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innate

Console position and orientation

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This is a rather wide-ranging question which might have benefitted from splitting into a few separate topics but let’s see how it goes.

Given the choice, in a working largish parish church with an active liturgical and concert life and the pipes of a new organ contained in a historic case high up at the West end, between electric action and a detached console at the altar (concert platform) end at ground level and an attached console with mechanical action in or next to the case, what would your preference be and why?

If your answer is “both” how likely is it that one console will, in practice, be used almost exclusively and the other lie gathering dust.

Are there any effective reversed consoles with mechanical action on organs with a chair division?

Are there limits of size (number of stops, manuals) that make a terraced console too large to see over? I seem to remember the organ in the West gallery at St Aloysius, Oxford being rather good from a visibility point of view.

Does having a “side” console make for serious problems with mechanical action? 

In the old days organs were nearly always in the West Gallery (or on the crossing in a Cathedral) and the organist often obscured by the chair case. Liturgy was, I suppose, much more predictable then. In churches where organists are expected to respond to a glance or a subtle hand signal from the clergy or the Master of Ceremonies do modern closed-circuit video systems work as well as being physically close to the action?

My preference is for mechanical action.

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Hi

Definitely tracker action.  In my opinion, detached consoles are a mixed blessing, and putting the console at the far end of the building means a lag in the sound reaching the player (plus any lag due to the action) - I discovered this as a teenager when the church where I was learning organ - quite a small building, perhaps seating 80 or so - put a 4 rank extension organ in, replacing a 1mp tracker.  The pipework of the new organ was in the North West corner, elevated over an area that was used as a choir vestry, console at the East end of the Nave.  The first time I played it I found the lag noticeable.

With a West End organ, I would also have the choir at the West End.  There's no way a west end organ & east end choir are going to sound properly balanced other than at one point somewhere down the Nave.

Another factor that I've found problematic is trying to play quietly when people are moving about & talking (pre-service etc.).  There have been times when I've not been able to hear the organ at all.

Every Blessing

Tony

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I once, as a teenager on an organ crawl, found myself seated at the console in Ampleforth Abbey. I played the first few notes of BWV564, then I heard the first few notes of BWV564, then I gave up!

Ian

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14 hours ago, innate said:

If your answer is “both” how likely is it that one console will, in practice, be used almost exclusively and the other lie gathering dust.

Very likely.  There is a large and well known church in the south of England which has both, and they have timers.  It is instructive to read them!  And the tracker console does literally gather dust.  It's a great pity, not only because of the obvious neglect of an asset which cost a great deal of money, but because its mechanical action was very good when first built (I would go so far as to say astonishingly good) for a large instrument.  Having said that, its position is far from being attractive from the player's point of view in terms of hearing the instrument in a balanced manner, and in seeing what's going on in the building during a service.

But if one opts for just a detached console, why not make it moveable and take advantage of the fact by wheeling it about frequently to exactly where one wants or needs it on any given occasion?  Nowadays there is no need for any physical connection to the action - it can be wireless - so the only thing one needs to do is plug the console into the nearest mains socket to power the combination action and the other internal electronics.  Even in pre-wireless days I have never been able to understand why detached consoles were so often more or less fixed in position owing to the connecting cable being confined to under-floor ducting or similar, leading to the problems outlined by Tony.

 

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1 hour ago, iy45 said:

I once, as a teenager on an organ crawl, found myself seated at the console in Ampleforth Abbey. I played the first few notes of BWV564, then I heard the first few notes of BWV564, then I gave up!

Ian

That is an experience I have also had! Unfortunately, at the time and for reasons I'd rather not disclose here, I couldn't give up!!!

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My son, now a pianist, briefly also played the organ.  He learnt on the Rieger at Christ Church, Oxford, and a local chamber organ.  When I took him to Winchester College at the age of 12 for a pre-application visit during which he got to show off his skills, he was sat at the organ in the chapel - the one prior to our hosts' provision, a Normal & Beard of 1908 at the west end with the console in the choir.  He had not been warned about the delay, I suspect - certainly had never had a chance to experience it.  As he launched into a bit of Bach, a look of sheer horror appeared on his face, but he managed to keep going and finished in more-or-less good order - at which point he burst into tears!  He did subsequently return and got a music scholarship.

Paul

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Thank you for the responses. pwhodges:  I feel for your son’s early experience at Winchester, but how fortunate to have learnt on the Rieger. I was there when it was being installed and voiced.

Tony; the nearest there is to a regular choir has no official place to sing but in the Gallery near the West End is very good from an acoustic point of view. So I imagine that would continue.

The biggest problem I foresee with an integrated console would be communication with clergy immediately before or during services. Maybe there’s a technological solution to this already in use in some churches.

What about using the organ in concerts? The delay will be apparent to the conductor, orchestra and choir at the east end wherever the organist is, but if the console is near the performers at least s/he can make the adjustment. At a West End console the delay would be effectively doubled unless some kind of headphone system is provided. What happens at St John’s, Smith Square (a similar building in scale)?

My wife played in the orchestra for a recording of the Poulenc Concerto (I think) in Tonbridge School shortly after the Marcussen had been installed with Dame Gillian Weir—there were significant problems synchronising the organ and orchestra.

 

 

 

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I've played for both for a service and a Crucifixion at St John's Smith Square and play occasionally at St Martin in the Fields. In both places there is a camera but no headphones. There didn't seem to be much of a problem. It's really like accompanying a congregation; you get used to playing just a fraction ahead. It really is tiny fraction at St Martin's and not much more at St John's.

 

I guess it favours conductors who have worked in that kind of situation before - those who set the tempo and mostly leave it alone and who listen to the organ rather than expecting it to behave like an orchestral player five feet away. That was the only problem with the Crucifixion, that the conductor wanted the tempo to be more fluid and for the organ's sound to lead as it was heard on the platform. I was told it was nicely together for the audience. So many organists, choirs and instrumental groups pass through St Martin's and I've never known a problem. They do lots of broadcasts and some recordings - I don't know of a Poulenc from there though.

 

I suppose a W end organ with attached console favours a similar approach with clergy and so on - talking it through beforehand, you start when this happens etc. The vergers and I use FB messenger or WhatsApp. The only real problems I know of at Smitf is that there's no camera or signal from the West door for things like weddings (but you could have more than one camera) and if you're on your own and are popping up and down to play and direct for evensong there might be points (eg opening voluntary into unaccompanied introit) where you need to remember to play on the chamber organ, or have someone in the choir who can direct. They haven't yet installed the zip wire.

 

All in all I much prefer attached consoles, even with west end instruments. Admittedly it's a little easier to be where the action is and to be able to hear the effect of choir and organ together, but to be physically connected to the instrument is worth anything.

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On ‎27‎/‎11‎/‎2019 at 11:23, S_L said:

That is an experience I have also had! Unfortunately, at the time and for reasons I'd rather not disclose here, I couldn't give up!!!

My first experience of trying to play a decent sized organ was Blackburn. It confused and  put me off such that I started lessons 4 years later than when I could have. Granted that this was a lock in with school peers, not a formal situation, but I wish someone had told me how untypical the delay, wash, echo and reverb really were!

Attached console and immediate action so tracker or possibly electric for me any day. Detached or pneumatics no thanks. Recording equipment or an occasional someone else to play registrations back are a compromise I happily accept.

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