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Dr Nigel H Day

Electronic substitute in a Cathedral ?

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Salford did have a 2 manual pipe organ prior to the installation of the Makin - it was a rebuild of the Compton http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N12617 Norwich, last I heard, had a Bradford Computing organ in addition to a small pipe organ in the south transept that looks as though it came from elsewhere. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D07254 The Northampton pipe organ is, I believe, not fully functional, and suffered from poor execution of the original design. http://www.northamptoncathedral.org/Cathedral/TheOrgan/tabid/70/Default.aspx

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Norwich, last I heard, had a Bradford Computing organ in addition to a small pipe organ in the south transept that looks as though it came from elsewhere. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=D07254 T

Correct. That's where I was last week.

There is also a large quantity of pipework stored in the triforium, said to be from a Hill organ formerly in the Tower of London (St Peter ad Vincula?) donated to Norwich by HM The Queen c.15-20 years ago, together with a substantial sum of money for its re-erection (which obviously hasn't happened). Can anyone throw any more light on this?

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I often wondered where the HN&B organ from the Tower ended up! Thank you DHM!

 

There is no mention of the current location of the pipework on NPOR or on the cathedral website...

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I was working in Norwich when all said pipework and (promise of) cash arrived circa 1999. There was little doubt but that it came from St Peter ad V in the Tower and the Royal Household respectively. The reluctance to start then was explained as a need to sort out the (admittedly true) poor state of some of the stonework. At the time the cathedral was a magnificent shade of green due to extensive damp in many parts of the building. The electronic arrived soon afterwards.......

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... all said pipework and (promise of) cash arrived circa 1999. The electronic arrived soon afterwards.......

That's interesting, and would explain some of the things that surprised us on our visit last week.

We were led to believe it dated from c.1985-86, but maybe it's not as old as we thought.

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The Norwich job is a decent specimen by Norman & Beard which originally stood in an RC church in Maddermarket.

 

Gt: Open Diapason, Clarabella, Stopped Diapason (bass), Keraulophon, Principal, Lieblich Flute, Fifteenth, Mixture 19.22

Sw: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Salicional, Vox Angelica, Principal, Piccolo, Oboe

Ped: Bourdon

 

3 unison couplers

3 composition pedals to Great

trigger swell

 

Not a big cathedral organ, but it stands in an open position in a good acoustic and sounds bigger than it is. An oddity is that the plate is dated Norman & Beard 1876, which was before George Wales Beard joined the firm, and it is a palimpsest, with James Scott of West Tofts on the reverse side.

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They have been successfully employed as short-term solutions during dedicated fund-raising for a pipe organ rebuild / replacement, but as a permanent replacement for a pipe organ, no. You are merely passing the replacement cost on to the next generation. Far better to bequeath a pipe organ.

This is not an objective view. An electronic instrument will last for at least as long as most pipe organs go between needing restoration and or cleaning. The replacement cost of the "toaster" is likely to be less that the equivalent maintenance cost of a pipe instrument. If financial considerations are all that matter, digital instruments win hands down, if aesthetics and sound quality come into it that's a different discussion.

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This is not an objective view. An electronic instrument will last for at least as long as most pipe organs go between needing restoration and or cleaning. The replacement cost of the "toaster" is likely to be less that the equivalent maintenance cost of a pipe instrument. If financial considerations are all that matter, digital instruments win hands down, if aesthetics and sound quality come into it that's a different discussion.

This most certainly cannot apply if you are comparing electronic organs to modern tracker organs. Perhaps the electrical contacts on an electric action keyboard will be a susceptible to dust as the 'similar' contacts on a 'toaster', but for tracker action -- NO.

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A first-class electric action will last longer than most electronic organs, even the better ones. I notice that a number of tracker organs from the sixties and seventies are giving trouble now, whereas some very fine electric-action jobs continue to soldier on. There are examples to the contrary too, of course!

 

Norwich, by the way, had a previous attempt at installing a larger pipe organ. The 1904 3m Norman & Beard from St. John, Lowestoft was dismantled and stored for some time, with a view to its being rebuilt in the cathedral, but that never happened. In the end, it was rebuilt in Gorleston Parish Church by Wood, Wordsworth, replacing a very ordinary job by Binns, Fitton & Haley.

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The Norwich job is a decent specimen by Norman & Beard which originally stood in an RC church in Maddermarket.

 

Gt: Open Diapason, Clarabella, Stopped Diapason (bass), Keraulophon, Principal, Lieblich Flute, Fifteenth, Mixture 19.22

Sw: Open Diapason, Stopped Diapason, Salicional, Vox Angelica, Principal, Piccolo, Oboe

Ped: Bourdon

 

3 unison couplers

3 composition pedals to Great

trigger swell

 

Not a big cathedral organ, but it stands in an open position in a good acoustic and sounds bigger than it is. An oddity is that the plate is dated Norman & Beard 1876, which was before George Wales Beard joined the firm, and it is a palimpsest, with James Scott of West Tofts on the reverse side.

 

Apologies for being slightly tangential here, but was Percy Beard related to GWB? I played for a funeral some years ago at Brightling, East Sussex, where the builder's plate read "Percy Beard" (As I remember, it had a Voix Celeste AND Vox Agelica, but one - can't remember which - wasn't undulating)

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A first-class electric action will last longer than most electronic organs, even the better ones. I notice that a number of tracker organs from the sixties and seventies are giving trouble now, whereas some very fine electric-action jobs continue to soldier on. ...

 

 

 

Ours is definitely in this camp - thank goodness. Our electro-pneumatic action is now exactly fifty years old and is generally very reliable. I have an idea that a number of instruments with mechanical action from the 1960s and '70s had what might be thought of as an above-average number of faults and breakages in the Pedal actions. can anyone confirm (or refute) this, please?

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The phenomenon mentioned in #37 peaked around the time when 'meccano-type' mechanical action components first appeared. These consisted of a range of piece parts like aluminium roller tubing which could easily be cut to length, etc. It made constructing actions much quicker than hitherto. However they simply weren't up to the job for a pedal action, to which large forces can be applied. There were an embarrassing number of breakages due to premature metal fatigue, as well as things like rollers and squares (i.e. cranks) jumping out of their bearings, etc.

 

Electropneumatic actions can indeed last for a very long time. There is one in Nottinghamshire, installed in 1937 by a local builder, which as far as I know is still working. It certainly was working about a decade ago, when BIOS examined the instrument at my suggestion and they sent me a copy of their report. It still had the original cotton covered wiring and most of the original electromechanical action components such as chest magnets and coupler (ladder) relays. Almost nothing had been done to it at that time apart from a few minor interventions (the latest known being in about 1962) to replace small items like reverser relays which had seized up owing to corrosion. Such longevity is far from unusual in good quality work.

 

CEP

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Because modern electronic organs use a comparatively low voltage on their contacts, to be easily compatible with solid-state logic, they are much more liable to unreliability caused by atmospheric corrosion than older systems that use a higher voltage. This applies to keyboards and relays equally, of course.

 

Paul

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This is true (#39). A common voltage used to switch electronic logic circuits is 5 volts. It is not permissible to use silver contacts for this purpose because they should not be used below 6 volts - the tarnish layer which builds up blocks voltages below this. Above it, there is little effect. This curious phenomenon is called quantum tunnelling, and competent organ builders of both the pipe and electronic varieties are largely aware of it nowadays. (In the 1980s and earlier many were not!).

 

Of course, the problem also affects the many electric action pipe organs which use electronic (solid state) transmissions, as well as digital instruments. Low voltage levels in both types of instrument can be switched reliably using gold-clad wire instead of silver, magnetically operated reed switches, magnetically operated Hall effect sensors or optical techniques.

 

The incorporation of contact redundancy should also be carefully considered, in which at least two physically independent switches are provided at each switching point. This was first realised and implemented by Robert Hope-Jones in the 1890s, who drew in this case on his oft-derided experience gained as a senior telephone engineer. Probability theory shows that a pair of unacceptably-bad contacts, each of which only have a 75% chance of working, will achieve 95% reliability when operated together in a tandem-redundant configuration.

 

So there's a lot more to making a contact than perhaps meets the eye, and the methods used separate the sheep from the goats in the craft quite markedly once you know what to look for!

 

CEP

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Because modern electronic organs use a comparatively low voltage on their contacts, to be easily compatible with solid-state logic, they are much more liable to unreliability caused by atmospheric corrosion than older systems that use a higher voltage. This applies to keyboards and relays equally, of course.

 

Paul

 

What sort of voltages might we be talking about please? For solid-state logic presumably very low; older systems?

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Sorry, we appear to have crossed in the post. Please see my #40.

 

CEP

 

Thank you Colin, yes, two posts just four minutes apart.

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This most certainly cannot apply if you are comparing electronic organs to modern tracker organs. Perhaps the electrical contacts on an electric action keyboard will be a susceptible to dust as the 'similar' contacts on a 'toaster', but for tracker action -- NO.

I don't want to incur the wrath of our hosts, but in the example of my own church which, sadly, disposed of its 3-manual Hill organ back in the 1960s, we replaced an ageing Makin organ with a state of the art digital instrument from a different supplier 11 years ago. In cost terms the equivalent pipe organ would have been at least 15 times more expensive, more than that I suspect if our hosts or their north-eastern competitors had been engaged.

 

Now, don't get me wrong, I wish my church had retained its Hill organ all those years ago, and I would much prefer a new Mander or H&H pipe organ in its place as opposed to an electronic substitute. But for many parishes, with no generous benefactor or grant schemes to call upon, it's difficult to justify spending perhaps £350,000 - £500,000+ on a pipe organ when you can get an instrument which meets every need for £25,0000 - £35,000. For most parishes even this smaller sum is still a considerable financial outlay.

 

Even allowing for inflation, we would most likely need to replace our electronic instrument at least 10 times before it's cost, ignoring tuning and maintenance costs on a pipe organ, caught up with the cost of a similar pipe organ. If you take the shelf life of an electronic as 20 years, that means we need to compare costs against a pipe organ over 200 years. Even with modern tracker actions I don't think the economics add up.

 

In my local area our two major churches are Tewkesbury Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral. The Abbey organ is a fine instrument as restored, comparatively recently by Kenneth Jones with a largely tracker action, but it has not lasted well. The tracker action may be holding up but the piston action is not, it's condition is frankly poor for its age. The cathedral instrument is, of course, a different beast, it's no secret that I'm not an admirer. But, whatever your view of the tonal qualities of the 1969 HNB rebuild in terms if reliability it was not great and the organ has needed a lot of attention, and expense, since then to keep it playable.

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This is most interesting. It is often said that tracker action organs are the longest lasting and most reliable, though a few of the above posts would suggest that is not always the case, whether the fault lies with having electric stop control or aluminium trackers. I have been pleasantly surprised at the longevity of tubular pneumatic action organs of the early 20th century, though I can't imagine any organ designer in this day and age would contemplate recommending a new pneumatic action organ. The adjustable mechanical combination actions that accompanied these organs are nothing short of incredible, and I have spent many happy hours pouring over the pages of Audley's Art of Organ Building in the feint hope of understanding how they work.

 

But coming onto electric actions - what makes for a bulletproof-reliable electric action organ, one that will just keep going and keep going? What is the most reliable means of closing the initial circuit - gold key contacts, high voltage silver contacts, Hall effect sensors, reed switches? Why would a combination action begin to fail after only a couple of decades as suggested in post 44 (surely there can't be many companies that make electric stop actions)? For sheer reliability would a better option (one that visually I rather like, though I don't know a single pipe organ that uses them) be the illuminated "drawstops" that Johannus use on their higher spec models? Compton's mistake of course was to use light bulbs in his illuminated consoles which were similar, except they used buttons rather than knobs as stops, but with the almost unlimited lifespan of LEDs illuminated stop buttons or stop knobs should not blow, and I would expect to be far more reliable than solenoid operated drawstops.

 

Onto the last bit of the mechanism - direct electric versus electropneumatic, my understanding was that EP tended to be longer lasting than direct electric? Would an EP slider chest be more reliable in the long term than a sliderless direct electric chest with one electromagnet per pipe?

 

Idle speculation all that perhaps, but if the argument is that the lifetime cost of a tracker organ versus an electronic organ can be on a par, given that the former might cost 10x as much but lasts 10x as long, does it mean that electric or EP action organs are inherently less cost-effective than electronic toasters if their actions can be expected to need replacing more often than tracker action organs, and potentially as frequently as the electronics or a toaster since they share many components? Or can an electric action organ compete in reliability and lifetime costs favourably with a tracker action organ?

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Electropneumatic actions can indeed last for a very long time. There is one in Nottinghamshire, installed in 1937 by a local builder, which as far as I know is still working. It certainly was working about a decade ago, when BIOS examined the instrument at my suggestion and they sent me a copy of their report. It still had the original cotton covered wiring and most of the original electromechanical action components such as chest magnets and coupler (ladder) relays. Almost nothing had been done to it at that time apart from a few minor interventions (the latest known being in about 1962) to replace small items like reverser relays which had seized up owing to corrosion. Such longevity is far from unusual in good quality work.

 

CEP

 

 

Was this instrument built (or rebuilt) by Roger Yates?

 

Whilst it is more recent, the instrument in Kilkhampton Parish Church, Cornwall (rebuilt by Yates, in 1958) still has its electro-pneumatic/electro-mechanical action functioning well. Yates manufactured most of it it himself. The quality of the workmanship is excellent and the ladder switches and wiring looms - all mounted in glass-fronted cabinets - are items of beauty in themselves.

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Was this instrument built (or rebuilt) by Roger Yates?

 

Whilst it is more recent, the instrument in Kilkhampton Parish Church, Cornwall (rebuilt by Yates, in 1958) still has its electro-pneumatic/electro-mechanical action functioning well. Yates manufactured most of it it himself. The quality of the workmanship is excellent and the ladder switches and wiring looms - all mounted in glass-fronted cabinets - are items of beauty in themselves.

The Yates instrument (2 manual, totally enclosed with extensions) at Ulcombe, Kent, is a beautifully constructed and reliable instrument. Specification and lack of inter-manual coupler take a bit of getting used to, but it is a very effective organ.

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I did not appreciate my original posting would create such a discussion. We can probably all cite examples to support the 'cost arguments' either way. I suspect on grounds of musicality we are united in supporting pipes. I would like to offer the following example from Nottinghamshire which dates back to the early 1980's. It's interesting, so read on.

 

Beeston, St John the Baptist. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N13530

 

In 1983 the pipe organ was replaced by a 3-manual Makin. My late friend Brian Tennyson was appointed organist shortly after this date. He was horrified to see the array of rotaphon speakers in the old organ chamber. Brian was a colourful character, and his words were choice ! I believe the cost of this organ was about £16,500. It has NOT lasted. In 2008 (25 years from new), it was replaced by a new 2-manual Rodgers. http://www.beestonparishchurch.co.uk/choir/page4/ I wonder if this Rodgers organ will be replaced in around 2033 ?

 

Chilwell, Christ Church. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N01414

 

This is a Nigel Church installation from 1984. It cost in the region of £20,000. It is still there.

 

Some of you might be wondering so what ? Well, it is precisely 0.5 miles (10 minutes walk) between these two churches. They both faced the same problem in 1983/84 in needing to replace/repair their existing pipe organs. They chose totally different routes. The most important point to note is that the spend in 1983/84 was virtually the same. Granted, the Nigel Church organ has no enclosed division, but I know which I would rather play. The economic argument for an electronic is simply unsustainable when the electronic costs approximately the same as an alternative pipe organ. Quantity or quality ?

 

Now, 2015 comparative costs may well be different from 1983/84, but there are still churches today who will spend serious money on 'toasters' when they could -- with very careful design -- make the case for a small pipe organ.

 

On the other issue of some trackers being not particularly reliable, I think we are probably past this problem. In the early days of UK tracker organ design and build, there were shortcuts and cost savings made which, today, are recognised as having being false economy. The established Continental builders generally have a better track record, the Nottingham Marcussens from 1973/74 being one example of quality by design. UK builders have learnt the early lessons of tracker design and are now fully able to compete for business world-wide.

 

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Another way to get a good quality pipe organ is to go for a second hand or redundant instrument. A reputable consultant, such as one who is a member of the Association of Independent Organ Advisers, will know of their availability and whereabouts. (Do not allow your CofE DAC organ adviser to act as your consultant, unless you specifically want this to happen. This is not their role, though some are rather too pushy in this regard. They are there to provide a hopefully educated and objective opinion to the DAC about what you want to do, not to advise you or your church). A church near me got such an instrument, fully reconditioned, for well under £15K about ten years ago, and this included all transportation costs plus an excellent opening recital by the adviser himself.

 

Thus pipe versus electronic price comparisons cannot be done on the bare figures alone. Deeper investigation of the options is required if an optimum outcome is to be achieved. The essential breakthrough comes when one embraces a mindset which does not insist that the pipe organ must have a stop list comparable in size (and irrelevance) to that of the digital competition. A further factor which often comes into the equation is that there are few significant pipe organ rebuilds in which tonal changes do not play a role - pruning the price down to the minimum by just getting the thing working properly again seems to be rare! Also it is necessary to bear in mind that the prices of digital organs escalate as soon as one wants to customise a standard product.

 

Thus the question of whether to go for pipes or electronics is not just a question of the relative costs.

 

CEP

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I would like to offer the following example from Nottinghamshire which dates back to the early 1980's. It's interesting, so read on.

 

Beeston, St John the Baptist. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N13530

 

In 1983 the pipe organ was replaced by a 3-manual Makin. My late friend Brian Tennyson was appointed organist shortly after this date. He was horrified to see the array of rotaphon speakers in the old organ chamber. Brian was a colourful character, and his words were choice! I believe the cost of this organ was about £16,500. It has NOT lasted. In 2008 (25 years from new), it was replaced by a new 2-manual Rodgers. http://www.beestonparishchurch.co.uk/choir/page4/ I wonder if this Rodgers organ will be replaced in around 2033 ?

 

Chilwell, Christ Church. http://www.npor.org.uk/NPORView.html?RI=N01414

 

This is a Nigel Church installation from 1984. It cost in the region of £20,000. It is still there.

 

Some of you might be wondering so what ? Well, it is precisely 0.5 miles (10 minutes walk) between these two churches. They both faced the same problem in 1983/84 in needing to replace/repair their existing pipe organs. They chose totally different routes. The most important point to note is that the spend in 1983/84 was virtually the same. Granted, the Nigel Church organ has no enclosed division, but I know which I would rather play. The economic argument for an electronic is simply unsustainable when the electronic costs approximately the same as an alternative pipe organ. Quantity or quality ?

 

As the organist at Beeston I feel compelled to write here.

 

I cannot comment on the 1983 decision to replace the previous pipe organ, as I was not alive at the time! Arriving in the area in 2006, it was abundantly clear that the Makin organ was not good - it was perfectly reliable but the sound quality was very poor (it was a large 3-manual instrument), perhaps reflective of its age. Individual stops sounded passable but when you built stops together in a chorus musicality disappeared.

 

While there would have been a good case for replacing the Makin anyway, the fact that it happened when it did was led by the fact that the interior of the church was completely re-ordered in 2007-8. The space in the old organ chamber (where a pipe facade had been retained and the speakers were inside) has now been used for other purposes. The project came at exactly the right time for the organ! Looking at the church now, with the organ chamber a memory, it is hard to think where we would put pipes without going to the expense of building a west end gallery. The other aspect to consider is that the work was part of an £800,000 project, so whether funding could have been found for a new pipe organ is doubtful. The alternative would have been installing a second-hand pipe organ, I suppose.

 

The present organ is an excellent instrument of its type with a wide and varied tonal palette (39 stops over II+P) and none of the faults of the Makin that I mention above. The speakers on the west wall project very well into the body of the church (maybe too well!) and it can comfortably lead a congregation of 400+ as it is called to do on occasion. I don't know if I will be there in 2033, so can't comment on the last point!

 

I confess that in my years in Nottingham I have yet to set foot in Christ Church. Maybe things have changed in the last 30 years, but in churchmanship this is a far more evangelical church compared with the moderate Anglo-Catholicism at Beeston, although I believe it does have an early service led by a small choir and perhaps the organ. I don't know what the state of the organ in Christ Church is, but I'd certainly not want so small an instrument in our church, given the choice. If anyone wants to visit and try the organ at Beeston I will be very happy to meet you, if you can find your way through the (thankfully now finishing) tram works.

 

Incidentally, mention of Marcussen (clearly a reference to the instrument in St Mary's, Nottingham, amongst others) leads me to mention that in the last 12 months this church has also installed a 3-manual digital organ in the chancel for choir accompaniment; indeed, I was playing Blair in B minor and Blessed city on it on Sunday evening! For all its qualities, the Marcussen is an impractical and inappropriate instrument both for a building that size and for accompanying the repertoire sung by the excellent choir; Blessed city, for example, could not be rendered on it without a second person to register it.

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