Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sprituality, sub-sonics and disgraced pop stars...

I stumbled across an older BBC article recently suggesting that notes too deep to hear on a church organ can induce a feeling of wierdness. Landing on that page was inspired by a strange Internet St. Vitus dance where I was trying to work out why the Plaza Compton heard at the weekend didn't have a real tub-thumping deep note to it.

Thinking back to the big Organ in Newcastle City Hall, that had two very deep stops, both thirty-two footers. (Organ pipes halve in frequency when doubling the length and vica-versa so the ranks tend to be expressed as 8', 4' 2' etc, each an octave apart. Obviously only one pipe would actually be that length, generally the lowest C note in the rank.) One of the 32' stops was a wood (a double open wood) about a foot square and the height of the casement. When playing the rank, the bottom 3 or 4 notes were felt rather than heard. Indeed the c# could cause all sorts of sympathetic rattles to start in the organ casement which had numerous hinged access panels which would clatter noisily. The other 32' stop was a metal pipe (a Double Ophicleide)and basically sounded like blowing extremely loud, deep, raspberries!

I'm delighted to have stumbled across some details and photos of the Organ here and here. It has been thirty years since I saw the interior but I immediately recognised the innards and could even visualise (or is that olfactorise) what it smelt like, namely dust with the smell of timber and leather. When Churchill & Churchill came to tune the beast twice a year, it took them three days to do it. The apprentice sat at the console whilst the master within communicated via electric buzzer. Like piano tuning, a dull process but often satisfyingly rounded off with some unexpected playing for job satisfaction. It seems the Organ is in a sorry state now, rarely played and out of tune with some faults on it and cyphers (stuck notes).

I can remember the day an organist turned up for a show (the summer of 1973?) and was shocked to find that most of the stops wouldn't stay out at the morning rehearsal, we worked out that if you pulled them out and held on to them the Organ spoke correctly but as soon as you let go, most of them were sucked back in. A panic call to the repairer & his subsequent rooting around inside turned up the fault- a fractured pipe feeding wind to the console for the pneumatic action. It was actually Garry Glitter's fault (well, his crew!) GG's stage set included backing flats and a fireman's pole he slid down for a grand entrance- they had been tied back to the casement innards but one of the ropes must have been round the feed pipe rather than the timbers. Fortunately, it was very quickly fixed with some Gaffer tape and of course, the artist got his come-uppance in the end...

(If the above sounds like gobbledygook, look here for a "user guide" to organs. The specification for the City Hall Organ is here).

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