Mark Lee - 2003/2004

Mark Lee (Director of Music Bristol Cathedral)

Dear Friends

2003 Mark LeeWelcome to the BDOA web site and I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to contribute a few words to what must be one of the best sites of its type in the country.  Not only can you browse amongst the wonderful photographs of Bristol’s organs but you can also peruse specifications to your heart’s content.

When I was very young I was a huge fan of two magnificent tomes on the organ - William Leslie Sumner’s The Organ and John Norman’s The Organs of Britain.  In these two volumes one could glean huge amounts of information about the origins of the organ as we know it from the Greek engineer Ktesibios right up to the present day (well, 1973 and 1984 respectively!), learning on the way about the development of the keyboard, pedalboard, actions, voicing, wind supply, indeed almost anything one needed to know.  Together with the authors we learned to rail against the vagaries of direct electric action, Hope Jones, and the loss of the Werkprinzip layout and true diapason choruses.

My favourite section was to be found at the back of both volumes in the large selection of specifications.  I gazed in awe at the schemes of the Royal Albert Hall, St George’s Hall, Liverpool, and Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral and tried to imagine what each stop might sound like.  I considered the thunderous contribution of each of the Albert Hall’s five full-length 32 foot stops.  I even tried my hand at creating a new specification for the 2 manual Speechly on which I practiced.  Each existing stop, no matter how gruesome a sound it made, was carefully recycled until a four manual of cathedral proportions emerged!

Of course, we all (!) outgrow these immature tendencies and learn to appreciate the organ as an instrument of music rather than just a feat of engineering of which Brunel might have been proud.  I have learned to appreciate responsive action, high quality musical voicing and a specification that gives variety as well as brute force.  When playing the Cathedral’s four manual Walker of 84 stops it’s the beauty and contrast of the three eight foot Stopped Diapasons that impresses, as well as the grandeur and power of the properly balanced and scaled choruses, capped by magnificent reeds.

Of course, the best way to appreciate an instrument is to hear it being played, and I hope that many of you will be able to join us as we explore the organs of Cambridge, Tenbury, Kidderminster Town Hall and Birmingham’s Symphony Hall and Town Hall.  We can marvel at the power, of course, but we can also learn from the very different approaches of master organ builders from all ages.  The dinner also provides a wonderful opportunity to talk with like-minded musicians in a relaxed atmosphere and offer the mutual support we all need from time to time.

So, thank you for your interest, and I look forward to meeting you over the forthcoming year.

Mark Lee

Bristol and District Organists' Association

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