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Malcolm Farr

Redundant organs - fair game?

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Hi all,

 

On a recent trip to Sydney, three organs came to my attention, and their respective circumstances got me thinking, or at least questioning.

 

The 1st was a middling 2-manual instrument in a largish church with capacity for some few 100s of people. I went to the 10am service with my brother-in-law and his wife, and was rather dismayed that the total attendance was only about 40 people, quite a number of whom were clearly well past retirement age. My brother-in-law conceded sadly that it may not be too long before his parish is merged with a more vibrant one in a neighbouring suburb. And then the church lands will be sold off, and, if they're lucky, they'll find a buyer for the organ.

 

The 2nd was a parish which has imported a redundant organ from England, and it is now in pride of place, somewhat re-voiced to suit its new acoustic environment, but otherwise not significantly altered.

 

The 3rd was an instrument cobbled together from the pipework of two (or more?) redundant organs, which had been cannibalised after no-one would take them as they were.

 

Although the various churches where I am located seem to be holding their own, and some are even steadily growing, it's a sad fact that, generally, many are closing; and where these have organs, the latter might be bought as-is if they are lucky, used for assorted pipework if they are less fortunate, or left for scrap if they have no luck at all. But how about when they are acquired by buyers who see them, not just for what they are, but for what they might be? And what if they were, at least in their original homes, of some merit? At what point would we like to blow our whistles, and call a foul?

 

I tried to think of an example nearer to home for most forum members, and the only one which came to mind (prompted, I admit, by my old travel diaries) was an instrument I heard many years ago, and thought was quite grand - the instrument, originally in Park Hall in Cardiff, and now at St Aidan's, Sudden, Lancashire. I would like to stress at this point that I have no designs on this instrument, nor have I heard anything whatsoever to suggest that the parish of St Aidan is in any danger of closing. I use it purely as a hypothetical case, because the instrument was one which I thought rather good when I heard it when travelling in the UK many years ago, and I thought of it simply as one which might fit the bill for this scenario.

 

From NPOR, the organ of St Aidan's was originally built by Father Willis in 1884, and was later modernised by Willis III. It was moved from Wales to Sudden in 1952. It has 3 manuals and pedals, and the Great is complete from Double Open Diapason to 3-rank tierce mixture plus reeds at 16', 8' and 4', while the Swell is no less lavishly equipped. However, the Pedal contains only 4 independent ranks (Open Bass, Violone and Bourdon at 16' and 8', and Trombone at 16'), while the Choir is, dare I say it, typically an uneasy cross between a quiet accompanimental division and a low pressure solo division.

 

Yet I could imagine a sufficiently well-heeled purchaser who, seeing the instrument as a "new creation" when put into its new surroundings, might be quite content with the Great and Swell as they are, but would want to add to the Pedal, and, more drastically, to re-vamp the Choir as a Solo, perhaps inserting a Tromba on a higher pressure for solo lines and "big moments", and adding a new Choir with a sprightly little chorus of its own.

 

I don't know what the "rules" are in the UK about this kind of situation, but I wonder if it might cause a deal of argument. So ... is a purchase of a redundant, but quite grand instrument, made simply to use it as the basis for something (supposedly) even grander, fair or not?

 

(As you can probably guess from the above, I tend to think that an instrument of "intrinsic merit" shouldn't be altered too radically during its "original" lifetime. To the question whether an instrument - even one that is quite beautifully built and voiced, but which is less rather than adequate for its venue and purpose - falls in this category, I should probably say "no". Still, any judgment must necessarily be subjective, and should I think be derived from consensus. But where it becomes redundant and is moved elsewhere, I suspect my political correctness diminishes.)

 

Rgds,

MJF

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I suppose that one might ask whether the organ as built was the builder's ideal, or a compromise to fit the available space or budget. I see nothing wrong with adding new material that essentially completes the original ideal; players don't have to use the new material if they don't want, and with luck the additional pipes will not compromise the original action or the relationship of older pipes to their windchests. Modifying the choir may be a far more controversial matter.

 

For those who read Dutch, or whose browser provides some sort of translation. see

http://www.cathedralorgan.nl/site/index.cfm

The bottom tab takes you to a summary in English.

Otherwise search "Hooglandse Kerk Leiden" on this (the Mander) website. Part of the intention here is to complete what Willis would have done given the opportunity.

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