A view backstage at Beverley Minster

One Man and his Organ

 Stop sniggering at the back there. This is a perfectly innocent article about a Snetzler.
It’s been a troublesome few months for Beverley Minster’s famous organ, giving considerable evidence to support those who believe that inanimate objects can acquire a soul and personality through long exposure to a single human being.
We’ve had the same instrument – granted, not in the same place – for well over 200 years (since 1769 to be precise) and, although it’s been played by many thousands of maestros over the years it must have got especially used to one or two in particular.
After 42 years in harness you can certainly believe this was the case with Alan Spedding.
I clearly remember occasions when I caught Beverley Minster’s long-serving music master applying routine maintenance on our huge organ. As far as I could tell this consisted of walking around with a worried expression and a roll of duct tape as he tried to track down the latest leak from one of the wooden pipes, chatting to and caressing various lumpy bits as he examined its most intimate places
Every now and then we virgers would learn, from some overheard snippet or other, that something a bit more troublesome had happened and a tame organ repairer would need to be shipped in from another Riding but, to our relatively ignorant ears, everything seemed all right.
Perhaps this was because we are tone deaf (which we ain’t), very busy (obviously) or merely that, with so many different pipes to chose from, Alan was able to amend his arrangements to mollycoddle the offending item.
We’ve had a rather vexed period with the temperamental thing since Robert Poyser joined us as Alan’s replacement earlier this year although I don’t think it’s his fault – and I’m starting to wonder if the organ’s previous relationship might have been somewhat closer than I had suspected.
After all, Robert had already built up considerable experience on our ancient instrument during his time as an organ scholar, prior to his temporary absence down south, so it wasn’t unfamiliarity with its foibles that led to a sudden upturn in things going ‘clonk’ and ‘wheeze’ where they normally wouldn’t – except during a composition by Stockhausen, perhaps.
Officially it seems that, sometime during the period between Alan’s farewell service and the start of Robert’s reign, the humidifier broke. This turned out to be very important.
It appears that the huge expanse of wooden boxing as well as the canvas straps that open and close various passages on demand need to be kept slightly damp to prevent unexpected eruptions of wind in all the wrong places (stop sniggering, please).
It would appear that the world was a wetter place back in the 18th century, or something like that (I blame global warming myself) and we need to recreate the swamp-like conditions of the Pleistocene age to keep it in tip-top condition.
As soon as Robert discovered the problem he had buckets of water placed everywhere to overcome its effects, which made the virgers’ task of walking around in the storage room even more fraught with danger than normal, but that wasn’t enough. More things went wrong.
It was as if both organ and the former-ist couldn’t bear to be parted.
This was demonstrated during Robert’s first concert outing as ‘The Minster’s New Organist.’ Something internal started humming and wouldn’t stop. Suddenly the recital’s larger-than-normal audience was treated to the sight of Alan Spedding springing from his seat below. He leapt into action in the topmost pieces of the mechanism, doing a fine impersonation of King Kong on a New York skyscraper, to eradicate an errant effusion that was intruding on Robert’s performance (sorry, I’m feeling a bit alliterative today).
In the following months I’ve been informed that the Snetzler’s tubas have disappeared (apparently, in the strange world of organists a tuba isn’t a brass instrument but a very, very big pipe) and various other bits and pieces have succumbed to the ravages of time but, despite all this, the choir prepared to give a concert to all-comers last Sunday to mark the start of the summer holidays and the end of the first full term that Robert has directed.
I’m glad to say the organ was well-behaved this time, but even then there was a final sting in the tale when the camera that beams an image of the conductor into the organ loft (apparently quite useful if you like the singing and music to be synchronised) packed in just before the performance.
Even this couldn’t detract from a splendid and interesting musical experience where we were presented with a lot of the new pieces that Robert has introduced to the repertoire.
It appears that he now requires noises from parts of the organ where Alan rarely trod and that has obviously upset the old girl. Well, tough.
Couple that with the first-ever Minster girls’ choir that is starting in September and you get the feeling that the organ is going to have to get used to a lot of new things from now on.
If not, there’s always Yamaha.

First published August 2009


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