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American YouTube user raises question about the English attitude to organs

Started by David Pinnegar, September 30, 2011, 04:47:10 PM

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David Pinnegar


On an American comments rather colorfully:
Quotethey've restored pieces of shit organs here in usa,,(like the Hook, in mechanics hall, worcester, ma usa),,this one is a keeper,,,,,you idiots

Whilst this instrument was acquired news on progress of its rebuilding has been rather nebulous. I'm certainly not aware of having heard news of a dedication recital yet . . .

I hope to learn one day that this post can be taken out of the category of pipe organ gravestones . . . but more relevantly the American does raise a most significant point about the current English attitude to organs and to churches.

Best wishes

David P


The comment below the one quoted I find most profound...

QuoteThe problem now days is that if someone doesn't understand something they feel threatened by it and want to make it go away. I am very thankful that I tried a little bit to overcome my dislike of organ music. Now I am the biggest organ music fan alive and I play.

What  I find fascinating is that here in the Good Ol' USA some private real estate developers who have acquired disused religious facilities have  taken steps to either retain the pipe organ in situ or have restored the instruments so they can be used there... Sadly this is not always the case... but even then an effort generally is made to rehouse the instrument...

The first sentence pretty much answers the question raised... So what needs to be done, and quickly... is to promote understanding so people don't feel threatened ;)  This will save so much more than the pipe organ :)


The objective is to reach human immortality—that is, to create things which are necessary to mankind, necessary to the purpose of the existence of mankind, and which have become the fruit that drives the creation of a higher state of mankind than ever existed before."

Pierre Lauwers

In Britain they even scrapped this:

(The recording quality is quite below par. I went there first time shortly afterwards, in 1979)

With a better sound:

Best wishes,


Barrie Davis

I know Pierre, I lament the demise of the old Worcester Cathedral organ, it had certain problems but on the whole did the job. It was comfortable to play as a solo instrument and had some lovely quiet stops. The new organ is superb for the choir but badly needs the transept section adding. There is a good Great chorus in the Transept case why not take this out of the box and add a new Swell. I know they want to keep the 2 32s in that case, so the Diaphones and H&H reeds would have to go to make space. Why oh why move the transept case?

Organs in the UK are not valued, the average village church in my area plods along with a well built N&L but when it fails they call in either "Bodget and Codget" or get thinking of a toaster.

Any organ can be kept playing by some means, but why waste money when in the long term the more expensive option has to be faced.

Moan over
Best wishes


David Drinkell

The Saint-Saens recording is exciting, but shows up the desperate state of some of the tuning.  This was symptomatic of the whole instrument.  One could never depend on it from one day to the next.

The organ had major work in 1896, 1925, 1937, 1948, 1965, 1067, 1973, 1978.  During that time there were also various attempts to provide organ tone in the nave, including a pleasant little Harrison two manual and later a Bradford electrone.  The old organ could sound fine, and the soft stops were nice, but in the end it was a terrible mish-mash both tonally and mechanically.  It was also too close to the seats in the quire for comfort.  Over a number of years, I never heard the transept organ.

The new organ was probably a better economic proposition, is better sited, has a fine pair of cases (the old ones were arguably not Scott's best work) and is part of a carefully-conceived long-term plan for organ provision throughout the building.  It will hopefully not need seven rebuilds during the next century and bids fair to make an outstanding reputation on more thjan a national scale.  At least we can give it a chance!

Let's make every effort to preserve our heritage, but admit that what they have at Worcester is a better solution than they had before.

Pierre Lauwers

Dear David, I can understand what you mean, but we shall nevertheless never agree; we are on differing planets !
An organ has nothing to do with "economics" -it is not a device like a wash machine- for me. But be sure of une thing:
had the old Worcester organ been 700 Miles east, it would have been sheltered by a strong Denkmalschütz that is
badly needed in Britain I fear...
Actually, whenever one begins to think an organ is "beyond repair" for whatever reason, this means it is time
to legally protect it against the human beings.

The W. organ had not only "some fine soft stops". It was crammed with character and historic value -much H-J material
was still there- and its problems were slight comparatively. You don't scrap a 1930 Rolls-Royce because its Lucas
"Queen of the darkness" Magneto sometimes plays games.

Best wishes,


David Drinkell

Seriously - the old Worcester organ was at the end of its tether.  There wasn't much Hope-Jones pipework left in it, apart from the Viole d'Orchestre, and what there was had been revoiced several times.  There are other organs with more unaltered Hope-Jones material which are far more deserving of attention. I have more HJ pipe-work in my organ here than there was at Worcester, and while I'm here it will be treasured.  I can see no justification for retaining a hotch-potch with a record of rebuilds every twenty years or less, whole sections of which weren't working (the transept divisions), containing stuff which would wear out at different raters and times, when there was an opportunity of creating a fine new instrument, perfectly suited to its purpose and environment. 

Pierre Lauwers


St John's Cathedral, Newfoundland (Hope-Jones/Ingram of Hereford about 1900, Norman & Beard 1915, then a big rebuild by Casavant, 1927).


Quote from: David Pinnegar on September 30, 2011, 04:47:10 PMWhilst this instrument was acquired news on progress of its rebuilding has been rather nebulous. I'm certainly not aware of having heard news of a dedication recital yet . . .

I spoke to a gentleman closely involved in this project two months ago - he tells me that the stumbling block is the outgoing Dean of Newport, who is worried that the Walker will upstage the Cathedral's Nicholson, and who has fond memories of holding notes for the tuning of the existing Vowles, before it was comprehensively wrecked. There will be (or may have been) a Consistory Court hearing over the whole thing - then the Dean is off to be Bishop of somewhere tropical. Meanwhile, I'm told that the Vowles in still in place, largely unusable, and part of the Walker has been set up as a temporary 2m job - the rest will follow.

David Drinkell

Quote from: AnOrganCornucopia on December 10, 2011, 02:23:17 AM
St John's Cathedral, Newfoundland (Hope-Jones/Ingram of Hereford about 1900, Norman & Beard 1915, then a big rebuild by Casavant, 1927).

It was opened in 1904. By 1907, it was giving so much trouble that Norman & Beard  sent a rep to report, but the work wasn't done until 1915.  It continued to give trouble until, in 1927, Casavant built a new organ using some of the existing pipes, which - apart from a little tweaking in 1998 - is what we have today.  (The problems may not necessarily have been due to Hope-Jones's innovative mechanisms - steam heating systems have been the death of a number of British organs in North America, including a large 3m Harrison a few blocks away.  Apparently, British builders seasoned their timber differently and this led to problems with efficient heating systems and slider chests).

I can email a descriptive leaflet to anyone who is interested.

Pierre Lauwers

Indeed I am, David ! Videos would also be fine.

Willis III once said Casavant were right to use the Pitman chest, because of the canadian climate.
Himself and Harrison & Harrison still used slider-chests, and this may have been a reason for the
problems with their organs in Canada.
Eberhard Friedrich Walcker built also slider chests in the beginnings of his career (notably in his well-known
organ in the Pauluskirche in Frankfurt). The idea to go for the Kegellade, developped from several experiments
made by other builders before) came to his mind because of the problems he had with slider-chests in Russia,
exactly for the same reasons thus. Of course multiplex-wood, telescopic joints and the like did not exist then.

(P.S. If interest, I have the list of the H-J stops that were still in Worcester in 1979 (though indeed "revoiced") )

Best wishes,