13 September 2008

Organs, Organ Report with a little Victorian How-to, and a Video

Jeffrey Tucker at NLM posted yesterday on an article written about the glorious history of the organ, the King of Instruments. Among the tidbits are stories of how a century ago thousands of people lined up to hear top organists play, such as this little story:

'As in England, in America the organ is King,’ wrote the French organ-composer Louis Vierne in 1927, following a phenomenally successful three-month tour of America and Canada. His 50 recitals had drawn in around 70,000 obsessed fans, including some 6,000 at the Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia alone, home to the world’s largest organ.
In Toronto, 4,000 people crowded into St Michael's Cathedral to hear the dedication concert for the now silent Warren organ. According to the Cathedral website, this organ is slated for restoration. There is some interest in the organ community over this, as the Cathedral organ is the last intact Warren organ of this size.

All of which brought me back to my own little organ project. Currently, I am sitting at about 140 pipes. My main rank of pipes, wooden inverted mouth flute pipes built to these specifications, is nearly complete.

What to do with these pipes when complete is the next question. I have thought of shortening the procedure by creating a single extended rank of pipes, most likely gedakt, and building an organ around the single rank but using octave couplers, which would effectively make a small three rank organ. However, the draw of a fairly large instrument with multiple ranks is very strong.

The main book I am using, Organ building for Amateurs by Mark Wicks, is rather vague on details, which is how I like it. Wicks' book is a Victorian how-to effort, and of all the how-to books out there, the Victorians are the best. The book made an effort not merely to be informative, but also to be aesthetic and edifying. It is utterly unlike most modern how-to books I know. Most of the modern books are written with a kind of industrial model in mind. The plans tell you to cut five hundred pieces, shape them, then start assembling. The idea that subtle errors creep into our work, or that one of their measurements might be off (and this happens all the time. I have many piles of firewood to attest to this fact.) does not seem to occur to them.

The Victorians, on the other hand, work from an entirely different model. They give a few basic measurements, and after that every other piece must be cut to fit. Wicks is also sensitive to questions such as: How big is your house? What space do you have? Finally, he assumes a basic level of competence in his reader. He gives a few basic designs, and allows the reader to work the rest out, or adjust as circumstances require.

I still have no idea how long this thing is going to take. I have a bunch of other projects to do, so I will finish the last few pipes I have started, then box the whole thing so I can make:

2 desks
1 sewing table
1 dollhouse
various Christmas presents
and a commission I got a while ago.

The last question is, what do I intend to play on my organ when it is finished. Well, there is this piece I have been working on for a long time now, and can play about half of it semi-competently. As with the organ project, I like to aim big. That way, if I fail, I will have failed at something worth trying, rather than some miserable little thing that wouldn't have been worth the effort even if I had succeeded. At any rate, here's someone who can do the whole thing brilliantly:

This is easily one of my favourite organ pieces. There are many versions of it on youtube, some better than others. I chose this one because A. it is excellent; and B. I liked the title given to it: Ton Koopman and his Dancing Shoelaces. With a title like that, it simply had to be chosen.

And now, back to work. As you can tell, I am rather busy at the moment.

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