Baroque Tricks. Essentially his pressures and those pipes were incompatible. It could well be that he was also trying to get too much tone out of them. Additional cutting-up is generally required when something speaks with too much harmonic, i.e. when it's being blown too hard - or when the foothole has been opened too wide.

 

Apparently, HN&B were sued by Downes because when he tested the pressures on the completed organ, he found that they had raised them from his specification.

 

The Cathedral were profoundly dissatisfied with the finished organ (essentially because it wouldn't behave as its predecessor had done - not go as soft or as loud) and turned on them all. I understand that because HN&B lost, the firm changed substantially. The Normans (both Herbert and John) went and Frank Fowler was appointed managing director. A watershed in fact.

 

Do I hate it?

Actually, at the risk of repeating myself from other postings ad nauseam..I don't exactly. I'm more sorry than anything.

 

There is a lot to admire. If it had been a new organ, or if it had been in another building I'd quite like it. Above all, I disagree with pcnd that it is good for accompaniment. Like Christ Church Oxford, it will accompany if there is someone particularly skilful at the controls, but accompanying in the traditional Anglican style works only with major effort. We are told that the Choir Stopped Diapason was matched to a solo boy's singing, that may well be, but there are very few stops that sit comfortably under a choir. I fondly remember Roy Massey's (typical) remark after he had been covering a brief sub organist gap (in RM's early retirement). He bounced up with glee saying

'I've found out how to accompany at Gloucester!'

When asked what the trick was, he said

'play the whole service on 8 stops.'

p a u s e

 

'mind you, don't draw them all at once!!'

 

When I used to take my school choir to sing there (twice a year) we had a standing rule, 'no Mixtures while they're singing', and that certainly helps.

 

The saddest part of the rebuild is that one constantly misses stops that were there before. You think, wouldn't it be lovely to have just one nice solo stop at mp - like a Willis Corno di Bassetto for instance - then you remember, the beeper is still there, it's just been castrated. In the same way, you long for a nice Swell Clarion, a blending Swell Mixture or a 32' - well, they were all there! David Briggs of course found his solo noises...in some of his transcriptions you hear a splendid solo reed mp, it's the pedal Schalmei and he's turned the whole piece inside out and upside down simply because he could and there's no alternative!

 

People who judge the organ now are hearing it after interventions. One major intervention was the raising of the roof over the Great. David Briggs had this done - it has greatly increased both the power and resonance of that division. There were also some revoicings carried out (somewhat under wraps) at the Nicholson 'restoration'.

 

The fluework remains all of a piece and is all (mixtures apart) beautifully voiced. It is the work of one Philip Prosser* (still extant and living in Ireland). He managed to get on with Downes, who would (according to every report from every builder who ever worked with him) try the patience of a saint. PP also voiced the reeds, and once again they have a certain integrity albeit, because of the pressures, they sound like no traditional English reed ever did. It still creases me up to recall a comment by Herbert Norman in the inaugural booklet

'we have retained the Willis reeds, but they have been fitted with new shallots in accordance with the new tonal scheme'.

Q. What is a Willis reed with new shallots? A. Emphatically not a Willis reed at all!

 

Worth remembering in everyone's defence: the figures spent on organs now is out of all proportion bigger than what was spent on those (even the most high-profile) rebuilds of the 1970s. For a firm to be able to spend the time and money on the scale they now do in places like Redcliffe, Hereford, Cornhill etc. would have been unimaginable. In those days everyone cut corners. I am surprised at the suggestion that HN&B just had a spare four-manual console frame sitting around. I won't say they didn't, but it is hardly the sort of thing you make by mistake and have hanging around at the works. HN&B were generally very good with consoles. You can keep those (practically unvoiced, harmonically rich and therefore unblending) mixtures, but a 1960/70s HN&B console is always a most comfortable affair - with the possible exception of those square pistons which look smart but attack innocent knuckles as pcnd has said.

 

I'll get my coat now.

 

 

*He wrote an (unpublished) book about the Gloucester rebuild which I have seen and read - it's illuminating stuff!

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I know that this post is about awkward organs but Cynic's comments about the comfort of HNB consoles is worth supporting. Probably the most comfortable instrument I have ever played is the one they built in 1967 in the chapel of my old school, Ellesmere College.

Harrison and Harrison consoles are also usually extremely comfortable, well at least for someone of my height and stature!

Martin Owen

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Philip Prosser looked after the organ at Belfast Cathedral while I was there - and still does, as far as I know. He once told me that he was assigned to Gloucester because of the voicers available he was the one most likely to be able to work with Downes. He is a fine voicer, and did some sterling work on the rather unsatisfactory Great chorus at Belfast (the revoicing at the 1976 rebuild left something to be desired, but to have done anything at that point in Belfast's history was quite heroic). He is also one of the best tuners I have ever encountered, exceptional on mixtures and much better on reeds than most. We had a scheme worked out to pull the entire organ together and balance it as well as could be done for the completed building, but everything was thrown out when Dean Jack Shearer died suddenly in early 2001. The organ work would have been his last major project before retirement. Perhaps this year, with a new Dean to be appointed, Philip will at last have the opportunity to finish the organ in accordance with his vision.

 

On the subject of consoles, I quite liked the HN&B style. I even liked the sugar-lump pistons, especially since they were least guaranteed to stay straight. The old RCO organ, although tonally infuriating in some ways (that 2' flute on the Great!), was at least a comfortable beast to drive.

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The fluework remains all of a piece and is all (mixtures apart) beautifully voiced. It is the work of one Philip Prosser* (still extant and living in Ireland).

 

*He wrote an (unpublished) book about the Gloucester rebuild which I have seen and read - it's illuminating stuff!

 

 

 

I seem to recall that the West Positive was voiced by Keith Bance.

 

* I would love to see and read this also. Could he be persuaded to publish it in order to put the current record straight or is there a risk of lawyers getting involved? Failing that he could deposit it in the Gloucestershire Archives for future generations.

PJW

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Philip Prosser looked after the organ at Belfast Cathedral while I was there - and still does, as far as I know. He once told me that he was assigned to Gloucester because of the voicers available he was the one most likely to be able to work with Downes. He is a fine voicer, and did some sterling work on the rather unsatisfactory Great chorus at Belfast (the revoicing at the 1976 rebuild left something to be desired, but to have done anything at that point in Belfast's history was quite heroic). He is also one of the best tuners I have ever encountered, exceptional on mixtures and much better on reeds than most. We had a scheme worked out to pull the entire organ together and balance it as well as could be done for the completed building, but everything was thrown out when Dean Jack Shearer died suddenly in early 2001. The organ work would have been his last major project before retirement. Perhaps this year, with a new Dean to be appointed, Philip will at last have the opportunity to finish the organ in accordance with his vision.

 

On the subject of consoles, I quite liked the HN&B style. I even liked the sugar-lump pistons, especially since they were least guaranteed to stay straight. The old RCO organ, although tonally infuriating in some ways (that 2' flute on the Great!), was at least a comfortable beast to drive.

 

 

 

Philip does indeed still look after "the beast" as I seem to remember you calling it years ago prior to letting me loose on it before a lesson or 2!

 

He also looks after the other 2 big instruments in Belfast (Ulster Hall and St Peters Cathedral) but has scaled his work back to tuning only these days. I don't believe there is anyone else locally who can keep these big instruments in as fine a fettle as he does although St Anne's was in a reasonably poor state in December, when I played it last, which I believe is mostly due to the situation there and no one even thinking about getting the organ tuned!

 

I have pointed Philip in the direction of this thread and hopefully he will read it and make some comment. I have also asked if I may read his unpublished work and if he would even consider having it published in some small way.

 

David, I wouldn't hold your breath on the job being finished in any way soon. There is barely a choir and it will take a new Dean, with a new DoM, some considerable effort and time to sort that out before considering the organ. Maybe in 5-10 years!

 

Hope all is well with you!

 

Best regards

 

R (double ophicleide)

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I know that this post is about awkward organs but Cynic's comments about the comfort of HNB consoles is worth supporting. Probably the most comfortable instrument I have ever played is the one they built in 1967 in the chapel of my old school, Ellesmere College.

Harrison and Harrison consoles are also usually extremely comfortable, well at least for someone of my height and stature!

Martin Owen

Seconded - well, thirded - the 1967 HNB console in Birmingham University's Great Hall is very similar to that at Gloucester, as far as I remember, and very comfortable for my awkward frame. I didn't mind the square pistons but can see why others might.

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Seconded - well, thirded - the 1967 HNB console in Birmingham University's Great Hall is very similar to that at Gloucester, as far as I remember, and very comfortable for my awkward frame. I didn't mind the square pistons but can see why others might.

 

Perhaps if we were to make a list of HNB instruments and their consoles from that era we may find them all to be comfortable? The 1970 console at St Mary's Luton is another fine example, but it also has the stops in threes making the console very compact and extremely easy to control. Yet I have always enjoyed playing on Walker consoles from the same era where everything looked and felt good (though possibly the leg room isn't always as even) Being so tall, the console has always seriously affected my experience on an organ, eg an ealier thread found the Binns at St Mary's Shrewsbury too awkward for comfort, but for me it was not a problem! I believe that many of the big firms were producing fine instruments with comfort a major factor, so that when one plays a victorian organ you do really feel that you have swapped your new Audi, for a post war Morris... The only problem I have is when you go to a modern organ to find that they have built it to make it as awkward to control as possible. I played a wierd instrument in Massachussets two years ago where the action was tracker but the stops had been placed too close together on either side of the manuals and low down at the manual height, making it impossible to see some stops while playing. with about 12 stops on each manual and the stop knps taking up the normal space of four, it was particualrly awful when I realised there were no registration aids and I had to accompany the whole of Faure's Requiem on it.

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It was always accepted wisdom in Britain that drawstops were easier to handle when arranged vertically in twos, but since coming over here (Newfoundland) I've found that threes or even fours are just as easy to handle, as well as being in a shorter vertical plane and therefore easier to see en masse.

 

A console often reflects the instrument it controls. There's something comfortingly substantial about a Father Willis console, for example. Similarly, a Binns like St. Mary's, Shrewsbury (one of the great unknown organs of England, I reckon) presents in its console a certain magisterial splendour which complements the sound the organ makes. You don't sit behind the wheel of a vintage Bentley and expect it to respond like an Aston Martin.

 

Philistine that I am, I'm not wildly enthusiastic about old Hills (with a few major exceptions) and the somewhat dull consoles seemed to go with the rest of the feel.

 

Little old Victorian one-manuals are easier to handle if the stops are in a line above the keys (e.g. Bevingtons) rather than on side jambs (e.g. Walkers).

 

Another awkwardness that has just sprung to mind is that the standard position for intermanual reversibles on North American organs seems to be to the right of the department thumb pistons: a singularly inept placing, out of reach of either thumb. The pedal reversibles are to the left of the departmentals, which is the best place for them. Possibly, the reason that the intermanual pistons are not also to the left is that organs here have separate Pedal pistons (rather than Gret & Pedal combs coupled) and they tend to be to the left of the Great pistons so there wouldn't be room for intermanual ones on that side.

 

Terraced horizontal jambs may be ok on a Cavaille-Coll, but they seem to me very awkward on any other instrument.

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It was always accepted wisdom in Britain that drawstops were easier to handle when arranged vertically in twos, but since coming over here (Newfoundland) I've found that threes or even fours are just as easy to handle, as well as being in a shorter vertical plane and therefore easier to see en masse.

 

A console often reflects the instrument it controls. There's something comfortingly substantial about a Father Willis console, for example. Similarly, a Binns like St. Mary's, Shrewsbury (one of the great unknown organs of England, I reckon) presents in its console a certain magisterial splendour which complements the sound the organ makes. You don't sit behind the wheel of a vintage Bentley and expect it to respond like an Aston Martin.

 

P

 

It's interesting hearing from someone else who's made the move from the UK to North America. Having played quite a few Casavants now, and having seen a few other consoles which are similar by other builders there are some significant differences in dimensions I think... Does anyone know what is different between AGO standard (almost universally adopted in North America) and RCO standard?

 

Generally I find the Casavant consoles a little on the small size... for me the AGO standard bench always gets wound to the very top to make my long legs comfortable. This means I'm always towering way above the rest of the rather squat consoles (though it's great for seeing whats going on around you!) Sometimes I have found I can't see the couplers properly because of my height as the tabs disappear under the music desk... and also the lack of those little lever things on the music desk to hold your music open is annoying.

 

I do wonder if the AGO standard should be revised as people are generally a bit larger now than they used to be. Two consoles which fit my height perfectly were the new Reiger organ at St. Giles Cathedral Edinburgh. It really is a man sized console (sorry ladies) and I seem to remember the Kelvingrove Lewis from c. 1911 or something was big. Having said that, my first organ teacher was a lady, who must have been less than 5 feet tall, and the swell was always a big stretch for her. So I suppose one size must fit all.

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It's interesting hearing from someone else who's made the move from the UK to North America. Having played quite a few Casavants now, and having seen a few other consoles which are similar by other builders there are some significant differences in dimensions I think... Does anyone know what is different between AGO standard (almost universally adopted in North America) and RCO standard?

 

Generally I find the Casavant consoles a little on the small size... for me the AGO standard bench always gets wound to the very top to make my long legs comfortable. This means I'm always towering way above the rest of the rather squat consoles (though it's great for seeing whats going on around you!) Sometimes I have found I can't see the couplers properly because of my height as the tabs disappear under the music desk... and also the lack of those little lever things on the music desk to hold your music open is annoying.

 

I do wonder if the AGO standard should be revised as people are generally a bit larger now than they used to be. Two consoles which fit my height perfectly were the new Reiger organ at St. Giles Cathedral Edinburgh. It really is a man sized console (sorry ladies) and I seem to remember the Kelvingrove Lewis from c. 1911 or something was big. Having said that, my first organ teacher was a lady, who must have been less than 5 feet tall, and the swell was always a big stretch for her. So I suppose one size must fit all.

 

I think it was John Norman who mentioned, in 'The Organ Today', that players in North America (and Canada in particular) favoured a slightly lower stool and thus a firmer seat. I'm just under six feet tall, but I find the Casavant console generally very comfortable. However, I've just learned the Bonnet Variations de Concert, and I found that I was having to support myself on my hands (like a gymnast on parallel bars!) in order to negotiate some of the double pedalling in the cadenza. Sorry if that makes the mind boggle. :P

 

I had a pupil who was less than five feet tall but managed the episodes in the St. Anne prelude on the Solo Organ (sounds weird, but it works on this organ) without difficulty.

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