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Merton College, Oxford


Barry Oakley
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Forgive me if this has featured previously on the forum, but I received news from America this morning that Oxford's Merton College is to have a new organ in time for its 750th Anniversary in 2014. The new instrument is to be built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd of America. The visual of the case design looks superb and whilst I don't have a complete specification, it's to be a 3-manual/pedal organ of 54 ranks with mechanical key action and electric stop action. The new instrument is planned for completion in 2013. Meanwhile, Lynn Dobson, the company's president, is presently completing the overall design detail.

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Forgive me if this has featured previously on the forum, but I received news from America this morning that Oxford's Merton College is to have a new organ in time for its 750th Anniversary in 2014. The new instrument is to be built by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd of America. The visual of the case design looks superb and whilst I don't have a complete specification, it's to be a 3-manual/pedal organ of 54 ranks with mechanical key action and electric stop action. The new instrument is planned for completion in 2013. Meanwhile, Lynn Dobson, the company's president, is presently completing the overall design detail.

 

 

 

 

 

So, presumably there is not one single organ builder in this country who could have built an organ to the specifications of Merton College ?

Very sad.

Colin Richell.

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So, presumably there is not one single organ builder in this country who could have built an organ to the specifications of Merton College ?

Very sad.

Colin Richell.

Would you prefer, Colin, there to be no German organs in France, no French organs in Denmark, no Danish organs in the USA, no USA organs in Canada etc.?

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So, presumably there is not one single organ builder in this country who could have built an organ to the specifications of Merton College ?

Very sad.

Colin Richell.

 

Or maybe UK organ builders' order books are so full that they could not fulfil an order in the timescale required?

 

From my own experience, an organ in SonA expected to be ready in 2009 has not yet appeared through pressure of work on the selected builder and pipe maker.

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So, presumably there is not one single organ builder in this country who could have built an organ to the specifications of Merton College ?

Very sad.

Colin Richell.

 

That might be the case or they have a workload as such that prevents meeting the deadline. But it is perhaps refreshing that instead of the apparent obsession for mainland European builders that has been the case for quite a number of years now, Merton College has opted to import an instrument from across the Atlantic. By what means it will travel from Dobson’s workshop in Lake City one assumes by sea in airtight 40ft containers. The Dobson company has a fine reputation for build quality in the USA and I guess it has shrewdly costed the new Merton organ without compromise. I’m now left guessing if it is the first classical organ import to these shores from the USA in modern times?

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That might be the case or they have a workload as such that prevents meeting the deadline. But it is perhaps refreshing that instead of the apparent obsession for mainland European builders that has been the case for quite a number of years now, Merton College has opted to import an instrument from across the Atlantic. By what means it will travel from Dobson’s workshop in Lake City one assumes by sea in airtight 40ft containers. The Dobson company has a fine reputation for build quality in the USA and I guess it has shrewdly costed the new Merton organ without compromise. I’m now left guessing if it is the first classical organ import to these shores from the USA in modern times?

 

 

 

 

 

I can't imagine what the cost of transporting will be, and I sincerely hope that our own builders also have a fine reputation for build quality, but if not why not ?

I wonder if cost comes into it and that the project may be loss making but that Dobson's are looking for more business in the UK ?

Colin Richell.

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I can't imagine what the cost of transporting will be, and I sincerely hope that our own builders also have a fine reputation for build quality, but if not why not ?

I wonder if cost comes into it and that the project may be loss making but that Dobson's are looking for more business in the UK ?

Colin Richell.

 

Perhaps it is more about having a little representation in many corners of the world. With the UK export market being as healthy as it has been in recent years there's no harm in that. I don't suppose our hosts would want to be putting up instruments in Japan on a regular basis, but one is nice to have on the CV. Equally, I don't suppose Lynn Dobson wants to be spending a fortune on transatlantic flights, but an Oxford college instrument (even at a loss) will be very good for business back home.

 

There is nothing to be scared of. We are not overflowing with Letourneau instruments, as was the fear when they did Pembroke a few years back. There are no more than a handful of Riegers or Frobeniae over here, and it's quite obvious to most which ones they really made an effort with. At least the pendulum is swinging firmly towards finding instruments of character and distinction; there are some times when one or two mainland European firms seem to have been represented much more than is perhaps fair. Instruments which are of lesser quality or which are not as successful as they might be tend to result in a lack of repeat business, or at the very least a couple of fallow decades before someone is willing to give them another shot.

 

And we're getting a Taylor & Boody (in Cambridge) shortly; that will be very special indeed. I hope someone brings Paul Fritts over to these shores before too long; the ten or so of his instruments I saw in the USA last year were the most outstandingly detailed and finished I have ever encountered, and I include the work of our most pernickety UK builders (e.g. Drake) in that. If I were ever to emigrate, the availability of a Fritts to play regularly would be a strong deciding factor.

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Perhaps it is more about having a little representation in many corners of the world. With the UK export market being as healthy as it has been in recent years there's no harm in that. I don't suppose our hosts would want to be putting up instruments in Japan on a regular basis, but one is nice to have on the CV. Equally, I don't suppose Lynn Dobson wants to be spending a fortune on transatlantic flights, but an Oxford college instrument (even at a loss) will be very good for business back home.

 

There is nothing to be scared of. We are not overflowing with Letourneau instruments, as was the fear when they did Pembroke a few years back. There are no more than a handful of Riegers or Frobeniae over here, and it's quite obvious to most which ones they really made an effort with. At least the pendulum is swinging firmly towards finding instruments of character and distinction; there are some times when one or two mainland European firms seem to have been represented much more than is perhaps fair. Instruments which are of lesser quality or which are not as successful as they might be tend to result in a lack of repeat business, or at the very least a couple of fallow decades before someone is willing to give them another shot.

 

And we're getting a Taylor & Boody (in Cambridge) shortly; that will be very special indeed. I hope someone brings Paul Fritts over to these shores before too long; the ten or so of his instruments I saw in the USA last year were the most outstandingly detailed and finished I have ever encountered, and I include the work of our most pernickety UK builders (e.g. Drake) in that. If I were ever to emigrate, the availability of a Fritts to play regularly would be a strong deciding factor.

 

 

Maybe it's all about marketing; the organbuilder want to have something for the CV (and business), the 'customer' wants something to distinguish from others to get funding/attention etc. ; quality of work may not even be the deciding factor.

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I can't imagine what the cost of transporting will be,

Colin Richell.

It may not be as much as one might think.

When I was importing wine from the States some years ago, the cost of sea freight was a drop in the ocean (forgive the pun) compared to the huge costs of trucking it (heavily unionized and regulated) from the winery to a seaport.

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I very much agree with the points and sentiments of Hecklephone's excellent post above. Incidentally, it is worth noting that Paul Fritt's ex-partner, Ralph Richards, is building a new organ for St Georges, Hannover Square. This firm has many of the same standards and qualities of Paul Fritt's work.

 

To pick up on a point made by Colin Richell (and in passing by Hecklephone):

 

I wonder if cost comes into it and that the project may be loss making but that Dobson's are looking for more business in the UK ?

The days of organ builders doing loss leader projects to get business in new markets have long gone and will probably remain a myth of the Victorian glory days. There simply isn't the potential market these days to make such ventures viable business propositions. There's virtually no money to be made in organ building and none of the firms can afford to make a loss on work they do as business concerns. The profit margins are very slender - generally 10% if things go well. It's a competitive market, especially in the UK.

 

Merton College, as a major landowner in Oxford, is one of most established and richest colleges in the university. They are more likely to prioritise quality, musical effect and appropriateness of the scheme to their chapel above cost. They are really far too discerning a client to feel the need to make a statement with a controversial organ in their chapel either - they really have no need to do such a thing.

 

Dobsons have done a lot of well-regarded work in the States but they are not a particularly large firm, even by UK standards - I think they're about the size or a bit smaller than Manders. Their smaller, well disciplined organs (such has the scheme proposed for Merton) have been very favourably received in the States and they have now completed a number of very high profile projects that must have broadened their experience and developed their confidence even further. I think this proposed new organ will broaden the outlook and landscape of the UK organ market and I hope it will have a very positive impact.

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The days of organ builders doing loss leader projects to get business in new markets have long gone and will probably remain a myth of the Victorian glory days.

 

I would venture to suggest that this is not the case at all. Marlborough College is just one very recent example.

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I very much agree with the points and sentiments of Hecklephone's excellent post above. Incidentally, it is worth noting that Paul Fritt's ex-partner, Ralph Richards, is building a new organ for St Georges, Hannover Square. This firm has many of the same standards and qualities of Paul Fritt's work.

 

To pick up on a point made by Colin Richell (and in passing by Hecklephone):

 

 

The days of organ builders doing loss leader projects to get business in new markets have long gone and will probably remain a myth of the Victorian glory days. There simply isn't the potential market these days to make such ventures viable business propositions. There's virtually no money to be made in organ building and none of the firms can afford to make a loss on work they do as business concerns. The profit margins are very slender - generally 10% if things go well. It's a competitive market, especially in the UK.

 

Merton College, as a major landowner in Oxford, is one of most established and richest colleges in the university. They are more likely to prioritise quality, musical effect and appropriateness of the scheme to their chapel above cost. They are really far too discerning a client to feel the need to make a statement with a controversial organ in their chapel either - they really have no need to do such a thing.

 

Dobsons have done a lot of well-regarded work in the States but they are not a particularly large firm, even by UK standards - I think they're about the size or a bit smaller than Manders. Their smaller, well disciplined organs (such has the scheme proposed for Merton) have been very favourably received in the States and they have now completed a number of very high profile projects that must have broadened their experience and developed their confidence even further. I think this proposed new organ will broaden the outlook and landscape of the UK organ market and I hope it will have a very positive impact.

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I was rather surprised to read that there was no money in organ building so presumably there IS money to be made in tuning and restoration.

Does this relate to ALL organ builders in the UK, and must we assume that, to remain in business UK organ building will cease.?

Surely the cost of the new instrument should reflect a reasonable amount of profit to at least cover the guarantee period for defects etc.

Does John Mander have any comments on this ?

Colin Richell.

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I was rather surprised to read that there was no money in organ building so presumably there IS money to be made in tuning and restoration.

Does this relate to ALL organ builders in the UK, and must we assume that, to remain in business UK organ building will cease.?

Surely the cost of the new instrument should reflect a reasonable amount of profit to at least cover the guarantee period for defects etc.

Does John Mander have any comments on this ?

Colin Richell.

@Colin Richell:

I'm not sure where you read that.

As I explained in my previous posting, profit margins are normally extremely slender in professional organ building, normally about 10%.

This is based on conversations with directors of organ building firms and consultants who have held senior positions of organ building firms.

There is little money to be made in tuning and restoration either - an organ builder will normally cover costs, with a very small proportion of profit - certainly not enough to subsidise building new organs.

I hope this clarifies and corrects your understanding.

Colin Harvey

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I would venture to suggest that this is not the case at all. Marlborough College is just one very recent example.

Do you have any evidence to support this? I know Marlborough College got a lot of organ for their money and there was some idle speculation whether or not it had been subsidised but I don't believe there was any conclusive evidence.

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Do you have any evidence to support this? I know Marlborough College got a lot of organ for their money and there was some idle speculation whether or not it had been subsidised but I don't believe there was any conclusive evidence.

 

Reply by PM.

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@Colin Richell:

I'm not sure where you read that.

As I explained in my previous posting, profit margins are normally extremely slender in professional organ building, normally about 10%.

This is based on conversations with directors of organ building firms and consultants who have held senior positions of organ building firms.

There is little money to be made in tuning and restoration either - an organ builder will normally cover costs, with a very small proportion of profit - certainly not enough to subsidise building new organs.

I hope this clarifies and corrects your understanding.

Colin Harvey

 

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

 

 

Gross profit or net profit?

 

If it's net, then that's a fairly respectable return.

 

However, alll that apart, I am personally delighted to see a few American imports, because certain American builders now set the standard across the world, whereas it used to be Marcussen, Flentrop and Frobenius, among others.

 

Dobson have built some splendid instruments, and I did get information straight from the horse's mouth, that they tend to follow the example of T C Lewis in appropriate circumstances, which must only be a good thing. Indeed, the modern American instrument, when not neo-baroque, has a natural affinity with that Anglo-German style, which was taken to America by G Donald-Harrison.

 

With at least one modern instrument of outstanding quality in New York, built by our kind hosts, (St Ignatious Loyola), I think it is rather good that some of America's best are being employed over here.

 

This should be a fine organ.

 

MM

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@Colin Richell:

I'm not sure where you read that.

As I explained in my previous posting, profit margins are normally extremely slender in professional organ building, normally about 10%.

This is based on conversations with directors of organ building firms and consultants who have held senior positions of organ building firms.

There is little money to be made in tuning and restoration either - an organ builder will normally cover costs, with a very small proportion of profit - certainly not enough to subsidise building new organs.

I hope this clarifies and corrects your understanding.

Colin Harvey

 

 

 

 

 

Colin all I would say in reply is that you suggested that there was no money in organ building and perhaps a slender 10% but only if things went well, but thank you for responding.

Many years ago I spoke to an employee of an organ building firm who suggested that they made their profits from tuning and not much else !

Colin Richell.

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

 

 

Gross profit or net profit?

 

If it's net, then that's a fairly respectable return.

 

However, alll that apart, I am personally delighted to see a few American imports, because certain American builders now set the standard across the world, whereas it used to be Marcussen, Flentrop and Frobenius, among others.

 

Dobson have built some splendid instruments, and I did get information straight from the horse's mouth, that they tend to follow the example of T C Lewis in appropriate circumstances, which must only be a good thing. Indeed, the modern American instrument, when not neo-baroque, has a natural affinity with that Anglo-German style, which was taken to America by G Donald-Harrison.

 

With at least one modern instrument of outstanding quality in New York, built by our kind hosts, (St Ignatious Loyola), I think it is rather good that some of America's best are being employed over here.

 

This should be a fine organ.

 

MM

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although you mention the Mander Organ in New York, to be honest how many churches, universities, schools etc in the USA would approach the UK for a new organ to be built, because they probably have a sense of loyalty to their own organ builders, which we don't have.

Colin Richell.

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although you mention the Mander Organ in New York, to be honest how many churches, universities, schools etc in the USA would approach the UK for a new organ to be built, because they probably have a sense of loyalty to their own organ builders, which we don't have.

Colin Richell.

Is that a hunch, or can you back up your claim with research, Colin? There are several Manders in the US and some other recent British organs, not to mention many German and Austrian (1) instruments over the last 50 years. More recently, I think there have been some French imports. The large new(-ish) organ in the Disney Hall in Los Angeles is a collaboration between a US builder and a German builder.

 

(1) <edited to add: and Danish>

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