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Choir Man

Visiting Organs

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In the Colston Hall thread on this forum it is referenced that the authorities are amenable to people playing the organ at convenient times. This set me wondering about how accessible organs are in general. I accept that many organs are located in churches which are first and foremost places of worship and so access might need to be after hours. But how open are members, or their institutions, to people requesting to play their organ or just visit the organ loft to observe during a service?

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We are very happy for people to come and play, or watch. We are after all, curators of these instruments, not owners!

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When I was starting out, I was struck by how willing the real greats, like Francis Jackson and Allan Wicks, were to let me try their instruments and I made a note that if I ever came to have an  outstanding instrument in my care, I would let people play.

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12 hours ago, OmegaConsort said:

We are very happy for people to come and play, or watch. We are after all, curators of these instruments, not owners!

 

9 hours ago, David Drinkell said:

When I was starting out, I was struck by how willing the real greats, like Francis Jackson and Allan Wicks, were to let me try their instruments and I made a note that if I ever came to have an  outstanding instrument in my care, I would let people play.

I think that this is so important and very much worth remembering, particularly when dealing with young aspiring organists. I remember the organist of the church I attended as a youngster. He wasn't one of the 'greats', by any imagination, but he was always being willing to let me play after service, reminding me to switch off and lock up after I had finished and leaving me to make as many horrendous noises as I liked. It was an important part of my learning process and I am grateful to him. 

But so often I have found, certainly in the UK, an approach that is less than encouraging. By coincidence I spent last weekend in the UK and visited one of the 'greater churches'. The organist was playing and, afterwards, I tried to engage him in conversation with a hope that I might have a brief play. He, clearly, wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere but didn't want to know! Such is life!

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It's a rather variable situation in my experience.  I've never been backward in coming forward when it comes to knocking on doors to ask if I can try organs, but with a few exceptions the rule here (the UK) seems to be that the bigger and more important the instrument, the less likely you are to be granted access.  There are some exceptions, with one cathedral in the southern counties being particularly welcoming especially to organists' associations.  Some of the public schools are also on the sniffy side, and haven't even bothered to reply when I've contacted them.  This is a bit rich considering they bask in charitable tax status, a condition of which is that they engage in outreach to the community or so I believe.  Much the same applies to organs in stately homes.  Even more rich is that these outfits seldom seem to bother about rattling tins under people's noses when it suits them to bolster their organ funds.  They can't have it both ways.

But is it really much different in other countries?  I once asked (in my best French) if I could at least view the console at St Sulpice, but was told by a shocked verger that "non, non, c'est defendu".  (Sorry, I can't seem to put the accents on today).  I've had similar experiences in the Netherlands where I even got told off because my shoes were too noisy in St Laurence, Alkmaar!  It wasn't as if the blinking organ was playing either.

I endorse the sentiments of those who have written above, but was a bit shocked to read of S_L's impolite rebuff.

CEP

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Endorsing what others have said, when I was in my teens in the 60's, I approached my local largish parish church who had a very nice 3 manual to ask if I could practice there. The response from the organist was that it was reserved for 'his pupils only'. Visiting the church for a service 40 years later and enquiring if I might try it afterwards, I received the same response from the same organist!

To be fair, three other local churches (2 Anglican and one Free Church - all with small organs) were more than happy to let me play. I think I paid 2/6d an hour!

 

SG

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And then one day, the organist of 40+ years standing gets decrepit and old, and no longer able to play and jealously guard the instrument. Perhaps he or she dies.  Then.... who is going to play the organ for that church?  I frankly think it's disgusting that organists think that they (and their pupils) have sole rights to the console.  After all, who paid for the organ in the first place?

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6 hours ago, Colin Pykett said:

 

I endorse the sentiments of those who have written above, but was a bit shocked to read of S_L's impolite rebuff.

CEP

In truth, Colin, I was a little shocked by his impoliteness too! To be honest, I was also shocked by his playing which wasn't very good. It, definitely, was the 'Director of Music' because I found a photograph of him at the back of the church and, looking it up when I returned home I realised that he was far less qualified, by a very long way, to play the instrument than I was!! But, as I said before, such is life!!!!  

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As a lad I sang in my local church choir for 10 years until I went to university. The organist treated the instrument like his personal possession, jealously guarding it, locking the console and taking the key home with him.  When I asked if I could play I was told me to go away and learn piano to at least grade 6 standard before he would let me have a go. Unfortunately I was learning violin at the time so he never gave me the opportunity to play when I was young.

When he died the church was left without an organist and now it has no organ.

The church where I currently am treats the organ, as well as the whole building, as a community asset and anyone is welcome to play irrespective of their experience, tutelage or affiliations.

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As a boy, about 65 years ago, I was similarly not allowed to see the console at Gloucester Cathedral.  I can understand the reluctance of the verger at St Sulpice (which, incidentally, Stephen Bicknell considered to be the finest organ in the world) without a member of the music staff being present, but it has long been the custom there to welcome visitors to the organ loft during Sunday mass, and there are photographs of visitors with Widor, Dupré and Daniel Roth

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A few years ago, I just wrote an e-mail to them,  ( St, Sulpice) and received a standard one back, saying to wait at the door/stairs, and someone would take us up. This was in about 2001, not sure what its like now, after all the terrorism there has been in Paris

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