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Vanity Or Practicality?


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Guest Barry Oakley
I think the C-H instrument was 1999. Are you comparing the Sheffield C-H with the Sheffield phoenix, or comparing C-H and Phoenix in general? I heard the C-H on a couple of broadcasts and was very unimpressed - but I haven't heard the Phoenix.

 

JJK

 

I may be wrong about the dates I quoted, but I think it was earlier than 1999. And no, I'm not generally comparing C-H with Phoenix, but simply making a statement based on the fact that I've heard both systems in the flesh at Sheffield Cathedral.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Which has now been replaced with a new toaster - a Makin or Wyvern, I believe. completely understandable if you'd heard or played the Copeman Hart.

 

I believe the toaster was a tactical solution until a project for a longer term pipe organ can be comissioned.

 

 

IMHO The C-H was a logical solution for the purpose. I thought it was well worth the effort and up to the specific task. Until other (major) building questions are resolved, you cannot blame the cathedral music staff using a 'stand-in' electronic instrument. To correct your comment slightly: The vital innards are now (definitely) by Phoenix.

 

There is no question at all that the Cathedral will eventually place an order for at least one pipe organ - a while ago I heard a scheme for two instruments by Kuhn being discussed.

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In May this year I played an Allen two row for a wedding (with the church 'band', unfortunately). To say I was pleasantly surprised by the tonal quality would be an understatement - it was very good indeed, with the usual exception (to my ears at least) of the pedal 16' reed, which was just not quite convincing. Good - must try harder. It 's a comfortable thing to play, once I propped the stool up to a height that didn't mean my knees were around my ears (I'm 6ft+) but the Gt. pistons were all set up to cancel Sw-Gt - every one of them. IMHO such couplers should not be on pistons at all, and all should have their own reversibles, which these did not. Nor am I convinced of the need for a switch changing the sound to 'Baroque'. Interesting idea, but I prefered the English sound. It also could be set to different temperaments, but to be frank, although I didn't play around with that much, I didn't see (or hear) the point of it. Like so many things electronic, (and the Channel Tunnel, come to that) it's there because they can, not because it's needed. But I quite enjoyed myself, for all that.

 

Later this month I have to play another wedding, this time just me on a big, recent, three row C-H. I had the chance to try it a few weeks ago, and I have to say that good though the Allen is, this is in a different league entirely. Excellent choruses, a nice range of mutations, beautiful individual voices - the thing is a delight, and the console superb. The only thing that stopped me enjoying myself, an hour later (and I had no music with me, and always have had difficulty with playing from memory, and improvising) was choir practice starting!. But again, good though the instrument is, the Pedal 16' reed is still not quite there.

 

The acid test, I suppose, is 'could I live with one like it?' You bet! Would I, money aside, choose it over a comparable, or even, a smaller pipe job? Not on your life. It's good - very good - but it ain't the real thing. In practice, though, for most churches the cost is the crunch point. Churches aren't there to house Organs, much though I love the things, and money is tight these days.

 

Regards to all

 

John

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Guest Paul Isom

Paul Isom - if you're still lurking - I know you spent a lot of time on the Arundel Wyvern installation, and recorded a CD on it, which I have (Wyvern demo disc?)... What's your opinion? I listened to that CD in the car this morning, and thought that some of it sounded convincing, but that the 4' and mixture tones were a bit off (I can't put my finger on why). Do you think the CD is a fair reflection of the tonal work of the Wyvern that was installed? I assume it was recorded in a "normal" way - i.e. not an audio output straight from the console, but a mic somewhere down the nave?

 

Yes - still lurking and very much alive! I too was a little disappointed with the Mixtures. I used some fairly sensible Mixture compositions, but they seemed too bright even still - a bit 'dinner forky'. The main problem with many toaster Mixtures is that they are not based on original Mixture samples, but simply derived from say, a Fifteenth or similar stop. The scaling as a result is often way out, and I have to say that I did not get a chance to stay in the business to solve this conundrum. I agree that the Great 4' Principal lacks edge, the Swell and Choir were distinctly perkier. I was very worried about being too direct with the Great speakers and consequently angled them to bounce off the east wall rather than firing directly into the faces of choir and congregation. There was no jiggery-pokery with the recording at all - the mikes were set at the crossing (no D.I recording), and apart from editing mistakes (many and varied) no alterations to the original sound was made. At the time I seemed to be in charge of tonal stuff on the Wyvern Phoenix organs and the choice of samples is really down to me.

 

I have a recollection that I was standing on a beach in Hamshire once with a work colleague (let's call him AB) cooling off after a particularly trying 'voicing session' on a toaster where I threw the so-called voicing box out of the church door in frustration. He said - "you know what your're problem is - you're trying to build a bloody pipe organ". The only trouble is, that to achieve true realism you need pipes.

 

Need I say more???????????

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The only trouble is, that to achieve true realism you need pipes.

 

Need I say more???????????

Well yes, I think you do. Whatever the reasons and causes for your seemingly swift departure from Wyvern I must say that I think the demo disk that you recorded at Arundel is a stunning achievement. Not all of the sounds are fully convincing but many are wonderful. The central (soft) section of the Whitlock for example is just ravishing and simply took my breath away when I first heard it. Your choice of repertoire also makes the disk very rewarding - and I'd very much like to know how to get hold of some of the more obscure pieces - like the Sowande for example.

 

Out of the sample CD's that I was sent - admitedly not a fair way to judge - the Wyvern disk was in a league of its own. Makin's offering, Simon Lindley in Salford, is simply dreadful, what they hope to achieve by encouraging anyone to listen to this is beyond me, Copeman-Hart's rather old recording from Keble College is very poorly balanced with the recording absolutely swamped with pedal sound.

 

In my own church we would love to have been able to commission and install a pipe organ to replace the truely awful Compton/Makin inflicted upon the church in the 1960's, but even if we had the half a million pounds necessary to achieve this there is no suitable location in the church, which dates from the 13th century, in which to site such an instrument. So lets welcome and embrace the advances in technology which allow us to have a wonderful and fully effective instrument in our church, at a incredibly low cost.

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Guest Paul Isom

Whatever the reasons and causes for your seemingly swift departure from Wyvern I must say that I think the demo disk that you recorded at Arundel is a stunning achievement.

 

I am pleased that you like the disc! For the record - I left Wyvern when I was appointed Rochester Diocesan Organs Advisor and also head-hunted to teach music technology at a boys grammar school. The departure was not swift, and slightly reluctantly done as I did very much enjoy the cut a thrust of trying to solve some of the mysteries of pipeless instruments, and on occasions, trying to produce something that was really musical. Of course, the irony is that, since I left the trade and now sit on a DAC, I discover that all the architects who sit on the DAC with me work in their own right within the diocese, often earning more money from local churches that I ever could. All that happens when a job that the architect has an interest in, is that they leave the room.

 

Sadly we seem to be condemned with the majority of pipeless companies, into accepting either the 'generic' version, or some ridiculous over-inflated toys which are built at the whim of the incumbent organist. One church in Lancashire has such a monster which is a dreadful example of a toaster. The organist demanded the use of a DAT machine so that he could sample his favourite instruments throughout the UK. So, the results were, needless to say, awful. One hilarious example of the crass lack of knowledge was the fact that a Harrison Hohl Flute might be rubbing shoulders with a Rieger Holzgedackt (complete with action noise). The organ was also equipped with (I think) 4 x super-duper digital reverb units, expander unit, and the organist's own English translation of continental stop names! Curiously, any company that came in proposing something half-normal was sent packing. The organist has now left the church and moved to pastures new, leaving a complete mongrel of an instrument - far, far too big for the church with a crazy scheme and with more hardware than a chieftan tank.

 

I'll stop now as I have not had my second cup of coffee yet! Perhaps one day I'll write a book!!!!!!!

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Guest Lee Blick
O come on, that's taking anti-digital predjudice just too far. Yes, we could fill in with a piano for a month or two during a rebuild, but its not really the right instrument to provide colourful accompaniment to our rich choral tradition and its hardly going to keep skilled organists satisfied for very long.

 

I agree.

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Of course, the irony is that,  since I left the trade and now sit on a DAC, I discover that all the architects who sit on the DAC with me work in their own right within the diocese, often earning more money from local churches that I ever could.  All that happens when a job that the architect has an interest in, is that they leave the room.

 

 

I look forward to the book. I know John Budgen acts as an advisor to Bath & Wells as well as continuing his business. Good thing too - there are a lot of historic instruments on his patch that require the sort of knowledge he's got.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest Nigel ALLCOAT
Sadly we seem to be condemned with the majority of pipeless companies, into accepting either the 'generic' version, or some ridiculous over-inflated toys which are built at the whim of the incumbent organist. 

 

How very true this is. When discussing organs with church officers/incumbants/organists, they see in their minds a vast electronic substitute for the cost of about 2 ranks of an organ. I forget how many times I have been in charming and unpretentious country churches with folk designing three manuals and always including a conglomeration of reeds - 32ft upwards. I ask the seating capacity followed by the size of a normal Sunday congregation. I then produce a specification for discussion that is proportionate to building, needs and musicality. Their faces are a picture when they see what I suggest - which is of course Country English and certainly not an all-inclusive trip around Europe with often 6 or 7 countries represented in the stop list. I am also extremely wary of stops, by the way, that only have Alt written upon them. They seem to summon up the Cavalry. In the vicinity of those churches, I am certain that I find a dearth of birds and wild life.

I cannot contemplete walking up a charming path from the lychgate and hearing sounds that remind me of listening at the keyhole of Lincoln Minster when I was 10 years old. But, sadly, I do have to walk up church paths and approach the lovely churches which have become Sint Paul with Notre Carlsberg.

Does this only happen in the Midlands? Do any other consultants etc. draw up similar schemes to suit the churches? Am I alone in thinking that there is one disposition for organs and another for electronic constructions?

Best wishes,

Nigel

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Their faces are a picture when they see what I suggest - which is of course Country English and certainly not an all-inclusive trip around Europe with often 6 or 7 countries represented in the stop list. I am also extremely wary of stops, by the way, that only have Alt written upon them.

I'm sorry but this is patronising clap-trap. I can't think of a single decent, custom made digital organ - and in the course of my recent research I've tried a few - that matches this description. 6 or 7 countries represented in the stop list - come on, you're having a joke.

 

Of course, some of the standard offerings from our atlantic allies have stop lists that are not to european tastes, but it is just not fair to consider the Copeman-Harts, Wyverns and Phoenixes of this world in the same bracket. Its also grossly unfair to suggest that all organists forced through circumstances down the digital path are obsessed with gimimics. For the new custom toaster in my own church the statement of requirement specifically excluded features that would not be present on pipe instruments.

 

At the risk of offending Frank Fowler, whose contibutions on this board I very much value, I would suggest that if electronic cleverness was valued above tonal quality HNB would still be in business.

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This is an interesting point and has left me wondering how far toaster specifications really have to be subject to the same considerations as those of pipe organs. What, exactly, is so inappropriate about having a "cathedral" spec in a modest parish church? Is it really a matter of acoustics, or has it more to do with what we have taught ourselves to expect from pipe organs?

 

Pipe organs are designed very much with cost in mind so one tends to start by working out what stops are absolutely essential and, if there is money, expand from there. But is there any inherent reason why a small church no bigger than a village hall shouldn't have a full swell with all the works and a 32' pedal reed. etc? After all, these are no more than tone colours and frequencies, are they not? I could accept that a 32' reed blowing raspberries into a bone dry acoustic might struggle to sound nice, but otherwise the only problem I can see is that one might have to tone everything down so that the organ does not become overpowering.

 

That is certainly a criticism that could be levelled at the two sizeable three manual organs in small churches (Freshwater parish church, IoW, and St Michael's, Kingsteignton; neither has a 32' reed), but otherwise they are perfectly successful intruments. (And there must be many an acoustically dry church in America that has a large organ with a 32' reed.)

 

I admit to a disarming ignorance about such things, so feel free to shoot me down.

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"One church in Lancashire has such a monster which is a dreadful example of a toaster. The organist demanded the use of a DAT machine so that he could sample his favourite instruments throughout the UK. So, the results were, needless to say, awful. One hilarious example of the crass lack of knowledge was the fact that a Harrison Hohl Flute might be rubbing shoulders with a Rieger Holzgedackt (complete with action noise). The organ was also equipped with (I think) 4 x super-duper digital reverb units, expander unit, and the organist's own English translation of continental stop names"

 

I think this is the toaster?

 

 

it didn't put the url in?

another try..

 

 

http://www.phoenixorgans.co.uk/installations/broughton.html

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Guest Andrew Butler
"One church in Lancashire has such a monster which is a dreadful example of a toaster. The organist demanded the use of a DAT machine so that he could sample his favourite instruments throughout the UK. So, the results were, needless to say, awful. One hilarious example of the crass lack of knowledge was the fact that a Harrison Hohl Flute might be rubbing shoulders with a Rieger Holzgedackt (complete with action noise). The organ was also equipped with (I think) 4 x super-duper digital reverb units, expander unit, and the organist's own English translation of continental stop names"

 

I think this is the toaster?

 

<a href="http://www.phoenixorgans.co.uk/installations/broughton.html" target="_blank"></a>

 

it didn't put the url in?

another try..

http://www.phoenixorgans.co.uk/installations/broughton.html

 

I raised similar concerns under another heading (I think it was called "Any views?" which ran its couse and seems to have been re-incarnated here.

 

However, can the same criticism not be levelled against pipe organs? As an example, the Broughton Phoenix spec hgas certain parallels with Liverpool Anglican Cathedral - eg the Bombardes at different pitches on the pedal, and the Flute Triangulaire (incidentally, what does that sound like?). And at Liverpool the unenclosed Positiv "rubs shoulders" with the romantic enclosed choir......

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  • 3 weeks later...
How very true this is. When discussing organs with church officers/incumbants/organists, they see in their minds a vast electronic substitute for the cost of about 2 ranks of an organ. I forget how many times I have been in charming and unpretentious country churches with folk designing three manuals and always including a conglomeration of reeds - 32ft upwards. I ask the seating capacity followed by the size of a normal Sunday congregation. I then produce a specification for discussion that is proportionate to building, needs and musicality. Their faces are a picture when they see what I suggest - which is of course Country English and certainly not an all-inclusive trip around Europe with often 6 or 7 countries represented in the stop list. I am also extremely wary of stops, by the way, that only have Alt written upon them. They seem to summon up the Cavalry. In the vicinity of those churches, I am certain that I find a dearth of birds and wild life.

I cannot contemplete walking up a charming path from the lychgate and hearing sounds that remind me of listening at the keyhole of Lincoln Minster when I was 10 years old. But, sadly, I do have to walk up church paths and approach the lovely churches which have become Sint Paul with Notre Carlsberg.

Does this only happen in the Midlands? Do any other consultants etc. draw up similar schemes to suit the churches? Am I alone in thinking that there is one disposition for organs and another for electronic constructions?

Best wishes,

Nigel

 

Very surprised to see this post get shot down in flames. I am always surprised to come upon places which were probably served very well for 100 years + by Dulciana, Stopped and Open with perhaps a Principal or Flute, and a Gamba if feeling particularly rakish, suddenly deciding they need three complete choruses to 1' and four times more ranks of mixtures than the pipe organ had ranks in total. I don't think it's at all patronising to suggest that the whole ethos of selling electronic organs is based on getting variety and value for money. Even the tiny little basic 2m Allen (the cheapest available model) at the local crematorium represents three or four countries in its tonal design, which seems to be based on starting at 16 Gedeckt and having everything possible through to 4' Clairon, then deciding what the actual rank should be afterwards. Hence the local crem Gt (enclosed, of course) has a Gedeckt 16, Montre, Harmonic Flute 8, Spitzflote, Fifteenth, Fourniture and Krummhorn on the same manual. And that's an off-the-shelf design. What happens when the project leader (presumably the one wanting the toys) gets their hands on it? Just what Paul Isom has said - an even more garbled nonsense.

 

Sorry, but held against the actual requirements of the job - a few hymns and simple voluntaries - these are little more than toys. They will produce sounds that thrill, but not sounds of great beauty and charisma. Locally to here a lovely 1 manual organ with the most delicious Stopped Diapason of the sort of charm you could listen to for 8 hours without tiring of it, was skipped and replaced with a huge electronic at the behest of one Dr W Marshall. We are always up in arms on these pages of the need to preserve heritage and stop destroying organs - why are our feelings skewed when electronics are involved? We ought to be even more vociferous. I bet you if someone had suggested rebuilding this instrument with loads of upperwork on a clamp and a 4' pedal Schalmei there would have been uproar. Because it's an electronic, we shrug our shoulders and say "Oh well, at least they'll be able to have the Widor at weddings." Some of the "big" builders small jobs are the most thrilling things you will ever encounter - Hill's chamber organs are invariably as close to perfection as you can imagine, and the most memorable organ I played in 2006 was a 7 stop Walker (being ditched for a toaster).

 

I've been out to look at this church Adrian refers to. It is small, and in my view would be served beautifully by a nice redundant large 1m or small 2, just a nice chorus which a small reed on top. Adrian points out that they'd never find anyone to play it. So how the hell has most of the country managed for the last x-hundred years??? I am even more certain that if we start accepting that the way to get organists is to throw the organs away, and pander to the megalomaniac in people, the logical conclusion is that we will have no organs whatsoever left. A musical instrument that works is so many zillion times more rewarding than anything with a plug on it could ever be that I just can't believe we're having this conversation.

 

The purveyors of electronics are merely fulfilling a need. In my view the majority of the blame for this happening lies at the feet of the majority of rural organbuilders who don't know how to set up a tracker action properly. The alarming state of a lot of these small organs has nothing to do with money - they are often vastly over-maintained yet still remain clunky, heavy and nasty, often running on the wrong wind pressure and suffering poor pipe speech and regulation. So many "horrible little clapped out organs" just aren't - they're badly maintained by people who of course want to charge huge sums to make them slightly less bad, but in fact lack the skills to put them back into the light, crisp, even, pleasurable musical instruments they were when new, reducing wear & tear and future maintenance needs in the process. That's why electronics seem like an attractive proposition.

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