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Digital Futures....?


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Now most ailing organs only need a good clean and a patch, but this work just doesn't get done. A high-flying professional adviser will recommend a number of companies (probably all of them well-known) who will all include the cost of taking most of the instrument back to the works in their budget. Does this need to happen? No, it's just much easier for the workmen. A job that ought to take two weeks of intensive work on site - pay two trained men £200 per day and allow £200 for a few basics, 14 days B&B, a sheet of sheepskin, some glue, some oil... the whole job might easily cost less than £6k!!!

 

Hi

 

Not always the case - not every church can have organ parts scattered around the building for weeks! Especially in these days of mulitiple-use buildings, with toddler groups, etc. using the space.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Speakers to transmit the sound to the nave? Anyone any experience?

 

Hi

 

I've seen this done a couple of times, and done it (on a temporary basis) myself once. You'll need one or two very good microphones, and a sound system with reasonably large speakers and a fair amount of power - not a cheap option to do properly! Put the money towards doing the organ overhaul - and consider moving it to a better position in the church!

 

Many organs in UK churches are stuffed into chancel chambers as a result of the theories of the Oxford Movement & others in the 19th Century. All the time the church had a reasonable choir to lead singing, that was not too bad - but given the scarcity of choirs these days, an organ out in the open - preferably at the West End - will be a far better proposition.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

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Guest Cynic
Hi

 

Not always the case - not every church can have organ parts scattered around the building for weeks! Especially in these days of mulitiple-use buildings, with toddler groups, etc. using the space.

 

Every Blessing

 

Tony

 

I realise the implications of suggesting that work can be done like this - but it is worth being reminded, it usually used to be!

 

If your church had the option of a bill under £10k for work done in situ or a new-style complete removal to the works with a final bill of £25k (or more, of course) with the organ missing for six months, I'm sure that temporary arrangements or accommodations could be arrived it. I am being completely serious, the difference could well be this much between the two methods.

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Guest Stanley Monkhouse

an organ out in the open - preferably at the West End - will be a far better proposition.

 

Oh yes, I agree and have suggested that. It would take considerable effort and persistence and time to persuade folk that this is a good use of funds. Do I see porcellus fly past my window?

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It's interesting how your perceptions are affected. I've never really played a 'state of the art' digital as in Cheltenham but I started to look enviously at the Rogers/Collins thingy in Worcester Cathedral, wondering how it would sound in Upton.

 

Trouble is, this morning I popped into the cathedral again and heard, for the first time, the foundations on the new organ. I was overwhelmed by the difference.

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It's interesting how your perceptions are affected. I've never really played a 'state of the art' digital as in Cheltenham but I started to look enviously at the Rogers/Collins thingy in Worcester Cathedral, wondering how it would sound in Upton.

 

Trouble is, this morning I popped into the cathedral again and heard, for the first time, the foundations on the new organ. I was overwhelmed by the difference.

My church choir sang weekend services at Worcester in April this year. I thought the Rogers very poor. I played the Guillmant "Lift up your heads" after Sunday evensong and the tutti for the last page was just a horrible noise. Subjective views of course, but our custom Wyvern/Phoenix is to my ears in a different league.

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I'm guessing that one of the contributing factors is the set up. The temporary nature of the installation at Worcester probably compares badly with your system at Cheltenham. But you're right: there's quite a 'bloopy' character to the Rogers tutti. I'll have to try a Wyvern!

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I'm guessing that one of the contributing factors is the set up. The temporary nature of the installation at Worcester probably compares badly with your system at Cheltenham. But you're right: there's quite a 'bloopy' character to the Rogers tutti. I'll have to try a Wyvern!

 

Absolutely - turning up with a pre-voiced organ (or one which subtle voicing cannot be carried out effectively) and a few speaker cabinets of varying sizes plonked on the floor just isn't going to do it, really.

In a Wyvern church installation, 15/30% of the cost IS the installation!

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This has been a very interesting thread, all in all. I've noted some very clear themes:

 

We all appear to agree that the pipe organ is the ideal instrument; that a fine pipe installation is practically without compare and many (most) feel that, if a church has a good and/or historic instrument (alas, not in Upton!) it should do absolutely all it can to maintain (and restore) it: we have an obligation to the future.

 

Some believe that any pipe organ is better than any digital organ. Others feel that there are times when a digital organ is the better and more pragmatic answer and that a well-executed digital installation can be a successful one. I'm more persuaded by this latter argument than I have been in the past.

 

I've also picked up that:

 

if you wouldn't install a 4-manual pipe organ of 60 stops in your church, you shouldn't install a digital organ of that size;

a digital organ might be cheaper than a pipe organ but a good one is not cheap and you have to look at value over the years. You can't skimp!;

almost as important as a digital organ itself, is the sound system that comes with it: although speakers are still likely to be the weakest link in comparing a digital organ to a pipe organ, a properly-designed and installed sound system will have a significant impact on the perception of a digital organ.

 

Finally, the important reminder to myself: unless it's in my home, the organ is not there for my benefit: it's there for the church. And so am I.

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I'll have to try a Wyvern!

 

Just one thing to be aware of, to avoid confusion or misunderstanding (and I intend no offence or discourtesy to Wyvern here - I have usually been impressed with the quality of their workmanship):

 

Wyvern's "standard spec" organs are made in Holland by Content, with English samples and a Wyvern badge. Their custom-builds are done using the excellent Phoenix technology (which you would get considerably cheaper by going direct to Phoenix Organs). Their B- and C-Series organs used to be built with Bradford technology. I'm not sure if this is still the case.

 

Douglas.

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I've noticed that. I must confess that, if I were to buy a digital organ - either for home or church - I'd be inclined to buy from a firm based in this country. Not for any zenophobic reasons but purely so I could see the whites of their eyes when it comes to repairs or servicing.

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This has been a very interesting thread, all in all. I've noted some very clear themes:

 

We all appear to agree that the pipe organ is the ideal instrument; that a fine pipe installation is practically without compare and many (most) feel that, if a church has a good and/or historic instrument (alas, not in Upton!) it should do absolutely all it can to maintain (and restore) it: we have an obligation to the future.

 

Some believe that any pipe organ is better than any digital organ. Others feel that there are times when a digital organ is the better and more pragmatic answer and that a well-executed digital installation can be a successful one. I'm more persuaded by this latter argument than I have been in the past.

 

I've also picked up that:

 

if you wouldn't install a 4-manual pipe organ of 60 stops in your church, you shouldn't install a digital organ of that size;

a digital organ might be cheaper than a pipe organ but a good one is not cheap and you have to look at value over the years. You can't skimp!;

almost as important as a digital organ itself, is the sound system that comes with it: although speakers are still likely to be the weakest link in comparing a digital organ to a pipe organ, a properly-designed and installed sound system will have a significant impact on the perception of a digital organ.

 

Finally, the important reminder to myself: unless it's in my home, the organ is not there for my benefit: it's there for the church. And so am I.

That's a pretty fair summary I would say. Do let me know if you'd like to call in and have a play at Charlton Kings some time, we're only just down the road really.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Finally, the important reminder to myself: unless it's in my home, the organ is not there for my benefit: it's there for the church. And so am I.

 

Thanks for that reflection - the vast majority of reasonable congregations and clergy very much appreciate the vast majority of organists who think that way and serve as we are trying to.

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Just one thing to be aware of, to avoid confusion or misunderstanding (and I intend no offence or discourtesy to Wyvern here - I have usually been impressed with the quality of their workmanship):

 

Their B- and C-Series organs used to be built with Bradford technology. I'm not sure if this is still the case.

 

Douglas.

 

 

Not the case these days. These are now all Phoenix (Wpx) system instruments.

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Not the case these days. These are now all Phoenix (Wpx) system instruments.

 

Thanks for the clarification. I stand corrected.

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Thanks for the clarification. I stand corrected.

 

 

No problem; I feel that I should also gently correct you on the statement you made about Wyvern's 'off the peg' organs. Yes, they are made in Holland by Content - only because they can't be made in this country for the same money, but they are not just 'badge engineered' and available elsewhere under another name. They are completely custom designed and voiced by Wyvern's staff from the ground up. The excellent Content factory in Holland also produce organs for a surprizing number of other "English" builders too, and they export organs under the Content name (and others) to over 50 countries. These are the economies of scale which enable us in Blighty to purchase an organ for our homes or small churches for less than £5,000.

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I don't contribute very often to these forums and can't confess to have read all 13 pages of this thread! But I felt I wanted to add some comments, being as the church I play at while at University have just invested in a new Rodgers.

 

Our previous electric was a three-manual Makin and didn't make music, it made noise. Once you pulled out a decent chorus it did anyway. The church was closed in September for a period of internal re-ordering, re-opening in April with the new organ installed.

 

Its a two manual Rodgers (a T838 I think, although with a custom spec). The spec was chosen and make recommended by Paul Hale, our dioceasan organ adviser. The specification is comprehensive, with sufficient stops on the Great meaning that you could play it like a Choir (with flutes) rather than as a typical sounding Great (with Diapasons). There are around 35 stops overall, right down to a 32' Contra Bourdon on the pedal, and with 16' stops on both manuals. It also has a 'floating' solo trumpet, which is clearly audible above a Great + Swell chorus, and therefore effective for such things as the Lang Tuba Tune.

 

Rodgers do several things very well. Firstly, they try to make it sounds like a pipe organ by randomising the sound produced by each stop - a nice touch, which makes it slightly more authentic. They also have a special 'Voice Pallette' system, which means that an alternative voice can be chosen for a number of the stops, bringing the total amount of voices up to around 55. Therefore, for instance, instead of the 8' Cromorne on the Great, you can choose an 8' Clarinet, nice for soloing. There are several different ranks of mixture available, and Diapasons can be replaced with Prinicpals, and so on. Another useful feature (to us at least) is the 'bass' button which enables you to play it like a piano but still replicating the proper pedal sounds on the bass - useful to us as when I'm on holiday from University, the DOM (who is a pianist not an organist) can play it and it will still sound good!

 

It comes with a full set of pistons, 5 to each manual and the pedal, 10 generals, and 100 memory levels for these.

 

The sound quality I think is good. It has something like a dozen massive speakers positioned on the West wall of the church (projecting sound right down through the nave and into the chancel), including separate speakers for the solo trumpet. The only problem is that the console is located at one side of the church, hence the sound does not project well to the console itself. But the console can always be moved...

 

The comments from the congregation have been universally positive. I operate with the master volume set at -10, and it does the job very nicely in a small to moderately sized building. The volume can be reduced further, and goes up to about +5, I have tried it and in this particular building it is deafening! The full organ sound (at the level I set it at) does not drown out the congregation at that level, and doesn't sound to me like a mush. The voicing is not yet finished, so it is still not the finished article yet.

 

The cost? With speakers and everything else, just over £30,000. It must be remembered that this was part of an overall reordering project costing some £800,000. To buy a new pipe organ would be prohibitively expensive on top of that, and we don't really have space anyway. What we have now have is a good instrument which does everything that it needs to, and sounds good! It seems that a good choice was made.

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I have read this thread with interest. All I can say is that the Allen Organ which Carlo Curley played at our recent concert in the Alexandra Palace Theatre, was well received by the audience, and it certainly sounded good in the acoustics of the theatre.

Personally I would have preferred a pipe organ, but that was not possible, but at least the organ remained in tune !

What is not clear to me is how many Carlo fans did not turn up because he was not playing a pipe organ ie the anti digital organ people !

If we ever reinstall an organ in the theatre(previous one removed 1890) it would have to be a pipe organ, nothing more, nothing less, but that is a personal opinion.

Costs are important today, but should we not be protecting our organ builders ?

Colin Richell.

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Guest Patrick Coleman
Costs are important today, but should we not be protecting our organ builders ?

Colin Richell.

 

Costs have always been important. Our 'Bertha' was built in 1910, paid for by a local brewer in memory of his parents. No one since has been willing/able to spend the money really needed to keep her maintained 'properly', and it is a tribute to the generosity of time and talent of a few people that she now can still produce fine and sometimes spectacular sounds.

 

Where are the funds to come from to rebuild/replace her? They will come, but I very much doubt whether it will be from such a benefactor.

 

Thousands of others are in the same predicament, and countless numbers of organs have been removed from churches everywhere because the predicament has just become too much. Bertha would have bitten the dust in favour of an electronic in 1970 without the hard work and goodwill of a few. The same won't happen or even get talked about on my watch, but I have every sympathy for the electronic lobby when the capital costs compare as they do.

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....but I have every sympathy for the electronic lobby when the capital costs compare as they do.

 

As do I. With some dismay, I also believe that I could well experience more satisfaction with a well-installed digital instrument than the poor and delapidated pipe organ over which I preside. My sympathies rapidly die, however, where choices are made based on the seduction of arrays of stops and gadgets, the passing fashions of modern worship or (worst of all!) interior design.

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As do I. With some dismay, I also believe that I could well experience more satisfaction with a well-installed digital instrument than the poor and delapidated pipe organ over which I preside. My sympathies rapidly die, however, where choices are made based on the seduction of arrays of stops and gadgets, the passing fashions of modern worship or (worst of all!) interior design.

 

 

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

 

It is surely one of the tragedies of UK organ-history that so many instruments were just awfully bad by any standards when they were made and installed.

 

Of course, a lot have gone....an awful lot....but enough remain to convince me that UK organ-building was only rarely good.

 

The vast majority of instruments from the 19th century were built by also-rans and jobbing builders, who jumped on what was quite a profitable bandwagon, bought pipes in from the suppliers, dropped them in, kicked the organ and left it. Sadly, the build-quality, timber and some of the old mechanical-actions were often of excellent quality, but tonally, so many were a travesty. With further re-building, and the application of some quite iffy pneumatic-actions, things got worse, and in the days when there was still money around, even EP rebuilds did little for the instruments tonally.

 

In a perverse turn of fortunes, it was often the really big churches and chapels, with the best organs, which closed first due to running costs and maintenance obligations.

 

Thus, I have seen magnificent Harrisons being destroyed by vandals, a remarkable early Brindley & Foster thrown out as scrap and even quite historically significant organs ruined by a combination of neglect and vandalism.

 

With downsizing to the smaller churches and chapels, the organs which supported worship were often the poor quality ones.

 

We have to be realistic I think, because for many places of worship, an electronic is the quick answer to a major problem and a financial headache, but as "Cynic" sometimes reminds us, a small, second-hand pipe-organ can often be a better answer; especially when it is the product of a good builder. Sadly, many modern places of worship just do not have the space to install a pipe-organ, and many have little ceiling-height these days.

 

Gone are the days of the wealthy industrial benefactors by and large, and the new wealthy seem to have very little interest in church or charitable community projects.

 

Giving some credit to the manufacturers of electronic organs, they have at least kept interest in the organ alive, and the best makers have improved their products considerably. I can therefore understand the reality of the situation, but I just wish it was different to the way it is.

 

MM

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

 

The vast majority of instruments from the 19th century were built by also-rans and jobbing builders, who jumped on what was quite a profitable bandwagon, bought pipes in from the suppliers, dropped them in, kicked the organ and left it. Sadly, the build-quality, timber and some of the old mechanical-actions were often of excellent quality, but tonally, so many were a travesty.

 

And as for many of those from the 20th century...... :rolleyes::blink::o

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Guest Cynic
=========================

 

It is surely one of the tragedies of UK organ-history that so many instruments were just awfully bad by any standards when they were made and installed.

 

Of course, a lot have gone....an awful lot....but enough remain to convince me that UK organ-building was only rarely good.

 

The vast majority of instruments from the 19th century were built by also-rans and jobbing builders, who jumped on what was quite a profitable bandwagon, bought pipes in from the suppliers, dropped them in, kicked the organ and left it. Sadly, the build-quality, timber and some of the old mechanical-actions were often of excellent quality, but tonally, so many were a travesty.

 

snip

 

I beg to differ. I accept that there were some poor organ builders, but in the Victorian age I would claim that most maintained a good standard from the practical point of view. Rebuilds were often weaker than brand new jobs, and to a certain extent this is still the situation. The reason for this is not difficult to find - repairs and alterations are so often created away from the drawing board and the conveniences of a fully equipped workshop.

 

The main problem as MM points out elsewhere is that tonally these instruments appear to be very ineffective.

 

I feel obliged to point out that the job which organs in both Catholic and C of E churches were called upon to do was to support a choir. For this purpose, stops (where limited) were restricted to those which would give good backing support. Used in this way, practically every small Victorian organ makes both perfect sense and a pleasant effect. This also explains why they were (so often) positioned exactly where the congregation would get little benefit - i.e. the singers would hear their accompaniment well but the congregation could concentrate on 'the effect of their surpliced choir'.

 

The point is - we often expect a small organ in a typical church to do almost the opposite of what it would have been built for. The tone needs to be able to project down the main axis of the building and stops need to be sufficiently bright for them to lead rather than blend in with voices. At the same time, grant aiding bodies do not like alterations to be made! Cleft stick or what?!!!

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The vast majority of instruments from the 19th century were built by also-rans and jobbing builders, who jumped on what was quite a profitable bandwagon, bought pipes in from the suppliers, dropped them in, kicked the organ and left it. Sadly, the build-quality, timber and some of the old mechanical-actions were often of excellent quality, but tonally, so many were a travesty. With further re-building, and the application of some quite iffy pneumatic-actions, things got worse, and in the days when there was still money around, even EP rebuilds did little for the instruments tonally.

Surprising though it may seem for me to be standing up for John Hele, he is the name that immediately sprang to mind when I read this and, whatever he may or may not have been, he was no "also-ran" or "jobbing builder". Until they started to cast their own metal pipes in 1876, Hele & Co. did buy in pipes from other English and continental builders including, apparently, Cavaillé-Coll (St Mary Magdalene, Torquay and possibly also St Andrew's, Plymouth, which acquired a fourth manual "of French make" in 1874). Even subsequently when pressure of work dictated (and it was a very active time for most organ builders) they continued to import pipework occasionally from Laukhuff in Weikersheim. The quality of their workmanship seems to me to have been first rate, judging from how long their organs have typically managed to soldier despite necessary remedial work being neglected. The company was very highly respected in its day. Pity about the artistic quality though. It is absolutely typical of Hele that he thought the answer to filling Winchester Cathedral was to add two more Open Diapasons to Willis's two on the Great. Little wonder that alternative views have since prevailed. At least the Germans and the French never forgot that proper chorus-work including mixtures was necessary to fill a building.

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