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Subcontracting


Paul Morley
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Hi,

 

A few years ago I updated the NPOR entry on the organ at Middlewich Parish Church.

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N04308

 

The organ took on its present siting, tonal design etc. as a result of a radical and cost-sensitive rebuild by R & D in 1964. Over the last ten years or so I have played it or sung to it on about half a dozen occasions. As a result of this experience, I am able to say without fear of contradiction that this organ has two manuals, a pedalboard and some stops.

 

However…

The late organist, who worked closely with the builders in 1964, informed me that the Contra Oboe stop (playable on Sw and Ped) had been voiced by Henry Willis III. I realise that this sounds like an urban myth, but the gentleman in question knew what he was taking about and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his recollections.

 

I wondered if any board members could throw any light on this. As I understand it, it was not uncommon for big firms to subcontract to smaller ones. However, here we appear to have a situation where a big firm subcontracted to another big firm with whom they were in direct (and I should imagine fairly fierce) competition. Intriguing

 

Paul.

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Hi,

 

A few years ago I updated the NPOR entry on the organ at Middlewich Parish Church.

 

http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/cgi-bin/Rsearch...ec_index=N04308

 

The organ took on its present siting, tonal design etc. as a result of a radical and cost-sensitive rebuild by R & D in 1964.  Over the last ten years or so I have played it or sung to it on about half a dozen occasions.  As a result of this experience, I am able to say without fear of contradiction that this organ has two manuals, a pedalboard and some stops.

 

However…

The late organist, who worked closely with the builders in 1964, informed me that the Contra Oboe stop (playable on Sw and Ped) had been voiced by Henry Willis III.  I realise that this sounds like an urban myth, but the gentleman in question knew what he was taking about and I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of his recollections.

 

I wondered if any board members could throw any light on this.  As I understand it, it was not uncommon for big firms to subcontract to smaller ones.  However, here we appear to have a situation where a big firm subcontracted to another big firm with whom they were in direct (and I should imagine fairly fierce) competition.  Intriguing

 

Paul.

 

 

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

 

I don't know the ins and outs of sub-contracting, except that quite a lot goes on in the organ-building world; which stands to reason.

 

Board Members may recall Frank Fowler mentioning a "works canteen" at H,N & B, and that says something about the scale of organ-building in days gone by. John Compton had a huge factory, in which every single component was made on the presmises; more or less.

 

I know that Compton possibly eased both Walker and Nicholson through the depression years, by sub-contracting work to them, at a time when he was flat-out making theatre organs.

 

Those happy days have passed, and now most organ builders, (even the largest), are really only small to medium size companies with a restricted workshop capacity. Maybe it isn't quite sub-contracting, but many organ-builders deal with organ-part manufacturers and pipe-makers such as Laukhoff, and buy things ready made.

 

In an age where big orders are comparatively rare, no-one has the financial resource to employ a permanent staff of out-and-out specialists in particular fields of activity, whereas it was once quite common to find a dedicated team of leatherworkers, electrical experts, pipe-makers etc.

 

The problems only ever start when the sub-contracter is below par, but I would have thought that most of the poor quality organ-builders have now gone to the wall.

 

Maybe it isn't so remarkable after all, and maybe it's business as usual, but I would almost expect an organ-builder to call upon his rivals and colleagues when it came to large-scale projects.

 

MM

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

 

In an age where big orders are comparatively rare, no-one has the financial resource to employ a permanent staff of out-and-out specialists in particular fields of activity, whereas it was once quite common to find a dedicated team of leatherworkers, electrical experts, pipe-makers etc.

 

The problems only ever start when the sub-contracter is below par, but I would have thought that most of the poor quality organ-builders have now gone to the wall.

 

Maybe it isn't so remarkable after all, and maybe it's business as usual, but I would almost expect an organ-builder to call upon his rivals and colleagues when it came to large-scale projects.

 

MM

 

Indeed - and I believe that Manders subcontracted part of the RAH job (soundboard restoration IIRC) to the Village Workshop. And of course acknowledged their participation.

JJK

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

I would have thought that most of the poor quality organ-builders have now gone to the wall.

 

MM

 

Would this were so - I regularly get to see really really shocking stuff going on and have been most surprised (naming no names) at just who some of the larger firms are happy to sub their work out to.

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Guest Barry Oakley

Sub-contracting, no matter in what field, in my experience comes down to diligent project management - knowing your sub contractor and his reputation, specifying the processes and stipulating precisely the materials to be used. And if it's a big job, performing regular progress and inspection visits.

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Sub-contracting, no matter in what field, in my experience comes down to diligent project management - knowing your sub contractor and his reputation, specifying the processes and stipulating precisely the materials to be used. And if it's a big job, performing regular progress and inspection visits.

 

This is all true and fine so far as it goes. Where organ building differs from most other industries where subcontracting is a norm is that so many things can't be quantified - musical qualities mostly. The same goes (to an even greater extent) where tuning and maintenance is subbed out, in which case there is even less likelihood of the main contractor being able to go and check up - if they could do that, they might as well do the job themselves in the first place. But it's amazing how quickly reed regulation and coupler adjustment can go to pot, to name two fairly obvious examples, and still be technically "working" but musically far short of what they should be.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Guest Barry Williams
This is all true and fine so far as it goes.  Where organ building differs from most other industries where subcontracting is a norm is that so many things can't be quantified - musical qualities mostly.  The same goes (to an even greater extent) where tuning and maintenance is subbed out, in which case there is even less likelihood of the main contractor being able to go and check up - if they could do that, they might as well do the job themselves in the first place.  But it's amazing how quickly reed regulation and coupler adjustment can go to pot, to name two fairly obvious examples, and still be technically "working" but musically far short of what they should be.

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Guest Barry Williams
This is all true and fine so far as it goes.  Where organ building differs from most other industries where subcontracting is a norm is that so many things can't be quantified - musical qualities mostly.  The same goes (to an even greater extent) where tuning and maintenance is subbed out, in which case there is even less likelihood of the main contractor being able to go and check up - if they could do that, they might as well do the job themselves in the first place.  But it's amazing how quickly reed regulation and coupler adjustment can go to pot, to name two fairly obvious examples, and still be technically "working" but musically far short of what they should be.

 

 

Subcontracting can go too far. Rumour has it that one organ being purchased from a major IBO registered builder has been subcontracted to another major IBO registered builder, who has in turn subcontracted the work to a non-IBO registered sole contractor. I do hope this is not so, for it will undermine confidence in the trade.

 

Barry Williams

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Subcontracting can go too far.  Rumour has it that one organ being purchased from a major IBO registered builder has been subcontracted to another major IBO registered builder, who has in turn subcontracted the work to a non-IBO registered sole contractor.  I do hope this is not so, for it will undermine confidence in the trade.

 

Barry Williams

 

There are PLENTY of good non-IBO builders about, and several in the IBO you probably wouldn't ask to tune a voicing machine.

 

Does anyone still hear anything about the ISOB? I was slightly amused to note that their 2006 list of paid up members includes...Mr Alistair Rushworth. Surely not he?

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Does anyone still hear anything about the ISOB?  I was slightly amused to note that their 2006 list of paid up members includes...Mr Alistair Rushworth.  Surely not he?

 

I would be extremely interested to learn how this august body collects his subscription - particularly since Rosemary Brown is also no longer with us....

 

:lol:

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Subcontracting can go too far.  Rumour has it that one organ being purchased from a major IBO registered builder has been subcontracted to another major IBO registered builder, who has in turn subcontracted the work to a non-IBO registered sole contractor.  I do hope this is not so, for it will undermine confidence in the trade.

 

Barry Williams

 

 

Dear Barry,

I realise that you probably can't name names here - attempts to persuade a professional lawyer to slander someone over the internet are not likely to succeed (!) -

but I'd love a private e-mail to fill in a detail or two of the above statement.

It's hypnotically interesting - I'm sitting here, mind busy boggling, rabbit-in-the-headlights sort of thing!

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Dear Barry,

I realise that you probably can't name names here - attempts to persuade a professional lawyer to slander someone over the internet are not likely to succeed (!) -

but I'd love a private e-mail to fill in a detail or two of the above statement.

It's hypnotically interesting - I'm sitting here, mind busy boggling, rabbit-in-the-headlights sort of thing!

 

 

You may well find that unless the contract stipulates the work shall be done by `listed' organ builders who the work is contracted to matters little. It is the Company with whom the work is placed is the one required to deliver to the expected standards.

 

In the days of the `big boys' you usually knew where you were.

 

FF

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In the days of the `big boys' you usually knew where you were.

 

FF

 

Yes. It was HW4 who observed in the early 60's that the future lay in small craft workshops producing high quality work and competing on the basis of market forces, and to a large extent he has been proved right. The likes of Osmond and Percy Daniel are largely behind us (and, in the West Country at least, they were considered 'big boys' and could get away with more or less what they wanted) and replaced with Lance Foy and Stephen Cooke and Michael Farley and others who depend on the quality of their last job to get them their next. I think that is probably a healthier situation, even if you don't always feel as though you know where you are. But one side effect is that it does make accreditation to anything slightly meaningless.

 

To take a fairly random example, the present fairly small firm of Walker is producing some excellent work - the restoration of Romsey is a prime example of really excellent work all round, musically and historically, and there are many others. Yet according to the IBO website they were last inspected in 1996, which makes them technically non-accredited members (the statutory five years between inspections having long elapsed). I could probably line up three Walker jobs to be inspected tomorrow and get them the highest accolades (the 1999 Nave organ at Romsey being one of them). Drake's not IBO, nor are the modern Willis firm. Yet who would hesitate to place a large purchase order with any of these firms?

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To take a fairly random example, the present fairly small firm of Walker is producing some excellent work - the restoration of Romsey is a prime example of really excellent work all round, musically and historically, and there are many others.  Yet according to the IBO website they were last inspected in 1996, which makes them technically non-accredited members (the statutory five years between inspections having long elapsed).  I could probably line up three Walker jobs to be inspected tomorrow and get them the highest accolades (the 1999 Nave organ at Romsey being one of them).  Drake's not IBO, nor are the modern Willis firm.  Yet who would hesitate to place a large purchase order with any of these firms?

 

Blimey, that is interesting. I don't think I would even have considered checking whether the "big" names were accredited before inviting them to come do work on my organ. But, I would have done before giving work to any of the lesser knowns.

 

I would liken IBO creditation to the farce that is the CRB. Having a CRB clearance doesn't really mean much, but it does mean that if something goes wrong, then the employing body can point out that they've taken every reasonable precaution not to employ a known offender, and pass the buck to the authorities. Having made sure that a smaller firm with a less obvious reputation (i.e. that the PCC hasn't heard of) is IBO certified, should they prove to do a less than satisfactory job, the decision makers behind award the contract can rest safe in the knowledge that they've taken every reasonable precaution, as opposed to hiring someone on the strength of some work they say they've done.

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Having made sure that a smaller firm with a less obvious reputation (i.e. that the PCC hasn't heard of) is IBO certified, should they prove to do a less than satisfactory job, the decision makers behind award the contract can rest safe in the knowledge that they've taken every reasonable precaution, as opposed to hiring someone on the strength of some work they say they've done.

 

Well, there is that, yes - and that's a very good idea, in principle. BUT - the IBO accreditation works on the basis of three work examples nominated by the person to be approved. In effect, then, passing the buck is all that gets achieved; "on the strength of some work they say they've done" is almost it. You could turn a Snetzler into an extension organ with a percussion section in one church, then five miles down the road clean and overhaul an Osmond dexion organ. If you only put down the Osmond for inspection, the Snetzlerphone passes without comment. How useful is that?

 

I don't want this to turn into an anti IBO rant because I think in principle it's a marvellous idea. I'm sure the ISOB was once, but it gets diluted over time.

 

Wouldn't it be better IF -

 

1) it went hand-in-hand with the diocesan and free church advisory schemes as a kind of national database

 

2) inspection of every job by the DOA according to a set of tangible guidelines was compulsory, and the findings put towards a star rating or something similar

 

3) it was funded by the diocesan and free church schemes rather than by rather expensive membership & accreditation fees.

 

That really WOULD sort a few problems out. Trouble is, you have to then be sure your advisors are suitably qualified... and so you start all over again...

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Guest Barry Williams
There are PLENTY of good non-IBO builders about, and several in the IBO you probably wouldn't ask to tune a voicing machine.

 

Does anyone still hear anything about the ISOB?  I was slightly amused to note that their 2006 list of paid up members includes...Mr Alistair Rushworth.  Surely not he?

 

 

William Drake, one of the finest organ builders in the country is not IBO registered.

 

Barry Williams

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Guest Barry Williams
Dear Barry,

I realise that you probably can't name names here - attempts to persuade a professional lawyer to slander someone over the internet are not likely to succeed (!) -

but I'd love a private e-mail to fill in a detail or two of the above statement.

It's hypnotically interesting - I'm sitting here, mind busy boggling, rabbit-in-the-headlights sort of thing!

 

 

 

Please send me a private e mail with your telephone number and I will tell you what I know,

 

Yours sincerely

 

Barry

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