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New organ for Charterhouse school


DariusB
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It's with the greatest regret that this news has arrived. 

The Harrison and Harrison at Charterhouse School is extremely special.
- It's in all essence and important respects unaltered since it was built in 1927 but out of fashion. It's very English of its time.
- It's positioned in one of the most enviable of ideal organ acoustics.
- The chapel wasn't merely a chapel for a school but was the largest War Memorial in the country for the soldiers who fell in the 1st World War and was to incorporate memorials for those in the 2nd.
- The instrument was the aural inspiration for so many who went off to that war and to whom now our generations owe their freedoms. We owe it to our future to preserve the heritage.
- As a school instrument serving 700 on a daily basis 6 days a week since 1927 the instrument has inspired more people than any cathedral instrument in existence.

For these reasons the organ should be recognised in importance, and not destroyed.

One wonders what efforts might have been made to give consideration to its preservation in situ and as to whether perhaps a second West End instrument might be installed of a different style but so as to preserve the original organ.

Rather than it being destroyed "preserving three ranks" might those responsible for having taken part in the decision making process, be persuaded to change their minds?

If destruction really is to be considered appropriate might it be made available whole for preservation elsewhere? Perhaps might the Virtual Organ community might be allowed to sample it?

This https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPW2WKq0IGU
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIl-LRafVO4

is how the instrument sounds and how versatile it is capable of being.

A decade ago John Mander contributed to the Zurich Resolution https://www.organmatters.com/index.php/topic,904.0.html and the proceedings https://www.organmatters.com/index.php/board,40.0.html set out many principles for preservation and forward direction. The destruction of the Charterhouse instrument goes against all principles of conservation which have developed in most other preservation disciplines.

Best wishes

David P

 

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Without any knowledge of the existing organ, it's not possible to exercise any judgement on this matter just on principle alone, but as soon as I saw the announcement and read that three ranks from an H&H organ were the only ones thought worthy for inclusion in a new instrument, I realised there would be a lively debate, and this can be seen on the British Pipe Organs facebook site.

It seems to me that there are bound to be exceptions to every rule and there must surely be instruments by our best organ builders that are not as good as others, for reasons of available finance at the time, alone, I assume.

[As an aside, if funds had been available at the time, would Father Willis have put a small 32ft reed on the Truro organ? Or perhaps it was a space issue? But if funds were available next time the organ was 're-done' and space could be found, I know it would be regarded as anathema to proceed with the addition. But why?!]

To me, the Charterhouse organ, as demonstrated in the first of the films that David has linked, sounds jolly good, but I am conscious that I am listening to it on laptop speakers, and I have never heard it in the flesh. With all the plaudits ascribed to the recent rebuilds by H&H at York and Canterbury, one cannot help wondering what a scheme by H&H to 'improve' the instrument would have looked like. But, if it genuinely isn't an example of the best work of that firm at the time, and bearing in mind that those who use the instrument on a daily basis will understand its shortcomings better than any, I would hate a school or church to be hamstrung in what it can do. However, David's point about preserving the whole existing organ for use elsewhere is a good one, even though I struggle to wonder who is going to want it? Can we imagine it going to Sheffield Cathedral, St John's Cambridge, Magdalen College chapel, St Bartholomew the Great, Devizes Parish Church... all of whom are without pipe organs or are seeking to change instruments? 

Leaving aside the Charterhouse matter entirely now, and looking more at the whole business of organ preservation, we are all going to have to be much more discerning about which instruments are worthy of preservation. There are simply far too many organs under threat, and they cannot possibly be saved unless the people who want them saved are willing to pay, and eventually, to house them, as more and more church buildings close. And those organs that remain need to be as versatile as possible so that organists, including young organists, want to play and learn on them, so that (dwindling) congregations may gain a new appreciation of them. 

Of course we should preserve the very best, but not every organ is the very best and was never going to be, and trying to persuade people that an organ is a 'fine organ' - (a careworn phrase if ever there was one) - just because it has pipes, is just bonkers. And, of course, some brand new and very expensive pipe organs can prove to be a disaster, or in some way unsuitable, from the start! 

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1 hour ago, Martin Cooke said:

It seems to me that there are bound to be exceptions to every rule and there must surely be instruments by our best organ builders that are not as good as others, for reasons of available finance at the time, alone, I assume.

. . .  But, if it genuinely isn't an example of the best work of that firm at the time, and bearing in mind that those who use the instrument on a daily basis will understand its shortcomings better than any, I would hate a school or church to be hamstrung in what it can do.

I do assure you - over knowing it for near five decades, and having learned on it with teachers who knew it, understood it, the instrument is superb . In my long experience of organs few compare and most with which I've had direct experience disappoint in comparison. The instrument reaches parts that others can only aspire to. The old saying that a bad workman blames . . . . might be apt.

There is no question that of its genre the instrument is the tops. There is no question that any organist of 50 year ago would have said so. 

As a War Memorial and a most splendid one at that, the instrument contains the voices of the many who died in the 2nd World War and any who destroy will in the future be haunted by them.

As an aside as to where orphaned organs go, Malta will be one day recognised as a site of World Heritage.

Best wishes

David P

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9 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

I realise you are deeply dismayed, frustrated and disappointed by all of this, David.

Yes. Very much so. 

In fact the instrument was so inspirational that it provided the inspiration behind John Pilling who founded Makin to attempt to model his electronic reproductions. Copying is the best form flattery . . . 

For many it represents the epitome of the best of the English Organ.

Why should we destroy our English tradition of sound merely to embrace copies of the French?

Copying is what electronics can be very good at. Perhaps others might see the value of preserving our English originals.

Best wishes

David P

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  • 2 weeks later...
 
demonstrate well what this instrument is all about.
 
As for the instrument being too loud . . . it can't compete with 700 young people and full orchestra. These sounds must be of the most magnificent of any.
 
It is of an enormous loss to the organ and musical world, and a loss to our British musical heritage.
 
It exemplifies why there should be a conservation Code of Conduct for organ builders to ensure that organs are not wilfully destroyed and people be encouraged to keep such instruments in place. The organ conservation world lags behind almost every other area of conservation and ICOMOS specifically values nowadays what is known as "intangible" heritage - which includes the sound of a place. This organ is intrinsic to the sound of its place.
 
Best wishes
 
David P
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In terms of code of conduct, that'd be more one for the custodians and interested groups such as us / BIOS / diocesan organ advisors (though this is probably a private institution), etc? If an organ builder declines a contract then, being a commercial organisation, the same or similar work would more often than not go to another. In this case if H&H declined, wouldn't Nicholson or someone else have got the deal?

This situation does look like a decision based on fashion or the musical preferences of the players. If a player is frustrated with the style of an instrument that peers rate highly then surely the player should tolerate or move somewhere else with an instrument more suited to their repertoire or musical aspirations? 

Sounds like this one is all too late but if not has anyone approached the possibility of a formal letter to the governors of the school from BIOS? Even if too late, a realisation that they didn't need to spend so much money as they've been led to believe could cause some interest. So often a case for work is presented as if there is only one viable option.

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3 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

In terms of code of conduct, that'd be more one for the custodians and interested groups such as us / BIOS / diocesan organ advisors (though this is probably a private institution), etc? If an organ builder declines a contract then, being a commercial organisation, the same or similar work would more often than not go to another. In this case if H&H declined, wouldn't Nicholson or someone else have got the deal?

This situation does look like a decision based on fashion or the musical preferences of the players. If a player is frustrated with the style of an instrument that peers rate highly then surely the player should tolerate or move somewhere else with an instrument more suited to their repertoire or musical aspirations? 

Sounds like this one is all too late but if not has anyone approached the possibility of a formal letter to the governors of the school from BIOS? Even if too late, a realisation that they didn't need to spend so much money as they've been led to believe could cause some interest. So often a case for work is presented as if there is only one viable option.

Why should anyone interfere with the decision that the school have made?  It is their property, it doesn't meet their present needs and they have chosen a replacement.  They don't have to justify their decision to anyone in BIOS, members of this board or anyone else who thinks they know better.

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2 hours ago, john carter said:

Why should anyone interfere with the decision that the school have made?  It is their property, it doesn't meet their present needs and they have chosen a replacement.  They don't have to justify their decision to anyone in BIOS, members of this board or anyone else who thinks they know better.

as guardians of artistically interesting and historic assets? Similar to if they chose to melt down a Henry Moore and mould into something else or demolished a listed building - those would get public interest?

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11 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

as guardians of artistically interesting and historic assets? Similar to if they chose to melt down a Henry Moore and mould into something else or demolished a listed building - those would get public interest?

 

So who decides what is artistically interesting - or an historic asset? And I don't think it's the same as a Henry Moore sculpture but perhaps a listed building has some similarities. The instrument has a job of work to do, the listed building might as well but the Henry Moore is only a thing of beauty or not, depending on your point of view! If the organ can't do the job of work that is needed of it then, perhaps, it's time for a change of some kind.

How drastic a change will, of course, be a matter of discussion. I would suggest, as I have often done before on this forum, that those who work with the instrument day by day, know what they expect of it and they work in the building that it is located, and should be, along with an independent advisor, the decision makers. Of course the specification of the new instrument hasn't been released yet - which, we all know, will lead to more discussion - even argument!

I'm not quite sure I would have been quite so blunt as John Carter - but I do think I agree with him!!

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5 hours ago, OwenTurner said:

as guardians of artistically interesting and historic assets? Similar to if they chose to melt down a Henry Moore and mould into something else or demolished a listed building - those would get public interest?

I suspect that such historically important organs as the Charterhouse instrument, were they in certain other countries such as Holland and Germany, might be protected as national assets.

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It's good that this issue is generating debate, the issues are both musically and historically complex and clearly motivational. Is all art worth saving because it is art? What is an organ conceptually and where does the balance of prevailing argument lie? My own sense is that the school is served by intelligent professionals who have, I would suspect, debated these very same issues before agreeing to spend large sums of money with some knowledge of the words that may utter forth from people on the subject. They have their reasons and a right to express them in the manner they have chosen to do. My only concern is that the instrument should have remained whole and been transplanted as an entity which it clearly is.

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Mr Carter’s argument (what’s mine is mine and I will do what I like with it) has been known as the ‘Vicar of Tewkesbury’s Defence’ since the 1850s, and even then, it didn’t stand up. The ‘job of work’ argument doesn’t work very well either. An organ is not just a bucket, it’s a work of art (or not) and  a monument as well as a tool. Denmark has practically no old organs, because in the C19 and C20 they had lots of money and perceived the old organs as incapable of doing the ‘job’. Spain and Portugal have lots of old organs. For at least a hundred years or so, and to some extent even now, they are completely irrelevant to the purpose for which they were designed. 

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I don't want to concentrate specifically on the Charterhouse organ, but to reflect on what the 'value' of any organ is and what the term might mean.  The latter might have some relevance to the former though.

In simple monetary terms pipe organs have little value, bearing no relation to what they might have cost.  This would be illustrated if, hypothetically, one put up for auction a brand new organ that had just been installed at a cost running into the seven figures.  It is inconceivable that one would be able to recover anything like the cost price even if it sold at all.  Similarly, if the organ were older, even though it might be musically and historically significant, it would still sell for only a trifle of the cost of building a modern replica.  Yet for a Faberge egg, a Rembrandt or a Stradivarius, the sale price in each case would be astronomical.  Moreover, they would sell as soon as the auction began and it would be difficult even to join the frantic bidding.

Why is there this difference, considering that all the items mentioned are rare, unique, works of art?  Reasons probably include the sheer size of organs, the difficulty of identifying a new venue, the cost of transporting them thither, re-erection costs, and the financial burden of maintenance over an indefinite period.  So if they have little intrinsic value, perhaps it is unsurprising that they are sometimes disposed of so wantonly (though I'm not implying 'wanton-ness' applies in any way to the Charterhouse situation as I said at the outset).  The value of anything, regardless of how you measure it, is largely in the eye of the beholder, and it seems that organs fall way down the list.  Protecting them by statute does not really solve the problem because it merely brings them even closer to the museum status which the instrument is, regrettably, sliding towards under its own steam as we speak.  It's an even more curious situation because not only are organs different to other works of art, they are also different to commodity items such as cars which populate a vigorous pre-owned marketplace.  They seem to exist in a value-limbo of their own.  The explanation can only be one based on market forces - that only relatively few people want pipe organs.  Thus a vast difference between cost and resale value arises the moment an instrument is purchased, and I'd like to see how an accountant would handle the precipitous depreciation curve if the organ were a business asset!

As I and others have said before to the point of becoming boring, the situation is not disconnected from the closeness of the organ to another institution which seems to be fading away - the church.  Unfortunately the two are inextricably linked, because it is only the church which can house the majority of them and which (in the past) was able to buy and maintain them on a large scale.  So it is not easy to see how severing the link could be done in practice, at least on the scale necessary to save more than a small minority of instruments.

Added to all this is that digital organs are waiting in the wings to plug the gaps left by near-valueless pipe organs.  Despite the advertising puffery, nobody with any integrity could argue that they are as good.  That misses the point.  The real point is that digital organs are seen as good enough by many purchasers.  The difference is significant and that is why they sell.

 

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Nail on the head, Colin. Unless I missed it, the other issue with organs is that, unlike Faberge eggs or works by famous masters, is that there are so many of them! They are also very poorly understood by the populace. Old ones that need saving, even if they are quality instruments are often filthy dirty, and have been mistreated so that even if they began life looking like a work of art, by the time numerous drawing pins have been poked into them, ghastly light fittings have been clumsily screwed to them, their consoles have been covered with all sorts of musical detritus by the people who claim to love them most, they look anything but and, in some cases, and they have been poorly maintained and don't work properly We HAVE to sort the sheep from the goats if the right instruments are to be saved at all, and there just is very little hope of that. I do think organs could to some degree play a part in helping people find an interest in church, but it has to be the right organ and the right organist.

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On 04/02/2022 at 07:35, ptindall said:

The ‘job of work’ argument doesn’t work very well either.  

I'm sorry, I don't see an organ as a work of art (the case maybe!). It's a musical instrument that has to do a job.  And when it can't do the job then it is time to replace, repair or get rid!

Some forumites know that i am not a first study organist. I had a life before this. In my previous existence I owned a rather beautiful 'cello. It dated from the late 18th century, was slightly less than full size but it had a slightly too short fingerboard. Getting 'up into the gods' was difficult and it wasn't powerful enough to play, for instance, the Dvorak concerto, with an orchestra. It had to go and I spent the next 30 years with a bigger, more powerful instrument. Both were beautiful instruments, both were worth a fortune but my reputation rested on the instrument being able to do what was required of it.

What is it about organs that makes them so special? Is the instrument in question that important in the great scheme of musical things? Is it untouched Arthur Harrison? - or has it had several additions, replacements, etc. since it was built?

I don't know the answer - but I do know that, once the scheme is released there will be further discussion about the specification etc. 

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Another recording of this instrument, is on

here being played by the late Robin Wells, and the orchestra conducted by the late Bill Llewellyn. That recording is testament to their opinion of the instrument at the time.

The instrument here isn't your normal sort of musical commodity like a Steinway in a concert hall nor a teaching instrument in a practice room, but the sonic backdrop in  1927 to the building constructed, I believe, as the largest War Memorial in the world. Those hearing its greatness in the following decade went off to fight Hitler to achieve the freedoms that we now take for granted, and were willing to die to defend them. Those who followed, the instrument has inspired. Grandeur, and the determination of the school's ethos "Deo Dante Dedi" make this instrument an intrinsic part of the building, of the heritage and of memory. 

For this reason normal arguments which may well have their place elsewhere do not apply here. 

Were this instrument a matter of serving a concert hall, or a cathedral, where an instrument is there to do its job, I'd bow to pragmatic arguments about repertoire and function and whatever opinions there might be about the needs of an instrument to perform duties. But the duty of a War Memorial is that of memory, and that purpose is sacrosanct. The instrument is of its building and of its time.

Were any stone-mason be under instruction to remove the pediment of the Parthenon and change the columns from Doric to Corinthian what might people say about both those instructing the mason and the mason himself?

Those responsible for the care of a War Memorial or any other part of our Heritage might "own" the site as a matter of technicality but in practice they are curators and caretakers for the future generations that they themselves might benefit from that heritage. The Firman given by the Turkish occupiers to Lord Elgin to remove the Parthenon Frieze has not worn well the test of time.

Best wishes

David P

 

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2 hours ago, David Pinnegar said:

The instrument here isn't your normal sort of musical commodity like a Steinway in a concert hall nor a teaching instrument in a practice room, but the sonic backdrop in  1927 to the building constructed, I believe, as the largest War Memorial in the world. Those hearing its greatness in the following decade went off to fight Hitler to achieve the freedoms that we now take for granted, and were willing to die to defend them. Those who followed, the instrument has inspired. Grandeur, and the determination of the school's ethos "Deo Dante Dedi" make this instrument an intrinsic part of the building, of the heritage and of memory. 

For this reason normal arguments which may well have their place elsewhere do not apply here. 

Were this instrument a matter of serving a concert hall, or a cathedral, where an instrument is there to do its job, I'd bow to pragmatic arguments about repertoire and function and whatever opinions there might be about the needs of an instrument to perform duties. But the duty of a War Memorial is that of memory, and that purpose is sacrosanct. The instrument is of its building and of its time.

Were any stone-mason be under instruction to remove the pediment of the Parthenon and change the columns from Doric to Corinthian what might people say about both those instructing the mason and the mason himself?

Those responsible for the care of a War Memorial or any other part of our Heritage might "own" the site as a matter of technicality but in practice they are curators and caretakers for the future generations that they themselves might benefit from that heritage. The Firman given by the Turkish occupiers to Lord Elgin to remove the Parthenon Frieze has not worn well the test of time.

Best wishes

David P

You might be surprised, but I don't disagree with a lot that you have written here.

However it's emotional stuff and I'm not sure emotional stuff always cuts ice!!! You write "Those hearing its greatness in the following decade went off to fight Hitler to achieve the freedoms that we now take for granted, and were willing to die to defend them." My mother was in SOE, and in France in 1944/45, so I know a little bit, albeit second-hand, about the fight against Hitler! Of course you could have written "Those sitting in chapel bored to death at listening to tedious organ music ............................... defend them."

Is the organ part of the War Memorial? or does it just exist within the War Memorial?

I've seen posts about this in other places. Presumably you have contacted the school, English Heritage, Commonwealth War Graves etc.

Tricky one - and I suspect it isn't going to go away without some metaphorical blood being shed!!!

 

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I haven't contacted others yet. The announcement was made only recently and to be blunt I suspect that those involved will only take notice with a clamour. A listed building application was made, but not publicised in any organ related circles of which I'm aware. 

https://planning360.waverley.gov.uk:4443/planning/search-applications?civica.query.FullTextSearch=charterhouse chapel#VIEW?RefType=GFPlanning&KeyNo=532894&KeyText=Subject

The Heritage Statement

https://planning360.waverley.gov.uk:4443/civica/Resource/Civica/Handler.ashx/Doc/pagestream?cd=inline&pdf=true&docno=8249103

makes no mention upon quick perusal of the instrinsic importance of the instrument as part of a War Memorial.

The Council's Consultant Conservation Adviser 

https://planning360.waverley.gov.uk:4443/civica/Resource/Civica/Handler.ashx/Doc/pagestream?cd=inline&pdf=true&docno=8270030

would have been visually trained and have no understanding of such musical matters. She notes 

Quote

Musically, the organ is designed and voiced according to the tastes of the Victorian and Edwardian eras and the needs of its church music.

but fails to make the connexion with those who are remembered perishing in the 1st World War and the music of certainty that this musical period represents, and thus the relevance of the sound of the organ to the War Memorial.

The organ is contemporary with the War Memorial and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott designed the organ case for it specifically for the building which he designed. 

The instrument is of the sort capable of giving not just another organ experience but raised hairs on one's back sort of excitement. As a player it inspired many organists and not just for its musical qualities. There are few instruments upon which upon drawing the Open Wood one can play pedal bottom C and C# together wondering if one might succeed in shaking the whole building down. Such excitement never happened but to today's generation of nightclub vibration-seeking youth this instrument retains relevance.

Apologies for emotion. The instrument inspires such.

A contact writes:

Quote

I live nearby and our choral society holds concerts there (usually in the Hall rather than the Chapel, but I have sung in that before. I know of several people who would be dismayed to hear of it’s demise!

The instrument means a lot to many people.

Best wishes

David P

 

 

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David Pinnegar’s lengthy comment appeared just as I was about to start this one.  I can’t answer any of the difficult questions but after looking at the Gilbert Scott family website - a mine of information with hundreds of photographs - all that can be said with certainty is that the organ is exactly contemporary with the building which was specifically dedicated as a war memorial by the Bishop of Winchester in the presence of senior military officers and others, and, as already noted, it is housed in two cases designed by the chapel architect Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.  That it was an entity with the building in 1927 is beyond doubt, but I would not venture to offer any opinion about its continuing status.  There are no clues on NPOR, e.g., as to specific donor(s).  Of course there may be other material and contemporary records, but I imagine that the school will have already considered the legal implications of ownership and any possible charity implications.  

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Whilst writing this, I loathe Facebook and the way Facebook groups encourage soundbites and echo chambers of friend bubbles leading to disjointment and confusion in any form of deeper considerations.

On the Facebook discussion James Atherton writes
 

Quote

But the die is cast. There will be a new organ. It isn't up for discussion, neither is it a decision anyone is ever going to reverse. 

Wanton destruction should be exactly why the Organ world is in need of a Conservation Code of Conduct.

On the facebook discussion mention has been made of novices poking their noses into where they are not wanted. It's very much a place where a lot of novices make a lot of noise as not one of any proffering expertise has picked up upon the one significant fault of the instrument. That fault is far from fatal but its omission from any of the considerations about the instrument demonstrates the level of expertise with which decisions have been taken regarding the instrument.

Best wishes

David P

 

 

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I can’t add anything really useful, but have a memory of hearing two teenagers play this organ - I fear it was last century - or possibly the very early years of this one * - and when writing up the event for an association newsletter, tipped both of them for future stardom.  One was Philip Scriven, but my memory is now playing tricks about the other - I thought it was Daniel Moult, but of that I cannot now be certain.

*  Having just checked Philip Scriven’s CV, this was definitely last century!

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I can see why this instrument means so much to many. However, ‘the die is cast’ and the chosen course seems irreversible.

I’m not interested in the views on the risible FB site, a veritable cess  pit of so-called opinion. It’s interesting that the builders do contribute there, in some detail and with polite language. But they shouldn’t be the ones having to defend the decision to replace the organ. The phrase ‘wanton destruction’ is not helpful here, it serves to perpetuate what has turned into a very polarised debate.

The idea of a Code of Conduct is very laudable but it would need real teeth to have any influence and I can’t see that would be the case.

The HOC scheme is an important register but remains only that, it’s perhaps a pity that it doesn’t really contain any clout.

The steady decline in attendees at CoE services, the elimination of many choirs and difficulty in recruiting are all major contributory factors. Mind you, the recent changes in recruiting girl choristers (St John’s College, Chichester and now Hereford) can only be a positive move.

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