I think it will be fair to look back on 2017 as the year when the true quality and value of Viscount Digital Organs was seen as equal to any other supplier and by many to be the best sound available although this always has to be set in the context of personal preference.
Instrument sales at a record high
The busiest ever run up to Christmas for both sales and hires saw the year end with instrument sales exceeding 200 for the first time ever and with the largest ever forward order book for both church and home sales.
On the instrument front the year saw the Cadet organs range replaced by Chorum with improved samples and a better internal speaker cabinet. The software based instruments saw the release of 1.14 which added far more sophisticated winding options to further improve pipe speech authenticity.
We won some very significant new commissions and were especially pleased to be chosen for a practice instrument at the Royal Northern College of Music replacing a small pipe organ and also for the concert instrument in Stoller Hall, part of Chetham’s School in Manchester renowned for its musical education.
Replacing both Pipe and older Digital Organs
It is in part sad to see the need for church instruments grow so significantly as it inevitably often means a pipe organ will be lost. In some cases, the pipe organ that is retired was of very poor quality or limited range and not adding much to the musical resource of the building. There are though occasions when a good instrument is just too far beyond the financial resources of the church to repair. On these occasions the pipe organ is often left intact for future generations to tackle the funding requirement while a digital instrument bridges the gap. This was the case at St Oswald’s in Guisley.
We are also starting to see an increase in the number of older digital instruments that are replaced rather than repaired, many of these are Bradford based instruments from the early 1990’s. The companies that made them are out of business and spare parts increasingly hard to get. To help defer this issue we take care when we get an old instrument back to harvest useful parts which then go on to help keep these older instruments going. Bradford instruments in particular had a very good sound and it is a shame to see these instruments replaced for lack of the odd spare part.
I am conscious that digital instruments are criticised for a limited life span after which you often throw away and start again. There is some part of this that is forced on owners but in many cases the decision is taken to renew rather than repair to benefit from the huge sound improvement that has been made in the last 30 years. And often today’s price is the same or less than was paid 30 years ago such is the economics of electrical items!
Hire Instrument on the rise
Most noticeable again this year has been the increase in hire instrument requirements that cover pipe organ repairs. So while some people may feel that there is a relentless advance of digital instruments displacing pipe organs there are some very noticeable and worthy restorations taking place.
We have continued with our support of the RCO with some 30 customers receiving membership with their instrument purchase. We have also continued to encourage getting school age musicians introduced to the organ. A further instrument was committed to the London Organ Outreach programme, the Diocese of Leeds organist training programme and new this year was support for the first Londonderry Organ Festival of which more below.
More videos and improved website
Francis Rumsey completed our video series on how to get the best from you Envoy, Sonus or Regent organ and this year we will be preparing videos for the new Chorum range. We also filmed in October the replacement for Hymn of the Month. This involved the organ taking a bit of back stage with some very talented singers taking centre stage. Look out for this series on our blog in January/February.
May saw a major behind the scenes revamp of the web site with some minor visible changes to the presentation which we hope you hardly noticed. It has made it far more secure and easier for us to manage.
We have also completely refreshed our demonstration DVD to include the Sonus and Chorum instruments that have been introduced since the first DVD. We also produced our first Regent Classic marketing video. Since this is required in much lower volumes we distribute that on a USB pen. Both videos are however available to view on line.
Expanding our reach and community
We also welcomed 2 new dealers to the retailer group. Viscount Organs Wales and South Coast Organs will add to our ability to service customers in Wales and along the South Coast.
October saw the first Londonderry Organ Festival run by the RCO which we were delighted to sponsor by loan of 3 teaching instruments in conjunction with our local dealer Henderson Music. Jeffers Music from Bandon well south of the border brought a 3-manual instrument that was used for a battle concert in the Guildhall. This event was especially reaching out to schools and over 100 youngsters were introduced to the instruments over the weekend. We also ran a small competition for schools which resulted in Foyle Academy being presented with a new Chorum 40-S to enable organ to be added to the music department curriculum.
I travelled to the USA in November to visit two Skinner instruments and get a better understanding of the detail of Skinner voicing. We have exciting announcements to make regarding Regent Classic early in 2018 that will demonstrate the respect that the Viscount ‘physical modelling’ sound platform generates.
A big Thank You to our staff, partners and customers
We have had a marvellous year and there is better to come. Thanks to a hard working dedicated and knowledgeable small staff team we make constant progress. We all love our work and get considerable pleasure from seeing the delight of customers as organs are turned on at home and in church.
If you are a past customer, thank you all for your business and trust in us during 2017. If you are just an organ groupie I hope you find reading about our instruments and work helps an idle moment pass quicker with a smile. If you are a potential new customer then please do get in touch to start the fun journey of exploring the choice of instrument you may one day take home or to your church or school.