I had been away 2 weeks immediately before we were schedule to film our Custom Skinner style console at Selby Abbey and the new console was not quite finished before my departure on holiday. So I was just a little anxious that all would be well and waiting for me on return to the UK and ready to take up to Selby.
That anxiety was well placed as only 30 minutes before I got back from Heathrow did the console arrive from specialist builder Renatus of Devon.
Getting our wires crossed
We had proved the instrument software in Devon but that is never quite the same as seeing a fully completed instrument as it now was in Bicester and much to my disappointment the final ‘flight test’ there revealed a small problem with filming now only 3 days away.
We experienced some of the rocker tabs not quite doing the function intended but this was not happening on a consistent basis. In these circumstances it is always tempting to presume a software programming fault and by close of business on the Monday we loaded the instrument for shipment to Selby anticipating we would fix the software issue later the next day in Selby.
Overnight and with the instrument now bound for Selby we revised our thinking and very reluctantly concluded we had a hard wiring fault so the instrument was turned around and brought back to Bicester where by about 11.00am we did indeed find a single rocker tab with crossed wires. Just 2 single wires amongst many hundreds was triggering the problem but at least now we had solved the issue and the instrument finally arrived in Selby at 9.30 Wednesday morning for the Thursday evening filming session.
Skinner voice models
We were then left with the small matter of voicing an instrument of over 60 voices so I was still far from clear that we would have a viable instrument for recording available in time.
Save to say Jeremy and colleague Richard who had spent months developing the Skinner voice models based on the sounds recorded at St Peter’s Morristown (read all about the visit to St Peter’s Church in this blog) managed a splendid job under huge time pressure but by late Wednesday evening both were quite exhausted and to some extent had lost track of just how good a job had been done.
A fine sounding instrument
Joseph Nolan and I arrived at about 11.00am on the Thursday. I was of course very anxious to hear the instrument which was such a major departure from the flavour of instruments we had created for our British customer base. I very anxiously watched Joseph as he explored the instrument and almost danced for joy when he finally concluded that it was the finest sounding instrument we had yet developed.
The 3 ‘Great’ Diapasons were declared a special triumph each offering a clearly different volume and tonal structure from the other and also blending so well when used together. If this is what can be achieved under such great time pressure then with some more weeks’ time to refine the voicing the results will be even better.
And so the time moved quickly on for the Abbey doors to close, but not before a huge group of now regular Taiwanese tourists swept through. Selby is now a far east tourist mecca ever since the wedding took place there of Jay Chou who is a pop star far bigger than the Beatles in his home land. Strange to think that the rather ‘off the UK Cathedral map’ location of Selby is probably far better known in Taiwan than it is in England!
Recording the video
Anyway, doors closed and lights on to start work by 6.00pm. The familiar crew from Air Television run by my cousin Andrew came with lights and cameras. Ken Blair from BMP was here to do the audio and we were ready for the off at 6.00 to film a short programme. The Bach Passacaglia, Dupré variations on the Noel’s and a last-minute substitution of the Thalben-Ball Elegy replaced the Franck Prelude Fugue and Variations as we thought this would better demonstrate the instruments voicing and dynamic range.
The Noels was an inspired choice by Joseph who told me this was composed by Dupré while travelling on concert tour in the USA for the opening of a new Skinner Organ. Whether or not this can be proved or otherwise the 10 variations offer a great variety of music and colour to show off the organ so I was not going to disagree.
Final video to be released soon
We have included a small section of film with this blog from a Facebook live broadcast. While this is only recorded on the phone you do get a sense of the sound of this instrument. The final videos will be available in September/October when you can properly hear what a splendid stating point for our Skinner project we have achieved.
The reactions on the night from those in Selby was amazing. The 2 recording engineers based in a side chapel and listening mostly through their headphones have recorded many real pipe organs over the years and could just not believe this was a digital instrument. So the early indications are very positive for the future. Look out for the final full length professional videos in September/October.
While waiting for the videos to be released. Or maybe you just like to hear a little more from Dr Joseph Nolan we suggest looking at this earlier blog post containing 5 videos with him playing the complete performance of Widors 5th Organ Symphony (also recorded in Selby Abbey).