Thursday, 25 October 2012

Harrison & Harrison - Organ builders in Durham

Recently Laura and I visited Harrison & Harrison in Durham, builders of organs, who are two-thirds of the way through the long and expensive process of restoring the organ in the Royal Festival Hall.

More of a craft workshop than a factory
I had no idea that the making of organs was so complex.  Most of the materials and methods used have been unchanged for hundreds of years, and the various craftsmen evidently took enormous pride in their work, paying as much attention to surfaces that would be invisible once the organ is constructed as to those that are on show.

Laura turned out to be very useful as an assistant on the tour.  It's a good thing she has been paying attention in her piano lessons.

Laura playing the organ                                               photo: Matt Freeman

Directing Laura at the keyboard is William McVicker, curator of the organ at the Royal Festival Hall, who also led the tour.  The couple behind the organ are my friends Mike & Kim Wilson - Mike first visited Harrison & Harrison about 60 years ago as a young boy to watch them manufacture the Festival Hall organ in the first place. He was very happy to be here again!  Perhaps in 60 years' time Laura will be here to watch the second restoration.

Somehow both William, and Harrison & Harrison, knew it was Laura's 12th birthday, providing birthday cake and as you might imagine a rather wonderful rendition of Happy Birthday To You on more than one organ!  Even more excitingly, Laura was then given the opportunity to make her own organ pipe.

Laura welding a lead and tin organ pipe                  photo: Matt Freeman
She first helped to weld a pipe (see above) following which we took the pipe to the "voicing workshop" where a voicer makes adjustments to the pipe to tune it properly.  It's a very specialised profession, and each voicer makes their own tools with which they make the minutest adjustments to the metal of the pipe.  The pipe started as a rather out of tune F sharp,  but once voiced (see below) was a very melodic F.  Looking on at the voicer is Brent Hansen, a governor of the Southbank and former boss of MTV Europe.

Voicing Laura's organ pipe

Not perhaps the most usual way to spend a birthday, but certainly one Laura won't forget.

Happy 12 year old (flower a present from Mike & Kim)

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