Report on visit to St Giles’ Cripplegate on 04/03/2010 - by David Sutton
The winter chill continued into March and seemed to affect CLESO’s normally good turn-out. This was sad because St Giles’ is the home of no less than three organs, a 3-manual Mander on the west gallery, a 2-manual Mander in the north aisle, and a 2-manual Tickell in the vestry cum office. These organs are the “working capital’ of the renowned St. Giles International Organ School and Anne Marsden Thomas – director of the School – was our host for the evening.
Anne gave a short history and introduction to the three instruments, starting with the Kenneth Tickell practice instrument in the vestry. The instrument, housed in a magnificently carved case which would grace any grand music room, was installed to cater purely for practice purposes. Being situated in the vestry behind sound-proof doors it can be used at any time without “disturbing the neighbours” in the church. It has two stops on each manual and one on the pedals. A delicate yet clear sound emerged and a wonderful tool it is for those who wish to use it.
We then moved back into the church and were introduced to the brand-new (2008) two-manual Mander in the north aisle. Again this instrument, although used both in the church service and concert contexts, has also been designed very much with the Organ School in mind. The School wishes to be as inclusive as possible in its student intake and this organ has a number of unique features – namely, a ‘talking stop machine’, a code of ridges on the drawstop shanks, and an adjustable music desk, to help those students who are visually impaired. The ‘talking stop machine’ was devised by Manders and speaks to the player saying which stops have been selected both individually and also piston combinations. Although the key action is mechanical throughout the stop action is electric and the player is supplied with all the modern registration aids. The tone is a triumph of result meeting exacting client requirements. Anne Marsden Thomas has been delighted as to how Manders have managed to produce such a versatile instrument with all the constraints placed upon them. The Great Diapason was to the writer a perfect example of warm unforced 8’ principal tone and the Swell Oboe a remarkable reed which seemed to change character as the effective swell box opened and closed. As with the Kenneth Tickell vestry organ, the casework is a delight to the eye.
We left the largest instrument until last. The three-manual Mander in the gallery is not the original to the church as the building and its contents were gutted in the Second World War. Manders rescued the 18 century Bridge organ from the redundant City church of St Luke’s Old Street added some stops and produced the organ we see today. As with instruments elsewhere in the building the key action is mechanical but the rest of the organ has electric/electro-pneumatic action. This allows for a full complement of registration aids one expects of a modern instrument. Those of us who played it were delighted with its tone in the most part. The mounted cornet – duplexed on both Great and Choir, was a favourite with the writer. Due possibly to the extremes of temperature being experienced – although the church to us was warm in comparison to that outside! – the chorus reeds seem to have suffered so that in the view of the writer they did not give of their best. Also for an instrument of this size (just over forty speaking stops) there were no undulating string stops anywhere. Bearing in mind the date of completion (the early 1970’s) the neo-classical scheme was de rigeur then and the tonal scheme reflected this. The Swell has the usual chorus of reeds 16/8/4 plus the pretty well standard chorus of flue stops – topped with a three-rank mixture to complement (ex the angelica/celestes). The Great has a fully developed principal chorus and this sounds very fine as also the flutes. The Choir organ is totally un-enclosed and it is situated behind the player – a proper “chair” organ perhaps! The Choir case-work has adjustable louvres directed towards the player so the sound can be contained or allowed out in the direction of the player as the situation demands. The cimbelstern – a device not normally found on your ‘bog-standard’ parish instrument in the UK– proved a great hit with our vice-chairman who used it to great effect at every opportunity! Also the organ has both a full-scale back and front case. As you approach the organ gallery via the stairs you emerge in a space by the west window and there you can see there is an organ case with two flats and three towers facing the west window – i.e. backwards and normally unseen by the general public. The organ also has a magnificent case facing east into the body of the church. Luxury indeed!
In all it was a fascinating evening and it was a pity more of us could not make it for one reason or another. Anne Marsden Thomas is to be congratulated for her leadership and enthusiasm in directing the St Giles International Organ School, together with her team of tutors. Could this establishment possibly be regarded as unique? It seems to be certainly very rare in this world, and we do need a constant supply of competent players to preside on the benches at so many of our churches. St Giles is doing its best to encourage players of all grades. We in CLESO have members or know folk who are currently studying with the School and are benefitting greatly from the experience.
Thank you St Giles and Anne for an evening to grace our 50th year of existence.