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Too hot to play the organ tonight!

A discussion forum for anything even marginally Hauptwerk-related.

Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Andrew Grahame » Fri Feb 10, 2017 7:24 am

This topic is apparently open to anything which is "even marginally related" to Hauptwerk - so here goes!

It's too hot to play the organ tonight!

Sydney is experiencing Day 1 of a 3-day heatwave. Today's maximum - which was reached just as I walked back to my car after work - was 44.5 degrees Celsius (that's 112 Fahrenheit). Tomorrow is expected to be hotter.

At school today we held the Opening Mass as the new academic year began 2 weeks ago. As usual I was at the organ - a respectable classical digital instrument about 15 years old, with 1 manual and no pedals. I had a good external amplification system added about 10 years ago. Fortunately it wasn't too hot at 9.30 am. The church - though not air-conditioned - is well ventilated and the students coped well. It's a small Catholic parish school with just 7 classes - one to each grade from Kindergarten to Year 6. For the postlude I switched to Hauptwerk, using a recording I made a couple of days ago for the Concert Hall. The sounds of the Salisbury Tuba rang out via my laptop feeding into the organ speakers - it was excellent!

With Mass over we retreated into the fully air-conditioned classrooms - and stayed there. We kept the students inside for both recess and lunch. I am the school's specialist music teacher, going to this school only on Fridays. Today I taught Year 3, Year 5, Kindergarten and Year 1. Thanks to the aircon we were oblivious to the heat, and lively percussion activities to the music of Grieg (In the Hall of the Mountain King) were well received.

I'm glad I had my car's aircon serviced last October. The drive home today was in 18-degree C comfort, while the dashboard thermometer indicated an outside temperature of 45 degrees C.

No organ playing at home with Hauptwerk tonight. I am keeping to the few rooms of my house which have aircon, and the music room isn't one of them.

Tomorrow I head out during the hottest part of what is expected to be Sydney's hottest February day on record. Duty calls - I must present live my monthly organ music radio broadcast at 6 pm on the radio station "Fine Music 102.5". The studios are on the other side of Sydney from where I live - an hour's drive away. The building is fairly new and its aircon works well. Tune in via the web if you can at http://www.finemusicfm.com.

Here's hoping that by Monday the predicted cool change will finally come through. February weather in Sydney is usually very humid (often over 90 per cent) because in rains for a day or two, then out comes the hot sun and all that rainwater ends up hanging in the air. I've known hot and humid summer weather here in Sydney for 37 years, but these current blast-furnace conditions are just over the top!

Thanks for allowing me to vent!

Andrew
Last edited by Andrew Grahame on Fri Feb 10, 2017 9:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Organorak » Fri Feb 10, 2017 4:04 pm

Can we swap? It's snowing here in Britain :evil:
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby organsRgreat » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:26 pm

Not snowing in my part of Britain, but we're certainly experiencing unseasonably cold weather. Cold by UK standards that is – I realise that the weather in America (and probably Australia) is considerably more extreme.

Connections, connections: the effect here is of course the opposite – it's nice to stay warm indoors and play our Hauptwerk organs! This afternoon I was demonstrating Neil Jensen's (Australian connection) Wurlitzer (American connection) theatre organ to an organist friend. He has a Hauptwerk system himself (Hauptwerk connection), linked to a midified Conn console (American connection). He plays mainly classical music, but was fascinated when I demonstrated the difference the tremulant makes to the Tuba Mirabilis.

Australian connection: this morning I decided not to bid on ebay for an LP of my favourite theatre organist, Reginald Porter-Brown, as I already have a copy. Reg was also a classical organist, and toured Australia, playing organs as diverse as Sydney Town Hall, and the Wurlitzer in Marrickville Town Hall - a suburb of Sydney. My LP is dated 1972.

This evening I've been writing an email to a relation who shares my interest in family history; explaining that my mother used to say my uncle was a cousin of the great organist Sir George Thalben-Ball. Australian connection – GTB was born in Sydney, though he spent most of his life in Britain. He was at the height of his powers while I was a music student in London, and I heard him give some superb recitals; most notably at St. Paul's Cathedral.

A feature of that organ is a group of trumpet stops right up in the dome; GTB planned his recital so that these stops came into play at the climax of his final piece, creating a thrilling effect I've never forgotten. Hauptwerk connection – GTB recorded on Allen organs (American connection) – one of the first British organists to do so. It seems fair to assume that he would have been interested in Hauptwerk. Double American connection: GTB was friendly with American organist Carlo Curley, who often visited Britain, and had an Allen organ that he used at venues where a suitable pipe organ was not available.

American connection so obvious I nearly overlooked it – Brett Milan :-)
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby murph » Fri Feb 10, 2017 6:41 pm

Not quite so involved:
my nephew, who's a scaffolder in Sydney, felt the need to post the weather details on facebook earlier. Normally, he only complains on a Monday, not the weekend!
P.s. It's bloody cold in Dublin, too!!
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Andrew Grahame » Fri Feb 10, 2017 9:58 pm

Greetings and thanks to those who've replied and commented.

It may come as a surprise to some forum members, but I've never seen or experienced snow at first hand. I have always lived in temperate climates and have never travelled to colder climates during winter. To Organorak - one of these days I'd love to experience snow, but I imagine that in excess it would have just as many inconveniences as excess of heat, though in different ways.

I actually have the Reginald Porter-Brown LP which organsRgreat mentioned. I was still at school when he visited Australia. That LP is historic in more ways than one. It shows both the Marrickville and Sydney Town Hall organs in terrible condition! The transformation in both since then is astonishing. The STH organ was restored between 1972 and 1982 (I attended the re-opening recital in early 1983) and it has just recently been cleaned, documented and further restored. I've not heard or played it since the recent work was done - it must be truly out of this world now! The Marrickville organ received major tonal attention guided by Jonas Nordwall prior to a recital of his back in the late 1970's. It's had a great deal of further work done since, plus much ongoing maintenance. It's rumoured to be the best 2-manual Wurlitzer in the world today. The old R P-B recording shows just how far both instruments have come during my lifetime. There's also a track on the LP from the Christie theatre organ in a Sydney church - that instrument is now very close to completion of a major restoration.

It's been revealed elsewhere that the much-altered and greatly-enlarged organ in the Melbourne Town Hall is to be released in due course as a Hauptwerk sample set. Good though this will be, I feel that the Sydney Town Hall Hill and Marrickville Town Hall Wurlitzer are more worthy candidates for sampling, especially considering that both instruments are currently in peak condition. The 3/17 Wurlitzer at the Orion Centre, Campsie would be another very good Sydney organ to get.

Andrew
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby sonar11 » Fri Feb 10, 2017 10:19 pm

Summer... I count the days until it's back! I know the feeling when it is too hot for organ though. Actually I find a good air supply is key, have to have the windows open and fans on (1 sitting directly in the window pointing a little over my head). But no help for the sliding fingers, unfortunately :) Just a hand towel and wipe down every once in a while.
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Andrew Grahame » Sat Feb 11, 2017 2:27 am

Arrived not long ago at the broadcasting studios of Fine Music 102.5 in the Sydney suburb of St Leonards. Temperature outside is 36 degrees C. When I left at 3.15 pm in the south-western suburb where I live the outside temperature was 43.7 degrees C. The journey took 1 hour and 15 minutes (significantly longer than usual) - there was a breakdown in one of the tunnels on the major motorway en route to the city. I saw details of this in advance on the large illuminated traffic signs leading up to the tunnel, so I quickly took the next exit and headed for the "old road" for a longer but more predictable journey.

I drove briefly through the outskirts of Sydney CBD, near the University. Many people on the city streets - quite a contrast to my home suburb where the streets were uncharacteristically deserted in the baking heat. As I crossed the Harbour Bridge I was intrigued to see several bridge climb groups heading upwards on the "coathanger". Hopefully the breeze up there will help to offset the heat!

Nice and cool here now inside the studios. By the time I head home after the broadcast I hope to find the temperature on its way down. Still one more day of this onslaught to go tomorrow.

Andrew
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby organsRgreat » Sat Feb 11, 2017 6:48 pm

It is good to have news of two fine Australian organs, and to know that Reg Porter-Brown is still remembered there (he died 35 years ago). The recordings he made on the Marrickville Wurlitzer must be the ultimate in extracting a virtuoso performance from a two manual instrument – as stated on one of the record sleeves “Second touch must have been in continuous use, along with pistons”. Fortunately 11 ranks are just enough to give a reasonable variety of sound; if the organ was in terrible condition at the time of R P-B's recordings, that makes his achievement even more remarkable.

In later years Reg made his home in Southampton – his “Base theatre” was officially the ABC (formerly Forum) cinema, but I suspect that he also wanted to be near the large dual-purpose Compton in the Guildhall which gave so much scope for his talent. I live near enough to have enjoyed many of his recitals there during the sixties and seventies, and although Reg certainly made the most of it, I came to regard the Compton as a mixed blessing. A friend remarked that “apart from the clarinet, every reed on that organ is some species of Tuba”. Exaggeration for effect of course, but the more powerful reeds are harsh to a degree that can easily become unpleasant.

I have posted on Youtube a broadcast during which Reg demonstrated the way he used second touch to play melody and accompaniment in his left hand (and pedals), leaving his right hand free to play all manner of complicated embellishments:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwOc07U7vhA

It seems that Neil Jensen's excellent sample set is no longer available – links still appear in google but lead only to “404 not found” messages. That makes even stronger the case for sampling the Marrickville Wurlitzer – preferably presenting it as a 3-manual, since we don't all have R P-B's technique, and changing manuals is more convenient than operating pistons. I have not come across the Orion Centre Wurlitzer, but 17 ranks certainly sounds an interesting prospect. I agree about the importance of sampling organs in peak condition – many Wurlitzers must be 90 years old, most are no longer in their original homes, and the reeds in particular have sometimes deteriorated to the point at which it is impossible to play a melody on them because of uneven voicing.

I do have a snow story that's very much connected with music. During the seventies variety shows and pantomime were often accompanied by electronic organ and drums; the Lowrey Holiday was a popular model for this purpose, though there were still some drawbar Hammonds around. I'd been playing for pantomime, and emerged to find that a blizzard had blown up during the show. I wasn’t too worried; I was staying with friends 25 miles away, but my route was along busy main roads; I reckoned the traffic would keep the roads clear. I nearly made it – but a few miles short of my destination the engine stalled. This was long before the days of mobile phones; it seemed that my best option was to trudge to the nearest house and phone the breakdown service. As I was contemplating this a huge 4 by 4 vehicle pulled in, and out of it jumped two members of the Canadian Air Force. It turned out that there was a base nearby, and they had decided to go out and assist motorists in difficulty. As one of them said “We're used to these conditions in Canada, but you Brits aren't”. They towed my car to the forecourt of a nearby pub, then took me home to very relieved friends, who'd been about to phone the police and report me missing.

As a public relations exercise this was of course brilliant – I've had a friendly feeling towards Canadians ever since! And I hadn't really misjudged the situation; I discovered that there was a known design fault in that Austin/Morris engine – in certain conditions the cooling fan could spray rain or snow over the electrical parts of the engine, causing it to stall.

Snow is rare enough in Britain (especially the south) for us not to make a big investment in snow ploughs etc., so when there is a heavy fall it can be a serious problem. On the other hand – in the right conditions it looks really beautiful!
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Erzahler » Sat Feb 11, 2017 7:50 pm

Well that's climate change for you. Too hot in Australia and too cold in Britain. And then there are all the other weather 'events' that we are getting - sea warming, ice melting, forrest fires, high winds, floods, droughts etc.
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Andrew Grahame » Sat Feb 11, 2017 8:05 pm

Here is a link to the Theatre Organ Society of Australia (TOSA) NSW website, with information about the Marrickville and Orion Wurlitzers and the West Ryde Christie organ.

http://www.tosa.net.au/our-organs

At the time of the RPB recording at Marrickville everything worked physically, but the state of tonal regulation left a great deal to be desired. This was eventually addressed under extraordinary circumstances by Jonas Nordwall on his first visit to Australia. I understand that the organ's maintenance team at the time lacked insight into the tonal side but were unwilling to accept outside advice. Several TOSA members - not members of the maintenance team but with considerable knowledge on tonal matters - escorted Jonas Nordwall to Marrickville, ostensibly to assist him in his rehearsal for the concert. The maintenance team had just finished tuning. As soon as they left, Nordwall got to work, executing major changes to the organ's tonal regulation. He quickly appraised the situation, then sent the others out to local hardware stores to purchase various items. Over the next 3 days the organ received a quick but incredibly effective tonal makeover. Wind lines were changed, pressures were increased, tremulants were adjusted, and the speech of every pipe was regulated to the new pressures. I'm reliably told that the result was nothing short of astounding. When the audience arrived for the concert they were expecting just to hear another overseas visitor on the instrument they knew. They were instead greeted by what amounted to a new organ. The instrument has gone from strength to strength ever since. The chambers are high up each side of the stage, the console is on a moveable podium, and the town hall acoustic is quite reverberant. Originally a 2/10, it gained a Post Horn after the move to Marrickville.

The Orion instrument came from Sydney's Capitol Theatre. Unlike the Prince Edward Theatre - original home of the Marrickville organ - the Capitol still stands. It has been restored and is in constant use as an excellent venue for live shows. The organ - a Style 260 - originally had 15 ranks. It gained a Solo String Celeste and Post Horn on installation in 1988 at Campsie. The Orion Centre operates these days as a reception/function centre. The chambers are under the stage and the console is on a centrally-placed hoist.

It's not entirely clear from the text - but the West Ryde organ, removed from the church in 1992, is currently being restored and reinstalled at the same church. Various alternative venues were considered but all were rejected. Eventually it was decided to bring the organ back to West Ryde, restore it, and install it in the new church building.

The heat is slowly abating here in Sydney - today's maximum is predicted to be only 32 degrees - but the fierce weather continues in the northern parts of New South Wales with fire risk described officially as "catastrophic". This, plus temperature extremes elsewhere, should serve as further evidence to those who continue to be dismissive of global warming.
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Andrew Grahame » Sun Feb 12, 2017 2:42 pm

It's early Monday morning. Sydney temperature now 17, heading for a maximum in the high 20's, which is normal for this time of the year. A major relief from the last few days. However it's not over by any means. Latest news reports indicate that more than 80 bushfires are still burning around New South Wales. The situation in the Upper Hunter region to the north of Sydney is dire.

I finally got to play the organ last night. Temperature outside was cooler than inside for the first time in days, so I opened up the windows and powered up the Hauptwerk console. The hard drives are long overdue for defragmentation - organ loading time is very slow - but I've not been keen to turn the computer on throughout the fierce heat. Maybe I can now do the defrag.
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby TheOrganDoc » Sun Feb 12, 2017 5:10 pm

Your temperature comments, remind me of our (up above) Florida, Usa, August !

Also, I remember many times in winter tuning pipe organs (in northeast USA) without waiting for church to heat up properly, and then having to touch up the tuning afterwards, due to heat rise during tuning.

Pipes are "so very sensitive" to heat change, (especially so during tuning) !

God bless Hauptwerk, as there is no re-tuning ever necessary once set ! :roll:

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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Antoni Scott » Wed Feb 15, 2017 9:03 am

I'm not sure which is worse, too much heat or too much cold. I'm in Florida so too much cold is not a concern but I do remember those bone-chilling days when the fingers wouldn't work properly. On the other hand, I also remember those days when you would sweat so much that you stuck to the organ bench !!!!

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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby organsRgreat » Sun Feb 19, 2017 4:50 pm

Thanks Andrew for all this information – especially regarding the Marrikville Wurlitzer. What a fascinating story! I'm afraid that, as a minority interest, theatre organs can easily suffer from the attentions of enthusiastic amateurs who don't really know what they're doing. When they have the sense to consult a professional, and work under his direction, the results can be good; but when they don't . . .

A particular problem in the UK arises when organs have been moved from cinemas into much smaller venues. Our cinemas typically seated 1,000 to 3,000 people, so re-installing instruments designed for that sort of space in a hall seating 300-500 requires very skilled re-voicing. I fear many people have gained a false idea of the sound of a theatre organ after hearing such a re-installation. As George Blackmore (FRCO) once remarked about this type of instrument “You don't have what you used to have”. Maybe this is less of a problem in Australia – as a vastly larger country maybe you have larger buildings.

I've heard theatre organs re-installed in private homes, and never felt they sounded right. Quite likely a thoughtful Hauptwerk setup gets nearer to the effect of an organ in a cinema than using original pipes – because of the opportunities for adjusting the voicing and dynamic range, adding reverb, using wet or surround samples, and so on.

Conversely I know an electronic organ in a village church which sounds better than it has any right to. It's an old divider instrument, probably using valves; the tone-forming is not particularly sophisticated; it has just two speakers, facing forward at the front of the church; but I've played for Morning Service there a couple of times and it's always proved entirely adequate. The building has a lot of stone surfaces, and even a small church must have at least ten times the volume of air of a domestic room.

Our weather has changed at the same time as yours, but in the opposite direction! The temperature has been pleasant, with gentle sunlight filtering through the clouds, and a feeling that Spring may not be too far away :-)
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Re: Too hot to play the organ tonight!

Postby Andrew Grahame » Mon Feb 20, 2017 3:44 am

I first saw the Marrickville Wurlitzer in 1976. Maintenance at the time was carried out by members of TOSA, but they employed a professional organ builder (a friend of mine) to tune it, and he took me there on a tuning visit. It was my first experience of being inside an organ chamber while a Tuba was being tuned - and I got out fast! The organ builder was wearing earmuffs, but I wasn't.

It's true that many theatre organs have been reinstalled in buildings which were acoustically far removed from that of their original homes, but at least it means that those instruments have been preserved. Sometimes an instrument ends up in a building which is at the other extreme from theatre acoustics, and Marrickville is one such location. The hall is very reverberant - some have said too much so for the Wurlitzer - though these days most agree that the organ and its home are well matched.

Glad to report that Sydney weather is settling down. Numerous days of temperatures in the mid 40's was a bit much. February 2017 is now officially the hottest Sydney February on record. It was good to be able to sit down again at the organ tonight.
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