Visit to St John’s Seven Kings on 23/07/2013 by David Sutton

St Johns Seven Kings#2This seems to be a year for the electronic organ. In March we heard and played a brand-new, state-of-the-art three manual Viscount. In July it was the turn of a 23 year-old Copeman Hart. It was the ideal opportunity to compare the ‘old’ technology with an example of the modern.

The reason for this particular electronic installation was the re-ordering of the building in the late 1980s. The original building was quite large and it was decided to split the space into two with a hall in one half and a church in the other. The organ – a two manual 24 stop Speechley rebuilt by Arnold in the 1950s - was considered too large to go back into the new area (and from the NPOR entry perhaps it could also be assumed it was of not of sufficient merit to remodel and transfer to the new worship area).

Copeman Hart are well known for their quality custom-built instruments. Each is unique and is not the end-product of a production-line process. I well remember playing it a year or two after its installation in 1990 deputising for Veronica Watts the then organist and fellow CLESO member and being over-awed by its faithfulness to reproduce authentic organ tones. Up to that point my own experience of electronics were 1960s Compton Electrones, a 1950s example of a Miller, Hammond and Livingstone Burge. It has not been heard by me since then and I wondered if the memories had been mellowed and enhanced by time. I and about a dozen of us were about to found out.

It was a very warm, stuffy evening. Sadly the church organist could not be with us but he had very kindly produced notes to help us in our task of appreciation of the instrument. As for a demonstration it fell to me. As I have said, I had not played it for at least 15 years but the original experience came back as if it was yesterday. Unlike some electronic organs (which shall be nameless!) each stop as named sounds as described. A proper tonal build-up is experienced with each stop adding to the general ensemble. However what I had not experienced or realised was how the sound was quite directional in that the six speakers – three either side of the new magnificent stained glass window – focussed the sound down the body of the church, bypassing the organist who was seated at the side facing the altar. It meant the balance between manuals could be not quite as you expected. The speaker (sub-woofer) for the two 32’ flues (yes, two of them!) are placed in a special cabinet behind the organ stool and, in the words of the organist’s notes, the effect “could part your hair”. The Pedal department also sports a 16’ Ophicleide of some power.  The notes provided by the organist made a comment to the effect it was, in his and a fellow organist’s opinion, too loud. We decided to take a straw poll and we countered their views 100%. We organists have very decided views on what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’ and typifies the maxim of one man’s meat is another man’s poison! Anyway, too loud or not it is a climax stop of some distinction.

The evening progressed with the usual try outs of sundry pieces of music (both loud and soft!).  All the players remarked how comfortable and easy it was to manage the three manual draw-stop console controlling the 44 speaking stops. Two members also relived memories: Barry Bishop was baptised there (he had difficulty in remembering this though!) and Mary Fabb had done deputising work for the evening services some years ago.

The church authorities, in particular the vicar the Revd. Jonathan Evens and the organist, are to be thanked for allowing us access to what is (I believe) the only Copeman Hart in our area. I hope our visit has enlightened those who want to know and experience what a sophisticated electronic instrument is capable of.

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