I have been aware for many years that the Copeman Hart 32 ft addition to the nave pipe organ at Southwell Minster was in need of repair as the cones had deteriorated badly over time (as you can see from pictures below). Only held together by gaffer tape they still functioned but the tape added a whole new and unwelcome tonal addition to the final result. While the screen organ also has its own independent digital 32 ft speakers this nave set up is linked to the screen organ 32 ft for ‘additional power’!!
I found myself invited to Southwell in Nottinghamshire for another reason altogether but could not resist asking to see the extraordinarily large Copeman Hart 32 ft set up at the Minster. Ernest (Copeman Hart) was renowned for some pretty substantial structures to deliver really convincing 32 ft tone and was known in some churches to build the resonator in concrete.
Here as you see the structure is in plywood and has 4 – 15 inch drives near its base. It should make a pretty good impact in the building.
Where Angels fear to tread?
I am not clear why repair of this issue had been ignored for so long. It led me to wonder if it was actually possible without major carpentry work to get back inside the structure to remove the old cones. Was it a job that had to be done from inside the tube that today’s health and safety rules might render impossible?
Hugh, our youngest team member, was in my mind in the worst-case scenario, destined to crawl inside and along the 32 ft resonator to access the necessary bolts if we somehow could not remove part of the adjacent resonator paneling. The structure below the resonator holding it above some of the organ pipes did not look too well built and the thought of the whole thing, burdened by Hugh’s extra weight, crashing down onto organ pipework below also ran through my mind.
As you might imagine this was a challenge I could not pass up. So we issued a quotation for the work hoping that when we turned up to do the job we would find a solution avoiding the need for Hugh to don a miner’s hat!
Replacing the speaker cones
The required speaker cones came from Germany and so shortly after Christmas we planned this job into the work schedule. Luck was with us as you can see. The base panel came off fairly easily and Hugh could lean in to get at the necessary bolts to remove the first pair of cones. The next pair could be reached using the now empty holes where the first pair had been. Reversing the procedure, the new cones were installed in the inboard pair of holes first and the end pair last.
A few hours later it was all back together with the shiny new cones in place.
Sadly, with no organist on site and the console closed when the work was finished, we were not able to hear the result of this work. So a few weeks on now and having heard nothing from Southwell, I think it safe to assume the job has proved satisfactory and the sound of gaffer tape flapping in the breeze is no longer part of the Southwell Minster organ experience.
Also read how Viscount was asked to provide a 32-foot flue stop using digital technology at Buckfast Abbey.
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.