Fr. Richard Wright
11HE first thing to reiilise about the installation of an organ is that it is the most expensive single item of church furnishing. It is also a highly technical matter. Very few architects have any idea of the problems involved; fewer parish priests, nor can the matter be always safely left to the organist.
A man can be a good driver with little knowledge of the parameters of car design or the relative functions of carburettor and plugs. Ralph Downes is a shining exception. However, the Church Music
Association has a panel which is very willing to give advice.
Let us get away from the idea of the "church organ." It is a musical instrument whose purpose is to raise the mind and heart to God as much as the stained glass windows, statues or the building itself. Its cost must he related to the size of the building and the type of music envisaged.
As the siting of the instrument is very important, it is vital to put the architect and organ builder in touch at the planning stage. In general the organ. choir Of any) and organist should be in the same area. Ideally. the organist should have direct sight of the instrument and altar, though the latter can be' observed by well-placed mirrors. However, playing by reflected sound is always unsatisfactory because of time lag and problems of balance.
I question whether the west gallery is the best site. Psychologically, the action and sound should come from the same direction.
When an organ builder has been selected, it is desirable to see and hear some of their latest work. The qualities to look out for are, above all, beautiful tonal quality (good voicing) and also steady wind and a high standard of maintenance.
A paper specification or stop list gives little idea of tfte final result. An identical specification by different builders will give different results according to their several traditions. This requires considerable experience of the organ building trade and much critical listening to instruments.
There are two types of organ. The pipe and the electronic. In talking about the latter, I express a personal viewpoint. The latter produce sounds by various electronic circuits and devices which are amplified by valves or transistors which ultimately feed loudspeakers which should be well sited.
They are a good deal cheaper than pipe organs, but as they contain the sort of components in your T.V. or radio, the quality deteriorates in the course of time, though the advent of transistors has made this less operative with their lower working temperatures and voltages;
Many musicians do not like the tone quality of these instruments. They have the peculiarity when accompanying large bodies of voices that the mid-range disappears, leaving top and bass audible. The very best ones approximate to the cost of a pipe organ. The specifications of electronic organs can be very misleading.
A well-voiced extension organ of four ranks of pipes, such as open diapason, flute, saficional and a reed (trumpet or crumhorn) is a surprisingly resourceful little instrument, giving adequate support to a congregation of about 300, sufficiently flexible to accompany a choir and able to give a good account of itself in the organ music repertoire for voluntaries. On balance. any organ costing under £7,000 to £8,000 should employ the extension principle
While organs of historic interest must indeed be preserved, considerable caution should be pursued in buying a second-hand instrument. The cost of taking down, repairing and re-erecting in different architectural dimensions can be very considerable.
Catholic parish priests may well he in a dilemma. With the gradual disappearance of' Benediction in some places and vernacular low Masses as the norm, they feel the buying of an organ for, say, weddings, is extravagant.
However, as the singing of suitable English hymns during Mass is encouraged and the preservation of hymn singing is both a valuable form of worship in itself and a help in ecumenical bridge-building, the temptation to install even a modest organ should not be resisted very strongly.
Some priests have said to me: "But I have no one who can play." I have replied: "Get a good organ, provide lessons and you soon will have a worthy organist." This has worked out very well, often to the enthusiastic amazement of the parish priest.
Fr. Richard Wright has designed organs for many churches. including Ampleforth Abbey and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. He is a member of the Church Music Association's panel of organ experts. His interests in organs began as a small boy when he wandered round City churches with John Betiernan. Fr, Wright is now parish priest of St Austin's. Grassendale, Liverpool.