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Musical Instruments Harmonisation Directive

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Some years ago now, the Restrictions of Hazardous Substances EU Directive seemed to threaten the future of pipe organ building as it would have prohibited the use of lead in organ pipes. Happily this was overcome and pipe organ building continues as before but a new issue is on the horizon and set to impact the instrument we all love as the Musical Instruments Harmonisation regulations published recently takes effect.

You might be forgiven for thinking this new set of rules bans the use of especially discordant modulations. Alas no. It does however set standards for future production of all new musical instruments. It remains unclear to what extent and in what time frame existing instruments will have to be altered to comply.

Sir HumphreySir Humphrey Appleby, a spokesperson for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that the new rules  are driven by environmental issues to eliminate for example the use of hardwoods in manufacture. Cast iron due to its environmentally dirty production methods has also been eliminated from 2020 which will render almost all acoustic piano manufacture impossible after that date. It is expected that this measure will ensure the recycling of all old pianos to recover the cast iron frame for rebuild into new instruments.

Sir Humphrey went on to confirm that almost all instrument production will be effected one way or another but especially controversial for our particular activity is the requirement to move the pitch information from imperial to metric measure. So gone will be the Open Diapason at 8ft to be replaced with Open Diapason at 2.43 metres. Further it appears that it will be necessary to display in full mixture compositions but again in a metric format.

So a mixture III which may well add 19, 22, 26 today is destined to become mixture 3 and must add 0.96, 0.75, 0.54 to the stop tab or head.

A move that may be welcomed is the licensing procedure for all piano and organ tuners who will be required to submit themselves to biannual hearing tests. It is hoped that this will raise the standards of instrument tuning by removing from the work place any tuners that have lost more than 15% of normal hearing capability across the full audio range or more than 8% of hearing at frequencies above 2Khz which is the top C on a piano. From 2019 only formally licensed tuners will be allowed to work in places of worship or public concert venues or on instruments that will be played in public or broadcast performances. It will of course be the responsibility of the instrument owner to ensure that only properly licensed tuners are engaged and there will be a scale of increasing fines for offenders failing to check tuners accreditation.

So on a positive note we might look forward to better tuned mixtures when those tuners with high frequency hearing loss are no longer able to work on our organs.

We should love to hear your opinions on these changes that unless modified will come into force from January 2018. Do share them with us on Facebook or twitter or post in our forum.

I am particularly grateful for a friend and fellow organist April Stulti bringing this development to our attention.

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I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.

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