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Goldsmith

Trinity College, Cambridge

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Thank you for the inside information about Nottingham, Philip. I do apologise if my enthusiasm for the new combinations at Trinity Cambridge (unintentionally) implied a criticism of the music programme at Nottingham (or at Oundle); I hear nothing but good things about it.  No doubt the Marcussen is difficult to work with as you describe in detail, not least because of its position in the building. 
 
I did mean it when I said that the Marcusen was an interesting comparison to the recently-enhanced Metzler at Trinity; as a generation of organists we inherit a stock of often excellent but difficult instruments from the late twentieth century and I don't blame anyone for finding a creative solution to their custodianship.  My intention was to express support for Trinity's approach of making their great but difficult organ viable for perhaps another decade or so.

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"Boying" the bellows reminded me of a particular church service that I was 'volunteered' for by an organist friend of mine who was going on holiday abroad for three weeks and needed to find a substitute performer. Although he had never told me this before I waved him off at Manchester Airport the week before, was that this service was not going to be just a normal Sunday service but it was, in fact something that I hadn't heard of at the time, a 'patronal festival' kind of service which meant apart from the usual hymns and other pieces, the choir was going to sing a full-scale anthem as well as other bits, including me softy accompanying the primary school children in a song they had learnt during the term. That, as well as a couple of extra hymns completed the programme.

Now, the other thing I never knew before accepting this job was that the church was in the process of having all the electrical circuits rewired a few weeks before but this work had run slightly behind. This meant that although all the lighting was operational, they hadn't got round to installing the three-phase electrics by the time of the service which naturally meant that the organ blower was out of action so the whole service would need to be blown by hand. This, I was told by the vicar, wouldn't be any problem as he'd engaged one of the locals to perform this task as he used to do it all the time when he was a boy so "it shouldn't present any problems at all."

Come Friday night choir practice, arrangements had already been made to give this service a "full dress rehearsal" to iron out any timing or processional problems that might arise. It was then that I was introduced to "Old Frank" - an octogenarian parishioner who was going to "poomp tha' organ."  Well, at first everything went fine although the choirmaster stopped proceedings a couple of times to comment on certain things. We got through the anthem and another hymn okay before it was the turn of the children to perform their song. Then for the final hymn which contained six verses, long enough for the choir to process down the church and back to their robing room.

Then trouble. I had just played the first line of the second verse when the wind pressure started to fall and the organ died, sounding like a dying bunch of ally cats as it did so. I stopped, everyone stopped. 'Oh my God!' I thought as I scrambled off the organ. 'Old Frank, I hope he's alright and hasn't had a heart attack or something!' I walked round the back of the organ, opened the curtain and there was Old Franck, sitting on a chair and glancing over a newspaper. "What's up, are you alright?" I gasped. "I thought perhaps you were ill" I said. He just looked at me, shook his head and said "No, no, I's alright boy." and smiled. "So why have you stopped, we haven't finished yet!" I asked. Then he looked at me again, stood up, put down his paper and said in a serious tone. "When I was a lad, I used to poomped tha organ 2,464 times e'rey Sunday. Und tha's ad that!" he told me before sitting down again and picking up his paper. By then the vicar had arrived with a couple of churchwardens to see what was going on. In the end I left them to it and returned to the organ bench, informing the choir what had happened as I did so. After another five minutes or so one of the churchwardens came up to me and said "You should be alright to finish now. We've spoken to Frank gently and he's agreed to provide the organ with some more wind." as he stood shaking his head with a big grin forming on his face. Just then I heard the organ roar into life again and we managed to finish the rehearsal without any more problems, but I said later that it was just as well we had rehearsed it all before the actual performance on Sunday as it could have been very embarrassing. All of this happened over forty years ago but I expect old Frank is up there somewhere, complaining to the angels that "tha's ad enough poomping for today!"  

P.S. As regards registration changes on Silbermann and other organs from the 18th century, I always used to engage my two elder daughters to turn the music (if indeed I actually needed it by then) and change the stops when required and it always worked well. Playing historic instruments it is totally unacceptable to "bang the stops in and out" as they all need to be treated with great care and respect. I did, however, come across one organ that had two very small foot levers at floor level underneath the right stop jamb that worked by engaging or disengaging the manual shove coupler when playing. I found it invaluable during my student days as I would often forget to engage the coupler manually, not being used to shove couplers at that time. When I asked the organist about it he wasn't sure just when it had been fitted although he knew that it was very early In the organ's history. Making a detailed study of the mechanism much later, I estimated that it wasn't later than about the mid 1820's, the organ having originally been built in 1742.

With best wishes,

Ian 

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