Opus 44 - House Organ

When studying music fomally, exercises in harmony are likely to include 4-part chorale-writing in the style of Bach, and those in counterpoint inevitably lead to the study of Bach's fugues and polyphonic writing based on the work of Palestrina. Similarly, high points of excellence occur in organbuilding. Such builders as Silbermann, Schnitger and Cavaille-Coll all have their followers and copies of their instruments are slavishly made in many organbuilding workshops. Would contemporary composers attempt to put themselves completely into the shoes of Bach or Palestrina? My previous boss in Canada, Gerhard Brunzema, once said that "building copies of historic organs is almost beyond human capability. Is it really possible to copy a Renaissance organ this year and a Cavaille-Coll the next?"

The organ we built for John Kitchen follows a time-honoured style with a facade and pipe layout similar to many eighteenth century North German instruments. Organbuilders can learn a great deal by researching aspects of design, winding, playing actions and voicing from the work of old masters, but surely our personal interpretation and workshop style must also play a part?

Consequently in this Lammermuir organ, the mechanical playing actions have floating beams for self regulation; the wedge bellows is fed by an electric blower motor rather than by a feeder system requiring a blower boy; the pedalboard is parallel but, for ease of playing, also concave; the manual compass is 58 notes to high a''' rather than using a shorter compass to d''' or f''' - despite this style of case and facade dimensions lending themselves naturally to a short bottom octave (omitting lowest C#, D#, F# and G#), we have included a full chromatic bottom octave so that many styles of music can be played. This is, after all, essentially a practice organ.

The stark design solutions of the 1970s and '80s have been replaced by demonstrations of traditional craftsmanship by today's builders, using natural materials such as solid timbers (in this organ we use our preferred quarter-sawn oak for all of the case, including the roof and the back) and in this instrument, featuring moulded cornices, handcarved pipeshades, and even a little gold on the display pipes! The voicing methods, too, have moved away from the aggressive sounds of 'neo-baroque' organs of last century, with toe as well as mouth regulation used as an accepted norm - the sound is easier on the ear over prolonged periods of practising.

This instrument is relatively small - house organs of necessity have limited parameters - but it is complete in itself. Any organist is required to play music on this organ, rather than playing with distractions such as pistons, swell boxes or trying to make the windows rattle in a select district of Edinburgh with the loudest 32' stop! Its playing actions are exacting without being too light - whether the two manuals are coupled or separately played, the feel is similar to that of larger instruments so that the change-over from practice instrument to performance is not too great.

John knows many of our instruments - he has recorded on the organ of St Mary's, Haddington and played the opening recital on our 'magnum opus' in Glasgow. I was therefore flattered that he was happy to trust me with the design and voicing of his own organ - as an artist and craftsman, I found it very gratifying to be given a free hand to build an instrument which is both an essay in historical design concepts as well as fully representative of the Lammermuir workshop style. Organbuilding, however, is a team effort, and I am indebted to my organbuilding colleagues Iris Hinrichs, Niall Watt and Sander Viscor who ably contributed their craftsmanship and expertise to this project.


Manual I: C - a''' 58 notes
Bourdon 8' Oak and Walnut
Principal 4' 70% tin, in case facade, with gilded mouths.
Manual II: C - a'''
Chimney Flute 8' Oak and walnut, with pierced stoppers
Nason Flute 4' Oak, maple and walnut, with open trebles
Pedalboard: C - f' 30 notes - with independent hitch-down pedal couplers to each manual.

Intermanual 'shove' coupler.
Wedge bellows of oak and quality lambs leather.
Solid oak casework, organ bench and pedalboard.