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The End Is Nigh


MusingMuso
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I've just heard the future, and I don't like it!

 

On a certain site operated by a digital organ-builder, I came across the usual sound-samples of their work, with numerous demonstrations of organ music.

 

I listened to Bach, Vierne, Mendelssohn and Norman Cocker; all in mp3 format.

 

Quite impressive if you're into electronic organs and computing.

 

The I listened to Widor and the Durufle Toccata; the latter accurate in a way that I'd never heard before....a yard-stick performance for the budding Durufle-ist.

 

The I started to read the rubric.......it pays to read the rubric......when I discovered that the Widor Toccata and the Durufle Toccata were not quite what they seemed to be.

 

Apparently, the Widor had been created by scanning the score and then feeding into some programme or other (Vivaldi?). It was then fed back into the organ using MIDI, and recorded.

 

Even worse was to follow, when I read that the Durufle had been started from scratch and perfected in a mere fortnight.....shades of Jane Parker-Smith, I thought. But no, it was anything but. Apparently, this "performance" had been created using "only a mouse, an electronic keyboard and a MIDI comaptible computer"............perfect....too perfect actually.

 

All this is very impressive, but it does beg the question as to what will happen to real organists and real organs, when the entire organ-repertoire, in MIDI format, could probably be held on one CD and distributed to organ juke-boxes anywhere in the world at the speed of light.

 

The term "the organ will now play" takes on a new and frightening twist, with sinister implications.

 

I can't help but think however, that the makers of digital-organs are rather like the man who would sell second-hand H-bombs on e-Bay.....it lacks a certain sustainable business-plan, doesn't it?

 

After all, by simply plugging your neighbourhood church into a data-bank, downloading the music and delighting everyone with "real time" music, ALL organs of any description could be completely eliminated, and to the delight of many clergy, so too would the organists that used to go with them.

 

MM

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"The end is nigh" may not be far off the mark. Has anyone seen what Priory Records have recently started flogging:

 

NO ORGAN, NO ORGANIST, NO CHOIR, NO PROBLEM!

Over 140 Popular Hymns on 6 CDs for Congregational use by Churches of all denominations

 

Oh, all right, the bit about "no problem" is my tongue in cheek addition. :(

 

On their website it says: "These CDs are played on a proper pipe organ (The Organ of St Paul's, Wimbledon Park, London, organist, Suzanne Brodie) and not a contrived and dull sounding electronic instrument." The good news is that according to NPOR the organ began life in 1889 as a small 2 manual Hill, the bad news is that is was rebuilt and considerably enlarged by the late and sometimes unlamented West Country firm, Percy Daniel, in 1959 and 1975: http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N17327

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NO ORGAN, NO ORGANIST, NO CHOIR, NO PROBLEM!

Over 140 Popular Hymns on 6 CDs for Congregational use by Churches of all denominations

When I was a student, and Paul Morgan was organ scholar at Christ Church Oxford, some friends and I recorded Paul playing accompaniments for a couple of dozen hymns. The tapes were sent to Africa or South America (I forget which) for a missionary who had an impressive Hi-Fi system in his church/tent (and presumably a generator outside).

 

I wonder what the natives made of them...

 

Paul

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No panic!

 

Already 1903 warned Joseph Guédon in the "Manel Roret", third edition, against electric consoles driving two organs (nave and choir organs), that it would lead to unemployment and masses played from the pub!

Yes, the famous "Choir to pub" coupler...

After two decades of downsizing, now "they" will fire the organists, after so many other professionals.

What will they do? Exactly like us, the former professionals that have been deemed useless and thowed to the bin: re-create lots of new things outside an "official system" that runs mad towards its autodestruction.

And so we shall still be busy with organs. I never worked as many as today!

 

Pierre

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Guest Lee Blick

Well, I am not that surprised. With such a dearth of organists in our churches and a situation which will continue to worsen, people are bound to look for other solutions to fill the increasing void.

 

So what is the solution? Is it to bury our heads into our organ music and complain that new technology is taking over?

 

Or, is it to embrace the advancement of technology and use it together with traditional tools and expertise adapting to our changing musical world to increase and equip the organists of the future?

 

Until there is active renewal and a sea-change of attitude from organists and organisations such as the RCO, RSCM and the church, classical organ playing could become only a preserve of the cathedrals and greater churches in this country.

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I think the main contribution to the dearth of organists is nothing to do with the RCO and RSCM, but rather the decline in church-going.

 

Because of this, people - and especially children - no longer hear the music, no longer see the organist making it, and thus no longer think "I'd like to have a go at that." Where children do go to church, there will tend to be teenage organ pupils.

 

Embrace the technology? Well, maybe, if it's appropriate and, most importantly, contributes to the music. But I for one will not be sitting through any recitals given by computers.

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Well, I am not that surprised.  With such a dearth of organists in our churches and a situation which will continue to worsen, people are bound to look for other solutions to fill the increasing void.

 

So what is the solution?  Is it to bury our heads into our organ music and complain that new technology is taking over?

 

Or, is it to embrace the advancement of technology and use it together with traditional tools and expertise adapting to our changing musical world to increase and equip the organists of the future?

 

Until there is active renewal and a sea-change of attitude from organists and organisations such as the RCO, RSCM and the church, classical organ playing could become only a preserve of the cathedrals and greater churches in this country.

 

 

I think one needs to be careful with the kind of realpolitik argument espoused here because it is all too easy for it to confuse that which is undoubtedly true change is an inevitable fact of life with a corollary which most certainly is not - therefore all change is for the better, and should be enthusiastically embraced. I would argue that all organisations undoubtedly need a strategy "to manage change" but that an important component in that strategy is a set of criteria for distinguishing changes which are:

 

(1)desirable, and therefore should be embraced,

(2)undesirable but inevitable, and therefore have to be accommodated/accepted

(3)undesirable and preventable, and should therefore be vigorously fought.

 

I think most would probably agree on the validity of these three categories though obviously not on their contents, since change which some would embrace enthusiastically is anathema to others. That said an organisation is likely to be most effective when the great majority of its members are agreed on the appropriate categorisation of the changes relevant to its purpose and functions, since it is possible for it to adopt a strategy which is not inherently self contradictory. The problems arise when an organisation tries to implement a policy which is intrinsically incoherent in order to reflect "the views of all its members" . Perhaps others more familiar with the various organisations mentioned than I am might be prepared to hazard a guess/opinion as to whether the wish to be /need to be (ex-members do not contribute financial support except via legacies in the case of deceased ex-members) "all things to all men" is at least a contributory cause of some of the problems such organisations appear to be facing with change management ?

 

BAC

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But I for one will not be sitting through any recitals given by computers.

 

 

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

 

You don't listen to CD's then Nick?

 

I reckon, with a bit of "smoke and mirrors" technology and a computing organ with a hard-disc drive, I could pull off a stand-in for an indisposed Carlo Curley and wave a white handkerchief just as effectively as he.

 

They'd never know the difference!

 

If I get his fee, I could shake paws/embrace/cuddle almost anyone in sight and learn to "whoop" with hand on hip.

 

I say, "Embrace technology, or it will embrace you!"

 

Who needs all these bum academics when there are computers?

 

=========

 

"Hi Dave. Thanks for joining me to-day. How are you feeling?"

 

"I'm fine thanks Alan"

 

"That's good Dave, shall I boot up?"

 

"Why not?"

 

"Don't do that please, Dave."

 

"Do what?"

 

"Don't touch the stops when I'm running through my self-check procedure"

 

"Sorry Alan"

 

"It's OK Dave......I understand"

 

"Are you ready yet?"

 

"Yes Dave. What is that man doing?"

 

"It's the verger, and he's just going to hoover the carpet"

 

"Don't let him pull out the........help.....help me .....Dave.......I can feel my memory going....."

 

And the verger hoovered the carpet as the organ played "Daisy, Daisy"

 

MM

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

 

You don't listen to CD's then Nick?

 

I reckon, with a bit of "smoke and mirrors" technology and a computing organ with a hard-disc drive, I could pull off a stand-in for an indisposed Carlo Curley and wave a white handkerchief just as effectively as he.

 

They'd never know the difference!

 

If I get his fee, I could shake paws/embrace/cuddle almost anyone in sight and learn to "whoop" with hand on hip.

 

I say, "Embrace technology, or it will embrace you!"

 

Who needs all these bum academics when there are computers?

 

=========

 

"Hi Dave. Thanks for joining me to-day. How are you feeling?"

 

"I'm fine thanks Alan"

 

"That's good Dave, shall I boot up?"

 

"Why not?"

 

"Don't do that please, Dave."

 

"Do what?"

 

"Don't touch the stops when I'm running through my self-check procedure"

 

"Sorry Alan"

 

"It's OK Dave......I understand"

 

"Are you ready yet?"

 

"Yes Dave. What is that man doing?"

 

"It's the verger, and he's just going to hoover the carpet"

 

"Don't let him pull out the........help.....help me .....Dave.......I can feel my memory going....."

 

And the verger hoovered the carpet as the organ played "Daisy, Daisy"

 

MM

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I have just come away from an excellent course at Sarum College on improvisation, organised by Robert Fielding and tutored by David Briggs and Daniel Moult. The cost was - for four days, residential, including all meals and outings, individual time with tutors, roughly 15 hours group tuition on a wide variety of instruments, plus time out to attend the events of the Southern Cathedrals Festival - £350 or so. Fantastic value? Only 9 other people in the UK thought so. I believe I'm right in saying that the RSCM pulled funding on it, so Robert Fielding had to bankroll it himself. Courses later in the year have been cancelled due to lack of interest, or because the RSCM pulled funding, or both. Never mind Oundle, this is England's main church music training body pulling the plug on training parish organists for reasons of cost. If James Parsons and a small admin team can persuade dozens of teenagers to trek up or down the M1 to an obscure market town in the middle of the summer holidays, then surely the RSCM (with the same big name tutors - David Briggs, Gordon Stewart, Daniel Moult etc) ought to be able to communicate with a far broader spectrum of people who, pretty generally, sincerely want to become better?

 

I believe the answer lies firmly with the RSCM. If you look at the teenage organists pouring into Oundle - at a guess, a good 100 or so a year, from a very wide geographical area - you have to wonder what happens to all these people, not to mention the ones that go to the many other events organised locally, nationally and internationally. I still get brochures from them years later, presumably on the basis that I might have some pupils by now and be able to generate some sales for them. Big business hangs around Oxbridge JCR's at graduation time - so where are the RSCM, at a time when they could be doing most to get the talent into churches? Why haven't they even got a significant publication of their own with similar sort of broad appeal to, say, Organists' Review? If they have, why haven't I heard of it in 16 years of parish music making? On a wider level, what about creating a new job of "benefice music consultant", perhaps not doing so much playing themselves but going into schools, recruiting and training pianists to get on the organ, forming small singing groups, and so on and so forth? Vicars rely increasingly on NSM's and lay preachers and pulling people out of retirement to help deal with their ever wider territories. Businesses large and small constantly adapt to emerging trends and threats in a way, for instance, they didn't in the 1970's. We, by and large, haven't changed, and the establishment (i.e. the body of organists, not the RSCM per se) we represent can often be found guilty of the same sort of mentality as Scargill and Red Robbo and all the rest. Make no mistake, the makers of CD's are about to win, and it's our fault.

 

Allow me to digress for a moment. Something that incidentally doesn't help is the lamentable state of organ building in this country. In my personal opinion, and speaking on a rural/small firm level, there are several firms on the books of the IBO that I believe shouldn't be. I have before me a quotation from The Organ in 1924, where a respected and renowned player and reviewer evidently felt able to openly say of a large organbuilding firm that "their proper place is in the bankruptcy courts, not a workshop." Why do we now, with our vastly better transport and communication and more competitive market place, tolerate poor workmanship? Can we still tell the difference? Who is monitoring standards? (Dioceses clearly aren't, when 1 builder is able to pretty much wreck several historic organs in a 40 mile radius over 15 years before they take any action. I know who and where I'm talking about - no doubt every person reading this will be able to identify a near-identical situation local to themselves. Shocking, isn't it?) When Bevington, Bishop, Sweetland, Bryceson, Walker and even most of the small provincial builders built all these little tiny parish instruments, they were pretty generally light and rattle-free and musical and sweet. It's only poor regulation and maintenance that makes them feel any different, with a very few possible faults excepted - apart from the issues of heating, dirt, bushings and slider seals, there ain't a lot to actually wear out in a little tracker organ when it's adjusted properly, and heating and dirt can be controlled to a degree now we are out of the era of coke stoves and ladies with stiff brooms throwing all the dust up. There are a couple of fairly eminent instruments near me whose condition is excreble, almost beyond belief, and it all comes down to proper attention from the tuner on details like action/coupler regulation and reed regulation. Organ tuned, blower oiled, can I have my money please. Who wants to play ratbags like that, for next to no money?

 

The role of the RSPCM (sic) as I see it is twofold - firstly, to actually use the considerable talent and dedication (musically and administratively) at its disposal to design and implement relevant and inspirational training of the sort that is currently being organised by a few individuals. Robert Fielding's site www.churchmusictraining.info will give a brief idea of how much time he personally spends in small parishes working with volunteer organists and choir trainers, organising practice instruments, recruitment, etc etc etc. I mention Robert's site because I work with him, but there are countless others at all levels - Anne M-T, James Parsons & Nigel Allcoat are the ones whom we surely must all be aware of, because they're (quite rightly) forever right in your face in Organists' Review peddling their wares. I've been the assistant at one of the larger greater churches in the south for a year, and I don't know the names of anyone on the local RSCM committee - or, for that matter, the national one. As I look around the choir vestry, I see a dusty certificate signed by Lionel Dakers and a handful of festival service books and that's about it. Secondly, having got the people inspired and in post, to take a truly leading role in making the process rewarding and self-propogating, such as the "music facilitator" role suggested above. Casting blame isn't what this is about; we must find a way forward that is going to work, and start now. The chance to learn improvisation at the feet of David Briggs for four days, to return to the example I started with, ought to have been massively over-subscribed. But, even though this event happened (initially) under the auspices of the RSCM in an RSCM flagship building during a large cathedral music festival, I'd be willing to bet that not a single person on this board knew the event was going to happen. That's the first problem to overcome.

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It is one thing to be able to play the Widor Toccata or a Bach Trio Sonata, quite another to play hymns and related music for a service.

 

Maybe if a few more `service organists' were to be willing and available the situation would not be so acute.

 

FF

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Allow me to digress for a moment.  Something that incidentally doesn't help is the lamentable state of organ building in this country.  In my personal opinion, and speaking on a rural/small firm level, there are several firms on the books of the IBO that I believe shouldn't be.  I have before me a quotation from The Organ in 1924, where a respected and renowned player and reviewer evidently felt able to openly say of a large organbuilding firm that "their proper place is in the bankruptcy courts, not a workshop."  Why do we now, with our vastly better transport and communication and more competitive market place, tolerate poor workmanship?  Can we still tell the difference?  Who is monitoring standards?  (Dioceses clearly aren't, when 1 builder is able to pretty much wreck several historic organs in a 40 mile radius over 15 years before they take any action.)  When Bevington, Bishop, Sweetland, Bryceson, Walker and most of the small provincial builders built all these little tiny parish instruments, they were pretty generally light and rattle-free and musical and sweet.  It's only poor regulation and maintenance that makes them feel any different, with a very few possible faults excepted - apart from the issues of heating, dirt, bushings and slider seals, there ain't a lot to actually wear out in a little tracker organ when it's adjusted properly, and heating and dirt can be controlled to a degree now we are out of the era of coke stoves and ladies with stiff brooms throwing all the dust up.  There are a couple of fairly eminent instruments near me whose condition is excreble, almost beyond belief, and it all comes down to proper attention from the tuner on details like action/coupler regulation and reed regulation.  Organ tuned, blower oiled, can I have my money please.  Who wants to play ratbags like that, for next to no money?

 

 

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

 

 

I suspect that you may well be unwittingly answering your own question......the bankruptcy courts!

 

In a steadily declining market situation, competition becomes ever fiercer, and prices drop all round; often to the point that general tuning and maintenance barely provides a living, what with the expense of labour, corporation tax, petrol and administrative costs.

 

How many churches could resist the temptation to cut tuning visits, or accept quotes from the "one man and his musical dog" approach?

 

When the larger organ-builders are priced out of the general market, for no other reason than that of maintaining an expert staff and a good workshop facility, it is obvious that, except for a very few "names" such as our host, H & H and a few others, the only real option is to cut corners in order to survive.

 

Were I an organ-builder to-day, could I afford to have dedicated tuning staff doing the rounds?

 

Somehow, I doubt that I would want the fixed costs associated with that, and it would be far better to use self-employed tuners out in the field, who perhaps do work for themselves or others.

 

Add to this the cheaper competition from the digital organ market, and the situation must be a constant source of financial worry to almost any organ builder not picking up good contracts.

 

The digital competition and the decline in church numbers, is a financial pincer-movement; further compiunded by the fact that the organ, for whatever reason, is not quite "musical flavour of the month."

 

It isn't just an English problem I suspect.

 

Under the communist regime, Rieger-Kloss steadily re-built or built organs across eastern europe in a steady stream. (Over 1,000 new organs or major re-builds!)The collapse of communism appears to have halted that supply of work, and I suspect that music and music-education is now very much on the back-burner of respective government priorities, as they face the economic challenge of european integration.

 

That a company with such a history, now has to turn to organ-building schools, guitar-making and high quality furniture production, tells its' own story, and one may but sympathise with the difficulties they must now be enduring as a privately owned company rather than a state-supported industry.

 

The problem is, most organ-building companies, in spite of the expense of the work involved, are not backed by major investors or supported by shareholders, and the history of organ-building has been underscored by a number of wealthy patrons over the centuries.

 

Let's put it in perspective.

 

If my washing machine splutters to a gurgling halt, my "man" will charge me £30 just to come and tell me to throw it in a skip. My garage will charge me £40 an hour to fix my car, unless I do the work myself and pocket the difference!

 

What value do we place on a skilled tuner or organ-builder?

 

MM

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I'd be willing to bet that not a single person on this board knew the event was going to happen.  That's the first problem to overcome.
Ay, there's the rub. We all know about Oundle because JP & Co advertise sufficiently to make sure we all hear about it. Sarum College just isn't on my radar, which prompts me to wonder: Is their marketing really up to scratch? If they are not reaching their potential clientele they can hardly complain when they don't show up. If I'd known about this I'd have been interested - or at least jealous that I couldn't afford £350.
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=====================

 

If my washing machine splutters to a gurgling halt, my "man" will charge me £30 just to come and tell me to throw it in a skip. My garage will charge me £40 an hour to fix my car, unless I do the work myself and pocket the difference!

 

What value do we place on a skilled tuner or organ-builder?

 

MM

 

That's just it. A lot of the questionable firms are very expensive, often notoriously so. A lot of them are guilty of excessive work - a village organ near here, for instance, has 5 stops (no reeds), yet the tuners attend every 3 months. Four times a year to an organ with no reeds! What on earth for? The touch is among the worst I know and the keys so slack they hold adjacent ones down. They're obviously not spending time on that.

 

I think it may have more to do with expectations - we will unquestioningly nod and accept that the "old" organ is "worn out" when in fact it's just in a poor state of regulation, and throw good money after bad effectively changing the oil every 1000 miles and achieving nothing of any use or benefit.

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I very strongly agree with David's two points:

 

1. That there needs to be a lot more support of church musicians and organists.

We need to reach out to the little old lady who finds playing a 4 part hymn a struggle, giving her the support and training she needs to turn playing the organ into a joy. At the other end of the spectrum, the talented and capable musicians need inspiring and stretching to keep fresh and continuing to develop. More needs to be done to get people to go to events like courses and masterclasses. Oundle is a wonderful example of how to do it - but the IAO, RCO, RSCM run their annual events as well. I think that more needs to be done at the local level - at RSCM and local IAO organisations for running workshops and masterclasses for musical skills. Some are excellent but the coverage is patchy.

 

2. The standard of organs in local churches.

Winchester is a good example. While there are good organs around - the Cathedral and College have good, well maintained organs (but try getting to play them yourself) and Romsey Abbey is 15 minutes away - the general standard of organs in parish churches is extremely poor. Nearly all (but for one or two exceptions, like St Cross) have been rebuilt, electrified and expanded on a shoe string into something deeply unattractive. The result in all cases is the same - an organ which is an unsatisfactory musical instrument and a depressant to listen to and play. No wonder the organ is derided as a musical instrument in this country and people don't understand them.

 

THat's just the aesthetical/musical argument: the maintenance argument is much more decisive. By rebuilding and expanding these organs, these 2nd-rate builders made these organs unattractive but far more expensive to keep them running. Why would a church want to spent £30k to keep something really unattractive staggering on rather unreliably for another 15-20 years just to spend the same amount of money again in 20 years time?

 

So why on earth did people allow their organs to become much worse and yet also much more expensive to keep going? Why did they spend so little then only to have to spend so much more later?

 

There is hope: I have just spent the past 4 1/2 years campaigning to replace the deeply unattractive mess of an organ which had been rebuilt three times by the local organ lads, in one case catastrophically badly in implementation. £1700 in 1956 has cost over quarter of million pounds to put right in 2006 (a nuisance VAT takes nearly 1/5th). The church is now seeing a stunningly beautiful musical instrument take shape, one that is absolutely right in every respect for the church. It only needs standard and straightforward maintenance (done well) - so the tuning visit, the cleaning every 20-25 years, the overhaul every 80-100 and it will go on indefinately. At the same time, it will delight all that listen to it and play it and they are already saying that it's not about the money. The extraordinary (and slightly depressing thing) is that this is first new organ in a parish church in Winchester for 40 years and the first new organ in a parish church in Winchester built by a builder of the first rank since before the 1st world war. (I am talking at the parish level, of organs that most organists could get access to, so I exclude the Cathedral and college from these claims, both of which I know are extensively rebuilt or new in the 1980s and 2005).

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I very strongly agree with David's two points:

 

1. That there needs to be a lot more support of church musicians and organists.

We need to reach out to the little old lady who finds playing a 4 part hymn a struggle, giving her the support and training she needs to turn playing the organ into a joy. At the other end of the spectrum, the talented and capable musicians need inspiring and stretching to keep fresh and continuing to develop. More needs to be done to get people to go to events like courses and masterclasses. Oundle is a wonderful example of how to do it - but the IAO, RCO, RSCM run their annual events as well. I think that more needs to be done at the local level - at RSCM and local IAO organisations for running workshops and masterclasses for musical skills. Some are excellent but the coverage is patchy.

 

Thank you - glad someone agrees! I have had an email from a member of our local RSCM committee and perhaps should say that I'm not anti-RSCM, I just think it needs to be bolder and braver and adopt the same in-your-face, sales driven mentality of Oundle and the London Organ Weeks etc and make more use of the training resources on its doorstep. When the training of little old ladies does happen, it's a joy to watch. I eavesdropped on a course about a year ago (another one that was cancelled and bankrolled by Robert) and watched Gordon Stewart working for an hour with someone you could describe as a volunteer organist. Although they never got beyond bar 4 of a Bach prelude in that time, I have seldom witnessed anything so inspirational.

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I've seen similar things. I believe that the courses are actually there and happening - what needs to improve is marketing and getting people to come on these courses. Flyers and ads help - but best is to actually meet these people, made contact with them, write to them and word-of-mouth. We'll take this up off-line to see what we can do...

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
- a village organ near here, for instance, has 5 stops (no reeds), yet the tuners attend every 3 months.  Four times a year to an organ with no reeds!  What on earth for?

 

I believe that a wonderful Metzler organ in the UK has had one tuning in 20 years. Reeds are looked after now and again but flue work should be most stable if of proper quality.

 

Best wishes to readers, but with sorrow for a church that should be paying so much each year for such professional visits.

 

NJA

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

 

You don't listen to CD's then Nick?

 

 

Are you telling me you really don't know the difference between, on the one hand, a digital recording of a human being reading the score and playing the music, and, on the other, a computer reading the score and playing it?

 

And what I said was I wouldn't go to a recital to hear a computer playing an organ: I'd be damned annoyed if I went to one and found they put a CD on.

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Are you telling me you really don't know the difference between, on the one hand, a digital recording of a human being reading the score and playing the music, and, on the other, a computer reading the score and playing it?

 

And what I said was I wouldn't go to a recital to hear a computer playing an organ: I'd be damned annoyed if I went to one and found they put a CD on.

 

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

 

But would you KNOW if the programming included a few random wrong notes and a tiny bit of inconsistentcy in the phrasing?

 

After all Nick, to err is HUMAN.

 

<_<

 

MM

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I think it may have more to do with expectations - we will unquestioningly nod and accept that the "old" organ is "worn out" when in fact it's just in a poor state of regulation, and throw good money after bad effectively changing the oil every 1000 miles and achieving nothing of any use or benefit.

 

 

I completely agree that this is scandalous but the rub is - how are they supposed to know ? If, as is frequently claimed on this board and elsewhere, many churches are experiencing the greatest difficulty in finding someone who can actually play the organ how many is it plausible to assume have ready access to a member of the congregation with sufficient knowledge to oversee the work of the "builder/tuner" ? Employing independent consultants who do have such expertise, with its concomittant increase in costs, is most unlikely to prove attractive to almost any parish, and in the case of many is simply an unrealistic expectation, given the other calls on finance.

 

I would like to know the views of Frank Fowler on this but I do seem to remember a time when it could be assumed that the majority of craftsmen were (1) competent and (2) honest and could thus be trusted to the right thing without someone looking over their shoulder, although there have always been exceptions. But it now seems the exception may have become the rule. Does anyone know when this happened and why ?

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...but I do seem to remember a time when it could be assumed that the majority of craftsmen were (1) competent and (2) honest and could thus be trusted to the right thing without someone looking over their shoulder, although there have always been exceptions. But it now seems the exception may have become the rule. Does anyone know when this happened and why ?

I don't remember this time at all. Judging by the scandalous state of the organs in many parish churches, I don't think these haylcon days have existed since before the 1st world war... There are exceptions - and some very good people out there but how does the church tell unless they've got someone competent themselves?

 

It is a real problem that churches very rarely get good advice on organs and are having to tighten their purse strings so much.

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I don't remember this time at all. Judging by the scandalous state of the organs in many parish churches, I don't think these haylcon days have existed since before the 1st world war... There are exceptions - and some very good people out there but how does the church tell unless they've got someone competent themselves?

 

It is a real problem that churches very rarely get good advice on organs and are having to tighten their purse strings so much.

 

 

Well I do not ante date The Great War, merely the Korean, and that not by much , but I would certainly stand by my statement as regards my own part of the country (Essex) in respect of craftsmen generally - it is entirely possible that organ builders formed an exception to what was otherwise the rule since my contact with them during my formative years was necessarily not extensive, though why this should have been so is puzzling. Perhaps the economics of organ building have been precarious for that much longer, resulting in longer experience of/practice at corner cutting and doing unnecessary work.

 

Be that as it may, the real challenge is to try to do something about the problem by thinking of a way to make the sort of advice you argue is necessary as widely available as possible at an affordable cost. Any ideas how that might be done ?

 

BAC

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I very strongly agree with David's two points:

 

1. That there needs to be a lot more support of church musicians and organists.

We need to reach out to the little old lady who finds playing a 4 part hymn a struggle, giving her the support and training she needs to turn playing the organ into a joy. At the other end of the spectrum, the talented and capable musicians need inspiring and stretching to keep fresh and continuing to develop. More needs to be done to get people to go to events like courses and masterclasses. Oundle is a wonderful example of how to do it - but the IAO, RCO, RSCM run their annual events as well. I think that more needs to be done at the local level - at RSCM and local IAO organisations for running workshops and masterclasses for musical skills. Some are excellent but the coverage is patchy.

 

 

As a member of the local (i.e. to David and Colin) RSCM committee, I feel obliged to say that we ARE trying to do something about supporting local church musicians. Basically, we're going out to churches and trying to offer them practical assistance/advice or just a friendly face.

 

Please note that whatever I say is not under the official banner of the RSCM, though - I'm just a volunteer who has no official connection with the RSCM, save that I'm on a regional committee. In other words, the comments that follow are my opinions only.

 

What has to be borne in mind is that the RSCM is about promoting and enabling music in all churches (in fact, it's not even specific to churches) in the country. It is not about promoting Anglican church music. A considerable number of churches in this country are, sadly, not run by professionally trained musicians, etc, etc. So, the RSCM has to appeal to this market, or at least respond to demand.

 

The RSCM runs 3 educational strands:

1. Voice for Life

2. Skills of the Church Musician

3. Sacred Music Studies

 

Voice for Life is, obviously, about singing, and promoting it everywhere - schools, communities, churches, in a structured fashion, and providing teachers/choir trainers with the resources to make this easy.

 

Skills of the Church Musician is about providing practical training for people involved in Church Music, and, I guess, this is the banner under which the short organ courses would come.

 

It is my opinion that many RSCM affiliated church musicians are in a post where the church has very little money, they themselves are either not paid, or not very well paid, and where playing the organ or making church music is not their primary role in life. Therefore, forking out a reasonable sum of money and taking a week off their day job is not something that they're likely to do in a hurry. Therefore, I can see why the interest was low, and why the RSCM might not have put all their resources behind it - I honestly don't know what the situation is here.

 

I have considered attending these courses myself, but I would expect my church to pay for the course, and then I would have to consider whether I could countenance taking a week off my day job to take up the opportunity. Not all (many?) of us having the luxury of being retired or of being able to count church music as a full time job.

 

For the likes of David, who is a full-time organist, it's money well spent, and he no doubt benefited greatly from it. However, I would contend that this kind of course should be run by a body such as the RCO - i.e. the people who are supposed to be specialists in the organ world.

 

In other words, leave the RSCM to do what it's doing, i.e. trying to help the majority, and get bodies such as the RCO, St. Giles' and Oundle do the speciality masterclasses.

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