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Stop controls

Someone on another board was asking about stop controls, particularly for older instruments. For David Coram - I think that for your instrument probably the 'Scope' system is the answer. It is less likely that you would get confused on your instrument, given the nature of the combination system.

Re: Stop controls

I'm fortunate to play one (of only 19 ever made) of John Compton's luminous-touch consoles. The trade hated them, and organists have been known to moan over the years because once a bulb goes you cannot tell if a stop is on or off - a major problem, I conceed. Point is, I don't think a better system has ever been invented (assuming electro-pneumatic stop action) - seriously!

Consider these advantages:
1. Absolutely 'at a glance' instant recognition of what is on or off
2. Stopheads can be smaller and more closely grouped together because you don't have to get fingers round them. Consoles can be very compact.
3. The operation of a piston makes no sound - contrast that with the ker-thump that most stopknobs make, even on a new organ.
4. The General Crescendo pedal's operation and sequence can be followed stage by stage - perfect if one wanted to re-jig it.
5. My favourite.....imagine the arm movemkent you make when you want to poke both someone's eyes out with one simple movement - on my console, a similar gesture against two stopheads takes one off and the other on in that single comfortable movement. You can draw, for instance, Great Harmonic Claribel in the same split second that you remove the Stopped Diapason. One handed....and no repetitive strain injury or sprained wrist.

I said only 19 were ever made, the number still in opeation is less than a dozen now. The problem of bulbs is now easy to solve - one uses white LEDs. These are also dimmable.

I like the system so much that if we're allowed to have a second console made at the forthcoming rebuild I want to commission a modern version.


P.S. I came in one day and some cretin had obviously been allowed to try the organ in my absence. What had they done? A luminous stophead was hanging out of the jamb with a small trail of wires behind it. For all the world like a detatched eyeball. They had tried to pull the stop to put it on!!!!!

Re: Stop controls

Estey in the USA did a similar system to the (I agree excellent) Compton illuminated touch-button system. I'm told that one of the few drawbacks is that if someone is of a mischeivous disposition - and the stop layout allows for it - it is possible to use the stopheads to make up letters and therefore leave an obscene message for the next person to switch the organ on!

The issue of lack of piston noise was a great benefit in the Broadcasting House installation in London.

Do you know where the remaining ones are? Off the top of my head I can only think of Holy Trinity Hull (obviously!), the two BBC organs (B.H. and Maida Vale), Southampton Guildhall, Downside Abbey, and All Saints Weston-super-Mare. Does Hull City Hall still have them or was that changed on the last re-build?


Re: Stop controls

Dear Steve,
there are a few more, not many. Those list known to me are:
St.Luke's Chelsea not yet rebuilt - still in action Derby Cathedral - modified by Rushworth and Dreaper
Downside Abbey - electric switching replaced by Roger Taylor
BBC Maida Vale - unrebuilt but restored by enthusiasts
BBC Broadcasting House - ditto
St Mary Magdalene, Paddington - original condition, ropey!
All Saints, Weston- super-Mare - maintained by Chris Manners (organist there and former MD of Daniels)
Holy Trinity Hull - ropey - maintained by Geoffrey Coffin and myself

Re: Stop controls

P.S. How does one edit posts here? I've made a bit of a pigs ear over the above!

Re: Stop controls

Frankly, I have no idea!

Sorry - I will have to get back to you on that one, Paul.

In the meantime, if anyone can contact Paul Hodges, he will probably know a) if it is possible and b0 how to accomplish it.

Incidentally, apologies for the text code box at the bottom of each submission - it is to prevent automated spam.

Re: Stop controls

A further addition to my list:
The 1937 Compton in The Guildhall, Southampton is controlled by two consoles; these are both in original condition - one is typical theatre-style and the other is a luminous touch 'concert organ' along similar lines to the others on my list. I have heard a rumour that work is going to be done on this organ and that Ian Bell is the consultant. This makes excellent sese, he did his apprenticeship with Comptons.

Would anyone like photogrpahs and futher details of these instruments? I have a collection of booklets produced soon after they were installed - sadly these do not cover some of the trade secrets like windpressures, derivation of mixtures etc.

Re: Stop controls

Thanks Paul for that - there are a few more than I thought.

Christopher Manners has been nursing the Weston-super-Mare console along for some time, but I hope there are no long term plans to change it. There are pictures and info about it on the Bristol and District Organists' Association site (sorry about the long URL)

Compton did three other jobs in the town, two of them also in 1935 - Victoria Methodist, the Odeon cinema, and a two rank residence organ. I always wonder whether one of Compton's sales staff was having a seaside holiday and decided to try to earn some commission while there Roger Taylor looks after Victoria and also tunes the Odeon.

I tried the theatre console at Southampton about two years ago when a friend was playing a concert there. There was quite a lot not working, but it was passable. The concert console was more-or-less unusable by then. About three weeks ago I went down again, and the whole job is really in a bad way. The concert console is more or less a dead loss at the moment, and only two manuals of the theatre console are usable in any musical way. Added to this, very little of the instrument was in tune and the blower bearings were making such a noise (if it was me I wouldn't have risked running it for two hours without at least packing them with as much grease as possible) they were only masked by moderately loud registrations.

Ian Bell is certainly involved in an advisory capacity, as last year I had a request via a friend to supply him with the number of a 'Melotone' expert. I believe the council are prepared to put up half the funding, but are seeking grants to cover the other half.

On a recent visit to Nicholson's I was told they'd been to survey it, but any tender would just have to sit on file until the money was sorted.

That said, I did once hear it in concert mode when it was in far better condition, and it is certainly capable of great things.


Re: Stop controls

On the subject of unusual stop control, has anyone had any experience of the Rothwell rocking tablets mounted between the manuals? They are now even more rare than the Compton illuminated buttons, but there is at least one console in the Middlesex area which still has them - I can't quite remember where but it may be St. John the Baptist, Stanmore.

The Temple Church had them pre-war and I gather that Rothwell was highly thought of by Thalben-Ball. Did the twin consoles at St. Georges chapel, Windsor also have them? I believe that Rothwell were responsible only for the action during the 1930 rebuild there, with J.W.Walkers dealing with the pipework. The twin consoles apparently had 'independant' action, which makes me wonder how they did it. Was everything on duplex chests (like Aeolians) with ventil stop control?


Re: Stop controls

Did the twin consoles at St. Georges chapel, Windsor also have them?

They certainly did. There is a photograph of one of them in Reginald Whitworth's book "Organ Stops and their Use".

Re: Stop controls

Thanks for that - I actually have a copy of the book and didn't even know it was in there, only remembering the picture of the Doncaster P.C. console on the previous page!

It's certainly an interesting set up, and I can see that with not too big a spec it could be convenient once you'd mastered the technique of using your finger-tips to select stops, but with the larger spec at St. Georges I wonder if registering stops which were placed at the extreme bass or treble end of the key slip might have been more difficult.

Interesting to note also that as late as 1930 a big and important installation like St. Georges Chapel received consoles without balanced swell pedals. As a youngster I was familiar with two pretty small and unremarkable local parish church organs installed around the 1930 mark, both of which DID have balanced pedals - perhaps I was lucky

Re: Stop controls

Wasn't (isn't) Southampton Guildhall one of these Compton stoplight consoles?

No played that one, but used to let rip occasionally on the Portsmouth Guildhall Compton.

Re: Stop controls

Call me a heretic, but I really don't see why we should all rush out and order consoles with the fashionable Cavaille-Coll terraces.

I suppose they look nice, and they keep the height of the console down.... on the other hand.....
short of angling the stop fronts or a completely semicircular layout qua Ste/Sulpice, can one actually read the stops names at a glance from a playing pistion.
I think not.

How about the (very desirable) convenience of a natural arm movement, even if one can read the names? Ones arms naturally attach to the body, therefore, a natural arm movement is from stretched out and then back in a line to the centre of the body. A terraced stop draws on a completely different line.

Surely nothing (however trendy) should add to the challenge to the player who should be devoting his or her energy to reading ad interpreting a score.
Or am I in a total minority on this?

What will the next trend in organ consoles be?
We have had (in the last twenty or so years)
* interchangeable pedalboards (if you're lucky) and non-standard ones if you're not
* recording systems (at great expsne that are hardly ever used)
* second consoles on mechanical action to please the purist (but arfe rarely seen in use)
* hitch-down pedals brought back in strict restorations
* a regression to previously restricted compasses

Mechanical action vs. electro=-pneumatic aside, the 20th century gave us the mosts comfoirtable and easy to use consoles that have ever been designed. I recently sat at one (University of Hull) where player discomort quite takes over from tone quality as the players main concern. Stops are on the wrong sides, all you have to steer by are a few compositions pedals and the pedals, manuals and bench are placed in a spetial relationship quite different from what any of us have come to expect. This in a pretty new organ.

Who asks for these things?

Re: Stop controls

I agree, Paul.

Personally, I have never met a more comfortable console than that which was conceived by Harry and Arthur Harrison - with some by Walker (Bristol Cathedral) and Hill following closely.

Bristol Cathedral I find very comfortable; however, for me, the epitome of comfort is the H&H console of the organ at Exeter Cathedral - or, for that matter, Coventry Cathedral. Everything is where one expects to find it and the design is so elegant and un-cluttered that I find it difficult to see how it could be improved.

I particularly dislike the current trend for some builders to use very blond wood for stop jambs, often with dark strips of inlay as a contrast. The light wood affords little contrast with the draw-stops, thus making them less easy to read, particularly in bad light. Tickell consoles are a particular offender in this respect. The new console at Sherborne Abbey has this feature and (in addition to being rather uncomfortable) has a very 'boxy' feel to the visual layout.

I also prefer the H&H practice of grouping the couplers at the bases of the jambs of the divisions which they augment. I am afraid that I cannot agree with Roger Fisher, who prefers his couplers all on one jamb (ideally on the left) in the 'Hill' fashion (although Walkers also occasionally adopted this layout). Whilst he says that he finds it easier to draw Swell to Great, Swell to Choir and Swell to Pedal together, for example, it does mean that on a large four-clavier instrument one can waste time searching for couplers in a bank of fourteen or more stops.

Re: Stop controls

Well, call me biased but as an organ builder trained by HNB I think that the 1950 to 1980 drawstop consoles - designed by Herbert Norman - that they turned out to be the most comfortable. Eventually the square pistons were ditched, because they were hand made and just too expensive. The KA round jobbies are good and easily replaced.

Paul, you mention in your last twenty or so list that the recording systems are rarely used and expensive. HNB pioneered this with the Christie Music Transmission System, which was the first Multiplexing system used in an organ in the UK. The basic recorder was one that only remembered while the organ was on - but actually only cost about £250 to produce. This was why it was thrown in as a freebie when the new multiplex system was fitted. Most organists used it to begin with as a gimmic and then forgot about it, but one or two find it very useful. Norwich Cathedral has this system and visiting organists are encouraged to record themselves so that they can go into the main body of the building and actually hear what they sound like, because you can be sure as hell that what you hear at the console bears no resemblance to what is heard downstairs! Not many people asked for it, but were grateful for it.

There are other ways of keeping the console height down rather than having to resort to the terraced fad. Luton Parish Church has a large 3 manual HNB console, with the stops in 3s so that the organist is able to see and conduct over the top....... well he used to, before they went clappy and sacked the choir. I now wade through drum kits to gain access to the pipes and that organist has moved away.

Happy Easter