David Chandler - 2014

Hello and welcome to B&DOA website.

It is an immense privilege to serve as President of the Bristol and District Organists’ Association and a particular pleasure to have assumed this position on the day of the annual Edgar Joyce Memorial Recital in June this year.   This annual event, which draws a large number of people to St Paul’s, Southville, where Edgar was organist for many years, augments the legacy he left for the training of young organists.  The Recital also provides an opportunity for some of our students to display their talents.  We have a good number of young organists in the Association and it is a source of some pride for the Association that so many of them go on to be organ scholars at prestigious cathedrals, and universities throughout the land.  The Edgar Joyce Memorial Fund has helped many of them along the way.

Also, for some years, the Royal College of Organists has used the range of superb instruments available in Bristol for three days of master-classes and individual tuition for young organists from ages 9 to 18.  This culminates in a public recital with each of them performing a special piece at a composite recital.  Do look out for this and go along, if you can.  It’s at Christ Church (City) at 2.30pm on 1 November 2014.  

Educational purposes are further fulfilled with the Association’s sophisticated media kit – and the expertise among its members to operate it – that is of great benefit at organ recitals and the like.  It is therefore possible to bring the organist into full view of the audience from behind impenetrable curtains or lofty positions where they are usually quite hidden from view and show them performing on a large screen.  The Association also has a home-made video of the interior and workings of a typical pipe organ, which can be displayed at appropriate events.  This often surprises the audience as to how complex the instrument is.  I have heard tales of more than a few architects who have no idea of the space required for even a modest pipe organ and the fact it may have several thousand pipes, each of which is, in effect, a unique musical instrument requiring individual attention.  I have even met professional pianists who were unaware organists could play with their feet!  Where have they been?

The annual free recital at the Colston Hall in September has become a major attraction for many hundreds of people and helps to promote the organ to a wider public.  The Colston Hall organ, one of the largest and finest in the west of England, by the same builders as the Royal Festival Hall organ that was reopened to a great fanfare earlier this year after major restoration, really should be used more often.  Many will remember the time when there were regular monthly recitals by the world’s leading players; it would be good to see these re-instated.

All sorts of other events in local churches could provide opportunities to promote the organ as a versatile musical instrument.  These could include art or wedding exhibitions, hymnathons and other themed events.  The perception that the organ is only used for long, dull preludes and fugues merely because they are deemed by someone as ‘worthy’ can be remedied.  Whereas there is no reason why organ recitals should not be entertaining, the trend by some church authorities to seemingly remodel services as part of the entertainment industry should be resisted.  The mantra that everything must be fun and it matters not what you do so long as you do it well is wearing a bit thin, and a great deal of the excellent heritage of past ages is being sidelined or lost altogether.

Digital or Electronic organs are with us to stay and there can be no doubt that they are getting better and better in their sound reproduction.  It is important, nevertheless, that they are given adequate and suitable amplification in the buildings where they are housed.  Church authorities, often seduced by the fact these instruments are much cheaper than a pipe organ, stint on adequate sound reproduction and hope the internal speakers will do.  External amplification will ensure a creditable result and the placing of speakers requires the sort of care that equates to the voicing of a pipe organ.  Organs that combine pipes with digital are beginning to make their appearance in the UK now and could well be considered, but jettisoning a small pipe organ for a larger digital with all mod cons may not be the best option after all.  Where possible existing pipe organs should be restored or new ones built.  

The Association will be visiting Ramsbury in the coming year where a small village has raised in the region of £140,000 to restore a pipe organ from around 1812 by a noted organ-builder of the day (G P England)and enlarged by another famous builder (William Hill) in the 1890s.  This venerable instrument will now continue to serve for many decades and certainly outlive any digital that might have replaced it.

Thankfully our Cathedrals are still power houses of excellent music excellently performed – probably better than at any time in our history – and unique to this country.  Long may this continue despite the financial difficulties many are facing.  It is to be hoped that the setting up of a primary school alongside our own Cathedral here in Bristol will be of advantage to our own Cathedral Choir with the possible introduction of younger voices with a longer singing life.

For all members of the Association each President aims to provide a programme of interesting monthly events.  For instance, we will be visiting Llandaff Cathedral and Dewi Saint, Cardiff in July, the re-built new pipe organ in the Bristol’s Lord Mayor’s Chapel in November and other instruments of particular interest.  We shall also enjoy what has become the annual not-to-be-missed performance by our members Paul Walton and David Bednall of Messiaen’s monumental ‘La Nativite’ at the Cathedral before Christmas on 22 December at 7.00pm.  Many events can be attended by non-members and a list can be obtained from Chris Mansfield, who is the Secretary to our Association - you will be made very welcome.

David Chandler

President – 2014/15

Bristol and District Organists' Association

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