December has remained a busy month on the organ consulting front, with projects in Cambridge (Chesterton), Corbridge, Birmingham (Olton), Radley College, Ravenstonedale, Rochester, Sheffield (Ranmoor), Platt (Borough Green) etc all underway with organbuilders, and others being planned. Thanks to Covid, travel has been limited to visiting one organ-builder, which made me smile as my latest two big projects will in due course involve very lengthy travel — to Nairobi Cathedral in one direction (Kenya) and to Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, in another (New Zealand)! I’m sure we all long for the inoculation so that things can gradually get back to normal. Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year to anyone reading this.
It was good to be able to undertake an organ survey earlier this week, in a fascinating church in the charming Warwickshire village of Alveston; sadly it will be the last visit for a while, due to the Covid restrictions. The organ is a very well-made Nicholson of 1898, rebuilt by them in 1959 and rather fiddled around with in 2001 — not by them. It will ‘come up’ very effectively and give the church another century or so of distinguished service. The Rood screen and chancel are so beautiful I wanted to put up this photo on my website.
What a total delight it was to be performing again today — and with my good friend and esteemed colleague, baritone Stephen Cooper. St Peter’s Church, Nottingham, with its enterprising Director of Music, Dr Peter Siepmann, has relaunched its popular Saturday morning concerts — socially distanced and sans coffee. Accompanied at the piano by yours truly, Stephen sang groups of delightful songs by Arthur Somervell and Eric Thiman, bookended by ‘Fine knacks for ladies’ and Finzi’s roistering ‘Rollicum rorum’. So good to be back in the saddle.
It has been refreshing to be out and about somewhat more this month, on organ consulting business. One such trip was my monthly visit to the Nicholson organ workshops near Malvern, to inspect progress on the large new organ they are making for the enlarged chapel of Radley College. I found several ranks of the Great Diapason chorus on James Atherton’s voicing machine and very splendid they sound! Can’t wait to hear the next batch of voiced pipes next month.
Organ consulting has carried on over the past few months, though without being able to visit churches or organ-builders. Now that both are accessible again it’s very good to be out more. One exciting recent visit was to Nicholsons to view progress with the new organ for Radley College. Here’s a photograph of the Pedal 32ft Subbass and 16ft Open Wood pipes in their workshop, along with a stack of poplar for the building frame.
Back on the bench yesterday — the first time in public since March 14th! I enjoyed giving a thirty-minute recital on the Binns / Willis in the magnificent All Saints’ Church, Loughborough, before Compline. A good attendance — indeed their pre-booked quota of spaced-out seats was fully booked. All went well — though I had to remove the Covid-19 mask to play, as I kept steaming up!
My Meccano excavator — a lock-down task — is now complete! Its vintage 20-volt Meccano motor plus the gears, drums, cables and pulleys enable the jib and bucket to be raised and lowered independently and at varying speeds. The controls are behind the yellow sliding door on the cab side. There are a mixture of colours because my old red and green Meccano had to be topped up with some modern yellow and metal-coloured pieces, but it all adds to the charm. I had to alter the Meccano instructions somewhat, changing the position of the motor to counterbalance the weight of the jib; it all now balances perfectly. It’s been great fun and occasionally challenging: can’t bear to think of taking it apart, so I’ll find somewhere for it to stand for a few months. Might play with it, too!
It’s hard to come up with a third Meccano image without giving the game away as to which model I’m constructing. If you think you now know — and you must be specific about model and number — do let me know and a prize will be yours! As well as occasional days working on the model I’ve been writing articles for Choir & Organ, Organists’ Review and Organ Building, copying old New College organ recital tapes on to CDs for the friends who played them (back in the 1970s), scanning colour slides from past decades, re-learning the Elgar Organ Sonata and many of the Bach ‘Eighteen’, and going for long walks. A pleasant and productive way to fill one’s time!
Well, here’s the second image from the building of my large Meccano model: what is it to be? I’ve actually made more progress than this, so will soon post a third image. If you can name the exact model then you win the competition and a new CD of me playing the wonderful organ at Southwell Minster will be your prize.
It’s been something of a blessing to have had time over the past six weeks to tidy and file everything that needs tidying and filing, to get in two really solid organ practice sessions a day, and to enjoy plenty of reading. However, there was still time for something else: then it came to me — Meccano!
Guess the Meccano model competition
My Meccano has been in various lofts for 55 years, so out it came, topped up via Ebay, and I’ve embarked on making the tricky model which last defeated me at the age of 12. I’m determined it will not do so now I’m 68! I’ll post photos of sections of it as they are made, and think it would be fun to have a little competition: the first reader who correctly identifies the precise model (name and number) I’m making will be send a copy of my Southwell Minster organ CD ‘Southwell Splendour’ which has a choice of music to suit everybody.
So, over to you, and here is an image of the first section I completed. What’s the model going to be??
With my concerts and recitals postponed and several of my organ consulting projects paused, I suddenly (like everyone else) have an embarrassment of time on my hands. Now I know what it feels like to be properly ‘retired’! Actually, it’s a joy, for every day I have time for organ practice — refreshing old and learning new repertoire — plus sorting out some 600 organ project files going back decades. Now that is done, the Meccano has been released from 50 years imprisonment in various lofts and I am going to embark on making that giant crane which defeated me as a 13-year-old. Watch this space! Photo of my house organ displayed here, out of interest. The console started out in Portsmouth Cathedral in 1947.
Just back from a most enjoyable trip to Potters Bar, where I gave the inaugural Gala Organ Recital on an organ newly installed in St Mary’s Church. Interestingly, the instrument is a transplant — made by T. C. Lewis for the old St Alkmund’s church, Derby, and rebuilt in 1972 for the new St Alkmund’s building, this fine 3-manual had seen scarcely any use as the church’s worship style evolved away from the organ. It proved the perfect fit for Potters Bar, once reconfigured and fully restored and updated by Henry Groves & Son, sounding cathedralesque in a fine acoustic. A large and supportive audience turned up — despite the coronavirus — and a good time was had by all — especially by me. See my Published Books page for a booklet about this organ.
I spent a stimulating (if freezing cold) couple of days this week in the great Minster Church of St Nicholas, Great Yarmouth — the largest parish church by volume in the UK. The task was to undertake tonal regulation of a new, if temporary, ‘Hauptwerk’ installation which will be in use until the famous Hill/Compton is rebuilt. A huge audio system with 48 channels/loudspeakers and 4 sub-woofers creates a remarkably effective sound in the building, using the sampled Peterborough Cathedral organ, in a reduced stop-list. Paul Stringfellow made the organ, fitting a redundant Rodgers console with Comptonesque luminous stop touches.
In 1963 I started at Solihull School as a grade 5 pianist and took piano lessons from the young Jill Godsall. Jill sorted out my technique and even tolerated my falling in love with the organ a year or two later. Jill had started teaching at Solihull in 1959 and remained teaching and playing there for an astonishing 60 years. Today this was celebrated as the Recital Hall in the David Turnbull Music School was renamed in her honour. 130 former pupils and friends gathered for this very happy event, including some mentioned on the 1970s Oxbridge Music Awards honours board I spotted alongside others on the wall [see below]. The school has an enviable record of success in educating fine musicians — long may it continue to do so, and long may the ever-vivacious Jill continue to pop in with helpful advice!
Speaking at the annual lunch of the Coventry & Warwickshire Organists Association today took me right back to my earliest days learning to play the organ, as a Music Scholar at Solihull School. Watching Nicholsons build and install the Chapel organ during 1965-1966 inspired my love of organ design and construction, which has gone hand in hand with playing ever since. Members of the Coventry & Warwickshire Organists Association (including the late Stephen Ridgley-Whitehouse, then the same age as me — 16) visited the new organ in 1968, an event I clearly recall. Speaking at their annual lunch I discovered that one member at the lunch had also been present in 1968. The intervening 52 years seemed to fall away!