The guest author for this month’s feature is David Mason, Chairman and Owner of Viscount Organs. Viscount specialise in Digital Church Organs. Their organs are master crafted in Italy by musicians who love everything about church organs – the sound, the look and feel, as well as the music. Their product range suits a wide variety of church organ professionals and enthusiasts from churches, cathedrals and crematoriums…to schools and home. It is their work with schools and schemes encouraging the next generation of organists that David writes about here along with his love of the organ.
It’s impossible for any of us to say where our love of a particular composer, composition or instrument comes from. That is one of life’s mysteries. But for many of us this passion lies with the organ and in my ‘chronic case’ it stems from very early childhood. My grandfather, Tom Llewellyn Jenkins, was a professional musician, an FRCO, and made his living as teacher, accompanist and tabernacle organist in Carmarthenshire, Pontypridd and finally Aberystwyth. He is pictured playing his Harrison & Harrison instrument in about 1950 in Tabernacle Aberystwyth. An instrument I happily played some years before the building was destroyed by fire.
When in Carmarthenshire he played in church an American Bell 2 manual reed organ with full pedal board. Foot treadle and hand pumped this eventually became my first home instrument at the age of about 11. Efforts to have this motor blown came to nothing so my playing was in about 4 second bursts which was about as long as the bellows air lasted before feet had to be deployed pumping rather than playing notes. This was soon replaced by a Hammond E 300 drawbar instrument retired from a miners club in the Welsh valleys. So from an early age you will see the organ played an important part in my life that gave me great pleasure that has lasted through now for well over 50 years and hopefully for many more years to come. It is an interest I would love other young musicians to be able to enjoy which is why I am very happy to use some of my companies profits and resources to make access to the organ easy for young musicians.
What is it about the organ that is so captivating? Well being slightly sexist here, it is the ultimate ‘boys’ toy’. On many organs there are a great deal of stops, buttons, levers and pedals to entrance, explore and master. And the sound can go from a whisper to a might roar, a range no other instrument can match. At full tilt the player is most definitely ‘in charge’ and should you want to get their attention you need to push them off the bench! And last but not least is the magic of the building in which these instruments so often sit. Spaces that add so much to the experience often allowing the sound to hang in the air when quiet and to rumble on for seconds at volume long after you have released the keys. So many things to explore!
To engage youngsters here are some of the initiatives we have supported in recent years designed to get young musicians engaged with instrument:-
The London Organ Outreach Programme set up by Tom Bell and Tom Daggett this scheme has placed Viscount instruments in London Schools. These are currently Urswic School Mossborne Academy and St Mary Magdalene Academy. Cadet Compact instruments were provided for this use.
The Diocese of Leeds Organists training programme is run by David Pipe at Leeds Catholic Cathedral. Viscount have loaned this programme an Envoy 35-F which is in the Cathedral for teaching and practice as use of the pipe organ there is greatly restricted.
Foyle Academy in Londonderry were the recipient of a Chorum 40 organ from Viscount as part of a small competition run with local schools to coincide with the 2017 Londonderry Organ Festival. Foyle presented the best case for teaching and access to a gift instrument which they now have in their music department.
Most recently Viscount have supplied St Edward’s College in Liverpool with a Cadet Compact 31. Their organ students have access to the fine pipe organ at the Metropolitan Cathedral but it’s a long walk at the end of a school day to get there and so a teaching practice instrument at the school was considered desirable to allow students easier access and perhaps less excuses to avoid their practice requirements!
For many years now Viscount have also provided practice instruments for the Oundle for Organists courses run in the summer holidays at Oundle School in Northamptonshire. Three additional instruments in the school buildings adds to the fine pipe organs available and again allows easy access for students without leaving the campus.
What used to be London Organ Week at St Giles Cripplegate, usually an August course and now run by the RCO also have Viscount instruments to increase the practice options. This is now renamed Summer Course for Organists and provides teaching resources for what are mainly mature students but is another example of Viscount putting something back.
This activity is further developed by Viscount offering a free years membership of the RCO to the purchasers of a new home practice instrument. I spent over 40 years not realising it was an organisation open to all comers so I rather thought many of my customers would be similarly ignorant of this fact. The RCO put this new income to good use and are developing courses for the village organist not just the professional player.
The organ remains a very important part of my working and leisure time. As you might expect for a hopeless addict, I have even gone to the lengths of having a pipe organ at home alongside of course a very fine custom made Viscount Regent Classic instrument. I expect I will never tire of the hobby and will never resist parking up close to a hitherto unvisited church, hoping to find the door open so I am able to explore what instrument sits inside awaiting its switch to be turned on and spring into joyous life.
If you would like to write a ‘Monthly Feature’, do please get in touch. It can be about anything to do with the organ. Perhaps your experience on a course you’ve attended, buying a new organ, the day in the life of an organ builder, my favourite organ. I’d love to hear from you!