A new organ for a new century

 

Criteria for the new organ

The instrument has three musical functions:
1. To lead the congregational singing, with the aim of giving real support to all attending, wherever they are seated in the church.
2. To accompany the choir.
3. To enable the playing of a reasonable selection from the organ repertoire for special services and events, inter alia weddings and funerals.

 

The organ screen should be simple in design so as not to detract from the chancel and altar, and to blend in with the rest of the church building. Above all the organ should sound good, feel good and look good.

 

The specification

The specification was prepared by Geoffrey Coffin of Principal Pipe Organs of York and a small working group comprising the organists and representatives from the PCC, advised by Dr Gillian Ward Russell, David Frostick (Diocesan Organ Advisers) and Ian Bell oversaw the project. The agreed specification is listed below and the longest pipe in each rank is listed.

 

Great Organ 568 pipes Swell Organ 684 pipes
Open Diapason 8ft Open Diapason 8ft
Stopped Diapason 8ft Claribel Flute 8ft
Gemshorn 8ft Salicional 8ft
Octave 4ft Voix Celestes (C13) 8ft
Wald Flute 4ft Principal 4ft
Fifteenth 2ft Stopped Flute 4ft
Mixture (19. 22. 26) III Flageolet 2ft
Trumpet 8ft Mixture (15. 19. 22) III
       Swell to Great   Contra Fagotto 16ft
       Choir to Great   Cornopean 8ft
    Tremulant  
            Octave  
            Unison Off  
            Sub Octave  
       
Choir Organ 370 pipes Pedal Organ 210 pipes
Gedact 8ft Violone 16ft
Viola 8ft Bourdon 16ft
Open Flute 4ft Principal 8ft
Gemshorn 2ft Bass Flute 8ft
Sesquialtera (12. 17.) (C13) II Gemshorn 4ft
Nineteenth 1.333ft Trombone 16ft
Trumpet (from Great) 8ft Shawm 4ft
Tremulant          Great to Pedal  
        Swell to Choir          Swell to Pedal  
           Choir to Pedal  
Total number of pipes     1832    
Great and Pedal combinations coupled      
Compass of manuals CC-A 58 notes    
Compass of pedals CCC-F 30 notes    

 

The fundraising appeal

Following the decision in principle by the PCC to go for a new organ, a Fundraising Group was established and an Appeal Fund was launched in November 2001. Many very generous donations of all sizes were received, mainly from within the Parish. An Events Team arranged a wide range of fundraising events, which were very well supported and raised sums large and small.

By mid summer 2002, the Appeal Fund was still short of the target for a two manual organ, when an anonymous donor offered to fund the additional cost of adding a third manual. At about the same time Principal Pipe Organs indicated that they could start work in October 2002, earlier than originally planned, due to a cancellation. The PCC decided to go forward in faith and formalised their approval.

The additional funds materialised quite quickly thereafter, vindicating their decision. This was a truly parish activity, which brought together parishioners in a wide variety of ways. Our thanks are due to all who subscribed and worked hard to raise funds, and who supported the events.

 

The organ builder and his team

Geoffrey Coffin’s career as an organ builder sprang from his background as a musician and an organist. He was organ scholar at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He then became Administrator of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. In 1971 he was appointed Assistant Organist to Dr Francis Jackson at York Minster. During this time he also worked for J. Walker and Sons Ltd as a tuner and organ builder and subsequently represented the firm as Northern Manager and later as Contracts Manager at their Suffolk factory.

An opportunity arose in 1983 to establish Principal Pipe Organs. Early expansion has continued steadily and the firm currently has six full-time and other workshop staff many of whom, like Geoffrey Coffin himself, are active musicians. Restoration of mainly mechanical action instruments forms the nucleus of the firm’s work together with the production of new organs.

In only twenty years it has gained an enviable reputation for musical integrity and the highest standards of craftsmanship, and is in wide demand. In 1992-93 an enlarged Principal Pipe Organs team undertook the complete restoration of the 1903 Walker organ in York Minster, including additional new slider soundboards and pipework. The completed scheme extends to 81 speaking stops (5282 pipes) and continues to receive high critical acclaim. In 2002 the firm was delighted to accept the commission from St Mary’s Church, Shenfield, to build its new organ.

 

Installation began during the week after Easter 2003 when several lorry loads of new organ elements arrived at the Church, creating a staggering sight. All of the pews were covered by an unbelievable array of:

- 16 ft pedal pipes, far too big to be put into boxes.
- Complex slider soundboards, upon which each and every one of the 1832 pipes has its own place.
- Lengths of wood for the organ frame.
- Myriads of small electrical components, as well as many more items, such that the Church had the appearance of an organ ‘jumble sale’.

 

All were retrieved from the apparent jumble and were placed in their appointed position in the seemingly small organ chamber. It was wonderful and fascinating to watch Geoffrey Coffin and his team of talented craftsmen as they assembled the mixture of items into a coherent whole. The interest of the bystander was also whetted by Geoffrey’s two talks on how organ pipes are designed and built to create a particular sound, and how the air flow from the bellows is controlled to a given pipe by drawing a stop and pressing a key. Through the infectious enthusiasm of Geoffrey and his team, many people came to appreciate the technical skills and the craftsmanship required for such a project with an expected life of a hundred or more years.

 

The new organ case

The new organ case was designed by David Graebe, who was formerly a chorister at Chichester Cathedral and there developed his interest in music to a high level at an early age. His career as an architect and his musical background came together when he became associated with J. W. Walker and Sons Ltd and was responsible for designing organ cases for their new instruments. He is acknowledged as an expert in the field and enjoys wide renown for beautiful and imaginative designs. His work is to be seen widely in Britain, America and Australia. It includes, for example, the cases at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, Lancing College, Sussex, Adelaide Town Hall and Detroit Cathedral.

David Graebe has worked freelance in recent years and has designed the organ cases for nearly all Principal Pipe Organs’ new instruments. He was pleased to undertake the design for St Mary’s, Shenfield, and to work closely with the team at Penny’s Mill, based near Marlborough, who made it.

 

The four dioceses of which Shenfield has been a part

The dark wooden screen which stood below the old organ ‘display’ pipes has been cleaned and now forms the lower part of the new organ case behind the stone arch to the left of the chancel. New matching panelling has been added above to complete that part of the case.

The five arms shields representing the province and the four dioceses of which Shenfield has been a part, which previously hung on the old organ case, are now displayed on the old screen as shown below:

  • The Old Facia, The Province of Canterbury
  • Diocese of London, up to 1845
  • Diocese of Rochester, 1846-1877
  • Diocese of St Albans, 1877-1914
  • Diocese of Chelmsford, from 1914

 

The dedication of the new organ

The new organ was completed and commissioned in time for the dedication at St Mary’s Patronal Festival on Sunday 6th July 2003 by David Lowman, Archdeacon of Southend.