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Contrabombarde

Shrewsbury Abbey

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Guest Cynic

On this matter - did Cirencester actually need their organ rebuilt as a large four-clavier instrument, with two 32ft. Pedal ranks? I did once conduct an RSCM course there and, whilst the Nave is fairly large (with the Chancel resembling nothing as much as a type of ecclesiastical dog-kennel), it is not that large.

 

 

Mummy, mummy...why has the Emperor got no clothes on?

 

[i'll get my coat.]

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Mummy, mummy...why has the Emperor got no clothes on?

 

[i'll get my coat.]

 

Hang on - I cannot find mine. Some idiot has buried it under a pile of organ pipes....

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It would be good to see it restored with a decent, reliable key action (I honestly believe that, in this case, spending money on the existing action would be little short of criminal*)

 

You might be quite surprised to find me agreeing totally with this. If it were tracker, then of course I wouldn't be - but then again we wouldn't be having this conversation, because a straightforward mechanical linkage by a builder such as Hill would be lasting very considerably more than 100 years save for the odd bit of regulation.

 

I wouldn't dispute that there were/are reasons for a non-mechanical solution which offsets this relative disposability (and just how much of its life has this action been giving trouble for?), but disposability is exactly what is implied by choosing the least long-lasting and most complicated option - and therefore electrification is the only responsible way to go. And again in 75 years when Musicom is obsolete and no longer supported. And probably another 75 years after that.

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Just out of interest, I wonder where H&H found the ivory for all those nice new drawstops and piston-heads at Cirencester and Saint Edmundsbury - and, for that matter, Nicholsons at Llandaff. Or have they simply decided to use composition substitutes?

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Just out of interest, I wonder where H&H found the ivory for all those nice new drawstops and piston-heads at Cirencester and Saint Edmundsbury - and, for that matter, Nicholsons at Llandaff.

 

Elephants.

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You might be quite surprised to find me agreeing totally with this. If it were tracker, then of course I wouldn't be - but then again we wouldn't be having this conversation, because a straightforward mechanical linkage by a builder such as Hill would be lasting very considerably more than 100 years save for the odd bit of regulation.

 

I wouldn't dispute that there were/are reasons for a non-mechanical solution which offset this relative disposability (and just how much of its life has this action been giving trouble for?), but disposability is exactly what is implied by choosing the least long-lasting and most complicated option - and therefore electrification is the only responsible way to go. And again in 60 years when Musicom is obsolete and no longer supported.

 

Not at all. A valid point (should that be plural?).

 

If we were talking in terms of an organ like that at Chichester Cathedral, I too would unhesitatingly support strongly the retention of mechanical action. That at Chichester is superb and one of the most responsive I have played. (I always turn off the electric coupling - there is no issue over heaviness.)

 

However, that existing tubular-pneumatic action at Shrewsbury Abbey was giving trouble at least twenty-five years ago. I am pleased to note that the instrument is at least still playable.

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Elephants.

 

Granted.

 

But I think that I meant 'when'. Were major firms stock-piling tusk ivory over the last few years - or do they simply deal with China? (One of the 'approved' importing countries for ivory.)

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Granted.

 

But I think that I meant 'when'. Were major firms stock-piling tusk ivory over the last few years - or do they simply deal with China? (One of the 'approved' importing countries for ivory.)

 

Well, Chinese trade is a high priority of this coalition government.

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Well, I really think you should wait a bit more before restoring that organ.

And yes, the financial "crisis" (let me laugh out loudly, there is no "crisis",

only cleverer guys going away with the money) should limit the choices.

And the less expansive solution is of course not to change the action.

 

As for the organ being elevated, preventing any flooding to reach it, this

won't empeach the moisture in the building to cause damages, as any organ-builder

will tell you.

 

Pierre

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And the less expansive solution is of course not to change the action.

 

You know that we're in agreement over the politics (and there are only about half a dozen people on Earth I can say that to). This, however, I don't agree with - not even in the short term, let alone the long term - and definitely not where accessibility for maintenance is difficult.

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Well, I really think you should wait a bit more before restoring that organ....

 

I assume that's said tongue-in-cheek: at Christmas half the pedals were not working, most of the Great was off intermittently and services had to be accompanied using whichever notes on the Swell decided to sound (transposed into whichever key had the most functioning notes), whenever they decided to sound (some prompt, some taking a short while to decide whether to come on or not, by which time you'd be onto the next note....at least that's an improvement on Christmas the previous year when the piano was brought in to accompany some services. Things have improved considerably with the warmer weather since December, but given the action has been causing problems for probably a quarter of a century, is it fair on the poor organist to have to wait any longer?

 

As for the organ being elevated, preventing any flooding to reach it, this won't empeach the moisture in the building to cause damages, as any organ-builder will tell you.

 

Apparently the whole organ was actually elevated about four feet above floor level many years ago, and its present height is probably higher than the floods will ever reach. The staircase leading to the console is steeper than some ladders, but could be relocated within or to the side of the case if only the space behind the console wasn't so cluttered up with console pneumatics and action reservoirs. There is a huge amount of unused space in the organ chamber that could be utilised if the current layout was revised to enable the pipes to speak more directly - but to do so would probably mean abandoning pneumatic action.

 

Interestingly, some years ago a suggestion to rebuild the organ with mechanical action was actually mooted, but it sounds like converting the soundboards (not having been designed for tracker in the first place) would have required reductions in wind pressures and other compromises for a comfortably playable mechanism to be possible and things went no further. One could even make a case for fitting a new Barker lever action, but that is no more in keeping with Hill's early 20th century style than rebuilding with electropneumatic action! Whilst mechanical action was fitted at Chichester Cathedral in its 1984 rebuild (and enlargement), it always struck me as pretty exceptional that a pneumatic action organ (Hele, 1904, which let's not forget had been failing since the 1950s) was being converted back to tracker. I say "back", because in the case of Chichester, the original 1851 Hill (complete with long compass) had of course been tracker. But by 1911, when Shrewsbury's organ was built, Hill had long since abandoned mechanical action for instruments of this size.

 

It was mentioned earlier that the R&D soundboards at Malvern were not reused in the recent restoration - obviously someone connected with that organ would need to comment on the reason, but clearly if the soundboards are in good condition, already have the space allocated to the additional ranks and no pipework beyond the original intentions are foreseen then I can't see why you would want to dispose of them, unless the rebuild changes the internal layout so that the originals will no longer fit where they need to. If there has been woodworm, rot or other irreparable damage, clearly it's a different matter altogether.

 

As for ivories, the Willis organ at Auckland has ivory keys too - if you have the money you can indeed still get it legitimately (at least reclaimed ivory), though I shudder to think what a set of four ivory keyboards would cost today. The quality of Willis' finishing, when I saw the Auckland organ in the factory recently, was such that you would never guess the surfaces were anything but new. As the Shrewsbury ivories are worn to varying degrees, some will need to be replaced and it's good to know that can be done without, as the film credits would say, any animals being harmed in the making of this organ. I once read somewhere that with global warming melting the Siberian tundra, millions of woolly mammoth tusks are emerging from the mud, so perhaps ivory keys will become more affordable?

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Indeed, Contrabombarde,

 

I know the things aren't that simple. My point is, it is not wise to equal

"historic" with "unreasonable-expansive". There have been countless "reasonable"

rebuilds that only led to more expansive corrections later.

In our areas here the other side of the Chunnel, it has been recognized since

some time that electrifying pneumatic organs is a mistake; so why go on ?

There are organ-builders nowadays who can rebuild pneumatic actions from A to Z;

if the design in that organ is flawed, it can be bettered, without changing the pressures,

the voicing, and the action feel.

And that is what counts, as we know today the touch and the voicing of pneumatic organs

are peculiar, and cannot be preserved if going electric.

 

Pierre

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There have been countless "reasonable"

rebuilds that only led to more expansive corrections later.

In our areas here the other side of the Chunnel, it has been recognized since

some time that electrifying pneumatic organs is a mistake; so why go on ?

 

And that is what counts, as we know today the touch and the voicing of pneumatic organs

are peculiar, and cannot be preserved if going electric.

 

Pierre

 

There are some extremely valid points here, very nearly enough to change my mind.

 

However, this instrument does not work. It hasn't worked for some years. When, after rebuilding in its present form, it stops working again, as pneumatic actions in centrally heated churches tend to do, you can't get at anything to fix it.

 

The same probably applies to electropneumatic, unless there is a humidifier keeping things healthy.

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As you say: it does not work since some years. And what did it do before ?

 

Pierre

 

It worked a bit, for a while, and then started to break. What's the point in restoring that situation?

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Guest Patrick Coleman
It worked a bit, for a while, and then started to break. What's the point in restoring that situation?

Exactly - why can't it be accepted there is a problem with the action (over and above normal deterioration) and it needs replacing with a different sort of action.

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Exactly - why can't it be accepted there is a problem with the action (over and above normal deterioration) and it needs replacing with a different sort of action.

Especially as the majority of people, apart from a few experts here, are unlikely to notice one iota of difference - except that it works when required!

JC

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Guest Cynic
snip

It was mentioned earlier that the R&D soundboards at Malvern were not reused in the recent restoration - obviously someone connected with that organ would need to comment on the reason, but clearly if the soundboards are in good condition, already have the space allocated to the additional ranks and no pipework beyond the original intentions are foreseen then I can't see why you would want to dispose of them, unless the rebuild changes the internal layout so that the originals will no longer fit where they need to. If there has been woodworm, rot or other irreparable damage, clearly it's a different matter altogether.

 

 

Some firms, no names no pack drill, will now replace soundboards and wind system more-or-less regardless of what they find when they start to take an organ down. I suppose they would claim that this is cost effective. I personally deplore this attitude. It is the same concept that frequently condemns organ mechanisms of all kinds when others could quite readily refurbish/remedy perceived defects.

 

In the case of Malvern, the original scheme put forward when the appeal for funds started (c.1995) - fortunately shot down, mostly by Dr.Roy Massey who found out before it was carried out - was to jettison all the Rushworth and Dreaper work, pipes included. This quite irrespective of the fact that this was possibly the best organ that firm ever made and it already boasted the highest category of BIOS certificate.

 

The reasons given for Malvern's complete re-arrangement were the need for a larger room to be created underneath and the fact that some pneumatics were impossible to maintain efficiently located in tight corners at the bottom of the organ. The down-side of the latest work is, as anyone who knew the organ before will testify, the one stop that really succeeded before (The Solo Tuba) has been emasculated. You are welcome to come up with your own theories as to why this is now on the same soundboard as the remainder of the Solo organ, and therefore no longer in a prominent place.

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Indeed, Contrabombarde,

 

I know the things aren't that simple. My point is, it is not wise to equal

"historic" with "unreasonable-expansive". There have been countless "reasonable"

rebuilds that only led to more expansive corrections later.

In our areas here the other side of the Chunnel, it has been recognized since

some time that electrifying pneumatic organs is a mistake; so why go on ?

There are organ-builders nowadays who can rebuild pneumatic actions from A to Z;

if the design in that organ is flawed, it can be bettered, without changing the pressures,

the voicing, and the action feel.

And that is what counts, as we know today the touch and the voicing of pneumatic organs

are peculiar, and cannot be preserved if going electric.

 

Pierre

Could you enlarge on why it was considered a mistake to electrify pneumatic actions, please? (Are we talking about electrifying the primaries, incidentally?)

 

Of course there are builders who can rebuild pneumatic actions - our own hosts did a superb job at Bristol Cathedral. However, the action needed very regular maintenance and adjustment. This apparently proved (prohibitively?) expensive, and the cathedral authorities were unwilling - or unable - to maintain this type of committment.

 

Incidentally, in another post, you queried the idea of the current financial crisis - and I cannot imagine why you are under the impression that this current financial crisis is a figment of our imagination. Whatever the reason for the shortfall, the result is the same.

 

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...I cannot imagine why you are under the impression that this current financial crisis is a figment of our imagination.

 

Not the place, but I think Pierre's point is a fair one, and it's that the bankers and tax-dodging firms/individuals are still doing very nicely. Instead of screwing services some considerable way beyond their reasonable functioning, some of us believe that reclaiming the 'let off' tax owed by Vodafone, Philip Green, Boots, Barclays and even George Osborne himself (who is personally dodging some £12m in unpaid tax) would largely wipe out the defecit - which, you might note, was grown (as well as some very stupid and regrettable mistakes, as every government makes) very largely of money invested in making the future cheaper, in relation to things like child trust funds etc.

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Not the place, but I think Pierre's point is a fair one, and it's that the bankers and tax-dodging firms/individuals are still doing very nicely. Instead of screwing services some considerable way beyond their reasonable functioning, some of us believe that reclaiming the 'let off' tax owed by Vodafone, Philip Green, Boots, Barclays and even George Osborne himself would largely wipe out the defecit - which, you might note, was grown (as well as some very stupid and regrettable mistakes, as every government makes) very largely of money invested in making the future cheaper, in relation to things like child trust funds etc.

 

Well, granted. These points are entirely valid.

 

Unfortunately, it does not alter the fact that the proverbial 'man-in-the-street/pew' is currently being bled dry - and then taxed (both stealthily and overtly) some more.

 

Hwever, this is, as you have pointed-out, not the place for this. So instead, I shall think of happier things and imagine that the rather splendid Hill organ at Shrewsbury Abbey has had a much-needed restoration and, in addition to Contrabombarde's wish-list, it has also gained a 32ft. Contra Trombone, a well-stocked mini-bar and a drawstop engraved 'PULPIT TRAPDOOR'....

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Hwever, this is, as you have pointed-out, not the place for this. So instead, I shall think of happier things and imagine that the rather splendid Hill organ at Shrewsbury Abbey has had a much-needed restoration and a drawstop engraved 'PULPIT TRAPDOOR'....

 

Another fine reason for installation of a new mechanical action. No number of magnets or puff motors could manage such a device with total reliability.

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Having known the vicar from his previous parish, I didn't think that the organ was his preferred instrument in church,.........

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Knowing the new vicar, I would be surprised if the organ will get any attention at all. A new guitar and 5 watt combo amp is more his thing..........

 

Better to wait and see what happens.

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They said the same round these 'ere parts not so long ago. It is possible to get it right, you know - I'm watching it happen around me.

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