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Present Situation and Future Outlook in Organ Building - John Mander

Started by organforumadmin, September 11, 2011, 01:19:20 AM

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On the present situation of organ building world-wide, and specifically in

Great Britain, and an attempt at predictions for the future.

Organ building cannot remain untouched by financial crises and its consequences.
Neither financial experts nor politicians can agree on how the
financial situation will develop over the next years. So how can the poor
organ builder be expected to accurately assess the situation? He cannot,
but he can guess at how things could evolve. Earlier financial crises have
taught him that his situation pretty much corresponds to the general global
economic situation, taking effect for him with some delay. Even being
able to foresee only a little can offer a glimmer of hope. But is that enough
to make concrete plans for the future? John Mander consults his crystal
ball in the hope of shedding some light on this subject.

David Pinnegar


John Mander

In economics it's not the questions that change - it's the answers.

We recognise cyucles of economy. Near the peak of a cycle, dearth of organ building becomes overwork. These cycles help one to plan ahead. Unlike most businesses which operate in the short term, organ building demands a long term view.

I sent a survey around colleague organ builders and received not many responses. The repsonses I got indicated that most were worried and said that others were but were not admitting it. Most retirees said that they were pleased to have retired now.

Suppliers to organ builders give a different perspective. Suppliers said that there was a marked reduction in businesses. There are fewer new organs at the moment and more concentration on restorations and rebuilds.

There is a delay between organ building activity and the economy, a lag of 18 months. The current recession won't improve in 2 years but the picture is not uniform throughout the world. Germany is doing well at the moment and the Swiss are only lightly affected by the recession.

The current indications are not good: 10-20% of organ builders are likely to fail. There are too many in the present climate. Both the cheapest and the most expensive are likely to survive. Such fragmentation will spawn a lot of one man operations providing good value in the cleaning and tuning area but we lose the training that larger firms offer.

We can't expect to suggest that government money can invest in organ building.

We are unlikely to encourage teaching institutions which react to demand (low career and remuneration prospects for organists, low appreciation of the instrument and low audience numbers . . . well covered elsewhere . . . (Personal note - only two organ students enrolled this year at Trinity College of Music))

What can be done . . . we have to do it ourselves.

One ingredient - enthusiasm.

Have to work at grass roots level. Organists can give recitals to possibly small numbers - and do it at this stage without much remuneration.

A secret is that of formulating an engaging programme. George Thalben Ball formulated the recipe of something familiar, something unknown, something serious, something humourous

An example of this is a town in Japan (?Asuchi?) where the lady organist provides regular open mornings for children as an introduction to classical music and the pipe organ. There was a surprising tradition of the organ here as there had been a Portugese missionary who had settled there and founded a seminary with two organs. The organist goes into schools with a portative organ of a couple of dozen wood pipes spanning 3 octaves. (cf the Georgio Questa instrument elsewhere on this forum) She takes a flautist and a singer and they give concerts and let the children blow into the pipes.

In England the National Heritage Lottery Fund give grants to organs on the condition that they are made accessible to groups of children and the organ builder's workshop.

(Slide of website of St George's ?somewhere? example)

There is an individual, Steve Dunk, who has set up an email list for organ recitals newsletters.

The electronic organ is no major threat to pipe organ manufacturers. Every few years the electronic community announces that they have invented the last word in reproducing the pipe organ. Then ten years later they do it again . . .

What is worrying is the combination organ. The ISO are currently grappling with the issue. Builders can do it if they like but I don't believe the ISO should have members who make them.

One of the biggest threats to pipe organs is the requirement of the ROHS provisions for the recyclability and health impacts of electrical and electronic products. Because organs have electrical blowers and plug into the mains, some regard pipe organs as electrical products and, containing lead pipes, fall foul of the regulations. First a series of exceptions was drawn up and then all such exemptions were deleted.

I appeal to the Germans on this. The BDO have agreed to be very quiet and might rely on some cosy agreement with the enforcers. But this is selfish and possibly shortsighted. At some stage an organ is going to be reported as a test case and an investigation would ensue.

Finally, the publications of the ISO and IBO are excellent and helpful. If anyone would like a free copy of each I will willingly send them - simply email manderUK at



I would guess the slides were St George, Southall.  A very interesting radical reconstruction to historic form.  Southall (in West London) is one of the areas with a very large ethnic population.  Take a look at the church's web site.  The details of the organ are on NPOR, and there have been articles in various journals recently (refs in NPOR survey).

Every Blessing