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Lewis pneumatic action


Simon Walker

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Quote the Peter Collins website.

 

Malpas Parish Church... restoration of the organ.

 

`The original pneumatic action has been retained and re-set up to give the best performance possible within the constraints of its design.`http://petercollinsltd.com/restoration/malpass.html

 

What is the general concensus on the responsiveness of a well maintained Lewis pneumatic action? This sounds like a bit of an excuse to me for the fact that is isn`t really performing up to scratch. I find it hard to believe that a Lewis action could be anything other than excellent if set up properly. What do the other techies out there think?

 

(BTW I`ve played this organ in public twice since the rebuild and the action is letting it down... but the rest of the instrument is pure gold.)

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I've encountered Lewis pneumatic action. This was a charge-pneumatic type action, with tubes from the key-touch box/coupler stack up to the primary rails, which had small hinged motors. However, one of the flaws in the design of this (and indeed many) actions, was the necessity for a small exhaust bleed at the primary rail, regulated by a small machine screw. The exhaust bleed is required because the touch boxes only supplied a charge to the tube but didn't exhaust it, so there would be a fundamental reluctance for the action motor to return off promptly.

 

The trouble with introducing a bleed (i.e., a small leak) is that the impulse of the initial charge through the tube is also reduced, so one has to strive for a balance between a note that could be slow-ish on, or slow off. Trying to regulate a whole row and get them responding alike is tricky. Keeping them that way...even trickier.

 

I suspect that many pneumatic actions are not rugged enough in design to cope with modern heating systems. Left alone in a chilly and damp Victorian church, they may well have performed more consistently. Something to ponder when considering whether to restore an ailing action.

 

Other firms had some well thought out designs for pneumatic actions. I regard Norman & Beard pn actions very highly. They last forever, give very little trouble and respond fantastically well.

 

H

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Thanks so much for responding. The problem you describe (slow on and/or slow off) is exactly what it is in the case I described. Malpas has a huge old medieval church which I doubt ever gets very warm though I haven't been there in the winter - those buildings are nearly impossible to heat. The Lewis organ is lovely, though the building could easily have taken a sizable 3 manual - the 18stop 2 man is just a bit under-powered. It's still wonderful though.

 

When I played at the Kelvingrove I seem to remember the action feeling quite reasonable... I wonder what others think?

 

The Norman and Beard pneumatic action at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh is liked by almost all of the sympathetic players who've used it. Thomas Heywood from Melbourne was raving about it when he visited in 2006. However - like most halls it can get overheated... and I believe the organ doesn't like that one bit!

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Quote the Peter Collins website.

 

This particular firm seems to be getting a good deal of airtime just lately! Go carefully, or quite a few of us will be thrown off for speaking our mind, a.k.a. what we believe to be the undeniable truth (proved in timber, pipe metal and various grades of chipboard all over the UK)...

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This particular firm seems to be getting a good deal of airtime just lately! Go carefully, or quite a few of us will be thrown off for speaking our mind, a.k.a. what we believe to be the undeniable truth (proved in timber, pipe metal and various grades of chipboard all over the UK)...

 

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

 

 

Just before you go, ;) , I came across something quite interesting.

 

For a long time, I've been aware of a very technical website, which goes into considerable physical and mathematical detail on the subject of organ-actions.

 

This is the link: to a part of the site concerned with the Nottingham organ-builder Wragg, in which the author refers to sluggish pneumatic-actions:-

 

 

http://www.pykett.org.uk/e__wragg_&_son.htm

 

 

 

Note the comment contained therein:-

 

(For what it is worth, my prize for the slowest pneumatic action at that time has to go to the Lewis at St Luke’s, Battersea).

 

 

What we don't know about the organ mentioned at the start of this thread, is how far the console is away from the windchests....a critical factor with many pneumatics.

 

Unfortunately, although I used to work with pneumatic-actions from time to time, it was usually to either patch them up or rip them out, so my knowledge is distinctly limited.

 

I started to consider the excellent Lewis organ at Ashton-under-Lyne, but at the last moment, remembered that it had been electrified in the 1950's by Rushworth & Dreaper. (The NPOR makes no mention of this, but merely states that certain stops were electrified and extended ....mainly the Pedal 8ft derivates and the 8ft Tuba).

 

I do have the Walter & Thomas Lewis book entitled "Modern organ-building" which covers pneumatic-actions in some depth. I have a vague recollection that they were related to T C Lewis.

 

Interestingly, having picked it up again after some 5 or 6 years, I read through the section on charge (pressure) pneumatics, but could find no reference to "machine-screws" as bleed controls, but I seem to recall these being used in "£xhaust Pneumatic" actions.

 

Frankly, I've never played a T C Lewis organ with pneumatic action, but I wonder if they were generally slow?

 

The comment about the Battersea organ seems to suggest that they may have been.

 

But surely, didn't Binns also use charge pneumatics?

 

Binns must have been a superb engineer, because I've never come across faster, more responsive or more reliable actions.

 

The restored Binns action in the following demonstrates what we all know about Binns up here in the north. It doesn't get much better than this:-

 

n (Graham Barber at St Bart's, Armley)

 

 

 

MM

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This particular firm seems to be getting a good deal of airtime just lately! Go carefully, or quite a few of us will be thrown off for speaking our mind, a.k.a. what we believe to be the undeniable truth (proved in timber, pipe metal and various grades of chipboard all over the UK)...

 

Yes indeed I shall have to be very careful, otherwise I may get into lots of bother. Nice to know I'm not the only one who has these opinions though...

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Yes indeed I shall have to be very careful, otherwise I may get into lots of bother. Nice to know I'm not the only one who has these opinions though...

 

When the late Stephen Ridgley-Whitehouse was involved in the commissioning of a new organ for St Peter's, Eaton Square (after the fire), he told me that the best and worst organs that he'd tried were both by the same builder.

 

Go on - have fun trying to work out which two organs he was talking about. Remember that the trying-out was done in the early 1990s.

 

Ian

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When the late Stephen Ridgley-Whitehouse was involved in the commissioning of a new organ for St Peter's, Eaton Square (after the fire), he told me that the best and worst organs that he'd tried were both by the same builder.

 

Go on - have fun trying to work out which two organs he was talking about. Remember that the trying-out was done in the early 1990s.

 

Ian

 

Could a five-letter word in German be involved?

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Could a five-letter word in German be involved?

 

For a moment I entertained the notion that the topic hadn't strayed at all and we were still in the hearty English world of... well, pork pies, say, and other products from that locality. But I can't think of anything which would qualify as being good.

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For a moment I entertained the notion that the topic hadn't strayed at all and we were still in the hearty English world of... well, pork pies, say, and other products from that locality. But I can't think of anything which would qualify as being good.

 

 

Well, the late S R-S was notoriously well-travelled, so I suppose he had played many more high profile organs than most of us. A certain present cathedral organist told me (when he was 20) that a certain German organ (in an unpromising building), was the best organ he had ever played. But certain German organs in the U.K. have had a more mixed press...

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Well, the late S R-S was notoriously well-travelled, so I suppose he had played many more high profile organs than most of us. A certain present cathedral organist told me (when he was 20) that a certain German organ (in an unpromising building), was the best organ he had ever played. But certain German organs in the U.K. have had a more mixed press...

 

Binns ich, Rabbi?

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Well, the late S R-S was notoriously well-travelled, so I suppose he had played many more high profile organs than most of us. A certain present cathedral organist told me (when he was 20) that a certain German organ (in an unpromising building), was the best organ he had ever played. But certain German organs in the U.K. have had a more mixed press...

 

Well if Germany is involved, I knew the instrument in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol some years before I knew Christchurch, Oxford and I can well recall my profound disappointment on meeting the latter.

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Well if Germany is involved, I knew the instrument in Clifton Cathedral, Bristol some years before I knew Christchurch, Oxford and I can well recall my profound disappointment on meeting the latter.

They're Austrian, not German, surely?

 

I don't know Clifton; is the building as unpromising as Christ Church?

 

Paul

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They're Austrian, not German, surely?

 

I don't know Clifton; is the building as unpromising as Christ Church?

 

Paul

Well it doesn't have stunning Burne-Jones/Morris windows, but it does have a generous acoustic and a very fine Rieger organ

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For a moment I entertained the notion that the topic hadn't strayed at all and we were still in the hearty English world of... well, pork pies, say, and other products from that locality. But I can't think of anything which would qualify as being good.

 

I don't know about pork pies, but stick with English.

 

Admittedly others have told me that the one Stephen described as the best is a right so-and-so to play, but he thought it qualified as good.

 

Ian

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They're Austrian, not German, surely?

 

I don't know Clifton; is the building as unpromising as Christ Church?

 

Paul

 

Certainly Christ Church is disappointingly (but not surprisingly) dead acoustically. Perhaps a rather more lively resonance is all that is needed to make this instrument - which I think is quite superb - more acceptable to organ lovers in general.

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I too like Christ Church. And I actually like the acoustics in Ch Ch, dead though they are. That may partly be familiarity, as I sang there as a boy; and as a student I made almost the only existing recordings of the previous Willis/Harrison organ, played by Paul Morgan (now in the National Sound Archive at the British Library).

 

(I've also recorded chamber music recitals there, including one by Andrew Manze, Richard Egarr and Susan Gritton when they were all students :) )

 

Paul

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I don't know Clifton; is the building as unpromising as Christ Church?

I am surprised no one else has answered this since there are other board members who must know both buildings better than I do, but IMO the answer is "no". That said, the Clifton Cathedral acoustics are not entirely satisfactory either. The organ sounds pretty impressive when you are playing it, but out in the body of the cathedral it has much less impact because much of the sound disappears up into the top of the "wigwam". Naturally the same is true of the choir. (I assume it still has one; it's decades since I've been there.)

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The organ sounds pretty impressive when you are playing it, but out in the body of the cathedral it has much less impact because much of the sound disappears up into the top of the "wigwam".

 

I played it a few years ago and VH is right - it sounds good at the console and also 'plays well'. My only problem with it is purely personal in that I would not want to play on it week in week out - 'repertoire wise' I need more of what it doesn't have!

 

A

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I played it a few years ago and VH is right - it sounds good at the console and also 'plays well'. My only problem with it is purely personal in that I would not want to play on it week in week out - 'repertoire wise' I need more of what it doesn't have!

 

A

 

Indeed. And it sounded much, much better in the building, but worse at the console, before it was tamed by... not John Coulson, the other one from Bristol who almost rhymes and whose name completely escapes me. For me, it's (well, it was) such a musical organ that I was quite content to play just about anything on it, certainly up to and including Mendelssohn.

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Indeed. And it sounded much, much better in the building, but worse at the console, before it was tamed by... not John Coulson, the other one from Bristol who almost rhymes and whose name completely escapes me. For me, it's (well, it was) such a musical organ that I was quite content to play just about anything on it, certainly up to and including Mendelssohn.

When did this happen, please? I am fairly certain my memories date from before any revoicing was done and I still thought it stunning at the console (if rather less than adequate in the Pedal department).

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When did this happen, please? I am fairly certain my memories date from before any revoicing was done and I still thought it stunning at the console (if rather less than adequate in the Pedal department).

 

Me too!

 

A

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

 

 

 

I do have the Walter & Thomas Lewis book entitled "Modern organ-building" which covers pneumatic-actions in some depth. I have a vague recollection that they were related to T C Lewis.

 

They weren't.

 

 

Frankly, I've never played a T C Lewis organ with pneumatic action, but I wonder if they were generally slow?

 

The 1891 Lewis at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne had trouble with the slowness of the action as early as c. 1916 when it was partly electrified. (The Organs and Organists of St. Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, 1991, p. 8)

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Indeed. And it sounded much, much better in the building, but worse at the console, before it was tamed by... not John Coulson, the other one from Bristol who almost rhymes and whose name completely escapes me. For me, it's (well, it was) such a musical organ that I was quite content to play just about anything on it, certainly up to and including Mendelssohn.

 

The name you are looking for is E A Cawston and I think the work was described as finishing the organ as the initial voicing had been done in a hurry!!!!! The organ has been cleaned recently by a firm whose name escapes me but I think is somewhere around Harrogate or Huddersfield.

PJW

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