The St James' Organ Replacement & Restoration Appeal
ST JAMES' CHURCH, KING STREET, SYDNEY
The St James' Organ Appeal and COVID-19
Many fundraising organisations have issued statements to their donors about the steps they have put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, and a letter was sent to our donors on 15 April (read the letter here) about how the Appeal has been affected by these challenging times.
In summary, we can report that Dobsons Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd. have suspended operations until it is safe for work to resume, and this means that there is likely to be a delay to the construction of our organ. However, the Appeal is still very much in place and funds will be available when work on the project gets underway again.
These are indeed trying times. Now, more than ever, we will all look forward to eventually hearing our new organ once we have come through these dark times.
New Pipe Organ Announcement
On Sunday 4 March 2018 it was announced that terms have been agreed with Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd of Lake City, Iowa, USA for the construction of a new organ for St James’ Church. Dobson’s have built up an excellent international reputation for building high quality instruments and have recently completed work at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York and Merton College, Oxford.
A Fundraising Appeal Committee, chaired by Mr Robert Marriott, has been established by the St James’ Music Foundation to help raise the funds for the project (including on-costs), which will be around $3 million AUD. As with the Conservation Appeal, we will be seeking philanthropic and government grants as well as private donors to support the project. The launch of the appeal will be held on Friday 6 April in the Church.
The first organ was installed in 1827 and rebuilt several times (most recently in 1971); but it is now in a perilous state, suffering frequent malfunctions and costing noticeably more to maintain. Consideration was given to restoring the current organ, however a range of expert advice over several years has concurred that the present instrument is not of sufficient musical or historical value to merit retaining.
In addition to an exhaustive global search for a suitable organ builder, a large amount of engineering and acoustical preparation work has been done to ensure that the new organ will be well-suited to this historic building. In this way the Church will end up with a more versatile instrument than the current one, enhancing its use both in worship and concerts.
It is planned that the new Dobson organ will be completed in late 2020 and will be a major component of the upcoming Bicentenary Celebrations of St James’ Church.
The Reverend Andrew Sempell
Rector, St James' Church, 7 March 2018
The Current Organ at St James' Church
The first organ at St James’ was by John Gray of London and was installed in 1827. It was rebuilt and moved around the church many times during the 19th century, mostly by the Sydney organ builder William Davidson. In 1901 it was moved from the south side of the church in the present-day Chapel of the Holy Spirit, to its present position on either side of the choir stalls, and the action (the connections from the keyboards to the pipes) was changed from mechanical to tubular-pneumatic (operating on air in a vacuum).
By this stage, the vast majority of the organ’s material was still by Davidson, despite claims that the organ contained pipework from the 1827 instrument. Considerable alterations were made to the organ throughout the 20th century, with a significant amount of the pipework being replaced.
Finally, in 1971 the organ was extensively rebuilt and ‘modernised’ by Hill Norman and Beard (Australia) Pty Ltd. The action was converted to electric (with a combination of electro-pneumatic and direct electric operation), soundboards were significantly altered, pipework was entirely re-voiced, and a new large console built. A significant number of stops was also added at this time, including an entirely new ‘floating’ Positive division of 9 stops, a short-compass Trompette Militaire stop on the Choir division, and many other tonal alterations typical of the period, with the then new instrument totalling 67 stops.
The present organ has now given over 45 years of excellent service, with almost legendary reliability, but the mechanical aspects of the instrument are starting to fail. Some problems are obvious to the congregation: for instance, the wheezing from the organ during Lent 2017, caused by perished leather on the bellows (the reservoirs of pressurised air which make the pipes speak), and the absence of colourful stops such as Clarinet or Trompette militaire (because the corresponding bellows have had to be disconnected owing to holes in the leather, and notes which stick because of mechanical or electrical failings). Some problems have to be hidden by the ingenuity of the organist (working around missing notes and unpleasant sounds which are result of mechanical or electrical failure or poor construction of pipes). Whilst the organ in its 1971 format was reasonably successful mechanically, it was never regarded highly among musicians for its tonal quality. Even the earliest 19th century pipework was known to have been of indifferent quality, and subsequent replacements have had only limited success. While the 1971 work rationalised and improved some tonal aspects, it left the church with an instrument which has never entirely fulfilled its purpose, and with the passing of time, the Neo Classical tonal additions were of course recognised as inappropriate and incongruous.
Whilst giving good mechanical service, there are also some very basic design and construction issues in the organ, not just from 1971. These include the main slider soundboards (c.1901) which, despite their rebuilding, still show clear evidence of inferior construction and inadequate operation, presumably dating from their earliest days. Visually, whilst the organ may have possessed some quaint qualities when moved to its present position, the casework remained incomplete until 1971, at which stage it was ‘completed’ by the addition of modern pierced metal screens at the East end of each side, of lamentable quality and appearance. Further, the expanded specification meant than not all interior pipes could be properly masked by the casework, and these can be seen protruding from many perspectives in the Church. In addition, the 1901 spotted metal 8’ façade pipes are of poor quality, and have not aged well.
Over the last 26 years various organ builders passing through Sydney have informally examined the organ in varying levels of detail according to time available. All have agreed that an essentially new instrument is required, but some of the existing stops can be retained (both for musical and sentimental reasons).
We look forward to preserving St James’ reputation of fine music-making with the replacement and restoration of the organ.
Adapted by Alistair Nelson (Organist, St James’ Church) from a document dating from 2015 written by Organ Builder, Peter Jewkes, who was also Assistant Organist and Choirmaster at St James’ from 1985 to 1994.
New Organ Specification
• All Swells to Swell
• Generals on Swell Toe Pistons
• Great & Pedal Pistons Combined