Interview the Organist!

Nick Miller has been St John’s organ scholar for nearly two years now. We asked him the all the important questions about life with Betty in W2.

nicky in dark

Nicky & Betty at Advent Carols playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries…

1. What were your first impressions of Betty on meeting her?

Of an elegant and voluptuous grand old dame whose pedigree is irrefutable, but whose youthful beauty is in course of fading and requires ever more hard work to maintain a facade of respectability. I also noticed that at least one note on each manual doesn’t work, so you quickly have to figure out which keys you can and can’t play in on each of them.

2. What do you think are her most attractive features?

Betty is beautiful in so many ways. I mostly love the way she can build so gently and smoothly from a single tiny string sound all the way up to ‘Full Organ’ and back again. When she’s belting out hymns she is beautiful, but it’s in the contrast between this and her gorgeous softer sounds that her true glory is found.

3. What is your favourite organ stop?

The 4′ Wald Flute on the Great Organ. So delicious.

4. What are you looking forward to most with her restoration?

Being able to hold big chords (by that I suppose I mean more than four notes) without the thirds dropping out and making me sound like a muppet.

5. Who is your organist hero?

The nineteenth century scouse organist-composer William Faulkes, who played at St Margaret’s Anfield for about forty years, is a big inspiration for me. He’s also my favourite thing about Anfield.

6. What is your favourite piece of organ music?

Cesar Franck’s Piece Héroique from the Trois Pieces (1878). It’s the first ‘big’ voluntary I remember hearing in Liverpool Cathedral as a kid, and it blew my tiny mind.

7. What is your favourite coffee place in W2?

Markus Coffee, Connaught Street. What a place.

8. Victoria or Duke of Kendal?

Kendal for lunches and singsongs, Victoria for ale.

9. What’s your favourite music we’ve done at St John’s since you’ve been here?

The overture to the Ride of the Valkyries, Wagner. We re-orchestrated it for 12-piece orchestra and organ, and it made for an incredible opening procession at Advent Carols last year.

10. What do you think organ music adds to the Christian religion?

A sense of the sublime. And just occasionally the ridiculous.

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Betty Consultant Centrefold!

William McVicker, Betty’s consultant on our education and activity plan, is also (in his spare time) organ curator at the Royal Festival Hall. Their organ festival is being launched tonight (our organist tried to book a ticket but it’s already sold out). There’s a very exciting programme going on for the next couple of months and we’ve already got tickets to some of the shows. It’s a great year for organs!

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The Times, 18th March 2014, William McVicker is sat above at the Royal Festival Hall organ.

More details of their festival can be found HERE.

Men at Work!

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Nicholson’s have arrived! Beginning their initial explorations of our organ in preparation for the technical drawings and proposals, their men have arrived and begun their poking around. We’ve been down to the crypt to explore Betty’s blower (a bit short on oil), round the back and under the hatch. Good to see the work moving forward!

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Our organ consultant John Rowntree talks to Nicholson’s with Betty in the background. 

Activity Plan Progressing…

We had a good chat with William McVicker, Organ Curator at London’s Royal Festival Hall, Director of Music at St Barnabas Church Dulwich and a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music, but more importantly a consultant for Save Betty. Part of the discussions were about what we could do with schools – projects, performances and trips… Am particularly excited about having children build their own organs out of spare parts! Sounds like a project worth following…

In the mean time below you can see one of Nicky’s lessons with St James’ and St Michael’s last year where he built a very rudimentary “organ” out of wine glasses!

organ glasses lesson

Getting the Decorators in!

We’ve had the decorators in. The pipe decorators! They’ve been doing some tests on the pipes and seeing what needs doing. A long, long time ago while the pipes were still in place the St John’s of the day decided to slap a coat of varnish over the pipes while they were still in place. The varnish had a zinc component though which has browned with age and our pipes have only a very faded splendour. On taking them down, however, we can see some of the original colour, including some of the sparkle of the gold leaf. Part of our restoration is to bring these pipes back to their original colours. We’re very much looking forward to the reports!

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At the halfway point of the pipe you can see where the lower gold area
is discoloured as well as the faded reds and greens.