The Church Organ

At first glance the St. Cuthbert's console looks rather daunting. This is mainly due to the fact that it controls two completely different instruments, so every drawstop and tab switch performs a double function. The church nomenclature is printed on the stops themselves and the theatre functions are given on small tablets above them. Despite the initial shock, players of the church organ quickly learn to ignore the theatre signage. It just fades into the woodwork.

Not only do the two organs have different voices, they are built on completely different systems. The church organ is built along classical lines which require that each note of each stop has a pipe of its own. The pipes are arranged in Ranks. A typical manual stop will have a rank of 61 pipes - giving 5 octaves of notes. Pedal stops have 32 note ranks. Some stops, like mixtures, have multiple ranks, 2 to 5 pipes per note. On a large instrument this adds up to an awful lot of pipes!

The alternative way of building is a system of extended ranks and 'borrowing'. There are far fewer ranks - just one for each tone colour, but they are extended up to 8 to 10 octaves. The drawstops act as couplers, connecting just a section of a rank to one of the manuals or the pedals. Each pipe is thus used over and over again. It may supply the bottom note of one stop, the top note of another and many more in between. Extension organs represent a huge saving in space and cost. Just how much of a saving is well illustrated at St. Cuthbert's. The theatre organ has about 1000 pipes arranged in 10 extended ranks. The church organ, which has slightly fewer speaking stops, needs 99 ranks and 5430 pipes!

Voicing and Style.

We are constantly surprised at the way the organ adapts itself to the tastes of guest organists. It is able to mimic the styles of many major builders, but it does have a specific sound of its own. That sound is typical of 'The Yorkshire School', a group of organ builders in the North East who were inspired by the distinctive style of German builder Edmund Schulze. Schulze made his mark in England when he entered an organ at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He introduced several new voices including 'Lieblich Gedackt' and (theatre buffs take note) 'Tibia'! The exhibition organ made Schulze famous in England and he was invited to build a new organ for Doncaster Parish Church in 1869. The Doncaster instrument had 5 manuals and 102 speaking stops. It caused a sensation at the time and remains one of the most celebrated British organs.

Schulze was noted for his bold and colourful voicing, a sound which was eagerly taken up by such builders as J.J. Binns of Leeds and Peter Conacher of Huddersfield, both founding members of 'The Yorkshire School'. In 1904 the young Arthur Harrison of Durham took the Doncaster great organ as a model for his own instrument in Whitehaven Parish Church. The grand scale of its chorus has remained central to the Harrison house style ever since.

The Sheffield company, Brindley and Foster also adopted the Yorkshire sound. There is some irony here because the Doncaster organ replaced one of theirs! 'B & F' were, unfortunately, noted for their eccentric and unreliable action work, which detracted from the exquisite beauty of their voicing. They managed to combine highly colourful individual stops with a refinement and clarity in chorus work It is for that reason that we chose their style as a model for our church organ. It makes a worthy successor to the Conacher pipe organ.

Designing the Organ.

Our church has quite a difficult acoustic. Sound does not transfer well between Chancel and Nave. The organ is designed to overcome this by having a 2 manual and pedal scheme for accompanying choral singing in the Chancel, and a 3 manual and pedal sounding into the Nave as Conacher intended.

The Choir organ is unenclosed and speaks directly into the Chancel from behind the South Case. It is accompanied by 5 Pedal voices the Lieblich Bourdon, 3 String stops and the Fagotto.

The Great and Solo organs stand side by side behind the pipes of the West Case. The upperwork of the Nave Pedal section is located next to them and the Pedal basses speak from the bottom of this case.


The Swell organ is in a central position and has 2 sets of shutters. The large set face West from behind the Great, and the small ones face South from behind the Choir. Either set of shutters can be connected to the swell pedal and the set not connected are closed. The Swell is unusually large because it provides a home for all stops which are needed in both parts of the building.

The Great Organ offers many options for chorus building. The two Open Diapasons differ considerably in scale, the Octave sits midway between them and the Principal is scaled to the Geigen. Organists can therefore select top-heavy, bass-heavy, or balanced foundation tone. Three mixtures are available and these also differ considerably. The Fourniture (19 22 26 29) is Dulciana scaled and offers a gentle option for 'top'. Nevertheless, it has enough sparkle to live with the heaviest foundation stops. The Carillon (15 17 19 22) is a good deal larger and makes an excellent first mixture for choruses built on the large Open and Octave. The Cymbal (26 29 33) is very large, in fact it's scaled to the Principal, and has the traditional octave breaks.

The Trombas are extremely heavy and dark toned in the best Yorkshire tradition.

The Solo Organ is notable for its big reeds and the wealth of it's keen-toned string voices. The latter are not often found on Yorkshire Organs, we borrowed them from Arthur Harrison! The Harmonic Trumpet has a very free 'orchestral' sound and is enclosed. In addition to its function as a solo voice, it can be coupled to full Swell as a climax reed, or used as an alternative to the Great Trombas if one desires a more 'Willis' style pleno.

The Swell Organ also has some Harrison touches. The grand Mixture (15 19 22 26 29) carries its highest voices almost to middle C. Thereafter it has octave breaks. It is scaled to a Twelfth - a mighty beast indeed! This allows the chorus reeds to have considerable weight in addition to their fiery tone. To hear this combination unleashed over the Great chorus is a spine-tingling experience and one of the glories of the organ.

The unenclosed Choir Organ serves as an 'Echo Great'. Anything that can be heard on the Great Organ has its counterpart on the Choir, but the voices are softer and more transparent. The Choir also has a set of flute Mutations. Players of French Baroque music are well served with no less than 4 Cornet combinations available - a Female cornet on Choir, a Male and a Hybrid on Swell, and a String cornet on Solo (the Cornet de Violes is 12 15 17). Amidst all this classical clarity we have the Unda Maris, flute toned with the second rank tuned flat. It purrs like a Persian cat the ultimate in romantic sensuality!

The Pedal Organ has the only 'digital cheat' in the instrument. The Sub Bass 32' adopts the tone of whatever is drawn with it. It can thus be a Sub Bourdon, an Open Metal, or an Open Wood ( to be used with discretion as it shakes the pews). This kind of stop is now being added to some well known pipe organs, so we felt no guilt about having one.

Copeman Hart have created for us an organ of almost endless variety and versatility, well able to perform the entire organ repertoire in a most convincing manner. It's a joy and an inspiration to play as well as to hear.

John Mitchell, October 2006