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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.

 

Indeed so. There are so few resources that only 2 channels (i.e. 20 generals) can be set aside as "fixed" - no 1 for congregational, and no 2 for choir work. You certainly have to know your way around them but there is a kind of logic to both - basically, general crescendo 1-5, "special effects" 6-10. The rest are in constant use for specific anthems, recitals etc etc. It's been used for 3 major concerts in the last fortnight, 2 visiting organists with choirs for special services, plus use by an organists' course, and in the next month it's got Elgar Spirit of the Lord (which takes 2.5 channels), RVW Let all the world (1.5 channels), a recitalist, an R3 broadcast and 3 visiting organists to cope with. The problems are well known and I shan't be able to set up for my recital until the day itself, which makes practice very frustrating. Bearing in mind it has a modern AJ&L Taylor capture system and all-electric stop action, the cost to increase the resources to 96 channels + stepper/sequencer is comparatively modest. You try convincing the powers that be, however! Please send me an email of complaint and I'll gladly forward it.

 

On the subject of registrants - I recently saw a DVD of Jos vd Kooy playing St Bavo. His two registrants were utterly on the ball and amazing to watch. Clearly an art form in its own right.

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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.

Getting back to the original subject, I know a young lad, grade 8 standard, who would like an organ scholarship at university - Oxbridge preferably. As far as I know he's never played an Anglican chant in his life (his background is free church). Forty years ago I doubt he would have stood an earthly at Oxbridge, but how about today? How essential is experience with the Anglican liturgy? Does anyone know the current situation?

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Indeed so.  There are so few resources that only 2 channels (i.e. 20 generals) can be set aside as "fixed" - no 1 for congregational, and no 2 for choir work. 

 

Yup, I agree too. It's an amazing organ, but I find it very hard work to play.

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Indeed so.  There are so few resources that only 2 channels (i.e. 20 generals) can be set aside as "fixed" - no 1 for congregational, and no 2 for choir work.  You certainly have to know your way around them but there is a kind of logic to both - basically, general crescendo 1-5, "special effects" 6-10.  The rest are in constant use for specific anthems, recitals etc etc.  It's been used for 3 major concerts in the last fortnight, 2 visiting organists with choirs for special services, plus use by an organists' course, and in the next month it's got Elgar Spirit of the Lord (which takes 2.5 channels), RVW Let all the world (1.5 channels), a recitalist, an R3 broadcast and 3 visiting organists to cope with.  The problems are well known and I shan't be able to set up for my recital until the day itself, which makes practice very frustrating.  Bearing in mind it has a modern AJ&L Taylor capture system and all-electric stop action, the cost to increase the resources to 96 channels + stepper/sequencer is comparatively modest.  You try convincing the powers that be, however!  Please send me an email of complaint and I'll gladly forward it.

I'm really glad that you seem to agree with my comments as I certainly don't set out to cause offence, but at as an occasional visitor I have to view it as a priviledge to be able to play such an organ and am certainly in no position to complain. I do however feel free to comment as I have done.

 

Your reply provides us with a real insight into the trials and tribulations of working within the limitations of this instrument, yet many of us will be aware of its superb tonal resources. The ongoing debate around historic restoration vs living, working instruments could do well to ponder how best to utilise instruments such as that in Romsey Abbey.

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I'm really glad that you seem to agree with my comments as I certainly don't set out to cause offence, but at as an occasional visitor I have to view it as a priviledge to be able to play such an organ and am certainly in no position to complain. I do however feel free to comment as I have done.

 

Your reply provides us with a real insight into the trials and tribulations of working within the limitations of this instrument, yet many of us will be aware of its superb tonal resources. The ongoing debate around historic restoration vs living, working instruments could do well to ponder how best to utilise instruments such as that in Romsey Abbey.

 

Having said all that, David and I had the pleasure of listening to Andy Lumsden play it one afternoon. He just sat down and started playing the Bridge Adagio, never having seen the instrument before, hand registering all the way, and it was bloody stunning.

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Getting back to the original subject, I know a young lad, grade 8 standard, who would like an organ scholarship at university - Oxbridge preferably. As far as I know he's never played an Anglican chant in his life (his background is free church). Forty years ago I doubt he would have stood an earthly at Oxbridge, but how about today? How essential is experience with the Anglican liturgy? Does anyone know the current situation?

Vox - depends where he wants to go. As you would imagine, John's King's Christ Church etc demand lots of previous; but I too come from a Free Church background and had barely learned how to read pointing when I went up to Clare, although I had done a fair bit of playing in a church with an SATB choir that sang anthems and settings to a high standard. Not having much experience with psalmody made life difficult, I have to say, but I survivied. The overall state of play regarding able applicants for Oxbridge sholarships is that there aren't enough, certainly in the smaller colleges. He should go for it, and do as much as possible to fill in the gaps in the meantime. Lots of applicants fall into the trap if thinking that being able to play Transports de Joie will put them at an advantage, but actually a sound grasp of the more mundane musical skills will be much more useful. Lots of cathedral organists I know will be willing to offer practical encouragement - a chance to sit in the loft etc - to someone in this position; i certainly am, so if he's not too far away put him in touch. Best S

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Vox - depends where he wants to go. As you would imagine, John's King's Christ Church etc demand lots of previous; but I too come from a Free Church background and had barely learned how to read pointing when I went up to Clare, although I had done a fair bit of playing in a church with an SATB choir that sang anthems and settings to a high standard. Not having much experience with psalmody made life difficult, I have to say, but I survivied. The overall state of play regarding able applicants for Oxbridge sholarships is that there aren't enough, certainly in the smaller colleges. He should go for it, and do as much as possible to fill in the gaps in the meantime. Lots of applicants fall into the trap if thinking that being able to play Transports de Joie will put them at an advantage, but actually a sound grasp of the more mundane musical skills will be much more useful. Lots of cathedral organists I know will be willing to offer practical encouragement  - a chance to sit in the loft etc - to someone in this position; i certainly am, so if he's not too far away put him in touch. Best S

 

 

===========================

 

I reckon I could teach someone with advanced musical ability to sing/play Anglican Chant perfectly in under a week.

 

It isn't difficult, even if a lot of even normally good choir-trainers make a fist of it.

 

MM

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Stephen: thanks very much for your helpful reply and your generous offer. That's very kind indeed. I'll certainly mention it to the young lad when I see him, though since Guildford will be a fair old hike for him I guess he'll prefer to try the three or four nearer cathedrals first.

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Stephen: thanks very much for your helpful reply and your generous offer. That's very kind indeed. I'll certainly mention it to the young lad when I see him, though since Guildford will be a fair old hike for him I guess he'll prefer to try the three or four nearer cathedrals first.

No problem Vox - we are always very happy to help in this way when we can. I hope he gets something sorted, and best of luck to him! Best S

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===========================

 

I reckon I could teach someone with advanced musical ability to sing/play Anglican Chant perfectly in under a week.

 

It isn't difficult, even if a lot of even normally good choir-trainers make a fist of it.

 

MM

The basics are straightforward enough, I agree. Learn the chant(s) off by heart, keep your eyes glued on the psalter and stick to the thumb pistons and you should be safe enough. It's when you try to be a little more interesting that the trouble starts - especially when registering by hand. Take your eyes off the psalter for a moment and you can immediately become very, very lost.

 

There's also a wealth of difference between playing a psalm for a parish church Sunday Evensong (often omitting verses x to y in case the congregation gets bored) and doing the full set of psalms for the umpteenth evening. Three times the number of verses triples the potential for cock-ups! Imaginative psalm accompaniment surely takes years of experience.

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Yes, chanting in a parish church can be a dispiriting experience. Even more distressing when you come across it in a cathedral. At Winchester one of the canticles at matins is usually chanted.

 

JSW at York Minster is, in my opinion, unsurpassed in the art of chant accompanient. Mind you, after 30 years I am sure that he knows the chants off by heart. York is one of the dwindling number of foundations that now follow the BCP Psalter and sing the allocation for each evening. Even St Paul's has given up the ghost.

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York is one of the dwindling number of foundations that now follow the BCP Psalter and sing the allocation for each evening.
Is that so? Don't all the choirs doing the BBC Wednesday evensongs do the psalms of the day? To be honest I haven't given it that much attention, but I haven't noticed that they don't.

 

I wrote elsewhere about Sidney Campbell's psalm accompaniments (http://web16713.vs.netbenefit.co.uk/discus...&st=20&p=6382 at post #30). He was certainly a gold standard for me, though I could never hope to be anything like as gymnastic. Francis Jackson and Philip Marshall were also cited as excellent practitioners.

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''Francis Jackson and Philip Marshall were also cited as excellent practitioners.''

 

Marshall used to be amazing - watching/listening to him play for Psalms was an education in itself. It was all so effortless, appropriate and completely tasteful. Quite a lot of the stop work was done by hand too - he knew the Lincoln Willis so well that this seemed to be the natural thing to do.

 

AJJ

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Yes, chanting in a parish church can be a dispiriting experience. Even more distressing when you come across it in a cathedral. At Winchester one of the canticles at matins is usually chanted.

 

JSW at York Minster is, in my opinion, unsurpassed in the art of chant accompanient.  Mind you, after 30 years I am sure that he knows the chants off by heart. York is one of the dwindling number of foundations that now follow the BCP Psalter and sing the allocation for each evening. Even St Paul's has given up the ghost.

You're right, parsfan. It's incredibly hard to get children of chorister age now to read and even vaguely understand the English of the BCP psalter - most adults in 2006 would find it a challenge too, I'd wager...I think it's pragmatism rather than anything more sinister that lies behind this change of procedure for most places. It's a completely alien language to modern kids, and just getting 30+ verses learnt in textual terms can take more time than most of us have at our disposal....never mind trying to craft the singing in musical terms. I'd have to put Geoff Morgan at the top of my own list of psalm players....those who heard his plainsong 15th evening were never the same again!

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:lol:  :lol:  :lol:

 

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

 

 

Good afternoon

Scrolling through the various 'posts' I thought it might be of interest to say that our Three Choirs organ at Hereford - the west end organ on stilts - possesses a Great organ in sub octaves coupler. Draw all 9 manual stops and this coupler and blaze away and you would think it is the Father Willis at the other end playing.

A wonderfully bold organ.

Great: 16,8,8,8,4,2. Swell: 8,4,2. Pedal: 16,16.

 

Regards Michael Sullivan.

p.s. This organ was restored by Nicolsons in 1983, but now it needs attention again.

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The basics are straightforward enough, I agree. Learn the chant(s) off by heart, keep your eyes glued on the psalter and stick to the thumb pistons and you should be safe enough. It's when you try to be a little more interesting that the trouble starts - especially when registering by hand. Take your eyes off the psalter for a moment and you can immediately become very, very lost.

 

There's also a wealth of difference between playing a psalm for a parish church Sunday Evensong (often omitting verses x to y in case the congregation gets bored) and doing the full set of psalms for the umpteenth evening. Three times the number of verses triples the potential for cock-ups! Imaginative psalm accompaniment surely takes years of experience.

 

I too sometimes find the following of the words of a Psalm a problem having left threescore years and ten well behind. It is the re-focusing back again on small print again after having taken you eyes off the words for a moment is the killer.

 

Nowadays. with my computer I find it easy to print the words out in large font and with the judicious use of a marker pen can make life very easy. You only have to do each Psalm once and it can be stored until the next time.

 

FF

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I too sometimes find the following of the words of a Psalm a problem having left threescore years and ten well behind. It is the re-focusing back again on small print again after having taken you eyes off the words for a moment is the killer.

 

Nowadays. with my computer I find it easy to print the words out in large font and with the judicious use of a marker pen can make life very easy. You only have to do each Psalm once and it can be stored until the next time.

 

FF

 

A friend of mine - ex Oxbridge organ scholar (with only just over one and a half score years behind him) always as a matter of course prints out the words to the psalms onto a sort of grid - in line with and under the sections of the chant. He frequently plays for visiting choirs at different cathedrals (I last 'turned' for him at Salisbury) and seems to find this method quite safe when faced with a new instrument, building etc. (Most of the time now, however he is 'in front' so to speak as he also happens to be a 'Rev'.)

 

AJJ

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Good afternoon

Scrolling through the various 'posts' I thought it might be of interest to say that our Three Choirs organ at Hereford - the west end organ on stilts - possesses a Great organ in sub octaves coupler.  Draw all 9 manual stops and this coupler and blaze away and you would think it is the Father Willis at the other end playing.

A wonderfully bold organ.

Great: 16,8,8,8,4,2.    Swell: 8,4,2.  Pedal: 16,16.

 

Regards  Michael  Sullivan.

p.s. This organ was restored by Nicolsons in 1983, but now it needs attention again.

 

There was once a cathedral organ that was a magnificent accompaniment organ organ but sadly was slightly underpowered for leading major festival hymn singing (only some six time a year). Money was limited and there was no chance of building a special division so sooner than mess up the accompaniment specification we stuck a great octave coupler on. It did the trick but didn't half upset the local purists.

 

FF

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there was no chance of building a special division so sooner than mess up the accompaniment specification we stuck a great octave coupler on. It did the trick but didn't half upset the local purists.
Now hang on a minute. The way you put it sounds very much as if this was a second-best solution - which surely it must have been. I don't know the organ, but I suspect I'd have been amongst the purists too. Can you honestly say it didn't upset you too?

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The basics are straightforward enough, I agree. Learn the chant(s) off by heart, keep your eyes glued on the psalter and stick to the thumb pistons and you should be safe enough. It's when you try to be a little more interesting that the trouble starts - especially when registering by hand. Take your eyes off the psalter for a moment and you can immediately become very, very lost.

 

There's also a wealth of difference between playing a psalm for a parish church Sunday Evensong (often omitting verses x to y in case the congregation gets bored) and doing the full set of psalms for the umpteenth evening. Three times the number of verses triples the potential for cock-ups! Imaginative psalm accompaniment surely takes years of experience.

 

 

==============================

 

At risk of rattling cages, I would suggest that the basics are anything BUT straightforward, and that much has been obvious over the years, judging by a number of prize choirs (no names!) who murdered the psalms at every service.

 

I would NEVER start by explaining pointing. Instead, I would start by reading properly, using non-psalm words which amuse, such as a re-worked version of the highway-code.

 

I would then get the guinea-pigs to draw vertical lines before each accent.

 

Then I would teach the plastic ebb and flow of natural language (the hardest part to instill in a choir, and get them to stay together) and really come down hard on the shopping-list approach; where speech is all of a same regular rhythm.

 

This takes a little while, but only THEN would I introduce music into the equation.

 

Once choristers know that you "lean over the bar and ask for change" or "make a note of the dots" it soon starts to fall into place when combined with the natural give and take of speech-rhythm.

 

Knowing the chant(s) by heart is an absolute, and knowing the words by memory is desireth. Certainly, Francis Jackson knew the words of every psalm, which he memorised completely, and I can't imagine a chant he wouldn't also know by heart. The combination was magical!

 

Of course, daily exposure and practice make perfect, but I've heard terribly bad psalm singing in cathedrals, and beautiful psalm-singing in parish churches: the equation doesn't always make sense.

 

Of course, when you can use the 16ft reed for the "Whales of the deep" and a solo 4ft Flute for the "birds of the air", as the choir confidently continue, then you've got it.

 

I guess it was a privilege to enjoy that era, and an even greater privilege to accompany psalms with a good choir, but it is now at least 9 years since I accompanied a psalm at all.

 

Funny thing is, like riding a bike, I could do it tomorrow if I were "in quires and places where they sing" and the organist(s) had both been mown down by a bus

on the way to Evensong.

 

MM

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Now hang on a minute. The way you put it sounds very much as if this was a second-best solution - which surely it must have been. I don't know the organ, but I suspect I'd have been amongst the purists too. Can you honestly say it didn't upset you too?

 

Great sub octaves can be terrificly useful things. Christchurch Priory is quite at sea without the one that Geoff Morgan had added. Daniels occasionally used them too, on small extension jobs usually, and their imaginative use can make them worth ten swell octave couplers on restricted instruments. And, hey, you can always take it off again or just not use it, and like Frank says, better to respond to a problem this way than to start making tonal changes instead. Christchurch though suffered with winding problems in the early days, though I gather this is being corrected.

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At risk of rattling cages, I would suggest that the basics are anything BUT straightforward, and that much has been obvious over the years, judging by a number of prize choirs (no names!) who murdered the psalms at every service.
I think we're saying the same thing really. The principles ARE basic; the implementation is not.

 

I've heard terribly bad psalm singing in cathedrals
Me too, but in the cases I'm thinking of I'm fairly sure the choirmaster did know better really, but the choir had simply slumped into bad habits and/or lazinesss - or maybe it just felt "safe". The speech approach you outline is valuable, but, of course you have to keep banging away with the message, because unless you do the choir may still slip into the habit of bumping up against the barlines like show horses refusing a fence. The rhythm can become formulaic and insensitive. When this happens one solution is actually to go back to singing rigorously equal syllables. This at least ensures that the psalm is delivered fluently, without bumps, bangs, stops and starts. And this style can actually sound quite musical if it's done sensitively (it's not all that different from plainsong). Then, once they've all got used to that, you gradually reintroduce the stresses.

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Now hang on a minute. The way you put it sounds very much as if this was a second-best solution - which surely it must have been. I don't know the organ, but I suspect I'd have been amongst the purists too. Can you honestly say it didn't upset you too?

 

When everything (mainly finance) but also the fact that we were talking of need of it being required only some six times a year for hymn singing with full organ had been taken into consideration it seemed to be a reasonable, sensible solution - what would you have done?

 

It did not upset me as from time to time I had this terrible habit of looking at the musical requirements of a church - not the purist.

 

FF

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