SOCA Chairman’s Blog – January 2018
The recent announcement that the Vatican have acquired an Allen digital organ for the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s leads me to muse upon the pipes versus digital debate yet again. Digital organs have improved out of all recognition in recent years but there is still much uninformed prejudice on both sides of the debate.
How much does it cost to tune and maintain a pipe organ?
As a general rule of thumb, a pipe organ is tuned twice a year, either at the change of seasons from hot to cold, and cold to hot, or before Easter and before Christmas. The cost of this biannual tuning will vary depending on the size of the pipe organ and area in which the pipe organ is located. In general, tuning and maintenance will require roughly one hour for every six stops in the organ. Hourly rates will vary from @ £80 – £120 (mean average £100) per 6 stops. A visit from an organ builder to tune the organ and carry out small jobs of routine maintenance can cost between say £60 and £250 per visit for an average church, which is a small amount in comparison with the cost of a major overhaul or restoration of many thousands of pounds.
I think there are two scenarios for the smaller churches. Where there is the will, and a not too large pipe organ, then retention & restoration is possible (as long as the organist isn’t seduced by the attraction of the plethora of stops on even the smallest digital organs). One congregation had their small chamber organ restored a few years ago. They had the reserves to go ahead quickly – and the cost was covered and reserves replenished in about a year! The sizeable 3 manual that they had in their previous church building would have been a different matter.
Churches don’t always look properly at the relative costs – a digital organ may well seem attractive in the short term – but no way will it outlive a pipe organ, especially one with tracker action. The few statistics that are available show that electronic organs have an average life of 15-20 years, and then, in the main, will need replacement. Say the digital costs £20,000 and lasts 20 years, that’s £1,000 per year of useful life. The maintenance costs for the 3-manual Harrison I play at St John’s in Yeovil is also £1,000 per year. So maintenance costs are roughly the same, but in the same period the digital instrument would have had to be replaced around 5 times. Digital organs will never be better than a pipe organ due to electronic distortion (see my article “Don’t Distort the Digits” in the Tuition part of this SOCA website).
In many cases digital instruments are the only viable option – or the only option in the short-term, but churches going down that route (or going to a praise band) should be encouraged to seriously consider retaining & mothballing the pipe organ for (hopefully) future restoration, even if they purchase a digital instrument as a short-term measure.
To return to the Vatican organ situation, the 4-manual pipe instrument in St Peters is likely to need a lot of TLC as it is now 55 years since the last major work. It is spread over several locations and, apparently, is overloud close-to but cannot be heard well – if at all – from any distance, particularly when the building is full. The Sistine Chapel pipe organ is relatively small and not portable. This arrangement is woefully inadequate, particularly when St Peter’s is full. The new Allen is on a mobile platform and can be moved to wherever it is needed, even outside into St Peter’s Square, with speaker systems also located wherever needed. The ideal solution would be something like that at Notre Dame in Paris, with two organs, one in the East end (where the present organ is located), and a Grande Orgue at the West end. The Allen could then be used outside and as a temporary “stand in” if and wherever needed.
Details of the St Peter’s organs are at:- http://danwebs.com/chorg/vatorg.html
Info re the Allen installation can be found at:-
also with links to this seasons Christmas & Epiphany recordings at:-
Digital organs can never replace pipe organs overall, but they do offer solutions to difficult circumstances.
My Best Wishes to all of our membership for a Happy and Prosperous 2018 with lots of opportunities to meet and chat and make good music.
SOCA Chairman’s Report – November 2017
The past year has been an interesting one for SOCA. However, much of what I would like to say would only repeat much of what I said last year. I would encourage you to look at that if you have the chance. So – moving on – we have a core membership who are very enthusiastic about the Association, but we have a much greater number of members who seem content to pay their annual membership and not contribute much, if anything, more. Even discussion by email would be a start, and that requires little effort more than sitting at a computer or mobile phone. I have tried to throw out some minor challenges in the hope of some kind of response with my blogs, and would welcome responses and interaction!
We have held events at North Petherton (kindly shared with Andrew Hinckley and their recital series) featuring myself, Ian Heavisides, Robert Millington, Stephen Price, (and tomorrow Andrew Hinckley with soprano solos from Imogen Davies). Stoke St Gregory featured John Bodiley with Frances Webb playing recorder, Chard Methodist Church with Ian Heavisides, St John’s Wellington with the Wallscourt Brass Ensemble with organ, and a Young Peoples Recital at St John’s Glastonbury featuring 2 young organists, percussion (Marimba and Vibraphone), and a young soprano soloist. Come and Play events at St John’s Taunton, and 3 big organs in one day at Bristol (St. Mary Redcliffe, Christ Church City, and the Cathedral). On the educational side of things we have had a “Practice makes Perfect” evening led by Hilary Shaw, and an evening on basic improvisation (“Cover the Action – Mind the Gap”) with John Bodiley and myself. Last (but by no means least) a Summer Social with Hilary Shaw. Combining with other instrumentalists and singers has the great benefit of widening and increasing audiences to everyone’s benefit.
We have continued to lend support to the local area RSCM events (4 in all) at Taunton, Glastonbury (2 events), and Minehead.
Our charity support decreased noticeably last year with the total raised being only £803-95. This year we are back up to £1287-32 at the last count, but Doug may revise that figure in his report. We need to select a charity to support for the coming year and we will talk more about that later in this meeting.
Now for the challenge! Looking to the future, we live in a world of change both educationally and liturgically. As I have said before, if we fail to anticipate and adapt, we miss out on so many opportunities to contribute to the overall musical scene. The world of the organ is under threat, as has happened several times in past history. We must adapt and be seen to be musicians first with the organ and choral music as our specialism. Here we have an advantage over the RSCM as we have the opportunity to accommodate the many secular and community choirs that are becoming so popular, along with their accompanists (who are frequently organists) and directors. We must broaden our appeal if we are not to become the musical dinosaurs of the 21st century. At this present time most people expect to have organs and organists available for the important occasions in their lives. This situation could change if churches short-sightedly get rid of organs and organists. Weddings, funerals and major civic and university occasions expect organ music, and good organists will increasingly be shared, as is already starting to happen. It is up to us to ensure these occasions will value us and our contribution to their celebrations and not look upon us as difficult and dogmatic eccentrics unwilling to embrace new ideas. We must also be seen to be willing to work alongside, but maybe not always as a part of, the music groups that are appearing in so many places.
As I closed in my report last year, it remains for me to especially thank all the members of the committee for their support and input to the Association’s presence and activities. Without their enthusiasm none of our activities could have happened. But also we must thank each other for all our continuing enthusiasm and support. SOCA as an association is all of us. There is no point having team leaders if there is no team to lead! I would dearly like us to have a much bigger team. Communicate with us, your committee and officers, and we must encourage as many new members as we can. I look forward to a coming year of growth and new ideas to augment what we already have.
A New Year Message for 2017
The organ is the overall principal liturgical instrument. In its earlier forms, the organ took its place in Western Christian worship somewhere between the 10th to 12th centuries. Far from being ‘old instruments’ used in liturgy as museum pieces from the past, organs have their place in all contemporary music, liturgical or otherwise, in the same way as other instruments, classical or contemporary.
The organ of today is an extremely versatile ‘modern’ instrument by way of its range of dynamics and musical colour, able to accommodate contemporary forms of music as it has done for centuries. New organs continue to be built the world over – a notable recent example in this country being the new instrument for Manchester Cathedral, and existing organs are renewed and upgraded regularly for use in churches and town/concert halls.
To quote from the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council “Instruction on Music in the Liturgy” (50 years out of date now but still very relevant) “The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendour to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things. Organ repertoire and improvisation weaves through our liturgy to link, underpin and partner it, drawing together the elements of that liturgy; prayer, symbol and ritual into the whole. It does not exist for itself. Under the command of a competent organist – who is both technically accomplished and liturgically trained, aware and sensitive – the organ can “pray with and for the Assembly” in its joy and in its sorrow. It is highly desirable that organists and other musicians should not only possess the skill to play properly the instrument entrusted to them: they should also enter into, and be thoroughly aware of, the spirit of the Liturgy, so that even when playing extempore, they will enrich the sacred celebration according to the true nature of each of its parts, and encourage the participation of the faithful”.
Despite the affirmation of church documents that the organ is to be given “pride of place” in liturgical celebrations, fewer people are learning how to play it. Already there is a growing need for organists, even as more and more churches are abandoning the instrument. This decline in organists has lead to it being described by some as “a dying art” and to lament its inevitable disuse. However, I believe that the future of the organ is much brighter than headlines suggest. The organ is currently becoming part of the bigger musical picture. The problem is not a shortage of organists but a dearth of well-paying church organist positions. As I said back in November, around 80% of university organ scholars do not intend taking up church or cathedral posts. There is a serious lack of proper funding for music ministry in most parishes. It seems that the decline in organ playing can be directly tied to across the board cuts in parish budgets. Foregoing an organist is just one example of attempts to keep parish budgets in the black amid declining collections because the instruments are pricey (even digital instruments) and dip into strained parish budgets whilst Music Groups are usually volunteers and provide their own instruments at no cost to their churches! We must make a great effort to maintain our place in this all-encompassing musical scenario. Discussion and sometimes compromise are the way forward, not immovable dogmatism! If we move our positions towards others then hopefully others will move towards us.
I am extremely well blessed to be at Yeovil Parish Church where we have an exceptionally good and dedicated music group (all very good musicians with a truly gifted leader), a superb three manual Harrison organ, a large “occasional choir”, a local Benefice Choir, and a large and growing congregation. Musics of all genres are greatly appreciated as well as excellent preaching and teaching from a dynamic clergy and lay ministry. Everything we do is to the very best that we can achieve, and this is a very important point – our congregations must be comfortable with what we do for our ministry to be effective. I hear many organists, choirs, and music groups (and clergy) who leave a lot to be desired!
Looking to the future and following from what I said in November, as a Society we need to expand our horizons to include singers and their choirs from the many choral societies, school, and community choirs that are flourishing throughout Somerset together with their Musical Directors and accompanying organists and pianists. I am certain that we can find ways of reaching out to them if we put our minds to it. Supporting a charity has been a unifying project for us in recent years with concerts, organ recitals, and other fundraising events giving us a joint sense of purpose and achievement. This year’s charity is the St Margaret’s Hospice who use music therapy in their work. I have already met with Ann Lee their CEO when I was organist for a Hospice carol service, and she is thrilled that we will be supporting them and is very keen to meet with us to develop the relationship further. Watch this space for more details and please begin making plans for this very worthwhile venture for SOCA.
It just remains for me to wish you all a very happy and successful 2017 with lots of good music making. A society, by its title, should be sociable, so please spread your wings beyond your individual organ lofts and consoles and make SOCA an organisation to be acknowledged and known throughout Somerset.
SOCA Chairman’s Report – November 2016
2015/2016 has been a mixed year for SOCA. The support for our chosen charity has been considerably down from previous years. This could be attributed to some of our membership feeling unable to support music therapy and rehabilitation for the prison service. The total raised is only £753-95 plus an additional £25 in gift aid. Putting on concerts or other events in support of a chosen charity gives the association a sense of purpose which unites our enthusiasm to work together towards a common goal, and I sincerely hope that we can continue with this in future years. Thanks are due to John Bodiley and his connection with the Richard Huish Sixth Form College, all the organists who played the series of recitals at St Mary’s Church North Petherton including their organist Andrew Hinkley with young trumpeters Thomas and Gregory Jordan, Ian Heavisides, Stephen Price, and Peter Duce. Also to Peter Cox, John Guttridge, Lizzie Matuszezyk, and Jonathan Harris for the concert at Creech St Michael which ended with superb cakes. Sadly Jerry King was unable to contribute to the series at North Petherton due to a major health problem and will hopefully return home from hospital shortly. We wish him well soon, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. John Bodiley’s illustrated talk on the life of J S Bach was entertaining and informative – enjoyed by all.
Earlier in the year our presentation to Andrew Morton was an opportunity to show our appreciation as well as enjoy the hospitality of the Ring O’Bells yet again. The Young Organist’s Recital at Glastonbury attracted an unexpectedly low audience but those who were there enjoyed some superb playing from Nicholas Tall and Chris Hamilton. We have had two enjoyable and successful visits to Oxford (Merton, Wadham, and Keble Colleges) and to Stogursey, Stringston, and the historic barrel organ at St Audries (West Quantoxhead).
The Somerset Area RSCM have programmed three events which we have included in our schedule. A plainsong day at Glastonbury Abbey led by Rosemary Field, a “Songs of Praise” event at St Benedict’s Glastonbury for singers and instrumentalists led by Miles Quick who is the RSCM Head of Congregational and Instrumental Music, assisted by Derek Dorey, and a Clergy and Organists Day at Abbey House Glastonbury led by Helen Bent. These were all well attended.
This link with the Somerset Area RSCM (Derek Dorey and Jerry King are chair and secretary of their committee, and Miles Quick is the RSCM Head of Congregational and Instrumental Music) leads me on to a thought which I have been musing upon for a while now. The RSCM by the nature of its title is specifically for church musicians. We have an all embracing catchment to include all organists and singers. We frequently double up on each other but surely WE have the scope to think outside the box and reach out to a much wider membership. A recent survey showed that around 80% of organ scholars at our colleges and universities have no intention of taking up church or cathedral appointments. Add to that the huge number of Choral Societies, Chamber Choirs, and Community Choirs that are out there and we have an enormous potential membership which we are not reaching yet. Whilst not wishing to jettison anything we have (and value) at present, in this changing world we need to adapt to survive. To this end I would like to set up a Chairman’s blog section, possibly on our website, where this idea could be presented along with any other thoughts which I, or others, may have for the Association. I would then invite and appreciate replies either on the site or direct to me. Alternatively – maybe this is an opportunity to develop our Facebook link which, at present, doesn’t do much if anything. Maybe we need to re-brand without changing our title?
It remains for me to especially thank all the members of the committee for their support and input to the Association’s presence and activities. Without their enthusiasm none of our activities could have happened. But also we must all thank each other for all our enthusiasm and support. SOCA is your association. There is no point being a team leader if there is no team to lead! I look forward to a coming year of growth and new ideas to augment what we already have.
Please see below for information on Georgian organs: