I have just returned from a holiday in Cornwall, and discovered something that may interest other SOCA  members who find themselves near Penzance.

Jenny and I went into St. Mary’s Church in the town. It is clearly visible from the sea-front, with its tall, rather narrow tower and a small turret at each corner on top. There was live music playing as we entered – a piece of Buxtehude. The church was a musical revelation. In terms of instruments, it has a large Walker organ on the West gallery, which became redundant in The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Oxford, when that church went for a newer Swiss model. This is a fine organ in a Smith case, in good working order. In addition, there was a 3 stop chamber organ, a large harpsichord, and a grand piano. The organist, however, was playing a digital Hauptwerk instrument. I’d read quite a bit about these, but it was the first chance I have had to see and hear one at close hand.

The organist, Nigel Wicken, is DoM at the church, and a professional musician. He also is a recording engineer, and the church has a permanent microphone set-up, with a control console. It is much used by local musicians as a studio, which apparently keeps it solvent. The church has a regular concert series, and a good acoustic.

The Hauptwerk organ was a revelation. Nigel Wicken had about 20 instruments downloaded, including the Schnitger organ at Cappel, a Silbermann instrument and a Cavaillé-Coll. There were also a number of straightforward English instruments. There were 8 large speaker cabinets in the West gallery, either side of the Walker instrument. The reproduced sound was, in my view, spectacularly good. The contrast in sounds was remarkable. Apparently, the total cost of the instrument was £16,000, and the larger part of that was for the speaker cabinets. The three manual console and pedalboard are quite basic in design, but there are lots of pistons, and if playing a two manual organ, the player can select which manuals to use. At each side of the console, there is a large screen, on which the stops of the selected organ are displayed. They work on a one-touch system for on/off, and are controllable by the pistons (which would not originally have been the case for many of the instruments). I would imagine that any church setting up the system would be likely to attract good recitalists. The console is compact, and could be on a platform to be pushed anywhere in the church. A recital programme could include Bach, Vierne/Franck and Howells played on very convincing copy instruments.

Nigel Wicken is an enthusiast, and would be happy to talk to anyone who has an interest. His contact details are on the internet, and he is “Linked-in”. He thought that his church was the first parish church in the U.K. to install a Hauptwerk organ.

John Bodiley
31 Oct 17