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Who did you study with...re-visited

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Over-use of the loud stuff can be tiresome

 

 

 

organ crawls almost always consist of the same people playing the same (generally loud) pieces (generally quite badly).

 

 

I also find the loud stuff to be more acceptable in inverse proportion to its duration. Unfortunately it isn't always the incompetent who indulge in it, nor during organ crawls. Not too long ago I was at the Salisbury console as assistant to a professional teacher and player (judged by the quality and quantity of his post-nominals - you will know him) who was practising all his pieces using the final registrations he intended to use. His repeated slips, stops and reruns, time after time after time, became so embarrassing that I was almost at the point of deserting him. I was at a loss to understand why he did not use a single quiet flute, given that his problems were purely those of excessive speed and fingering. And the final performance wasn't much better either, for all that.

 

 

 

It helps if there's not a whole lot of other folk in the church

 

 

Unfortunately there were - it was a sunny Saturday afternoon in high summer and the cathedral was pretty full of visitors. This was one reason for my embarrassment.

 

CEP

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Hmmm - yes, the first rule is to make sure one knows the stuff. If one is actually practising it at the venue on the day, there's something amiss.

 

In a famous venue, it's much better to prepare for a concert when the place is closed, although I guess this isn't always possible.

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Organist Associations are a very mixed bunch, and there are some whose programmes seem to encourage the 'organ nerd' - more interested in the (admittedly important) nuts and bolts. However, the nuts and bolts must be subservient to the music - and that is what the associations should be encouraging - an appreciation on whether music can effectively made on any particular instrument, and who that may be achieved. (Those which provide opportunities for genuine students of whatever age are the enlightened ones.)

 

Personally, I am not in favour of 'organ crawls' as a participatory event - far too boring for the reasons already rehearsed. That there are associations which seem to provide only this is a great pity.

 

Am I alone, however, in feeling that as the post-holder at a church with a fairly large and fairly interesting (though not without its problems) organ amongst those in the area, I have a certain responsibility to support organizations for other organists? (If only to encourage their potential access to 'my' instrument.)

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I remember tremendous kindness being shown to me as a young organist by people like Francis Jackson, Allan Wicks and Simon Lindley. I determined then that if I ever had the charge of a large and/or interesting instrument I would do my best to allow access to it. If the best in the business were prepared to take trouble, I felt I should do the same. Thus, with the Willis at Kirkwall, the Harrison at Belfast and the Casavant here at St. John's, the console is/was left open (an interesting object to look at, and sunlight is good for the ivories) and the vergers, guides, etc, let know that visitors are welcome to play. After all, the worst they can do is make an awful row.

 

I also think that it's part of one's call as organist of a church to be in contact with other organists, for mutual encouragement and learning.

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I remember tremendous kindness being shown to me as a young organist by people like Francis Jackson, Allan Wicks and Simon Lindley. I determined then that if I ever had the charge of a large and/or interesting instrument I would do my best to allow access to it. If the best in the business were prepared to take trouble, I felt I should do the same. Thus, with the Willis at Kirkwall, the Harrison at Belfast and the Casavant here at St. John's, the console is/was left open (an interesting object to look at, and sunlight is good for the ivories) and the vergers, guides, etc, let know that visitors are welcome to play. After all, the worst they can do is make an awful row.

 

I also think that it's part of one's call as organist of a church to be in contact with other organists, for mutual encouragement and learning.

 

The system wouldn't allow me to 'Like' this post so I shall do it the long-winded way.

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I remember tremendous kindness being shown to me as a young organist by people like Francis Jackson, Allan Wicks and Simon Lindley. I determined then that if I ever had the charge of a large and/or interesting instrument I would do my best to allow access to it. If the best in the business were prepared to take trouble, I felt I should do the same. Thus, with the Willis at Kirkwall, the Harrison at Belfast and the Casavant here at St. John's, the console is/was left open (an interesting object to look at, and sunlight is good for the ivories) and the vergers, guides, etc, let know that visitors are welcome to play. After all, the worst they can do is make an awful row.

 

I also think that it's part of one's call as organist of a church to be in contact with other organists, for mutual encouragement and learning.

 

I would agree - to an extent. It also depends on how busy your church is generally. Our own has many visitors each year. We rely on the goodwill of a large number of helpers and guides, in order to assist in the day-to-day running of the building.

 

A couple of summers ago, I received a request to play the Minster organ from an American gentleman, who had discovered the instrument from another board (on which we both post). I was happy to give permission and contacted our office and booked a time, as requested, also notifying the vergers of the visit. I had a prior engagement in London, so was unable to be present. On my return, I was met with several angry complaints regarding the 'row' that this gentleman had made (despite being asked to bear in mind that the building received many visitors and that there were several people on duty). Consequently, it was necessary for me to spend some time rebuilding bridges with my colleagues and other Minster workers. I was also surprised to read the American organist's own 'complaint' - apparently he was asked to play more quietly by one of the staff or helpers; at this he became - shall we say - disgruntled.

 

I cannot say that I was impressed by this turn of events. Consequently, we now 'vet' people, before allowing them the freedom of the console.

 

The other thing which we have done, is to have an electronic 'ventil' lock fitted, in order to isolate the Orchestral Trumpet (a chamade reed of great power and brightness). Following this afternoon's funeral, I shall remove the key to this lock - and replace it when I am next on duty.

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I have never met David Drinkell, something which I am coming to regret because in the few months I've been a member of this forum I don't think I've ever come across anyone who has such an encyclopaedic personal knowledge of organs. And he invariably posts in such a readable and pleasant manner, regardless of whether he agrees with one or not. And a connoisseur of whiskies to boot. What a pity we've lost him to the colonies ... ...

 

CEP

 

Absolutely. David comes across as - to use a possibly 'old-fashioned' epithet - 'a true gentleman'.

 

If he is ever visiting the UK - particularly the south, I should very much like to meet him and ask many questions - not least regarding the H&H instrument in Saint Anne's Cathedral, Belfast.

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Luckily for me, I've rarely had complaints about excessive volume - the cathedrals where I've been in charge of the music have been somewhat off the beaten track. There was one young local fellow at Belfast who, despite requests to the contrary, persistently indulged in volume levels which would have made Cochereau duck. The final solution with him was to turn off the blower at the mains....

 

A study in contrasts. At St. Paul's, one has to get permission, and a key, to use the west end reeds and risk the wrath of the souvenir stall staff. When I was at St. John the Divine, New York, with the Belfast choir, we had a whole Sunday afternoon free to roam about that amazing building, and the staff (who are based at the west end) said, 'We hope you're going to play the organ, and don't forget to try the State Trumpet!'. No criticism intended of St. Paul's, by the way, they have a terrific challenge keeping things civilised with the number of visitors passing through and it would be hopeless if the west end reeds were being used.

 

Dorset, where pcnd lives, is a place with which I'm not very familiar, although I've been a devotee of 'Moonfleet' since I was a kid. I was down that way a few years ago (just before they put the Skrabl in at Lyme Regis) and made a point of visiting Wimborne Minster, but just as a passing visitor. Lovely church - I can understand why one might need a shut-off to stop the chamade reed parting the hair of unsuspecting tourists. It's only a little bit above head height as one walks under it (the Trompeta Real at Bristol University is sited - vertically - just behind a grille at the same level as the top row of stage seating, maybe six feet away from any occupants of said seats. I reckon it could cause heart failure to the unsuspecting). I hope to make time soon to visit that part of the country properly.

 

Ask away about St. Anne's - I will do my best to answer any queries.

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It's wonderful to hear that well respected musicians such as David Drinkell continue the tradition of offering a warm welcome to visiting organists in their organ loft. I remember with great pleasure my inspirational visits to Peterborough, Liverpool, York and St Paul's and I am sure many others have cherished recollections.

 

How sad then that at Wimborne, Milton Abbey and other places deliberately prevent visitors using certain stops on the organs thereby depriving them of a full experience of the instrument and probably the feature that makes it of interest anyway. Surely, a better plan is to make arrangements for visitors to play the complete organ outside of regular opening hours or at times when visitor numbers are low eg 9.00am. In post #56 above. I see the person at fault to be PCND himself and regard the Minster's action with the ventil stop as petty and mean.

 

Let's hope that organists (especially young ones) continue to be fully welcomed at the organs they wish to visit, and let's do all we can to welcome and inspire organists.

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In post #56 above. I see the person at fault to be PCND himself and regard the Minster's action with the ventil stop as petty and mean.

 

I am sure pcnd can defend himself, but are you seriously suggesting that an ill-mannered American on a ego trip should carry more weight that the "several angry complaints" that caused pcnd to have to take time out to mend relationships with people with whom he has to work with on a regular basis? I'm sorry, but I can't follow your logic. I can quite understand why he would not want to risk a repeat performance that might get him into even more trouble. As you suggest, the best solution in such cases is to arrange access out of normal working hours, but this may not always be practical either for the visitor or the custodian of the instrument. One rarely, if ever, knows the factors that may influence permission to access instruments.

 

On the other side of the coin, when the Hele Huggers visited Worcester Cathedral to see the Tickell instrument, I was frankly amazed and delighted that Adrian Lucas made it available to us during the afternoon while the cathedral was open. I did warn him what sort of a racket was likely to result, but he didn't seem at all fazed. I imagine ours was far from a unique request. I won't easily forget that generous response, but, equally, I don't criticise those cathedrals that do not feel able to match it.*

 

* One exception might be if noise restrictions deny sufficient practice to organists accompanying visiting choirs, but one would hope that out-of-hours arrangements could take care of that.

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I'm sorry that you do not understand my logic, which is that the resident organist should know that a visiting organist would certainly wish to use the chamade stop, the most exciting and forceful stop on the instrument, and therefore should have made arrangements for access to the organ at an appropriate quiet time.

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In my youth I once visited a well endowed, large instrument with an organists' association one Saturday afternoon. We were asked by a verger not to use the great reeds as they had been specially tuned for a recital that evening - presumably he was conveying a message from the organist. All of us complied. However, while one of our number was loudly enjoying himself at the console, the said verger came hurrying up and reminded us of the taboo stops. The player replied that he wasn't using them, and indeed they were not drawn. The verger was astonished.

 

But then, he was a Cambridge organ scholar so he knew full well how to get the best out of the material available. He was also reading physics, and at that time I was still uncertain whether to pursue a career in science or music or both. He persuaded me not to attempt to combine them, as he was doing. So I didn't. I wish I could remember who he was and where his career took him afterwards.

 

CEP

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I'm sorry that you do not understand my logic, which is that the resident organist should know that a visiting organist would certainly wish to use the chamade stop, the most exciting and forceful stop on the instrument, and therefore should have made arrangements for access to the organ at an appropriate quiet time.

 

I apologise. I did not realise that visiting organists have a right to demand what facilities should be available to them while guests in another church.

 

I might add that pcnd has extended an invitation to me to visit him and his organ and, in doing so, did warn me that an evening would be better since the noise levels are limited during the day. I cannot fault that and I fully intend to take him up on his generous offer when I am able.

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A visiting organist would expect to play the complete organ. That isn't a demand but a reasonable expectation.

 

I'm glad you have a personal invitation to visit the organ at Wimborne, and it sounds like the chamade ventil will be unlocked for you too! Enjoy!

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Steering just one degree back towards the topic, I have stumbled across this video, which I found fascinating. It is all about the piano, not the organ, but it has interesting reminiscences of the teaching of Clara Schumann which are of historical interest (for pianists there are some interesting comments on pedalling) and some of the points mentioned should be of general musical interest. The speaker claims that Clara "had in direct descent the tradition of Bach, Beethoven and other classics" - though I'm inclined to doubt that the Romantics ever had respect for tradition in any literal sense. Such literalness is rather contrary to the whole Romantic ethos. I suspect it's a bit like family trees, where previous generations were so hung up on appearing "respectable" that they tried their level best to manufacture descent from at least nobility, if not royalty.

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How sad then that at Wimborne, Milton Abbey and other places deliberately prevent visitors using certain stops on the organs thereby depriving them of a full experience of the instrument and probably the feature that makes it of interest anyway. Surely, a better plan is to make arrangements for visitors to play the complete organ outside of regular opening hours or at times when visitor numbers are low eg 9.00am. In post #56 above. I see the person at fault to be PCND himself and regard the Minster's action with the ventil stop as petty and mean.

 

 

 

I think that this reply says rather more about your attitude than it does mine.

 

Firstly, you appear to ignore the fact that I had stated that we rely on the goodwill of many helpers in order to keep the building running (and open to visitors). If we lose that good will, we lose our helpers. It would be difficult to keep the building open, run the shop and attend to the many other necessary tasks each day without them.

 

Secondly, you suggest that I make the instrument available 'after hours'. Whilst I have, on occasion been happy to do this when asked, on the particular occasion of the American gentleman's visit, as stated, I was unable to be there. I can hardly expect a colleague to make a special trip (of nearly thirty miles), in order to let in a visiting organist who simply wants to play the organ, then wait there for an hour or so, in order to let him out. (The stipulations of our insurance company would preclude the loaning of a key to the building, to a non-staff member.)

 

In addition, you seem to imply that I should like nothing better than to give up my free time of an evening, in order to hang around in the Minster, whilst a visitor blasts away for an hour or so on our chamade. Aside from the fact that, during school terms I work for around seventy hours a week (with no day off), I am usually working each evening - often until around 21:00 or even 22:00 - and then in school the next morning at around 07:40. Frankly, I find your attitude rather insulting.

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I'm sorry that you do not understand my logic, which is that the resident organist should know that a visiting organist would certainly wish to use the chamade stop, the most exciting and forceful stop on the instrument, and therefore should have made arrangements for access to the organ at an appropriate quiet time.

 

Again, read my post more carefully. I stated that I was unable to be present on the day he was visiting. My colleague was away working on an opera course and if I had to ask the verger to come in specially of an evening, either I or the American organist would have had to pay him for his time.

 

As part of my job, from time to time, I play for visiting choirs in various cathedrals and greater churches. One such occasion was a visit to Wells Cathedral, where I was not allowed to play on anything other than the Swell flutes (box tightly closed), until the choir entered the cathedral stalls for the final rehearsal, prior to Evensong. This meant that assessing balance and selecting appropriate timbres had to be done 'on the hoof' and largely by drawing on knowledge of other Harrison instruments.(In addition, I was not permitted the use of any of the piston channels - so I had to use what was already set and hope for the best.) Personally, I think that I would find this type of thing rather less acceptable than the situation which I described at Wimborne, particularly since we were providing the cathedral with a free Evensong, of a good standard of singing. It was even harder to understand the vergers' attitudes, since they had apparently been throwing pews around the Nave for an hour or so, making a huge din.

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A visiting organist would expect to play the complete organ. That isn't a demand but a reasonable expectation. ...

 

 

 

Again, your use of language suggests intransigence.

 

Were you to be the custodian of a fairly large instrument in a very busy church, in which there are a good number of people with whom you have to work side by side, on a daily basis, you might find tit necessary to moderate your viewpoint.

 

In any case, I have myself been quite happy to accept the stipulations of the resident staff at various cathedrals, when playing for choirs - and not just having a 'jolly' on the instrument. for example, at Chester Cathedral, last summer, I was playing for most of a week and a week-end for a visiting choir. I did all my practice on the Swell Stopped Diapason - box tightly closed - no exception, not even for a minute. Whilst this was inconvenient (and meant that I had to experiment with registration during the Psalms, for example), I was happy to do so. The result was that, at the end of our week's singing, I was thanked by both the clergy and staff, who said that it had made their jobs easier. It also meant that I received every co-operation from them with regard to assistance, information and anything else which I or the choir needed whilst we were there.

 

Mr. B, let me assure you that, should you ever visit Wimborne and wish to play the beautiful Walker organ in the Minster, you would be given the same courtesy which I extend to any other person requesting to play the instrument. And, if at all possible, I should arrange an evening visit, in order that you were able to experience the full range of the instrument.

 

I am, Sir, and remain

 

Your humble servant,

 

Baldrick

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Earlier, someone said "I think that I should almost prefer to be stuck in a lift with a dead horse".

 

I'm now beginning to wonder with which party my sympathies lie. And I can now begin to understand why the horse decided that falling on his sword was the preferable option.

 

(Sorry, couldn't resist ... )

 

CEP

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There's a difference between experiencing the whole range of an instrument and blasting the bejaysus out of it for extended periods. To get down the south quire aisle here, one has to pass through "the tunnel", a panelled passage with bits of organ above and on each side. I ask players to exercise discretion when there are visitors in the building, especially in that part of it. In extreme circumstances, I would go to the console and push a few pistons, but I haven't had to do it yet. If I were trying the Wimborne organ while the building was open, I would make sure there was no one in the immediate vicinity of the chamade before letting loose on it.

 

It tends to be forgotten that large organs have a wealth of quiet registers and effects. As an example, I would cite the Rieger at St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh. It is a mightily powerful beast when unleashed, although there's no Tuba to misuse, but at the other end of the spectrum there are some fabulous quiet noises. One could spend a long time exploring these. I did, courtesy of the late Herrick Bunney (who some years earlier allowed me the same privilege on the old Willis). When I came downstairs, the custodian thanked me and said I was the first person to try the new organ who hadn't indulged in long periods of full organ. Now, I certainly did let it rip in various ways at various times, but I didn't indulge in prolonged Armageddon effects, and I did a lot of weaving about on the lovely flutes and strings.

 

Moderation is the key, plus not attempting the Cocker unless one is sure of that awkward bit in the middle.

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One would almost think the instruments were WMDs the way the discussion has developed. (Massively off-topic, incidentally) I can understand the temptation to have huge resources in the RAH, RFH etc but in a place of worship it sounds more like a menace.

Having said that, I have incurred the 'row' word when engaged with my proper business practising voluntaries- this from a handyman who probably thought he was being witty but nevertheless considered any noise but those he generated with his spanner to be superfluous.

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It's treating them like Weapons of Mass Destruction that causes friction. Referring again to the St. Giles Rieger, a full congregation getting stuck into 'Ye gates, lift up your heads on high' needs a lot of organ to support them, but a soloist singing 'In the bleak Darke' needs something subtle. It's a trial when visiting organists forget the subtleties and overdo the bombast.

 

I may be guilty of over-generalisation, but Americans seem to like a lot of noise, especially when it comes to hymn accompaniments, and they perhaps continue the Dutch tradition of trying to have a bigger and louder organ than the place down the road. They also like lots of soft soap too, though, so you might find several sets of celestes, lots of variety in the flutes and a good variety of colour reeds. You could spend a whole day at St. John the Divine, New York City, just exploring the soft work, and that's not a particularly huge instrument by their standards.

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You could spend a whole day at St. John the Divine, New York City, just exploring the soft work, and that's not a particularly huge instrument by their standards.

Of course, with that organ, people tend to start their exploring elsewhere, in sound as well as in the space. Speaking of WMD.

 

Best

Friedrich

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Mr. B, let me assure you that, should you ever visit Wimborne and wish to play the beautiful Walker organ in the Minster, you would be given the same courtesy which I extend to any other person requesting to play the instrument. And, if at all possible, I should arrange an evening visit, in order that you were able to experience the full range of the instrument

Thankyou for the invitation. I am glad to read that you have taken on board my suggestion of hosting visitors at quieter times.

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