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David Drinkell

A Parable of St. Luke

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Sifting through  old files today, I found the following, which I wrote for the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters nearly twenty years ago.  It may amuse....

Contra Oboe - a Parable of St. Luke (Belfast)

And it came to pass that there was a wedding in an house of the Lord nigh unto the Shankhill, and behold, there came unto that place one to play upon the organs, that the festivity might be the more merry. And he, knowing not what manner of organ there should be, came with haste and gazed upon it with eager eyes. And, lo, there was a stop called Contra Oboe, whereat he rejoiced greatly and said in his heart, This will add a touch of class to my offering. For is it not written, that a reed of sixteen foot length addeth an extra dimension unto any instrument wherein it is to be found? But when he played upon the Contra Oboe, behold, it was silent like the silver swan that living hath no note. And he departed afterwards sorrowing, for he said, Old Charlie hath been constrained to leave this stop prepared for, for such are only to be had at great price and are not like unto the sparrows, which may be bought ten for a penny.

And there were in the same country those wise in the mysteries of the building of organs, and their names were called David, the son of El Derry and also Rachel, the daughter of Adam. And he spake unto them, saying, Is it not a sad thing before the Lord that this Contra Oboe should be but a slip of ivory above the keys? And they were confounded and, answering, said unto him, Thou art mistaken, for there be in that organ many weighty pipes of this wise, the which we have repaired and made good, for that their bindings had perished as it were a moth fretting a garment and their pipes had inclined themselves even as the lilies of the field, which work not, neither do they spin. Nevertheless, there was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted, and so peradventure thou hast been curst with a sticky slide.

And it befell in latter years that this same player upon the organs came at diverse other times unto that place, and he said in his heart, Now shall I learn of this same Contra Oboe, whether it be like unto the glorious works of him that was called Father Willis or him that was known as Mr. Arthur, or whether it be like unto a bee which rageth in a bottle of glass. But, lo, it spake neither with speech nor language, albeit that the nethermost note of the Pedal Open did cause the woodwork in sundry places to make a mighty noise. And he was troubled in his mind and said, How shall this be, that this stop respondeth not to my hand? Can it be that the spirit of Charlie Smethurst is wroth against me, for that I did in past times speak ill of some of his works (and in particular the unsteadiness of his wind in diverse places and also of sundry prodigious Large Opens that sound like unto the ships of the sea when the Lord sendeth his fogs to dwell upon the face of the waters)? And he again went his way sore troubled, for that he was fain to use the Sub coupler to make the congregation fear the Lord, it being meet and right for them so to do.

The church in question was St. Luke's in the Lower Falls - a sensitive place during the Troubles (indeed, the wall dividing Republican and Loyalist areas bisected the roadway a few yards away.)  It closed shortly after I left Belfast and has since been converted into a community centre.  I don't know what happened to the organ, which was one of Charlie Smethurst's nicer jobs, with the pipes in the west gallery and the console down on the floor.  Smethurst had a wide connection in Northern Ireland and continued to maintain his round during the Troubles, indeed he retired to Belfast and there is a memorial window to him (as well as the organ) in Dunmurry Church.  His training, I believe, was as a console hand with Harrisons' but his voicing tended to be not of the most sensitive (when Wells-Kennedy revoiced his large organ at Knock Methodist Church, the difference was immense) and he tuned mixtures to equal temperament.  However, he kept a lot of organs (including Armagh Cathedral) going when many firms pulled out of the Province altogether.  The two organ builders named are David McElderry and Rachel Adams, both of Wells-Kennedy.

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