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Messages - MusingMuso

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Even more disturbing, because Steve Tovey was not a professional organ-builder, and from the Council's point of view, he was therefore unqualified. (Which is not the same as saying that he didn't know anything!)

I never met Steve Tovey, but he seems to have been a bit of a character and very well liked.

In effect, the Wolverhampton Council are admitting to total negligence and wanton destruction of a public asset, by failing to involve professional opinion; either from an organ-builder or a professional consultant. I would have thought that an organ such as this could have been removed and re-built for considerably less than £1 million; more probably around the £600,000 mark, considering the position of the organ.

However, thanks for the information about "the information", which makes my task that much easier and would probably save me from the gallows.

Reading between the lines,my guess is that there were lawyers involved in what amounts to skullduggery, because the presence of toxic asbestos or even a suggestion of it, is a very convenient smoke-screen, behind which they can do almost anything "to protect the public and council employees".

I shall have to get hold of the information and look through it in detail, but it will be taken with a very large chunk of rock-salt.


Thank-you for this very informed reply. My sources are a little sketchier, but seem to be in accord with your own.

As I am drawing the the end of writing the Compton Story (a mere 12 years down the line) the loss of Wolverhampton is particularly unfortunate.

If I may prevail a little, may I use bits of what you have contributed in the "book"?

I would have to use general terms and not fall foul of the law, so I wouldn't be quoting names and sources as such, for fear of being prosecuted or getting anyone else into trouble. There are ways of telling the truth which avoids all that, without recourse to lies, deceit and misrepresentation.

It's very convenient that the organ (which had apparently been sealed against damage, and was in two large swell boxes) somehow managed to suck in so much contamination! It wouldn't have got there by itself!

Right after Steve Toivey's death, the organ was suddenly a fire risk. It was isolated from the mains supply, but that wouldn't have been enough to condemn the instrument. Asbestos carries the full weight of primary law, so that was the best route to take, for those who wanted to create a pop venue.

The loss to Wolverhampton is bad enough, but the wanten destruction of the instrument borders on criminal negligence, considering that there were and are people who could have utilised either the whole instrument or many of the parts and pipes.

As for "heritage" England, I wonder if they actually know what heritage means!

I am disgusted by the whole saga, but I'll make sure it goes on record for all time!!


It's interesting that when Peter Hurford recorded the Bach series, he did two "takes" intended as an archive edition, and the other (for the BBC?) more in the manner of live performances.

I found the latter infinitely more interesting than the former.

Oddly enough, I've only ever once heard the perfect Bach performance live, when Francis Jackson played the Eb P & F (St Anne)  at Leeds PC, possibly 40 years ago. Note perfect and with impeccable control, yet SO spontaneous as to be utterly thrilling if not breathtaking.

Some may not approve, but my moral is always to be a spontaneous musician, because if you haven't learned the notes perfectly, it's too late to do anything about it on the day. You CAN do something about playing musically and convincingly however, and a few errors are seldom much of a distraction unless they are glaringly awful.



A nice mid-19th century sound, but what a fantastic case!  Like Matt, I've sat around within a few miles of the instrument and never knew of it.  A little treasure of an instrument.



I wish I had more time to learn and play more Reger; one of my favourite organ composers.

The one big work I learned was the "Hallelujah! Gott zu loben" during my student days, and I have periodically played this in recitals ever since.

However, what strikes me about Reger's music, and this work in particular, is not some mystery code, but the fact that if the music is played "urtext" (in other words, actually ignoring every tempo marking in the case of Reger),  it is the underlying tempo of the chorale foundation which dictates the overall pace. Even the big fugal section is only based on a counterpoint of the chorale, (as if often the case with Reger), which permits the chorale theme to work in conjunction with it. So by going to the point where the chorale theme is re-introduced, it is a very simple matter to decide the tempo of the fugue-subject, basaed on the borad and stately march of the chorale. In fact, throughout the work, I don't think the underlying tempo of the chorale needs to change much, if at all. As Germani showed in his famous Selby Abbey recording for EMI, the freedom, passion and inventiveness derive from an organist's ability to use extensive rubato and great, sweeping flourishes which lead from one line of the chorale to the next.

The only thing which might be variable is more to do with the acoustic, the organ action and other parameters which might affect the performance of the work in some way.

Where I do find a problem is with a freely composed, non-chorale based work such as the big BACH work. Some organists, (especially American ones), seem to think that it is an object lesson in mindless virtuosity; some of the speeds reached positively ridiculous, and only remotely possible beacuse of very light, responsive EP actions. Unfortunately, I've never had the time to learn this very difficult and complex work, but I have followed it with the score and I can stagger through quite a bit of it. I think, were I to learn this work end-to-end, I would be very tempted to throw all indications to the birds, and just rely on musical instinct. Crescendo and accelerando do not have to combine to create an incomprehensible whirlwind of gratuitous, showy virtuosity, simply because an organist wishes to demonstrate that they can actually do it, where lesser mortals fail.

Give me a musician, and I'll point you towards magnificent music. Give me a mere technician, and I'll tell them where to dispose of the music in an environmentally friendly fashion.




So blind people can't know that they are part of life, the universe and everything, eh?

This is not someone saying, "I thinkk, therefore I am", this is someone saying, "I think, therefore it must be."

No matter how complex things are, they ultimately come down to simple atoms, and when they are disassembled, to pure energy; leaving energy as the supreme power of the universe....which we knew anyway.

Trouble is, most of that energy is invisible to us, but like the blind man, we can sense that it is there by reason and logic.

Maybe it's best to be blind, as indeed we all are, because as yet, there is absolutely NO scientific proof of God.



Miscellaneous & Suggestions / Re: The Pope
« on: February 12, 2013, 12:08:29 AM »

I'm sure Pope Benedict was always sincere in his beliefs and actions, and he hasn't had the easiest of times, but I also feel that he has been completely out of touch on so many scores.  I just found my self breathing a sigh of relief, at the same time as wishing him the best of good fortune and God's blessing.



Miscellaneous & Suggestions / Re: Auto-page Turner - no hands no feet!
« on: February 12, 2013, 12:03:05 AM »
I've NEVER used my hands and feet to turn pages. I find that a sharp jab with an elbow is just about enough for the assistant to stop day-dreaming and pay attention.   8)


Unfortunately....well not unfortunately....fortunately in fact ....(it went to a worthy organist who was getting on a bit)....I gave away my LP of "The organ in sanity and madness", which was the fund-raising concert organised at the Albert Hall for the RCO funds. I think the main people involved were Messrs Jackson, Wicks and Wilcocks, but I forget the exact details.

I hope I can recall the line correctly, but I think it was Sir David Wilcocks who said of the Winchester Organ, "....few who drew near could bear the sound."  (I think that was followed by the bit about audible at 7 miles etc)

I suspect that the only organ in the world which comes close, has to the outdoor  "Heroes Organ" somewhere in the Tyrol, though I think the Spreckles organ must also come close in America.

The only organ I know which can be heard in the city, is that at Hull City Hall, which can be heard quite distinctly in the streets below in a quiet, pedestrianised area; though one local organist once said to me, "You can hear the bloody thing down at King George Dock."  (About 4 miles down river)



Organs in danger / Re: St Georges Hall Bradford
« on: December 16, 2012, 09:43:26 PM »
It's listed as St George's Hall (Civic Hall)l....try again very, very carefully.  :)



I've never heard this organ or even seen it, though I shall be a few yards away from it tomorrow evening!

I would just add to Tony's comments that L & B built real battleship quality instruments, and the best are quite good organs tonally.

Anyone who acquired this instrument and put right the basic defects, would have a solid piece of machinery built to last.



Organs in danger / Re: St Georges Hall Bradford
« on: December 13, 2012, 12:03:15 AM »

I suspect that Willis made the best of a very underpowered organ, originally by Holt, but it was never a particularly striking instrument down in the hall. I last heard it played at a recital probably when I was 15, back in 1964, when the recitalist was none other than Fernado Germani. I'm afraid the organ left little impression, which considering the performer, was a pity.

When Germani played at Leeds PC, (perhaps around the same time), I was so stunned by what I heard, I have even remembered parts of his recital to this day. It was absolutely breathtaking.

So although the St Geroge's Hall organ was pleasantly musical near the stage area, it was never going to be a concert organ, and all that Willis really achieved was to make the reeds loud enough to be heard above a full choir at a choral event. An organ with a similar problem was that at the old Methodist Eastbrook Hall, by William Hill, which made little impact. Now carefully restored and living in a much smaller building in Cambridge, it sounds glorious.



Electronic Organs / Re: Future of the Organ
« on: November 26, 2012, 11:49:58 PM »
It may be that Cameron has "opened the floodgates" but this organist offers a slightly different perspective...


Thanks for restoring my confidence and belief in young American organists. The Vierne playing is utterly outstanding, and all performed from memory, as it should be by anyone who claims to be a concert organist rather than a church organist like most of us.

That said,I still find American Bach just that....a continent away from the origins of the music, and still popular after the better part of a century, when the emigrants from Berlin invaded Chicago and spread their "expressionist" romantic gospel.   Bach in American style!  E Power Biggs showing how it should be done!

To redress the balance, the following are just magnificent:-

I love those body movements, which remind me so much of Virgil Fox really getting into the music.


Electronic Organs / Re: Future of the Organ
« on: November 26, 2012, 05:18:54 PM »
This is a fascinating article about Cameron Carpenter and the future of the organ. Very interesting if controversial.


I can never understand what Cameron Carpenter is rambling on about in these interviews.He talks about clarity in music, and then proceeds to muddy the waters by excessive registration changes, inappropriate registration, changes to the written score and quite bizarre choices of tempi. I would think that he is the last type of innovator the organ world needs. In fact, I think I am rather bored with his particular branch of showmanship and marketing.

I make no apology in suggesting that although a brilliant technician, I have yet to hear a single bit of real musicianship in anything Cameron Carpenter has ever played, unlike performances from such as Carlo Curley and Virgil Fox, who could not only get the notes right, but also make an impact on the listener.  In fact, one of the finest Bach A minor Preludes & Fugues Iíve ever heard was one recorded by Carlo Curley, which although rapid, was otherwise immaculate.

I donít quite know why certain American organists persist in taking it upon themselves to ďimproveĒ the music by re-arranging it; especially the music of Bach. Itís not hip,  itís not very attractive for the most part and belongs to a specific period in German and American organ-playing,  when certain performers did it rather better.

As for digital organs being the future, this is a statement which must be qualified. Certainly, a good digital organ is better by far than many mediocre pipe organs, but as compared to a quality pipe-organ, the digital alternative still falls well short of the natural acoustic instrument, just as synthesised orchestral instruments and pianos do. As for creating new voices, that is an interesting possibility, but one feels that Mr Carpenter would make a point of drawing attention to them, aas well as himself.


Organs Preserved / Re: Sheffield Cathedral
« on: November 25, 2012, 10:45:18 PM »
I can imagine the Brindley & Foster, whose stoplist I looked up just now, was a very nice instrument.  One B&F, I'm impressed with, is the one at Freemason Hall, Edinburgh.  Though it is smaller, it still gives one a good idea of the tonal concept.


Indeed, the Brindley & Foster organ would have been a good sound.....they always were, if rather predictable in many ways. The Sheffield instrument was perhaps most famous for the very complex console controls and registration aids, which some organists liked and other found disturbing.  The console is detailed in John Knott's history of the firm.

In some ways, one of the reasons for the demise of the company would have been obvious at Sheffield Cathedral, because nobility of sound was giving way to orchestral expressiveness, which requires a fairly dominant Swell organ inside a good swell-box. Brindley swell organs retained the terraced dynamics of Schulze from the 1840's, and were much quieter than the great organs. This was at odds with changing fashions. Furthermore, B & F remained loyal to the "Brindgradus" system operating on pneumatic action, and so far as I know, they didn't build organ with EP action, but don't quote me on that.

It's a pity that the company didn't survive, because innovation was there right from the start; not just in the complex pneumatic actions and the use of the German keglade chests, but in bringing the Schulze type of sound to many hundreds of churches and chapels. Had they moved with the times, they would probably still be around to-day.



Tongue-in-cheek I have posited before that the organ building industry really has nothing to fear from the European Union declaring that if lead should be banned from any electric items, and organs are electric if only because they have a blower, then organs should stop having lead pipes. Apart from really enormous organs with detached consoles, there are few if any situations where either mechanical or pneumatic action can't suffice, even if it means dusting off the patents for Binn's adjustable pneumatic combination actions. And for really "up-yoursing" it to the EU, how about rebuilding the Royal Festival Hall organ (the restoration of which was threatened by the lead ban) as say a steam-powered (obviously cloal-burning for extra pollution!) tubular pneumatic action organ, with lead tubes running into the tens of miles probably.

On the subject of church roofs, nice idea, but many churches are listed buildings. One near me was recently successful in installing panels, and because of the slope of the roof and the crenallated wall the roof and panels are virtually invisible at street level. But the amount of aggro it provoked in the local community was amusing.

As I stated originally, when this WEE (Waste Electrical Equipment) directive first became law, and made all new electrical equipment comply with a reduction in lead content on environmental grounds, there was an obvious oversight at EU level. Like sensible Europeans, no-one even thought to take the matter of church-organs being covered by the WEE directive seriously, but when it reached the UK, certain officials (as usual), insisted on absolute compliance; possibly assuming that every organ was electronic, and probably totally ignorant of the fact that organ-pipes were made usinglead.

At the time, organ-builders, the RCO and other interested parties sought re-assurance and clarification on the matter, but I realised that there was an alternative path which might potentially halt this nonsense in its tracks, and went on the offensive. What I needed to find was a legal double-bind, or a contradiction which could act as a precedent,and it didn't take long to find it.

Basically, the EU as a governing body has various interests and responsibilities, and after a bit of research, it emerged that the funding for two new organs; the first of which was to be partially paid for by a grant from the EU regional development fund. This was the new cathedral organ at Magdeburg.  The second instrument was to be funded by an EU educational body, and built for a music academy in Poland.

Armed with this information, I wrote to the EU commissioners to point out that the EU was in danger of breaching its own legislation, and that the EU could be held acacountable to itself if these projects went ahead.  In fact, I said that I would personaly bring them to book if the matter wasn't resolved, which caused a flutter of e-mails sent to me from MEP's and two UK Ministers. As a result of my findings and the concerns of the EU organ lobby, questions were raised in the EU parliament at committee stage, and a statement was made to the effect that the directive did not apply to either new organs or restoration work, but whether this has ever been written into precise law, I am not sure.

I recall thinking about the implications of what would happen if the law was taken to the last letter, and I quite liked the idea of a pneumatic-action instrument with miles of lead tubing, powered by a static, oil burning steam engine. Then I thought about the same thing, but one which replaced all the lead tubing with digital electronics and a blower, powered from a generator driven off the steam engine. The latter would have been illegal, because like a power station, the steam engine and generator would then have been a remote power supply, into which the organ was plugged. Then I considered the hybrid approach, of steam-driven, mechanical feeders and electrical wind supply and action supplied by an alternator.....both simultaneously legal and illegal, but essentially unlawful, even though the amount of lead had been reduced substantially by way of eliminating the pneumatic tubing.

I came to the conclusion that the law is an ass, but not a mule. The WEE legislation is really there to protect our water-courses from lead-salt pollution seeping out of landfill sites, which is in all our interests as a matter of public health. I can tell you with some authority, that the amount of scrap electronic equipment destined for landfill is colossal, and since the WEE directive, there are companies which specialise in breaking up and re-cycling the plastic, glass and metal components of scrap electrical equipment. I can further tell you that substantial amounts of lead, copper and even gold are recovered in the process, and for some, it has become a profitable business. Just so long as we are allowed to have new pipe-organs, I would suggest that the WEE legislation has been an unqualified success.

Of course, should electricity become unaffordable, the solution is all around us......unemployed youths who would welcome a bit of cash. I've embarked on a treadmill design which doubles up as a secure unit for persistent young offenders, and
to which they could be sent by the courts...assuming that everyone involved would clear an enhanced CRB check and that the facility was clean, safe and met the requirements of human rights and prison legislation.


Organs Preserved / Re: Sheffield Cathedral
« on: October 24, 2012, 01:31:57 PM »
I last played the organ at Sheffield about 12 years ago, and it seemed much inloved by the cathedral staff. I don't know why, because it may not have been an organ which one rushed to hear, it wasn't one from which you sprinted afterwards.

I think the bigger problem was one of sighting and choir accompaniment; being thrust well back in a transept, from which sound only projected forwards. Nothing really seemed to "turn the corner" into the nave, (hence the nave sited division), and probably sounded unblanaced with the choir under most circumstances.

I'm afraid it comes down to the building, which is like a collection of different rooms stitched together and rather typical of many northern churches pressed into use as a cathedral. Acoustically, Blackburn is not without problems, and neither are Bradford and even Manchester; the latter almost square like Kendal Parish Church.

Of them all, from a listening and hearing point of view, Kendal is probably the most sucessful, though Blackburn is certainly the finest organ once you get up close. The Kendal solution was to place the organ at the West end, and it seems to work quite well, but then, that has other impications for the choir.

I'm afraid that English church architecture is not always conducive to a happy combination of organ, choir and congregation, and solving one problem often presents another. Clearly, we should rip the buildings down and start again; instead building them around the organ as they should have been in the first instance.



Organs Preserved / Re: Sheffield Cathedral
« on: October 19, 2012, 04:25:46 PM »

 - it's a long time since I played the organ and I'm sure that the excellent incumbent musicians will work out a plan which suits the place well.

Yes, I'm sure Neil would be able to do what is required. He became organist of the church where I play after I left for London, and when I came north again and climbed back on the bench, he had moved on to London, then St Alban's, Norwich and eventually Sheffield.



Organs Preserved / Re: Sheffield Cathedral
« on: October 15, 2012, 01:35:26 PM »
The last time I played the pipe organ at Sheffield Cathedral was, I think, around 1998, and it seemed to be working fine. For whatever reason, it was much unloved by the cathedral staff, and from a choral accompaniment point of view, I have sympathy.

I never found it a bad organ.....quite the contrary, but there was a certain separation of styles which, I suspect, would not happen to-day.

I always think that the Walker/Willis re-build at Kendal PC was better, but that was probably down to the building and the position of the organ at the west end, as well as avoiding the mismatch of romantic and neo-baroque pipework.



Dear David,

Islam is no different from Christianity in respect of sexual "laws", which are grounded as much on practical observation and self-protection as they are on faith.

Perhaps the most depressing fact about most religions is their inability to adapt; truth being carved in stone, written in holy books or embraced by ritual. I would suggest that many of the taboos were contrived as such for a very good reason; that of personal and public health. STD's have been around for a very long time, and there is even the suggestion from some sources that AIDS is actually not a new disease. Quite clearly, before medicine and medical knowledge was what it is now, the only acceptable behaviour was that of abstinence or lifelong commitment; anything else potentially fatal and damaging to society. The clerics and believers may not have know why disease happened, but through religion, they were able to control act of love rather than censure, in the absence of anything else.

Even to-day, poverty, a lack of public health provision, illiteracy and a lack of education in many countries, compromises public health and safety in a number of ways, so it is unlikely that religious "rules" will change to accomodate better knowledge, for the simple reason that poverty and deprivation make any such hope futile.

This is why Islam seems so medieval to western minds, for the simple reason that we have moved beyond the scriptural and theological.

Could it be that the secular world has triumphed over religion?



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