Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Nave Booster Organs


Recommended Posts

Yes, played from the Frobenius, which has (if memory serves) a number of pistons to bring in certain combinations on the Walker (the Steinmeyer at Trondhjem had similar facilities at the quire console). I was quite surprised at how appropriate the Frobenius sounded in such music and, indeed, how good it was as an accompanimental instrument. The Walker is certainly a mish-mash in some ways (there can't be many organs around with a 32' diaphone at one end, and a Sharp Mixture at the other) but I think it works exceedingly well.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

The appearance of nave organs over the past 20-30 years is an interesting development in Cathedral and large church organs.


I wonder how much of it has been driven by evolving liturgical practices and evolving practices with hymns?


I heard a recording of the Old 100th conducted by Edward Elgar and was struck by the tempo of the singing (which was at English Hymnal tempos) and the accent put on (the start of) each note. It was not dissimilar to the iso-rhythmic psalm singing found in the most traditional areas of the Dutch Gereformeerde Gemeente churches. Hymn tempos seemed to have increased dramatically over the decades since and the organist is often encouraged to "push the hymns on" these days. Personally, I found the energy and power of Elgar's group singing in a lusty, controlled and very coordinated, communal manner exciting.


It may be helpful to think about the purpose and requirements for nave organs.


The main purpose of nave organs seems to be for accompanying/ leading congregational singing in the nave. They aren't used much for choral accompaniment or repertoire performance, which tends to remain at the East End, unless certain antiphonal effects are desired.


So what sorts of stops and sounds do we need for a nave organ?

The main foundation of hymn accompaniment is borne by a Diapason chorus. I think most organists reach for the Great Open and Principal as a starting point when registering for a hymn (this is just a generalisation) and go from there.

A sub-unison is very helpful for hymn accompaniment. While still highly unfashionable in some quarters, it's worth noting

1. most men sing naturally at an octave below unison pitch so a sub-unison supports these voices at the pitch they're singing

2. Lower pitches are better at getting the sound around corners - e.g. from a high triforium to the floor of a narrow nave. Higher pitches (e.g. mixtures) will use reflection and scattering to disperse but higher frequencies are attenuated by air far more than lower pitches.


So it would follow a large, fairly strongly voiced Diapason chorus would be a good starting point for a nave organ, ideally on a 16 ft basis or with a strong sub-unison.


It may be worth considering some historical models of organs which were built with a strong emphasis on congregational accompaniment.


One of the first models is the Dutch organ from the 17th century to the 19th century to ... well, really the present day. The 2005 Henk van Eeken organ at Rijssen (see http://www.henkvaneeken.com/completedprojects/Rijssen.html) and 2014 Reil organ at Bodegraven (see http://www.orgelmakerijreil.nl/bodegraven-en/bodegraven-bethelkerk/?lang=en) are built in the Dutch tradition and are both designed to accompany congregations of c.2,000 on about 25 stops. Note the use of 16 ft flues and reeds on the manuals and the powerful choruses - Rijssen was originally going to have a 5 1/3 quint and the mixtures are based on the 16 ft series (with a 5 1/3 rank from fairly low down the compass). There are also lots of solo possibilities - Rijssen has a Ruispijp on the pedal with a double drawer - at the first point it acts as a (very powerful) tenor cornet in the tenor octave of the pedalboard, effectively creating a pedal divide if you want to solo out the tune on your right foot and play the bassline with you left (they do, frequently) and there are many other effects, using Tertiaans and Carillons as solo stops. The solo effects are designed to work as a solo with the full chorus and are powerful, telling stops - think Tuba rather than a 1960s Marcussen Spitz-Nazard.


Another model to consider is the British tradition of the first half of the 20th century in the late Walkers and pre WWII H&Hs - the so called "Imperial Organ" if you like. Here we find the development of The Large Open Diapason. Reading through the contemporary reports of the day, much emphasis is put on The Large Organ Diapason and how its "floods of Diapason Tone fill the building" and lead congregational singing. Although there are examples some people find coarse to their modern tastes, and some examples which *are* genuinely coarse ;), I think there is some mileage considering the qualities of the LOD and what it provides: by providing a lot of unison tone, the lower frequencies help to transmit the sound "around the corner" most British organs found themselves speaking into, while the prodigious amounts of unison tone helps to reassure singers they're singing along to a large group. That said, most people find having at least 1x 4ft drawn is essential to leading congregational singing as it helps the organ be "heard above" the singing and lead the congregation.


Another part of the design of the British organ is the use of the swell organ and how the organ is registered/used in hymns. I think most British organists gravitate towards the Great Diapasons 8 & 4, with Swell coupled in and everything coupled down to a pedal of perhaps 16.16.8 when drawing stops for a hymn. The organist will typically colour paint the words and thoughts of the hymn by changing registrations - a verse or line about glory, crowns and triumph will herald the arrival of the Swell (or Great) Trumpets, spirit, angels and being On High will see the appearance of the mixtures, grandeur and foundation will see more 16 foots and gravity. If the organ has one, the Tuba will make an occasional appearance soloing out the tune, usually (but not always) in the last verse, while the merest whiff of thunder will encourage all sorts of 32 ft reeds and 32 ft effects.


Obviously the Nave Organ would be best placed in the UK to fit in with this tradition but I would suggest it should provide the foundations first, leaving the "colour effects" of the paragraph above to the main organ if necessary. So, if designing a Nave organ, my starting point would be a large Diapason chorus - something along the lines of 16.8.(5 1/3).4.2 2/3.2.Mixture with a bit of pedal. If I was to suggest an improvement at the current crop of nave organs, it would be to have a 16ft flue on the manuals and to encourage more emphasis on the 16.8.4 pitches than the higher pitches. Perhaps after those items have been provided and space and money allows, the next item to add is some reeds, maybe enclosed, to lend some colour with the word painting, followed by a large solo reed (available on another manual). You could probably do everything in 15 stops.


Each church/cathedral is different in design and acoustics so provides its own challenges. Some cathedrals have a tight or non-existent triforium; balance and coordination with the main organ need to be thought about carefully (would we want to consider putting in a delay into the nave organ action, as PA systems have with their speakers, so the sound is coordinated as it travels down the nave?).

It would make sense to me if the style of pipework in the nave organ mirrors that of the main organ - so the design, manufacture and scaling of the pipework in the nave is homogeneous with the main organ to give the best blend and help give the impression only one organ is speaking.


# # # # #


Some comments against some of the comments I've seen on this thread:


Other examples of Nave organs not yet mentioned are


Romsey Abbey (JWWalker, 1998, includes a separate console)

Christchurch Priory - here more organ has be introduced in the south triforium since the 1990s Nicholson organ was built

Sherbourne - the Tickell Nave division at the West end

Southwell - transplant of a J.J.Binns


Winchester - this is possibly the only Nave organ which is in the liturgical Quire. Seriously, it has to travel 2-3 bays of the nave before it reaches the congregation, which is only one less than the main body of the organ. It has a very hard job to do and it is questionable how effective it really is, although it certainly helps. Winchester is a very difficult example due to the extreme length of the nave and the lack of an open triforium in the nave. The whole organ is pushed hard to do its job in the nave and can be uncomfortably direct for Quire services, especially if it is played loudly.


York - who on earth in their right mind would use the Tuba Mirabilis for a nave organ, accompanying every verse of every hymn on it? Come on guys, get real. However, it's an impressive stop (although it sounds far better in the pre-1950s rebuild recordings) and goes to show sound can travel down the nave from the organ where it is ... and I don't think it all needs to be from a solo reed on 30" w.p!

Link to comment
Share on other sites



Although there have been many more examples in the last couple of decades, Nave organs are nothing new! St James, Edgbaston (now long redundant and closed) had a Nave organ installed in 1891! The work, along with some additions & revoicing of the main organ was done by Nicholsons. The main organ was in a South chancel chamber, and was a reasonably sized 3 manual, having been moved to the chancel from the West End by Henry Jones, the original builder, in 1886 - 9 years after it was built.


The Nave organ was elevated at the head of the South Nave aisle - and on a very convoluted tracker action! Playable from Great or Choir, the stop list was:-


Double Diapason Bass 16

Double Diapason Treble 16

Large Open 8

Small Open 8

Clarabella 8

Principal 4

Harmonic Flute 4

Trumpet 8

Spare slide


When I knew the instrument in the 1970's. the Nave disvision was all but unplayable, so I can't really coment on its effectiveness (the main organ wasn't far behind, but we did manage to make it useable).


Full stop list on NPOR at N07334


Perhaps such departments are not as new a phenomenon as we might think!


Every Blessing



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Perhaps such departments are not as new a phenomenon as we might think!

Well, I guess the idea of reinforcing singing where the main organ won’t reach singers might be as old as the Ecclesiological and Tractarian movements are. At least according to Nicholas Thistlethwaite (Victorian Organ, p. 310f), it was in consequence of those reforms that organs were banned from musically and acoustically efficient locations into corners, chancels, and triforiums.


re Colin's remarks: Thanks for these – very informative, and coming with a good explanation for the coming-about of that monster, the Large Open. With the organ at an acoustical disadvantage from the outset (see above), inventions such as this one, utilitarian but not necessarily musically satisfying, were bound to happen – as was, with the arrival of electric action, the nave organ. Personally, I’d prefer one of those anytime. And yes, a Double on the manuals does not hurt, as I have felt many times when singing in service – indeed, a fairly strong bass tends to help as well.


How big then would be the step to having a full organ in the nave, if a small one? Something like 16 8 8 4 3 2 IV, 8 4 4 2 Sesq III 8, 16 (Gt) 16 8 4 16


In Freiburg Minster (G), where the organbuilders had to deal with four acoustically distinct spaces (crossing, chancel, nave, and tower), four full organs were built in the 1960ies (Späth, later replaced by Metzler; Marcussen; 2 x Rieger). The nave organ is the most effective one, as well as the smallest of the four (II/21). Here, the Great has no Double, and borrowing between Great and Pedal is prohibited by the prodigious scale of the Pedal Open 16, which makes it the building’s secret 32'. Nevertheless, it carries the singing very nicely all by itself. The large Rieger is much more beefy, especially since its revoicing in 2000, but not quite as noble and easy on the ears.


All best wishes


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

We attended the excellent Advent Procession at Durham Cathedral this evening: the combined drama of liturgy, movement, darkness/light, and of course music was most effective and moving. Clearly a great deal of skilful preparation had gone in, so big thanks to the cathedral team.


However, the limitations of the wonderful Willis/Harrison organ as an instrument to lead congregational singing in the nave seemed significant to me. Even though we were sited less than half-way down the nave, the ensemble problems between the organ/choir and congregation were noticeable. Deployment of the tubas at various pitches on the melody line also did little to help bring the congregation together. Whilst I am not accustomed to nave services at Durham, being a newcomer, and I probably am more sensitive to this matter than others, it does seem to me that the provision of a nave organ could make a positive contribution here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I remember being at Durham when they were commemorating the Venerable Bede. There was a procession (including congregation) to the Galilee Chapel at the west end, singing "For all the saints" - and there didn't seem to be a problem

in co-ordination, although there ought to have been!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 weeks later...

I wonder if the Worcester scheme will ever be completed.

There have been various revisions, but there is apparently a current version of the scheme still under active consideration. My knowledge (such as it is) comes from a private conversation that I won't quote from without permission, but I was entirely convinced that the lack of public information is not indicative of a lack of effort among those concerned. (It may also be worth observing that the confidently critical opinions thrown about on Facebook a while ago about the contents of the old organ case were quite wildly inaccurate.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Liverpool (Anglican) cathedral is another example, having a Central division mounted in a gallery below the windows of the easternmost nave bay. It is a modest 16-8-4-2-II/VI specification and I do wonder how effective it is given that the monumental main organ cases are just the other side of the central crossing, though mounted much higher up.


Out of interest, what effect does having a nave division have on congregational time-keeping? Should a congregation that is is filling a cathedral all be singing simultaneously (in which case those at the back may well be confused by hearing the nave division a fraction of a second before the main organ, assuming the latter is in the transepts or choir? Or should the action of the nave division ideally be slightly delayed so that those at the back of the cathedral sing slightly behind those at the front? All down to the infuriatingly slow speed of sound!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Out of interest, what effect does having a nave division have on congregational time-keeping? Should a congregation that is is filling a cathedral all be singing simultaneously (in which case those at the back may well be confused by hearing the nave division a fraction of a second before the main organ, assuming the latter is in the transepts or choir? Or should the action of the nave division ideally be slightly delayed so that those at the back of the cathedral sing slightly behind those at the front? All down to the infuriatingly slow speed of sound!

An interesting point. I suppose that the positioning of the nave organ needs to be quite judicious, such that the difference between the onset of the sound of the main and nave organs are not too great, yet the nave organ is still able to effectively support the congregation towards the west end.


Conversely, if the two organs are positioned sufficiently far apart, and each is not too loud, perhaps the congregation at the more extremes of the building may not be distracted by the sound of the more distant organ any more than by the already existing sound of reverberation?


In any event, I'm sure that experiments are carried out by the builder and designer to ensure the most effective siting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

Sign In Now
  • Create New...