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Stanley Monkhouse

What future for the English organ?

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This is indeed turning out to be an interesting and useful thread.  Although I incline myself to the view that the pipe organ is going to have an uphill struggle to survive in the long term, let's not forget that the digital organ is not actually all that cheap either when measured against the depth of the pockets of many aspirant players from 'ordinary' backgrounds.  Even the cheapest of all possible digital instruments, the home-assembled PC-based virtual pipe organ, is only really cheap (say around a thousand or two) when it consists of a rather sad collection of plastic pop music type keyboards balanced on a pile of books on a desk with a tatty second hand pedalboard shoved underneath.  But that's not really the sort of playing experience we ought to be encouraging for a new generation of youngsters whom we seem to be tacitly  assuming will then be eager to take up the organ.  Surely we should at least give them a VPO with a decent console and console furniture of the sort offered by turnkey suppliers of VPOs?  But then the cost will typically escalate suddenly to well into the five figures if we also add a half-decent multichannel audio system, and even then you'd be lucky to get tactile stop controls rather than a touch screen.  So the price of a decent VPO is comparable with that of any other sort of digital organ, and probably well beyond what the parents of many potential organ students (or the students themselves) would be able or willing to pay.

Another factor in all this is the difficulty for the average customer of getting at the facts, especially those which bear on costs and technical performance going well beyond what the ad-men are prepared to say.  I have probably published as widely in print journals as anyone on this forum on these matters over the last 35 years or so, and you might be interested to know the sordid details of what I've had to put up with from the 'organ establishment' in both its pipe and digital incarnations.  Well known names, which you would recognise, associated with firms and other organisations you would also recognise (BIOS is one) have attempted to smear my work and myself personally with the most appallingly rude and disgraceful letters, some of which have appeared in print.  Some of the less public scurrilous chatter which kind friends have brought to my attention has been actionable (and I've sought advice on that).  These people include organ advisers, university music lecturers and a bevy of industry figures all at the top of their trees.  I have been threatened with litigation by manufacturers of pipe organ transmissions as well as digital organ makers for some of my articles - 'damage to our business' is the usual well-worn reason.  However, despite all this the truth will eventually out since customers are by and large not fools.  But the greatest sadness is that it is the organ itself which will likely have to pay the eventual consequences.

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Yes to all that Colin. One of the reasons I rejoined Mander was that the views expressed here tend to be more considered than on other pages, and contributors have not indulged in snide remarks as on some. I know it's not been that active over recent yers, but we can make it so. I gave up on BIOS: it lacks/ed the kind of objectivity that we see in this thread. I suppose you can't get much more objective that a mathematician/[physicist.

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13 hours ago, Contrabombarde said:

 

6. The church's primary obligation is to bear witness to Jesus Christ, not to glorify and worship the organ. Where the organ and its music supports its primary  function it must be embraced; if or where the church's witness is hindered by its reliance on the organ then the church must move on and other means of supporting the continuation of the organ must be found to keep our music tradition going. Having recently directed a Christmas lessons and carols service that included orchestral instruments, choir, organ and rock group and music that ranged from Bach to a Freddie Mercury pastiche, I am personally very comfortable promoting the organ alongside other musical styles in the service of God. I recognise not all will be so comfortable, but in my experience the organ can thrive in its own right and in combination with other instruments both "traditional" and "contemporary" if it's allowed to. However, the Christian church cannot allow the organ to become worshipped in its own right and must part company if that particular idolatry creeps in.

 

I thoroughly agree.  I would also add that the church isn't in the museum business.

Every Blessing

Tony

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I would add a note of caution to Colin's comment, that of not letting the best be the enemy of the good. In his case, I would disagree that we shouldn't encourage students to learn on a cheap self built virtual organ console in preference to a high quality turnkey solution - a high quality new digital organ for home use can cost several tens of thousands of pounds and if that's the only acceptable alternative to a pipe organ and a pipe organ isn't available to practice on, we can't expect students to flock to learning the organ. I'd love mammoth covered Laukhoffs on my home Hauptwerk console but had to settle for £250 Fatar "tracker touch"keys instead. That's double what a cheap MIDI keyboard would cost, but my Fatars are supposedly used in high end digital organs. I have to say they are vastly better than most electronic organs I've ever played which I find surprising - it's almost like electronic organ manufacturers are involved in a conspiracy to make their organs as unattractive to play as possible.

The closest pipe organ to where I live is over a mile away, is mechanically in poor condition with ciphers and wind running, has no nameplate to embarrass the builder but it was a poor design to begin with and is in a church that will never be able to afford to look after it. I do wonder how bad a pipe organ has to be before we would concur that practising on a digital organ with cheap MIDI keyboards could be an improvement. Unfortunately the reality is that for every high quality pipe organ that is a joy to play and learn on, there are plenty of other organs that are entirely unmemorable, in poor working order and difficult to commend as suitable for practising on. I don't think that's so different from the world of pianos where there are countless uprights a century old being given away for nothing to students who quickly discover that learning on an untunable instrument with sticking keys is a quick way to kill off any passion for the piano.

I appreciate this is a pipe organ forum and discussion of electronic organs is actively discouraged so I am cautious about extolling their virtues too far. However, I hope I may be permitted to describe one further advantage that I don't think has been touched on in the "DIY virtual organ" scene, namely the educational value of designing one's own organ (console). Historically probably few organists have ever been in a position to design and see being commissioned a pipe organ. We are now in an era when a GCSE student (in my pupil's case) can design a practice organ, including having to consider how many manuals, understanding the relative position of manuals and pedals to RCO standards, position of stop controls and music desk, how many pistons and expression pedals etc etc - and build it from cheap components sourced from the internet in the comfort of his own home. That acts as an additional incentive and catalyst to learning that those of us who grew up in an era where if we were lucky we might get to practise once a week in a cold dark church can only dream of surely.

So my proposition on the topic of the future of the English organ is that from the perspective of practising and learning opportunities, things have never been better than they are today. Furthermore there is a "democratisation" that comes from online resources - students from across all social classes today are in a position to build their own practice instrument, which as interest and finances permits, can be upgraded. When I was studying at school I had to buy all my organ music at considerable cost. Today's student can download most of the organ repertoire at no cost from imslp and listen to and learn from performances by the world's finest players on Youtube. Time will tell whether we embrace the huge opportunities for learning the organ that are within our reach, and whether that leads to a generation of organists whose technique is impaired from learning on cheap plastic keyboards using old scanned music scores or whether it leads to a resurgence of interest from organists who are passionate about the music they are learning, and who being inspired by the astonishing beauty of the finest instruments that they play samples of, demand the highest standards from pipe organ builders, thus preserving our musical heritage.

 

 

 

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Contrabombarde's point is well taken.  It's certainly true that the best can too easily become the enemy of the good.  However if we lower our sights too far for home practice instruments, at the same time being aware of the dreadful direness of so many pipe organs which (as a class) they are supposed to be simulating, what exactly are we doing, I wonder?  Why should we be encouraging people to play on inferior realisations of what ought to be a proper target instrument?  If we aren't careful I suggest we could be in danger of proving the uncomfortable truth that seems to be dawning in this thread that the pipe organ might not have a long term future and that only digital sound generation will survive.  Funny, I seem to have a vague recollection that this has already been mentioned ...

There's a sub-issue here to do with hobbies, DIY and all that.  It's the case that if one has a basic skill set coupled with the determination and drive to make something at home which works, then one can get somewhere.  That's how I started, for what it's worth, when making an electronic organ at home in the 1960s (much to my parents' horror, hence my banishment to the nearby garage of an indulgent grandfather).  It didn't sound very good because in those days the technology was such that it couldn't, but the console and physical playing experience were of high quality even though I say it myself.  Trouble is, hobbies, DIY and all that are also going down the drain today together with organs and their music.  It was therefore utterly laudable to read of Contrabombarde's pupil getting so far along a similar road.  If the organ is to survive, it's going to need a lot more of that - instruments at home, inexpensive ones, therefore DIY ones, therefore self-motivated youngsters who can do this.  But are there many such any more?

The home organ market is eagerly fought over by digital organ makers whose eyes are continually glowing at the prospect of all those recently retired baby boomers wondering what to do with their pension pots.  So they aren't about to roll over and let the VPO brigade move into our living rooms without a struggle.  Thus VPOs, whatever their pros and cons might be (and I agree it's not a subject for this forum), represent only a fraction of the total market, and those which are made by DIY-ers form only a fraction of that.  Therefore, like the main question of what this thread is about, the survival of the pipe organ, one can't divorce these sub-issues from consideration of things like market forces either.  The bottom line is that people will only play the instruments they can afford, and this applies to the home environment just as much as it does to churches and cathedrals.  Quite where the pipe organ will eventually sit in this situation means that we have to analyse it in terms of an equilibrium emerging from a dynamic market-led model.  In other words, the answer drops out of a financial spreadsheet.  If it's a good enough one, the corresponding equilibrium states for digital organs and VPOs will emerge as well.  These things are not easy to set up but fascinating to play with once you have done it. 

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18 hours ago, Stanley Monkhouse said:

Where will organists of the future come from? Some of you are hopeful. Well, given who you are and where you come from, you would say that, wouldn’t you! I’m less sanguine that the attraction of cathedral life will draw musicians from a self-employed career. And remember that in music degrees these days, classical music, harmony, counterpoint etc have been displaced to a variable extent by electronic and computer work, so you can’t assume students will be exposed to much classical choral stuff, if any.

On a positive note - the organist training programme run out of Leeds Cathedral under David Pipe seems to be doing tremendously well.  To the extent where they have added additional teachers into the programme.

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9 hours ago, jwillans said:

On a positive note - the organist training programme run out of Leeds Cathedral under David Pipe seems to be doing tremendously well.  To the extent where they have added additional teachers into the programme.

I'm pleased to see that Leeds seems to be a forward looking city with regard to the organ, what with this, the proposed alterations and additions to the Town Hall organ and the continuation of free lunchtime recitals there as well.

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The new software from Modartt is bringing piano enthusiasts into the world of the organ https://www.modartt.com/ and it was a matter of delight if not surprise to find that one of the contestants at the Nice International Piano Competition (link below goes straight to his performance)

 

So availability of keyboards at home really can be an inspiration to young people even without more conventional ways in.

On the Modartt forum an amusing consequence of bringing Organ software to Piano simulation software users is that the question has been asked "Why don't they provide a sustaining pedal as on the piano?"! Yes - really - https://forum.modartt.com/viewtopic.php?pid=963890#p963890 and in my opinion it's no bad thing. Mention has been made on that forum of some tutorials by the American Guild of Organists 

so thanks to piano simulation software we may well have a feed of new organists who will want to play the real instrument in the real place.

Best wishes

David P

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I find that piano simulator (just from listening to their samples) rather unconvincing, and their organ version is much worse - not remotely near the same league as the one we all know the name of.

Paul

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I think their organ software is very much in the course of development but they specialise in software that's small enough to run easily on a laptop, and it does, and perhaps their recordings don't yet do it justice. Arguably in contrast the piano software is really interesting and is even introducing pianists not only to historic tunings but historic instruments into the bargain. Last year I ran a seminar specifically on piano tuning http://hammerwood.mistral.co.uk/programmetuningseminar.pdf and the afternoon session started with a demonstration of the piano software - if anyone's interested

and in preparation for the seminar the ability to investigate different simulations of pianos and different temperaments was really helpful in guiding us towards how we were going to approach subjects at the seminar. It was a good tool. Specifically at https://youtu.be/s5cqS8ztMvY?t=598 is a direct demonstration of the Pianoteq simulation of an 1899 Bechstein contrasting with a real 1885 Bechstein. So much of the success of the success of the software depends on the nature of the keyboard in its physical simulation and the nature of the speakers. For the piano demonstration we were using Lowther TP1 speakers which did good justice to the electronic signal applied. 

(If anyone is interested to hear beyond the Pianoteq demonstration in publishing the video I was under instruction to disguise the voice of the Italian pianist which was an editing nightmare. https://youtu.be/18nzfGzdAD0 is an unedited recording of his explanations and demonstrations.)

The bottom line therefore is that such simulation facilities can be really important as an introduction for people without contact with real instruments into the development of an enthusiasm which can flourish in the real instrument world.

With the piano, my enthusiasm for tuning is for the reason of getting musicians to listen more to the sound that they are making, and to enable the music to communicate emotionally more. . . . and in that people will find relevance more with the classical repertoire.

With organs the music is speaking with so much more variety, both of instrument and its acoustical context that perhaps tuning is less part of that overwhelming awe that the organ and its repertoire can bring. . . .

or more conventionally

 

But these instruments are a world away from one's average parish church . . . 

Best wishes

David P

 

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19 minutes ago, David Pinnegar said:

With organs the music is speaking with so much more variety, both of instrument and its acoustical context that perhaps tuning is less part of that overwhelming awe that the organ and its repertoire can bring. . . .

I'm not sure about that (re tuning), as the difference between equal and historic tunings is so much more apparent on organs, with their held tones, than on pianos, with their dying tones and greater amount of inharmonic sounds.  This is presumably the reason that unequal tunings persisted in the organ world longer than anywhere else.

But maybe you just meant that the sonic effect of the organ is such as to distract from such considerations till they are pointed out, which may also be true.

Paul

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1 hour ago, pwhodges said:

But maybe you just meant that the sonic effect of the organ is such as to distract from such considerations till they are pointed out, which may also be true.

Yes. Quite. The instrument itself, tonal variety, and acoustic may be so overwhelming that other more subtle qualities don't hit one in the face.

I was trying to find a YouTube video of one of these 18th century instruments which added piquancy to the mix of awe. Possibly it's audible in the Bach D minor at St Maximin 

where some aspect of the sound has excited comments of the right sort, but was looking for something less "in-yer-face". Certainly here it's the instrument and the acoustic that overwhelms although there's an added something. Perhaps https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuW0Ik9H5TQ more pedantically but still to raise hairs on one's back. Perhaps https://youtu.be/P0-5e8qNzYk?t=631 might be that ingredient where the sound might not be so special but the tuning makes it so.

Apologies for a St Maximin bias but the instrument has qualities which provide interesting examples.

Best wishes

David P

 

 

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With the recent proclamations from the Church Of England https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/church-of-england-sex-is-for-married-straight-couples-only-vl60czphl the organisation appears to be one in the throws of death, trying to cling on to any mantras as mere flotsam on the waves in mistake for anchors.

With the death of the Church what future for organs? In my opinion any organisation leading to the understanding of the Creator and the beneficial influence that this can have on  people's lives needs to rethink itself away from the follies of blind interpretation. As religious discussion as such is inappropriate here I've written more about where such thoughts might take us on https://www.organmatters.com/index.php/topic,2307.msg10190/ as "The death knell of the Church of England and its organs" with thoughts that have been inspired by wise organists in the past. In my opinion religious discussion is really starting to be vital now as the instrument and the context in which it has its origins cannot be separated healthily. And currently the instrument is not in a healthy place. As people from outside the organisation we can voice ideas heretical within and through potential development of thought might possibly bring about some useful influence. Religious discussion on the outside is in my opinion vital and particularly necessary if not possible within. 

In 2011 I met John Mander at the conference in Zurich about the future of the pipe organ https://www.zhdk.ch/file/live/b2/b25444cdad0ca154bab33959608a50d0f6fe9ac3/orgel2011_programmheft_en.pdf and in my opinion the future of the instrument isn't in the debate between pipes and electronic, http://www.pykett.org.uk/statusoforgan.htm, but the raison d'etre supplied by the religion itself which spawned the instrument in the first place. Since 2011 the position appears to have been made worse by what appears to be the wilful misunderstanding of fundamentals and resulting self destruction by the Church of England. Some serious rethinks might be beneficial.

Best wishes

David P 

 

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Did the church spawn the instrument?
I think not!
Just like the "populist church" of today, the early Christians rejected culture and anything to do with it. 
My understanding is, that the organ left the former Roman Empire, and ended up in the Muslim world. Wasn't an organ installed in the palace of the Emperor Suliman?
For whatever reason, it then came back west, and formed the basis of early church music; though in quite a subdued way, and often little more than a positive organ.

Things didn't really get going until the reformation, and even then, the puritans managed to destroy and delay things.

Surely, the installation of organs co-incided with the age of Handel and the new choral tradition of oratorio singing?

That got bigger and better with Mendelssohn, which suggests that big church and concert hall organs really came into their own during the 19th century.  The names of Wm Hill and Dr Gauntlett must be in there somewhere.

Meanwhile.....in Europe.......they were streets ahead!

 

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I took this from Wikipedia.  It seems that the Sultan's organ was a mechanical clock thingy, and Thomas Dallam had a hand in it. It doesn't look as if the Emperor Suleiman was involved, but then, my history of the Ottoman Empire is probably sub-O-level .
==============
In 1599, the fourth year of Mehmed III's reign, Queen Elizabeth I sent a convoy of gifts to the Ottoman court. These gifts were originally intended for the sultan's predecessor, Murad III, who had died before they had arrived. Included in these gifts was a large jewel-studded clockwork organ that was assembled on the slope of the Royal Private Garden by a team of engineers including Thomas Dallam. The organ took many weeks to complete and featured dancing sculptures such as a flock of blackbirds that sung and shook their wings at the end of the music.[12][13] The musical clock organ was destroyed by the succeeding Sultan Ahmed I.

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Well the organ on a wider basis . . . . but the English organ in particular  . . . so there's room for manoeuvre.

As for other organs being streets ahead, yes - the processional organs of Spain to be carted around the streets deafening everyone such as http://www.atmos.cat/perl?num=1444774635 in Catalunya.

Perhaps here we're referring to pipe organs of greater complexity than mere 4 rank barrel organs 

The larger examples of the instrument and its repertoire is intimately connected with ecclesia. 

Best wishes

David P

 

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I understand and accept the wider point, but I can be such a pedant.
The realisation struck me, after writing about all this, that it was the reformation which allowed the organ to flourish and prosper in places like Germany and the Netherlands, but at the same time, it held back English developments for quite some time. We can go in search of "ye olde British organ" and not find a terrible lot, until Father Smith came along. No wonder we didn't really develop a  terribly significant era of organs and organ music until the 19th century.

Doesn't that tell us something about the nature of the churches....most if not all of them?

The Dutch, with characteristic intelligence, may have been restricted by Calvanism, but there was nothing wrong about the organ, so long as it wasn't used to accompany divine worship.  Hence, the famous Bavo-orgel in Haarlem, was the property of the town rather than the church, and I'm not sure if that isn't still the case.

As for the poor old C-of-E, it really does seem to be in its death-throes, but why doesn't that surprise me?

I recall, as a mere sixteen-year-old, contemplating the meaning of everything. Even then, back in the 1960's, I could see populism creeping into worship and serious thinking being side-lined. The consequence of that, was a church, which itself, got sidelined and largely ignored. Any respect or power that the churches may have had, seemed to evaporate very quickly, and the response was ever more populism, trendy tunes and lightweight thinking. Still, neither iconoclastic rhetoric nor trendy "newspaper" style presentation, could ever kill the core of meaningful religion, based on love, forgiveness, tolerance and understanding.  I blame Jesus, who started all this nonsense in the first place!

I think I largely rejected organised religion at a very early age, but the music was good.

Now I just regard it as an irrelevance for the most part, yet from time to time, I come across something special; like the good people of one parish I know, where they help to feed and support some of the poorest families in one of the poorest areas.

They certainly wouldn't be sending out proclamations of Victorian morality based on rejection, ignorance and exclusion, yet they are still a small part of the C-of-E.....a tiny part even......but they are the voices crying in the wilderness.

 

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I agree with much of what has been said before. As most of our organs are in churches, a lot hinges on the future of the church. Without getting into a debate about the future of the church I would like to focus on a few practical aspects that make it difficult for the development of new organists and new people that appreciate listening to the organ.

Unfortunately the majority of organs are in churches and many churches are now locked making it difficult for anyone other than the regular organist to get in and play. And when they are open, practice opportunities may be limited with excuses such as ‘this is a place of worship’. On top of this, safeguarding issues add further stumbling blocks making it very difficult in some cases for young people to learn and practice in a church environment.

Having said that, I think the organ (and the church) can still have a future, but this is reliant on all parties (church, clergy, organists & worshipers) wanting to make their building and its resources the centre of their community.

My questions to all fellow forumites are as follows: Other than by having lessons (usually not cheap), how easy is it for someone to get practice time on your usual instruments either on a regular or occasional basis? How do we work together with the owners of our instruments to make the organ accessible for learners as well as well as listeners?
 

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11 minutes ago, Choir Man said:

My questions to all fellow forumites are as follows: Other than by having lessons (usually not cheap), how easy is it for someone to get practice time on your usual instruments either on a regular or occasional basis? How do we work together with the owners of our instruments to make the organ accessible for learners as well as well as listeners?

 

Both my church and I are happy for the organ to be used more or less any time. However it's easy for us as it is a semi-rural church which is open all the time and rarely anyone else there.

There's only been about 4 'learners' used it in the 30 years I've been there though.

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2 hours ago, Choir Man said:

My questions to all fellow forumites are as follows: Other than by having lessons (usually not cheap), how easy is it for someone to get practice time on your usual instruments either on a regular or occasional basis? How do we work together with the owners of our instruments to make the organ accessible for learners as well as well as listeners?

This question was answered some time ago, by somebody else! I seem to remember with much the same tenor as below!

As far as practice is concerned, it is far more difficult nowadays than it used to be. I can remember, after Morning Service, being left to my own devices, and being told to 'drop the latch' on my way out and to 'make sure I had switched off'!! I can't see that happening nowadays - safeguarding, insurance etc! I served a short sentence in a city centre church in a major city. The difficulties of getting into the building as a member of staff were huge because of unwanted attentions of people in the area. A youngster wanting to practice there would have stood no chance of access. The issue of noise, of course, is a problem, too, in churches where access isn't a problem - vergers, flower people, those manning bookstalls etc. need to have consideration shown towards them.

And then there are those who fiercely guard their instrument (it's not 'theirs' by the way!) against all invaders adopting a patronising, superior and high-handed attitude to any request for access.  (Back to the organist and terrorist!!!) I'm afraid, in my experience, there is quite a lot of this and, for some things, but given a more sympathetic approach, I can, slightly, understand a reluctance to allow access!

I'd be willing to bet that the majority of students of the organ in our Universities and Conservatoires began their lives in the 'Public school' sector where they did have access to an instrument for practice. A youngster in a city Comprehensive (or whatever they are called these days!) has real obstacles to overcome.   

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