I have been in more than my fair share of organ lofts, most in the UK but an increasing number in Europe. From time to time we all see the ‘remains’ of older organs hand blowing solutions that were of course essential before electricity or sometimes water power allowed organs to be machine blown.
Can I say perhaps a little tongue in cheek how few complaints I see about the introduction of this technology! There are no doubt a few that consider machine blowing a retrograde step but it seems the convenience issue wins the day. Gone are the days that required a raid on the nearest tavern to drag out up to 4 poor souls whose job it was to labour in the depths of the organ to provide the air.
On my most recent trip to Italy I visited a loft that introduced me to a solution that I had never seen before and this blog is written to share it with you and ask if anyone else has ever seen a machine of its like elsewhere.
Fosdinovo Church Organ – A real surprise
This church was in the centre of the hillside village of Fosdinovo right in the north corner of Tuscany. The stairs to the loft was open so I could not resist the opportunity to get a closer look at this clearly old instrument, stairs by the way that would have been closed for dear old health and safety reasons here in England!
The rather steep and dangerous climb was rewarded by the sight of the hand cranked bellows you see in the picture below. The bellows sat immediately to the right of the instrument. You will see that there is a double crank shaft operated by a large handle so the ‘blower operative’ (I presume years ago they would have a more formal name?) had to turn this rather than oscillate up and down with the more abundant huge lever, now redundant that sticks out of the side of most village church UK instruments.
This organ had an electric blower fitted and the handle did not look as if it turned in over 50 years so I dare not have a try so I am left not really knowing if I would rather have the organ blowing job on a conventional lever system or this handle solution. Any thoughts on this matter would be welcome!
Other Hand Blown Organ solutions
I have also seen on the large Cavaille Coll instruments I have visited in France the original foot treadle blower solution as seen in the line drawing below. Not on the scale shown here but certainly with 6 bellows requiring 3 people working to provide the air. I wonder what they got paid? I feel pretty sure that was the hardest solution requiring much more back effort than the lever or handle.
Fortunately, no movement is calling for removal of electric blowers with quite the same vigor as there is for the removal of digital organs. For my part I hope it stays that way!
I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Regent Classic 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.