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I find it odd to hear the pejorative remarks aimed directly or indirectly at amateur organists.  We've had quite a few of them on parallel threads recently, and there are hints on this one as well.  It often seems that this breed of musician is thought to be uniquely associated with the instrument, and as though amateurs do not exist in connection with any other.  It's nonsense of course.  Of those who attempt to learn any instrument, how many become professional in the sense that they succeed in making a living by playing it?  Surely the answer has to be only a minority in all cases?  Therefore, why single out and pillory the poor amateur organist when the majority of those who play all other instruments are also amateurs?  The answer, of course, is that it is only the courageous amateur organist who has the temerity (please read this as guts) to regularly play in public for the benefit of their community.  To do something useful, in other words, and often for nothing - quite unlike the professional I might add.  But by doing so, they necessarily reveal their shortcomings for all to hear, and to be reviled for it. 

A professionally qualified organist wrote yesterday on this forum of the cliqueiness of the organ world.  How right he is.

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'A professionally qualified organist wrote yesterday on this forum of the cliqueiness of the organ world.  How right he is.'

I suppose that is to a certain extent true. However, if I sleighted the poor amateur organist then please accept my apologies, it was not intentional - Hans Keller once came up with a very true comment something on the lines of 'the love of music is most apparent in the amateur musician even if you don't necessarily hear it'. Nevertheless I'd suggest that there are some basic standards which I'd regard as essential.

One or two current threads are pointing out quite clearly that the current reputation of the organ world is in a bit of a parlous state. I'd agree but I might take the opportunity to make some points which have become apparent to me over the past 20 odd years.

Hymn Singing – right from the outset I was fortunate to have an excellent teacher at a local Baptist Church (I should point out that I've no particular allegiance to the Baptists, it was the nearest one and I was in a scout troop there). He was not a regular recitalist but he knew how to teach well, a very pleasant, kind and humble man who was meticulous in his service playing. He would practise hymns himself, memorise the tunes, pencil in registrations and keep a rock-steady tempo. It was an excellent start and those particular skills were imbued in all his teaching. Nothing was left to chance. Words were paramount and I was encouraged to memorise the tune and follow the text (same went for Psalm chants later on of course). And yet, I'm sure we've all heard / suffered the megalomaniacs hell bent on drowning out the singing, the shape-shifting tempo pullers intent on adding a drawn out ritardando at the ends of final verses and other such transgressions. As Rowland quite rightly says this is the organists number one job. It's not a sideshow, its what they should do – lead, inspire and support the spiritual act of worship and if that can be further enhanced by tasteful musical means then all the better. It's not rocket science to support and to lead a hymn.

I'll add here that I never left any post as the consequence of an altercation with any member of the clergy – it was always other organists who were the troublemakers (like the one who would not permit music in major keys during Lent!).

What is to be done about encouraging take up? Study at degree level has shrunk with no courses now at the RNCM, a severely depleted organ department at Huddersfield (which is where I studied – it has a first-class concert organ and the new Phipps organ to boot, what on earth is happening there?).

Churches and organs are routinely locked (yes, I can see why but it's an important reason). Where they are accessible you might then find and over-zealous organist who won't allow his (sic) precious instrument to be made available. Practise then becomes well-nigh impossible.

I fondly remember the encouragement I received from some well-known cathedral organists – Richard Lloyd at Durham who I approached to 'have a go' on the Cathedral organ there and was most welcoming. It was something on the lines of 'I'll just drop the latch to the loft on my way out and no-one will bother you for an hour or so' with a huge grin! John Sanders at Gloucester was similarly helpful (by then I was teaching and had a big Founders' Day service every year and wanted some practise time). Michael Tavinor when Precentor at Ely, a fine organist himself but he was very complimentary when I visited with another choir even though I suspected he could have easily played better than me. Does this still happen now – I do appreciate that with large and paying visitor numbers it's not as simple.

I stopped playing around four years ago (mostly due to a debate I lost with a paint scraping tool!). But even then the robed choir was a thing of distant memory, congregations were shrinking and there was, as now, little or no organ music broadcast by the BBC. I'm of the opinion now that it's almost too late to rescue anything from the fragmented remains, the odds are stacked quite firmly against the organ world. I feel somehow that many of us have stood helplessly by whilst this demise came to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Well, Colin, I like amateur organists - usually for the right reasons. They - we (I am one) often know better than professionals how to control a congregation in hymns. It helps if you cut you teeth in Wesleyan chapels of course. What I particularly like about us is the usually uninhibited opinions that may not always reflect current ideology but nevertheless speak the plan unvarnished in substantial measure. Regarding the cliqueiness of the organ world - yes it is, and judging from the contributions on the British Organ Facebook page, the young ones are worse than the old ones. Less tolerant too. It was ever thus I suppose. My wife tells me I could be a pompous gobshite when I was young. 

I strongly suspect it's a disappearing problem. I've written before on this board and elsewhere of the likely future of the church, and therefore of organs and church music. In short, outside the cathedrals and some major churches, there isn't one. Read the church blogs, follow General Synod and look at those currently being ordained. Be careful about following General Synod - it can be a symptom of psychosis.

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2 hours ago, Stanley Monkhouse said:

Well, Colin, I like amateur organists ........................................ I am one 

 

Can I, with the greatest respect, Stanley, suggest that this is a fallacy - being an amateur, I mean!!!!! 

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1 hour ago, S_L said:

 

Can I, with the greatest respect, Stanley, suggest that this is a fallacy!! 

Yes Stanley, I'm sorry, but I have to agree with SL here!

But never having been one to let go once having got a rat between my teeth (a bit like Stanley in this respect I think, and I know he won't mind me having said so), how abouts a bit of the truth about at least some professional organists?

I'm of an age when I was lucky enough to be have been able to attend the weekly organ recitals at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesdays at 5:55 (because I spent 7 years at King's just across the river in the 1960s/70s).  So twixt then and now I've attended an awful lot of them, and not only in this country either.  Here's just a sprinkling of the less impressive memories.  I'm naming only those who can't sue me.  It's far from a complete list.

Jacques van Oortmerssen: shuddered to a dead stop in the middle of 'the' toccata at the Royal Albert Hall.  Slow hand clap at the end. So embarrassing but, as the unknown guy sitting on my right said, "I'll be asking for my money back".

Robert Joyce: casually let his foot produce an extended pedal drone, which is not in any edition I've seen, during the Pastorale of Guilmant's 1st sonata at Llandaff cathedral.  Knowing glances between knowledgeable members of the audience.

A cathedral organist, not performing on his home instrument, who accidentally brought on full organ (or something approaching it) in a quiet movement of a Mendelssohn sonata.  To be fair, it might have been his registrant who was performing near-lunatic acrobatics at the console.  (And as an aside, how many other instruments need more than one player?  Might this have anything to do with the low esteem in which the organ is held by many other musicians?).

I could go on - at length.  However to counter all this, we need to remember that the perfect renditions we hear on recordings are largely synthetic and unrepresentative of reality.  The average CD contains over 1000 edits.  Some recordings are produced by snipping the best bits out of, and then replaying via the instrument itself, several MIDI recordings which many modern pipe organs facilitate.  None of this is ever made clear to Joe Public who has to shell out hard earned cash to buy the result.  Prior to the days when such things could be done, Walter Alcock at Salisbury Cathedral was said to cough discreetly when his blemishes appeared on his 78 rpm recordings when friends persuaded him to play them.  We simply cannot demand this level of flawlessness in live performances and it is unreasonable to expect otherwise.  But by the same token, I would respectfully ask that some of these self-styled paragons of virtue might therefore temper their criticisms of the amateur, without whom Christianity as we have come to know it in countless thousands of churches and chapels across this country would be the poorer.  There is a parallel forum to this one where there is currently and regrettably not much activity, but quite often amateur organists (who typically style themselves 'reluctant pianists') ask for, and receive, a lot of assistance from kindly professionals without a hint of the cant which I am afraid sometimes surfaces here.  Wouldn't it be nice if the reluctant pianists felt able to join our ranks?

 

 

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On the subject of Organ recitals, in the past ten years I suppose I have been to a few in this country and the UK! 

Two spring to mind. Both by ex-cathedral organists - who shall be nameless. The first was in a concert hall with about 20 people in the audience. The player played fistfuls of wrong notes, made no attempt to talk about the music he was playing and the programme notes were less than useless! It was dreary. The choice of music was dreary and it did absolutely nothing to endear anyone to go back again. The second was in a Parish church. It was quite full. The recitalist, as with the previous player, played fistfuls of wrong notes but he endeared himself to his audience with a 'good yarn' before each piece and it was a thoroughly enjoyable affair.

And, on the subject of coughing! I remember sitting opposite Pau Casals when he was playing unaccompanied Bach. It was a wonderful experience and one that I will live with for a very long time. But at 'hairy' moments, if Casals ever had hairy moments, he would suck frenetically on his pipe!!

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May I gently suggest that the justified indignation about pejorative remarks aimed at amateurs and reluctants (of which I am, or was, one) doesn’t warrant a counter-attack on professional organists as a breed.  We are lucky to have some of the finest in our small country.  I won’t name favourites, save to say that before the present lockdown it was possible to attend concerts and recitals around the country performed to the very highest standards to respectably-sized audiences.  My experiences do not echo some of the pessimistic comments above.  As an added bonus, in the last 12 months I had the good fortune to hear, and briefly meet, Thomas Ospital and Philippe Lefebrve from Paris (including a sensational improvisation by PL), and Richard Elliott from Salt Lake City.  Three outstanding performances by gifted and charming people.

I have encountered several ‘hiccups’ in professional recitals - but no more than three or four times in 50 or more years! - and they were not all the organist’s fault.  A couple of ciphers, and one memorable occasion at the RFH with Ralph Downes, no less.  He started the Franck second Choral, and after a few bars there was a marked pause; he continued briefly and there was a second more pregnant pause.  He then turned to the audience and said “I’m terribly sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I will start again”, which he did, and gave a faultless performance.  

Yet again, I strongly commend www.organrecitals.com both for advertising events and for planning to attend recitals.  It’s an amazing and valuable resource.  Before present circumstances there can never have been such a wealth of live-performed organ music available.  Let’s hope that normal conditions will return soon. 

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There's an annual organ concert/recital at Aylesbury Methodist Church, always by a big name (or names - last year it was the Scott Brothers) which regularly attracts an audience of 200+.  I organised a composite recital titled "Four Local Organists" (including me)  last year to raise funds for a top clean of our Porritt and we got a very appreciative audience of nearly 60 - pretty good for a country church.  A comment afterwards from a non-church goer and non-organist was how nice it was not to hear "just hymns".

To return to the original subject of this thread, it's good to know the two BBC Comptons are maintained and in regular use, but it would be great to hear a broadcast of them in solo use.

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5 minutes ago, bam said:

To return to the original subject of this thread, it's good to know the two BBC Comptons are maintained and in regular use, but it would be great to hear a broadcast of them in solo use.

Hi

Strange you should mention that bam, last Thursdays edition of "The Organist Encores" podcast does just that - albeit with archive tracks and very much in the lighter style.  It also includes tracks of the BBC's theatre organs.  https://organistencores.co.uk/episode-361

Every Blessing

Tony

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1 hour ago, bam said:

To return to the original subject of this thread, it's good to know the two BBC Comptons are maintained and in regular use, but it would be great to hear a broadcast of them in solo use.

The performances on the two BBC Comptons which Tony Newnham mentioned were recorded by Nigel Ogden in 2002 at Maida Vale and at Broadcasting House in the ‘1990s’.  My understanding is that Maida Vale is still playable, but not greatly used, and that the Compton at Broadcasting House is disconnected and unplayable.  Does anyone know the present position about both?

There’s a separate thread on this topic where it was said that Maida Vale was little used, although Eric Shepherd had recently tuned it for a BBC choral rehearsal.  But Maida Vale is scheduled to close, I think by 2022, and when I last enquired there was no information about the future of the organ or the possibility that it would move with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus to their new home in East London.  The Broadcasting House Compton seemed to have been abandoned, and I think I recall that the console had been removed to another location.  I believe the late David Drinkell supplied some of these details.  (Now confirmed, but earlier on this thread, not the other one.)

Coincidentally, during the current ‘lockdown’ I came across “The Organ, its tonal structure and registration” by Cecil Clutton and Lt. Col. George Dixon (1949).  Considering the authorship, this is surprisingly complimentary about the Maida Vale Compton.  Perhaps this should be the subject of a separate post.

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23 minutes ago, Rowland Wateridge said:

Coincidentally, during the current ‘lockdown’ I came across “The Organ, its tonal structure and registration” by Cecil Clutton and Lt. Col. George Dixon (1949).  Considering the authorship, this is surprisingly complimentary about the Maida Vale Compton.

It's a book of two halves by two authors with two rather different perspectives.  They make no secret of this, saying in the Preface that " ... we naturally do not see eye to eye on every detail.  For instance, we differ somewhat on the merits of organs built before about 1850".  They also say that "it may seem the height of presumption for the authors, neither of whom could, by any stretch of the imagination, be regarded as a competent organ player, to attempt to deal with Registration".  Quite.  But also honest.  It does what it says on the tin.  I enjoyed reading it the first time I came across it, which is more than I can say about some other stuff authored by this pair, and pick it up from time to time to find the enjoyment undiminished.  It's a useful reference work if read against the spirit of its time in my estimation.

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I haven’t discovered the division of authorship but the Maida Vale organ is dealt with at page 25 largely in the context of the cornet at various pitches, while pages 134 and 135 go into more general, and admiring, detail of the organ’s concept within the limitations of the site.

But, to repeat, can anyone come up with current information about both organs?

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