It was almost exactly a year ago that we had a call out of the blue from Richard Apperley and Michael Stewart who were in the UK to find a supplier of a large digital instrument for Wellington Cathedral in New Zealand. Their fine pipe organ had been destroyed by an earthquake late in 2016 and after much soul searching the decision had finally been taken to look for a very good digital solution which was going to be much less expensive than the pipe organ rebuild.
I think their visit started off at my home where I am lucky to have a ‘barn’ that houses a William Hill pipe organ from 1875. This was originally built for St Peter in the East in Oxford but had moved in the 1960’s to St Edburgh’s in Bicester. It moved to my home in 2001 where it now shares its new surroundings with a large custom built Viscount Regent Classic digital instrument.
Viscount and Physis proving it’s worth
It has to be said that Viscount was not on either Richard’s or Michael’s list of possible let alone probable suppliers. Certainly the significant progress Viscount has made tonally and in other ways had not reached the New Zealand market which is dominated by Johannus, part of Church Organ World. The Cathedral had hired a Makin as a temporary instrument and my visitors had come to the UK fully expecting to purchase a Copeman Hart but in exploring some UK installations had not found a sound that they enjoyed. I think they would admit that it was not with great hope that they were coming to meet us.
It was with great pleasure that on playing their first encounter with a ‘Physis’ based instrument one could sense the relief that their 12,000 mile trip to the UK had not been wasted. Perhaps 90 minutes was spent exploring the large 3 manual Regent Classic instrument now on hire to Canterbury Cathedral. It was played with and without the reverberation system on so the detail of the original sound creation could be clearly heard without confusion from the artificial reflections. The sound and the keyboards were a great success and it was with some sense of growing confidence that the rest of their visit to Viscount was planned.
We clearly had to visit the Bicester head office so that they could get a sense of the scale of the UK resource. The 2 Bicester showrooms house about 15 instruments and the adjoining warehouse has a further 30. It was evident that we were not a ’boutique’ maker. Indeed part of the later due diligence carried out was examination of the company financials and of course individual customer references. I am especially proud that of all UK suppliers in the sector we are the best financed having substantial cash resources retained in the business and also carrying the largest inventory of complete instruments.
Visit to a nearby church installation
The final part of this trip was to visit a nearby church installation. We frequently use St Mary’s in Witney for this as it not too far away and it is a particularly fine sounding instrument. As with pipe organs the final result is always a marriage of the instrument and the building. You know the outcome of any installation will be good. After all we can move the sound source (speakers) about to gain advantage in a way that a pipe organ builder can only dream about doing with his pipes. But you never know how good it will be until you switch on and voice and in that respect Witney has been just about as good as it can possibly get.
Needless to say this visit went very well and as I had hoped all that remained now was to agree a specification and prepare a quotation. We were also asked how fast we could get a temporary instrument into New Zealand as Richard feared that the hired Makin might not be available for the duration of their requirement, fears that very quickly became reality.
A temporary hire instrument for Wellington Cathedral
A Viscount Envoy 35-F was quickly prepared together with 8 external speaker cabinets and a sub bass for air freight. This is a very successful home practice and church instrument. It has especially rich bass tone when used on its own internal speakers and in church mode the 35 stop voices provide a really flexible range of colours to allow a wide range of solo and accompaniment options for the musician to explore.
Our 35-F duly took to the air and arrived in Wellington about 10 days later. All the required leads had been prepared in the UK and all that was needed in New Zealand was connection of the speakers for the instrument to be up and running. This was very competently carried out by Richard with some email support from us and we soon got reports that Wellington were now using the Envoy and the sound delivered was very exciting and the wait for the Regent Classic custom instrument could not be too long.
Richard immersed himself in the voicing options that were available to him through the ‘screen controls’ and very quickly designed the sound that he wanted along the way finding some ways of exploiting the all swells to swell that even we did not know about. Given the speed and distance involved this delivery of a temporary instrument could not have gone better. It certainly paved the way for the Regent Classic Organ that flew out in September and was installed in October 2018.
In the video below from Wellington Cathedral’s Facebook page you can see the Viscount Envoy 35-F next to the crate being opened containing the new Regent Classic instrument.
If you are interested to find out more about the Viscount Envoy 35-F instrument we suggest watching the video on the product page where you will also find the full details and specification of the organ.
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.