Sadly it has to be reported that ‘The end is nigh’ for our Willis organ.
Philip, our Organist writes:
“I have been worried about the state of the organ for some time now. It is becoming increasingly unreliable and has got to the point where it now needs considerable work doing on it. I have played it now for 7 years and know how to overcome certain problems to make it sound as well as it does. But the pedal board is shot at, it needs quite a lot of remedial repairs and alas, new keys. The Choir organ is on its way out and the bellows are tied up, in places, with tape and felt – hence all the noise from the pipe area at the back of the church.
I had problems with it as far back as the last flower festival when, if you remember, during the concert at the end of the festival I had to revise the programme as the pedal board stopped working all together.
Our tuners, Jardines, have done a good job in “making do and mending” so that the cost to the church has been kept to a minimum. However, visiting organists like Nigel Ogden, expect to be able to play an organ which is fully working. Even John Pennington, the organist who stands in when I am on holiday, has expressed an unwillingness to play it.”
The problems are all internal, i.e. with the action of the organ. The keys need replacing because all the felts and magnets at the back of the keys are virtually all worn away.
Dr. Sumner, the Diocesan Organ Adviser has spoken to Jardines to get their opinion as to what can be done and he now thinks that we are close to the limit, especially on the pedal which was, and basically still is, pretty shambolic and is effectively past the point that any easy remedial action is possible.
He doubts very much if there is any grant aid for such situations, principally because the organ, although important, is not in original condition in any meaningful sense.
What can be done?
The quote we had from Jardines in 2008 to replace the pedal board and to replace the action with a pneumatic transformer came to £60,000. On top of this there would need to be an expenditure of £8000 for other remedial repairs and £5000 for replacement of the keys, making a total of £73,000. After all this expenditure there would still be around £1000 per year for tuning and an unknown quantity for any further maintenance.
I would be very sad to see a traditional pipe organ such as the Fr. Willis go, but there has to be a point where we stop virtually throwing money away. Even if we had £100,000 (which of course we don’t!) it would surely be inappropriate to spend so much on the organ and at the same time continue to store up certain further expenditure in the future. To fully restore the Willis organ would cost in the region of £450,000.
At a recent meeting, the PCC decided that we can spend no more of our meager resources patching up the Willis Organ. Rather we decided to mothball the organ. We further decided to explore replacing the pipe organ with an electronic. All agreed that for S. Stephen’s this would have to be of superb quality, along the lines of the electronic concert organ at Lytham St Cuthbert.
Such electronics, are, even to the most sensitive ear, indistinguishable from a pipe organ. The organ console can be mounted on the present gallery and the speakers mounted inside the existing pipe work which would remain in situ. The new electronic can even be voiced to replicate our old organ. In fact the sounds are digitalized recordings of pipe organs, producing I repeat, even to the most sensitive ear, a sound indistinguishable from a real pipe organ.
Unfortunately this is not a cheap alternative. An expenditure of approx £20,000 would be required to do justice to our worship, building, and the skill of our organist. But at least this would be a one-off payment as a new organ would not need any maintenance or tuning.
The PCC and the Friends have unanimously agreed to move forward on this plan. We shall begin by visiting other churches where electronics have been installed.
It was further unanimously agreed that we should make you, the Family of S. Stephen’s fully aware of what is to happen and why.
We are also appealing for your help. We have to find the £20,000 – we do not have more than half of this sum available to us at present and this would leave us with nothing together with a very substantial shortfall next year.
• Do you value our musical tradition?
• Are you willing to help financially?
• Could you make a gift? Perhaps in memory of a loved one?
• Could you make an interest free loan?
If you are able to help, then please have a word with Fr Andrew or any member of the PCC.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
With every blessing,