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mrbouffant

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Just conversing with a dude on another forum about his wunderkind son. Mid-teens, organ scholar somewhere, but can't get through a setting of the canticles without needing a registrant.

 

Is this typical of the organ scholars of the modern age? Is a full 999-stage stepper, 64 channels of memory and 8 general pistons not enough?

 

Where will it all end? The youth of today etc.

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I suspect this is a two-pronged problem. On the one hand, organists are a dying breed; there are not so many learning these days. On the other, I may be wrong, but I think there are more organ scholarships available than there were thirty or forty years ago. (Can someone tell me how many cathedrals offered organ scholarships back in the 60s? They all seem to today.) At any rate, the butter is being spread on the bread much more thinly than used to be the case. I recently overheard a top organ scholar assuring a young hopeful that, so long as he had grade 8 ABRSM he was virtually assured an Oxbridge scholarship at one college or another.

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I should read the thread title before posting.

 

It has to be said that registrants have a long an noble history on the continent. JSB must have used one in his arrangement of the Vivaldi D minor concerto - there is surely no way the stop changes in the introduction could be effected by hand. (I believe the manuscript for this is an autograph.)

 

As for sequencers and steppers, I won't touch 'em. Even when they are behaving themselves they don't leave any room for cock-ups.

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I suspect this is a two-pronged problem. On the one hand, organists are a dying breed; there are not so many learning these days. On the other, I may be wrong, but I think there are more organ scholarships available than there were thirty or forty years ago. (Can someone tell me how many cathedrals offered organ scholarships back in the 60s? They all seem to today.)

 

 

Whilst I cannot speak for other places I know Chelmsford did not have one back in the 1960s, but then I do not know whether it has one now. What I do remember is that the local Grammar School had what was effectively a reserved teaching place for the Assistant/Sub organist, who by dint of his post was able to facilitate access by any of his pupils with the requisite ability. ( Inevitably they were overwhelmingly boys since the school was then completely single sex, which would be enough in itself to cause the practice to be frowned on now.) I suspect a similar arrangement prevailed in a number of other places, particularly in cathedrals without a choir school where the local grammar school served as a source of the majority of the boys. The demise of the grammar schools and the pressure on school budgets are both likely to have impacted on this cosy arrangement, but to what extent I do not know. I suspect that the rise in organ scholarships may be,at least in part, a response to a decline in the availability of "free labour" from the school sources just mentioned but I do not know this for a fact.

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I suppose organ scholars are the latter day equivalent of the articled pupil. I don't know much about the old system - the only time the term seems to crop up these days is when someone repeats that Howells was Brewer's articled pupil at Gloucester. I had wondered whether there was any direct continuity between the concepts of articled pupil and organ scholar. From what Brian says it sounds as if there may have been in a loose sort of way. I believe Rochester's current organ scholar came from the King's School.

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Guest Roffensis

I have often recruited a Registrand when rehearsing, only to ask him to leave well alone at the beginning of a recital! It's probably nerves more than anything. Even so, one thingalways strikes me..... having to have one eye on the watch for what an assistant is doing (or isn't, or is late, early etc). I find this can often be distracting during difficult pieces, and provided it is an organ I know well, I'll do the lot myself. The worst organ I have ever played was Parr Hall with no room behind the bench for anyone to pass from side to side. A veritable gem, but a nightmare to register. I have never used a Sequencer, but must confess to setting banks of Generals, but I still prefer to hand register, and this may be down to playing so many tracker organs in the past. I think modern organs are often bordering on gimmickry, and also it's a great challenge to do the lot yourself and then have someone come up to you after playing an original 1863 Willis with no pistons or anything bar six almost unworkable combination pedals and ask "how did you do that?". It's an extra bit of toffee. :blink:

 

Richard

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Whilst I cannot speak for other places I know Chelmsford did not have one back in the 1960s, but then I do not know whether it has one now. What I do remember is that the local Grammar School had what was effectively a reserved teaching place for the Assistant/Sub organist, who by dint of his post was able to facilitate access by any of  his pupils with the requisite ability. ( Inevitably  they were overwhelmingly boys since the school was then completely single sex, which would be enough in itself to cause the practice to be frowned on now.) I suspect a similar arrangement prevailed in a number of other places, particularly in cathedrals without a choir school where the local grammar school served as a source of the majority of the boys. The demise of the grammar schools and the pressure on school budgets are both likely to have impacted on this cosy arrangement, but to what extent I do not know. I suspect that the rise in organ scholarships may be,at least in part, a response to a decline in the availability of "free labour" from the school sources just mentioned but I do not know this for a fact.

 

Chelmsford does have an organ scholar - Lizzie Hayward - see below and click on music.

 

http://www.cathedral.chelmsford.anglican.org/blue1/home.htm

 

AJJ

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I have often recruited a Registrand when rehearsing, only to ask him to leave well alone at the beginning of a recital! It's probably nerves more than anything. Even so, one thingalways strikes me..... having to have one eye on the watch for what an assistant is doing (or isn't, or is late, early etc). I find this can often be distracting during difficult pieces, and provided it is an organ I know well, I'll do the lot myself. The worst organ I have ever played was Parr Hall with no room behind the bench for anyone to pass from side to side. A veritable gem, but a nightmare to register. I have never used a Sequencer, but must confess to setting banks of Generals, but I still prefer to hand register, and this may be down to playing so many tracker organs in the past. I think modern organs are often bordering on gimmickry, and also it's a great challenge to do the lot yourself and then have someone come up to you after playing an original 1863 Willis with no pistons or anything bar six almost unworkable combination pedals and ask "how did you do that?".  It's an extra bit of toffee. :huh:

 

Richard

 

But one of the bains of those lovely old Fr. Willis (let's say) organs with composition pedals and stops which come out about three miles is their lack of user friendliness when it comes to registration changes. Yes, it is possible to use the composition pedals and get stops in and out by pressing the closest to what you want and yanking stops out by hand or pushing them in from there using the compositionals as a general basis. Yes, people managed in the past, and yes, I suppose some people think those original consoles are lovely. Personally I'd like to put a match to the ugly old things or put them in a museum where they belong (they scare me and I find them very depressing to look at), we simply have better technology now for registration changes.

 

There is a case of a lovely three manual Hill organ which I know of. It has some wonderful voices but they are not easily available without the help of a registrant. I would not want to alter the look of the console in the case of that organ, but I'd defintely want at least a few general pistons on it to get the best from it and it's intermanual octave and sub octave couplers. By leaving the key action well alone, surely it would be possible to electrify the drawstop actions and leaving the original stop heads in place. Also it surely it would then be possible to fit a subtle and modest modern piston system?

 

To me the organ is a musical instrument, it's hard enough to play at the best of times, but there seem to be lots of people who want to keep cruddy stinky old consoles just for the sake of it. I'd rather have something comfortable, modern and easy to manipulate to make the experience enjoyable rather than miserable. :blink:

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Three-quarters of me agrees with you, Delvin, but as someone once pointed out, a lot of music was written with lack of registration aids and hand registration in mind and it would have had to be interpreted in a way that enabled the stop changes to sound natural. There are presumably implications here for speed, rubato and rhythmic flexibility. The point being made was that, with all the modern aids we have, we have perhaps lost an element of period performance practice. The writer was specifically thinking of Franck (you can't do it all with ventils), but it would be equally true of S. S. Wesley and hosts of others.

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Three-quarters of me agrees with you, Delvin, but as someone once pointed out, a lot of music was written with lack of registration aids and hand registration in mind and it would have had to be interpreted in a way that enabled the stop changes to sound natural. There are presumably implications here for speed, rubato and rhythmic flexibility. The point being made was that, with all the modern aids we have, we have perhaps lost an element of period performance practice. The writer was specifically thinking of Franck (you can't do it all with ventils), but it would be equally true of S. S. Wesley and hosts of others.

 

I take your point Vox, but who on earth would want to play Franck or S.S. Wesley? Even Henry Smart isn't all that easy with composition pedals alone

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I suppose organ scholars are the latter day equivalent of the articled pupil. I don't know much about the old system - the only time the term seems to crop up these days is when someone repeats that Howells was Brewer's articled pupil at Gloucester. I had wondered whether there was any direct continuity between the concepts of articled pupil and organ scholar. From what Brian says it sounds as if there may have been in a loose sort of way. I believe Rochester's current organ scholar came from the King's School.

 

VH is correct in saying that Rochester's current organ scholar is a pupil at the King's School. He has actually been organ scholar since "retiring" as a boy chorister four years ago, and has at least one more year with us. He is already playing the Dupré P&Fs, Duruflé Toccata, Arthur Wills' arrangement of Holst's "Jupiter"... etc (as well as all the standard repertory of service accompaniments at the drop of a hat). For his first "major" recital at the cathedral nearly 2 years ago, he played 5 of his 6 pieces from memory (including Parry's "Wanderer" F&F, Peter Eben's Moto Perpetuo, Reger...).

 

He is, however, the exception to the rule. All our previous organ scholars have been either gap-year students or post-grads since the Michael James Organ Scholarship was established in 1989. [Michael James was appointed Assistant Organist in 1981, but died before taking up the position. His parents established the Michael James Trust, which funds several positions in other places.]

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Guest Roffensis
But one of the bains of those lovely old Fr. Willis (let's say) organs with composition pedals and stops which come out about three miles is their lack of user friendliness when it comes to registration changes. Yes, it is possible to use the composition pedals and get stops in and out by pressing the closest to what you want and yanking stops out by hand or pushing them in from there using the compositionals as a general basis. Yes, people managed in the past, and yes, I suppose some people think those original consoles are lovely. Personally I'd like to put a match to the ugly old things or put them in a museum where they belong (they scare me and I find them very depressing to look at), we simply have better technology now for registration changes.

 

There is a case of a lovely three manual Hill organ which I know of. It has some wonderful voices but they are not easily available without the help of a registrant. I would not want to alter the look of the console in the case of that organ, but I'd defintely want at least a few general pistons on it to get the best from it and it's intermanual octave and sub octave couplers. By leaving the key action well alone, surely it would be possible to electrify the drawstop actions and leaving the original stop heads in place. Also it surely it would then be possible to fit a subtle and modest modern piston system?

 

To me the organ is a musical instrument, it's hard enough to play at the best of times, but there seem to be lots of people who want to keep cruddy stinky old consoles just for the sake of it. I'd rather have something comfortable, modern and easy to manipulate to make the experience enjoyable rather than miserable.  :lol:

 

Oh yeah!!!......and guess where the 3 manual Hill is, and I ain't going to hanker after any alterations to it whatever, such as *EG* a modern piston system , so you can forget that!! :P Personally, I can get around it perfectly well, thenk you. LOL. Double :P:P I also find it a delight to play an original organ, whatever breed it may be, and to hear it as the builder intended, in balance. :P

R :D

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I take your point Vox, but who on earth would want to play Franck or S.S. Wesley? Even Henry Smart isn't all that easy with composition pedals alone

 

Not unless the combs have all manual 16s coupled through, all the stodginess you can muster ditto, and not forgetting the swell sub coupled up, for maximum clarity!..... :P This is all imperative so that an audience is thoroughly fatigued, and also so that you have nothing further to "fall back" on because you are already using the B***** lot. NOT!! Perhaps it's a pity all organs do not have Great Octave and sub Octaves as well. :D:P:lol: Franck is delightful by the way, as is the whole French repertoire. :P

 

R

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What was the system pre-1989, Douglas? Were there any regular pupil organists at Rochester then?

 

I can only speak for the 20 or so years before that, and to the best of my recollection there weren't any - except that when Paul Hale was in charge for a term in the late 1980s, a pupil of his (6th-former at Tonbridge School) assisted on one or two days a week.

 

When I started here in the days of Bobby Ashfield (95 next week and still a regular at the Sunday Eucharist!) the Cathedral Organist played the organ. (And while we're talking of Organ Scholars, let's not forget that Bobby was OS of the Abbey before going to be organist at St John's, Smith Square.) There was no conductor (other than a down-beat or a cut-off from the Head Boy). The Assistant Organist only turned up to play if the boss was away. And there were no pre-service rehearsals for the men, except once a week! (But then the same team of 6 men had sung together, unchanged, for 11 years - and one side for 13.)

 

Have things changed for the better, or worse, since those times? Discuss.

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Not unless the combs have all manual 16s coupled through, all the stodginess you can muster ditto, and not forgetting the swell sub coupled up, for maximum clarity!..... :P This is all imperative so that an audience is thoroughly fatigued, and also so that you have nothing further to "fall back" on because you are already using the B***** lot. NOT!! Perhaps it's a pity all organs do not have Great Octave and sub Octaves as well.  :P  :P  :P Franck is delightful  by the way, as is the whole French repertoire.  :P

 

R

 

:P:P:lol:

 

Never thought of Great Sub and octave couplers...what a wonderful idea!!!!!!! :D

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Typical!!!  :lol:

 

Sadly, I think too many English instruments today don't have any b***s, there's also a severe lack of solid diapason tone, the type which rolls round the building and physically moves you. Nowadays the trend seems to be sickly tweets, farting reeds, and/or screaming mixtures. I'm sorry, give me a 1900 romantic roller anyday. I may have been born almost a century after my time, but I can't help that. I like solid thick tone, I always have, and despite some efforts by some to wean me off it my stance has not changed. I'm sure Thalben-Ball and Harold Darke would have approved, and I am unanimous in that.

 

As for piston systems, the reason I don't drive a Morris Minor is because later vehicles are safer and more refined, yet essentially both would ferry me from A to B in theory. The option of a decent piston system is entirely that, an option. Nobody says you have to use it, but others might find it more to their liking.

 

Ironically, perhaps, I rarely use the piston system on my job, I can get round it pretty well without having to do so, but I prefer to do hand job most of the time. :D

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:lol::D:P

 

Franck is delightful by the way, as is the whole French repertoire.

 

So is Indian beer, provided it stays over there :P It just doesn't blend with our pallete.

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Sadly, I think too many English instruments today don't have any b***s, there's also a severe lack of solid diapason tone, the type which rolls round the building and physically moves you. Nowadays the trend seems to be sickly tweets, farting reeds, and/or screaming mixtures. I'm sorry, give me a 1900 romantic roller anyday. I may have been born almost a century after my time, but I can't help that. I like solid thick tone, I always have, and despite some efforts by some to wean me off it my stance has not changed. I'm sure Thalben-Ball and Harold Darke would have approved, and I am unanimous in that.

 

As for piston systems, the reason I don't drive a Morris Minor is because later vehicles are safer and more refined, yet essentially both would ferry me from A to B in theory. The option of a decent piston system is entirely that, an option. Nobody says you have to use it, but others might find it more to their liking.

 

Ironically, perhaps, I rarely use the piston system on my job, I can get round it pretty well without having to do so, but I prefer to do hand job most of the time.  :lol:

You're not the only one who likes solid, thick tone. The great JSB liked organs with "Gravitat" - and if you've heard some of the comtempory mid german organs, you'll be astonished by the depth and grandeur of the sound. Further north, Alkmaar flat out is an immensely grand experience - the 16's are really big and beefy, the 8 principals are very fully voiced and usually doubled for extra depth and warmth and are mead of heavy, hammered lead and the mixtures don't shriek.

 

Silbermanns are similar - very loud 8' principals - almost excruiciatingly so in small churches, not many ranks of mixture, thunderous pedal reeds - about as far a way as you can get from anything neo-baroque.

 

Many new american organs are very loud - almost unbridled in power output, with lots of gravity and huge 32s. Even an organ like the Brombaugh organ in Eugene, Oregon (1976) has very full, rich principals, 16' chorus work on the manuals, very powerful, confident sound and no chiff.

 

So I really don't know why we built these anorexic little things with no guts but loads of chiff from the 1950s to the 1980s - I suspect it was more of a bachlash against what was perceived at the time as thick and turgid sounding organs.

 

I think you need a balence of brilliance against grandeur and richness to get the full effect - like you need mustard with your beef steak - it would very dull with out alloy.

 

However, I do find the organs from some modern organbuilders rather anodyne and colourless - they sound a bit "white", sometimes rather too self-aware and frightened of making too much of a statement - either with volume or beauty of sound. I'd rather have an organ which sounds simply beautiful and make music work on that organ rather than an organ with stops at every pitch under the sun.

 

I won't get started on the subject of pistons and pedals. Yes, I can see where you're coming from but I'm always glad and refreshed when I find an organ that has escaped the reforming habits of organists who claim that an organ without the latest advances in stop control is a compromised musical instrument... it depends on the organ in question and whether it's appropriate - so I treat it on a case by case basis.

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There are many instruments with just a few mechanical composition pedals, and no thumb pistons, which are reasonably comfortable to play. The instrument I first learnt on, a 3-M Binns in Tetbury Parish Church, falls into this category. I remember Roy Massey giving a suberb recital on this organ having not practiced on it at all before he started the recital. (I also remember John Sanders being completely unable to cope with the registration changes in Bairstow's Blessed City on this organ, but thats another story.)

 

At this risk of offending David Coram, the one organ I've played recently that I found almost impossible to register was Romsey Abbey. For an occasional visitor the current system of using the composition pedals to control general pistons is certainly not user friendly, and when I was there the current settings on these seemed somewhat random and not very useful. I do think that this is one instument that, for all its undoubted historic integrity, would really benefit from the availability of a modern piston system.

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