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Organs of Cambridge


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It's good to be back on the forum after such a hiatus! I hope everyone is well.

I was wondering what the honourable members of this forum thought about the organs at the following Cambridge colleges? 

1. Christ's College

2. Emmanuel College

3. Pembroke College

4. Selwyn College

5. Peterhouse College

6. Corpus Christi College

Thank you very much!

Regards,

 

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I can't answer your question, I'm not an organist but I did read Music at Cambridge - a long time ago! NPOR is out of date, I think, for nearly, if not all of the above colleges. 

I wonder why you are enquiring - perhaps thinking of applying for an Organ Scholarship? (Have  got the right person?) Are those the colleges were there are vacancies this year?  What has influenced your list? I think that is the most important question.  All the colleges on the list are around the same size although Pembroke is twice the size of Peterhouse, the smallest and oldest Cambridge, in student  undergraduate and graduates. Are you planning to read music? 

Sorry - perhaps that's not the answer you were hoping for!! And perhaps I've got hold of the wrong end of the proverbial stick!!

I'll send you a private message.

Welcome back by the way!!!

  

 

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Hello S_L,

I am indeed considering the Oxbridge organ scholar route! This is the list I've arrived at after eliminating 3 or so from this year's vacancies. 

In an ideal world where I possess organ-playing superpowers, I would've applied to (dare I say) King's or Gonville & Caius. However, in reality, I am neither naturally talented at the organ, nor do I have the necessary experience on the organ (I won't be taking a gap year at a cathedral or anything along those lines), so I decided to choose the colleges with a fairly light workload. 

I am hoping to read History or History & Modern Languages. 🙂 

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I am a very slight organist, ‘at the coalface’ in BCP Matins and Evensong in country churches pre-Covid.  However, I have played the Kenneth Jones organ in the chapel of Emmanuel College, and was greatly impressed.  

Emmanuel College is a very friendly place, or rather that was my experience as a guest there.  NPOR N09198 is, I think, fully up to date.  I don’t think there is very much, if any, surviving Hill Norman and Beard pipework.  This was effectively a new organ in 1988 inserted into a late 17th century case.  It has feather-light mechanical key actions, and so a good discipline for accurate playing!  The lovely Chapel is by Christopher Wren and has a warm acoustic. Pay a visit there and see what you think.

In due course please let us know where you go.

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Initially answering your question in a way which is no help at all to your context! I knew the last but one organ from Selwyn well in its new location post 1990. It is now in Younger Hall St Andrews University. It is a 1975 Harrison. It had a really awkward tracker action on it initially. The keyboards bounced up and down when you played and you had to hit the notes very firmly from above. To date its great is the only keyboard that has drawn my blood! When the organ was reassembled it needed a modification to the swell key action to avoid an obstacle at the back of the chamber it pushes back into. Sandy Edmonstone replaced the sw action, which then turned out much more refined than the great even though with longer more complex runs. The great and pedal actions were renewed based on this revelation and it  became a responsive instrument. The voicing is a bit harsh, being low pressure un-nicked and the reeds were unpleasant but have since been replaced. I believe Harrison were not in their comfort zone with it at the time of building. A very good value result for what it cost to acquire and rebuild. Too small for its venue though can just about lead a full house on full organ, but a good practice instrument in an empty hall.

A second point would be to suggest you also consider St Andrews, as a plan B perhaps. 30 years since I left but last time I was aware languages and history were strong departments. There is no music department which can give a non specialist less competition! There are three, soon to be four I believe, pipe organs. There are two chapels and a good choir with choral and organ scholarships. The Hradetzky 4/40 isn’t to everyone’s taste but it certainly takes no prisoners when it comes to technique so is a great learning experience whatever you think of it. There is small Walker in the second chapel an Andrew Pennells era  2/9 which is very responsive and a delight. I’ve mentioned the third already. The fourth is a historic Lewis recently acquired, to be (perhaps it has already been) installed by Willis to a new concert hall.

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Welcome back! I wouldn't make this choice all about the organ but think about who you might get to work with and what the opportunities are at the different colleges. Quite a lot of the best ex-Oxbridge organists around over the last 50/60 years played fairly humble instruments whilst at university. 

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1 hour ago, Martin Cooke said:

Welcome back! I wouldn't make this choice all about the organ but think about who you might get to work with and what the opportunities are at the different colleges. Quite a lot of the best ex-Oxbridge organists around over the last 50/60 years played fairly humble instruments whilst at university. 

As always Martin - spot on!!

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Since information seems slow to be added to this thread, I'll fill in what I can, even though you've picked a lot of organs I never saw when I was up.

The Bishop at Christ's didn't have a fantastic reputation but looks OK on paper (no swell though!); I vaguely recall there are plans to replace it.  The choir had a good reputation but I never heard them.

I would agree with all previous comments about Emma.

Pembroke is a marmite organ.  I loved it on the basis of playing it occasionally, but it took no prisoners, was limiting (no swell again) and there was a fearsome fellow of the college who hated it being used for practice as his room was just around the corner from the organ loft!  Pembroke choir had a reputation for being fun and friendly in my day, but that was a while ago!

Selwyn organ has been replaced since my day so can't comment.

Peterhouse's organ is due to be replaced with a slighly crazy scheme for Klais and Flentrop to collaborate on a new/old organ with two actions and two consoles, currently stuck at design stage - see https://www.pet.cam.ac.uk/organ

Corpus is a biggish 3-man mander with (i believe) EP action from the 1960s.  I've rehearsed in the chapel loads but never heard the organ being used, or indeed heard anyone saying anything about it, good or bad.

HTH a bit.  Others will hopefully be along to provide more detailed / up to date info for you.

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Thank you very much all for the insightful replies!

I have been trying to get an idea on everything really. As in-person visitations have been cancelled, I am trying to be as well unformed as I can be.

I look forward to any other additional replies that may come through and I thank you all!

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6 hours ago, SomeChap said:

Peterhouse's organ is due to be replaced with a slighly crazy scheme for Klais and Flentrop to collaborate on a new/old organ with two actions and two consoles, currently stuck at design stage - see https://www.pet.cam.ac.uk/organ

I see that it's a Snetzler organ (or was!).  I really hope that as much original material as possible is kept and in use.

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You may want to keep a close eye on Peterhouse as they are due to 'rebuild' their organ sometime soon and are fundraising for it. It sounds an 'interesting' project. 

In the meantime, I am sure you are practising assiduously for your audition! Many years ago, at James Lancelot's audition at King's with Sir David Willcocks, he was required to improvise with a right hand solo on the Nazard transposing down a twelfth, and sight read Brahms' Schmücke dich  with the treble part played on the pedals on a 4 ft reed, amongst other things! Heck!

But I repeat what I said before - that you should look at the people you will be working with and try to get a feel for what the choir gets up to especially if tours, recordings, visits to cathedrals etc all become possible again soon. I am sure you are getting good advice from school. 

 

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ps I should have said more about Selwyn: The chapel is biggish by Oxbridge standards (Victorian) but has rather dry acoustics; the choir is very good (is Sarah Macdonald still DoM?). More generally it's a lovely college in spacious leafy grounds on west road not far from the history faculty, far enough from town centre to have its own atmosphere but by no means isolated.  I know nothing of the new organ as I said, but the Letourneau in Pembroke Oxford is excellent IMO, so it might be good?

There was nothing as abstract as improvising on a Nazard at any of my numerous Oxbridge auditions.  I didn't apply for Kings or Johns!

Fingers crossed we'll be back to normal in the next year or so!

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Corpus does indeed have a 3-manual Mander, installed in 1968, and dedicated during my first term as an undergraduate there. It has EP action because the physical proportions of the organ gallery were such that it was deemed impossible to fit a three-manual tracker instrument in.   The organ was funded by a single large bequest from an alumnus, who stipulated that it had to be spent on the Chapel.  The Chapel didn't "need" much spent on it, being well maintained and fit-for-purpose, but the organ was second rate, and the decision was made to replace it with the Mander.  Money was not an issue - except to the extent that it proved difficult to spend all that was available! The answer to that was pure tin front pipes, a handsome new organ case, and..a zimbelstern.   The principal organ consultant was John Dykes Bower (a former organ scholar), whose brother Stephen designed the case.

 

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6 hours ago, Robert Bowles said:

Corpus does indeed have a 3-manual Mander, installed in 1968, and dedicated during my first term as an undergraduate there. It has EP action because the physical proportions of the organ gallery were such that it was deemed impossible to fit a three-manual tracker instrument in.   The organ was funded by a single large bequest from an alumnus, who stipulated that it had to be spent on the Chapel.  The Chapel didn't "need" much spent on it, being well maintained and fit-for-purpose, but the organ was second rate, and the decision was made to replace it with the Mander.  Money was not an issue - except to the extent that it proved difficult to spend all that was available! The answer to that was pure tin front pipes, a handsome new organ case, and..a zimbelstern.   The principal organ consultant was John Dykes Bower (a former organ scholar), whose brother Stephen designed the case.

 

TWO Zimbelsterns, I think! 

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7 hours ago, handsoff said:

Is not the traditional replacement for a broken fan belt a ladies' stocking? 🤯

Maybe but I'm not going there and anyway, it is high up in the case and I can't reach it!

The organ is in remarkably good fettle and sounds good - some of the stops are a little dated (Pedal 16ft reed is quite unpleasant) - but tunes up well. The one problem that I have is finding the great mixture and odd pedal upperwork pipes out of their holes because the college electricians have to climb into the instrument to change the striplights which surround the blacked out west window.....

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I did my organ trials at Corpus in 1983...I always had a soft spot for the organ after that, despite its faults, and ended up running the chapel music (just for a year) a few years back. Beautfiul college.

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