Journal of the Cinema Organ Society
Vol. XLIX No. 211
Photo by Richard Stephenson
Cinema Organ, 23 Aveling Park Road, London E17 4NS. Email: email@example.com. Fax: 0870 055 4990
That Reminds Me From FRANK FOWLER HARTLEY WITNEY, Hampshire: We ‘retired oldies’ get great pleasure from reading the Journal and Newsletter, not in the least for the fact that, in my case, various comments awaken memories of past happenings and experience with the great names and instruments of yesteryear. I first met Reginald Foort as a schoolboy of fourteen. He was coming to our local chapel to give one of his recitals. There were three of us youngsters, locally regarded as ‘budding organists’, who had been lined up to meet the great man and each play a piece for him to listen to. After Mr Foort had finished rehearsing we were trooped in. He was sitting in shirtsleeves at the console. He immediately gave us the famous smile, and said, “Come on over boys”. We approached clutching our music and he said, “There’s not much point in you playing to me. I’ve heard a lot of playing in my time; how about me playing for you and asking me questions? You’ll learn far more listening to me than me listening to you.” We did and thus spent an hour of fascinating instruction. He taught me a lesson that I have remembered all my life. If there is some one more expert than you willing to offer information and advice – shut up, listen and learn. In later life I met him on occasions as a young tuner who had prepared an instrument for him to play and was on ‘standby’. He once told me that he could normally predict the music asked for in his request spot with unfailing accuracy but sometimes could be caught out. On one such occasion there was a request sent up (by a young organist of course) for the Bach Prelude and Fugue in F (the one with the massive pedal solos) complete with the music. Reg explained to his audience had not had time to rehearse this and it was not the sort of thing to sit down and sight-read, so would they settle
for ‘Jesu Joy’? They did, but the organist apparently seemed to feel that his derogatory opinions about cinema organists were justified. As FRCO Reg said, “You can’t will them all.” Reg did have one embarrassing habit. On arrival he would check the pitch of the organ to a modern tuning fork. The pitch depends on when the organ was built which could well vary from C = 517 to C = 540. Reg’s fork was C = 522. On finding the pitch was ‘out’ Reg would mention, “Oh, the organ’s not in pitch.” This would usually mean a letter arriving at the organ builders the next day from the church (usually from the treasurer) complaining that Mr Foort had said the organ was out of tune and because of this they would refuse to pay for the special tuning for the recital. We got so used to these letters that a short thesis on the history of pitches went out with the reply. I tried to get Reg to explain the difference between tuning and pitch to the various church authorities. Whether he ever did or the church authorities could not understand (more than likely) I never worked out, but the letters still spasmodically continued to come in until Reg left for America! Reginald Foort was a superb musician and communicator – what more do you want?
Unfair on Maclean? From STEPHEN DUTFIELD CARDIFF, Glamorgan:: I see the Maclean/Foort business runs and runs! William Lewis makes, I think, an unfair swipe at Mac for being on holiday when war broke out. If the stories of his personal, professional effects still being in the Troc. dressing room are true, then he certainly INTENDED to return. Considering what happened to him during WW1, he surely can’t be blamed for staying where he was? Anyway, it seems an unfortunate slight on Mac’s character from someone who I don’t believe ever meet Maclean.
Melotone Musings From CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON WOLVERHAMPTON, W. Midlands: In my letter regarding Quentin Maclean [Autumn 2001] I mentioned the Solihull Compton. It certainly is a superb instrument and one of the things that make it special to me is the superb Melotone unit which I always feature during my stint at the monthly DIY evenings. The Melotone unit is a superb addition to any Compton and has a most beautiful and sweet sound. Its principles of operation with rotating discs, amplifiers and horn speakers are fascinating and must have been world class in the 1930s putting Comptons at the forefront of other organ builders. After World War 2 Compton used the Melotone as the basis of construction for their electronic organs installed in many churches which, with all components housed within the console, was the forerunner of the modern digital church organ. Many of these instruments are still functioning today and, with a unique sound of their own, are definitely worth preserving. One of the things that concerns me is the number of people who dislike the Melotone, describe it as a “sick cow” and would happily see it confined to the scrapyard. The same applies with the electronic organs. A lot of folk I have spoke to have said “get rid of them” or would happily rip out the Compton components and install digital circuitry thus basically having a new organ in a Compton console! Maybe the sound doesn’t appeal to some but it must be realised that these marvels of early electronic organ technology are period pieces and should be preserved for future generations especially in this age of digital technology. I would love to hear of what readers think of the Compton Melotone unit and the Compton electrostatic organ.
‘Blackpool’ Couplers From DAVID LOWE BINGLEY, W. Yorkshire: Cameron Lloyd says [Autumn 2001], “I remember David Lowe’s cringe when I asked about quint and tierce couplers. This, to me, sums up the general COS attitude”. This is rather a sweeping generalisation! I have to say I do not recall the particular occasion when
I am said to have cringed, but no doubt it was a workshop or master class, or maybe something said privately to Cameron. I think the former is likely, but in any case Cameron is taking my ‘cringe’ out of context. I have no problem with these couplers as such, only the unmusical and inartistic manner in which they are often used which, to borrow a colleague’s phrase, ‘grates on my ears’. These couplers were provided on a number of American instruments including the Foort Möller, and I understood from Reginald Dixon that this was where he discovered them, liked the effect, and had them fitted to the Tower Wurlitzer. For reasons of space the couplers were fitted, unusually, to the Solo rather than the Great manual. Reg told me they made an interesting change, but not to be taken too seriously, and he chuckled as he said this. Players like Tom Hazleton and Walt Strony have shown us how these couplers can be used individually, and to great musical effect. However the general way in the UK is to have all the couplers on, and their use in this manner, especially with piano, xylophone, or glock (or all three) is to me rather gross, and in chords (yes I have heard it!) an abomination. So, like the English horn, I think the ‘Blackpool (sic) couplers’ should to be used (infrequently) with discretion and taste. But … this is only my view. There may be noone else in the COS who agrees, and it most certainly is not COS policy. I do not see why a personal, off the cuff comment should be taken as reflecting a ‘COS attitude’. I have been involved in presenting COS concerts for many years and can truly say that rarely has an organist ‘rambled on’ about tibias, voxes (or anything else of this nature). One of the aims of the COS is to encourage high standards of theatre organ music and musical appreciation/ awareness, and it seems to me that occasionally it might be very appropriate for an organist to comment to an audience about such matters. Even now it is amazing how many in our audiences are unaware even that the instruments have pipes and real percussions! Of course our audiences have come mainly for the music (we hope) so a careful balance needs to be struck between music and announcements – but one might just as well complain of organists who say virtually nothing about the music at all, and just
string together long medleys of unconnected tunes! Who is to say what a Wurlitzer should sound like? Well, that is a matter of personal opinion, but most people with experience and expertise would point to the installations of which the company itself was most proud, organs such as the Fox San Francisco and Paramount New York. I would like to know more precisely what it is about the very refined Trocadero/South Bank Wurlitzer that Cameron finds displeasing? Maybe when the organ is re-opened he will come to London for a private session on it and review his opinion? As for the organ being ‘American sounding’ well, I am sure we take that as a great compliment, after all it is an American instrument! But in fact we have tried to provide an instrument which will be supremely versatile so that players as diverse as Tom Hazleton, Robert Wolfe and Dudley Savage (for example) can all make fine music – listen again to their very distinctive and different recorded approaches to the instrument. As Donald Inkster says, [in his letter] “It’s all in there”. Finally, Ian MacNaught is quite right that we should try and retain the character of our instruments – but I would like to think that we preserve the best attributes of each instrument and not the defects (such as poor tremulation, or lack of regulation) which may characterise a particular organ. Ian himself has done a superb job of tonal finishing on the Clydebank Wurlitzer and yet the instrument retains a very special aural quality which is more to do with the selection of the ranks than anything else. Getting back to Blackpool, you, Mr Editor, have said that the association with the cinema was a hindrance to theatre organ respectability [Editorial, Autumn 2001]. I think also that the cultural establishment, as you termed it, would probably also have looked down its collective nose at the theatre organ’s association with Blackpool, with its down-market, candy floss, fish and chip, working class image, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that Reginald Dixon in particular brought pleasure to millions through his broadcasts and his appearances at the Tower. It could be argued therefore that (in the UK) in one sense Blackpool helped to keep theatre organ alive, and in another it almost killed off any claim that the theatre organ might have to being a legitimate, respectable musical genre.
Listen to the Young From DONALD WOOD BINGLEY, W. Yorkshire: Cameron Lloyd is a young person and his views are therefore important. I sympathise with some of them. The principal organ clubs in the UK present public concerts and preserve theatre organs, but their members, largely unknown to one another, have little sense of belonging. The main benefit resides in the mainly useful and interesting publications which the subscription buys but other benefits are few. In fact, it is quite possible to attend concerts and, as I know from personal experience, speak to no one unless one makes the effort oneself. There seems to be no real effort either to welcome members or seek out new ones. Could this be the reason why I have heard it said that the general public makes up the greater part of audiences at Brighouse for example? Basically in my view, there are too many theatre organ clubs, too many concerts and too many organs chasing too few customers. If the USA can make do with just one Society, surely we can too. It is time to consolidate and concentrate resources on fewer really first class instruments even if this does sound like heresy to a few vested self interests! I do agree with the Journal Editor when he writes that “there are several top international organists who do the instrument more musical justice than has ever been done before”. In its heyday, we had many more organs and organists than now but my memory of most of their performances is that they were poor when compared with todays high standards of international professionalism. To survive, listen to the youngsters – we might just learn something!
COS Couplers? Yes! From NEIL HEPWORTH BIRKBY, W. Yorkshire: Should Mr Lloyd consider COS organs to be boring, I invite him to attend one of our regular events at Brighouse. I am sure he would enjoy listening to one of the numerous Saturday night dances featuring Phil Kelsall, who makes excellent use of the Wurlitzer’s quint and tierce couplers. A COS organ on which you can play just like they do on the Fylde Coast? Surely not!
Power to his Elbow! From PETER PIDGEON ROMFORD, Essex: I bet you were aware of Mr Cameron Lloyd’s tender years when you published his letter. [I wasn’t at the time of Mr Lloyd’s first letter. Honest! – Ed.] Most of us, if we are honest, made statements in our youth which we blush to recall in our more mature years. It did elicit a good response however which is no bad thing. I should like to commend Mr Cameron Lloyd for all the work he puts into keeping these organs in good order, some of us are finding crawling around the chambers less easy as the years progress. We need people like this to carry on the good work. All power to his elbow. Might I offer a small but important piece of advice, if you are fortunate enough to get any help, suggestions, pointers and support from the likes of Mr Lowe I strongly urge you to take it, they don’t come much better than David.
It is nice to know that the COS is not against the Blackpool style, but should point out that just because I favour the Blackpool style, doesn’t mean that I listen to it alone. I have many records, tapes and CDs in my collection from organs and organists all over the globe. I suppose the same can be said for all organ enthusiasts; just because we favour one style to another does not mean that we sit and listen to that style only. I do play the organ, both cinema and electronic, but mostly for dancing, which is perhaps why the Blackpool bit comes in. Surely this bit of correspondence has helped to dispel the myth that the COS is anti-Blackpool. At the end of the day, we should not fall out over this, we all have one purpose; to keep the cinema organ going! I for one am pleased that this argument was aired, but it is now time to stop the arguments and get on with the job in hand; SAVE THE CINEMA ORGAN! • Having given the last word to Mr Lloyd, this particular thread of correspondence can now be rested – Ed.
Harold Dring Recalled
From CAMERON LLOYD WOMBORNE, Staffordshire: I would like to thank the members of the COS who took time to write in to have their say. There were some valid points made; some of which I had not really considered.
From JACKIE RICKETT SALE, Cheshire: May I ask through your pages if any reader has any memories of the organist (Captain) Harold Dring (my grandfather). Unfortunately we have very little family information about him other than a couple of old photographs of him at a theatre organ and a grand piano. We do know that he was born in Hull in 1891 and moved to Sheffield in the 1920s where he played at a number of cinemas as well as the Albert Hall. We also believe that he played the Willis”in the City Hall at the time of its opening in the ’30s (can anyone confirm this?). He moved to Sale, Cheshire around 1936 where he had a recording studio above his bicycle repair shop in Cross Street. We know nothing of his organ playing activities in this area. We would be delighted to hear from anyone who may have any information, memorabilia or even recordings. (Any reasonable expenses would of course be reimbursed). e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org • Postal responses can be sent via the Editor, who will forward them to Mrs Rickett.
The Same Compton? From DENNIS COULSON KENILWORTH, Warwickshire: In Roy Brooks’ latest article on Quentin Maclean I read that in 1934 a galaxy of classical organ stars played a series of recitals on a large 2-manual organ specially built at the Compton organ works. The impressive specification of a 2/9 classical organ also appears in William Sumner’s detailed book. Sadly the instrument was destroyed in 1940 when the company’s works in North Acton took a direct hit. Were these, I wonder, the same organ? How I wish I could have heard it! John Compton was proud of the distinguished approval it received, confirming that a properly designed unit organ could provide a satisfactory build-up of organ tone and in the performance of contrapunctal music exclude missing notes. These were the two standard criticisms of extension. But John Compton was by all accounts a perfectionist. He would surely not have pursued an inherently flawed concept.
‘At Your Service’ From PATRICK HECKS SANDERSTEAD, Surrey: What memories Ron Lake’s letter conjured up as I recalled the ‘At Your Service’ theme in the ABC circuit’s cinemas. It heralded the disentanglement from one’s then girlfriend and the purchase of two 6d (2.5p) tubs of vanilla ice cream! I believe I am right in saying that it was Lyons who had the supply contract to ABC. I can recall the melody of the piece even now and often hum it to myself! As Mr Lake quite rightly says, the spot lights picked out the sales girls who all wore a smart ABC uniform.
Let’s Get Modern! From HARRY JUPP GILLINGHAM, Dorset: Please, please, please now in the year 2001 can we not have an end to criticism of the past. Everything has its beginnings and its pioneers. So be it. Can we not now have a more positive outward aspect of the theatre organ and enjoy the new concept of playing which has now come into being?
I am referring to the recent CDs of Charlie Balogh at the organ of Organ Stop Pizza in Mesa. Here, with the help of electronic devices, it is with great elation that I hear so many percussion effects to create atmosphere to the items played – virtually a ‘Unit Orchestra’ as was intended.
Further, the recent CD of Lew Williams gives joy to the hearing of contrasted tonalities against each other. The CD of John Giacchi shows what can be achieved by an imaginative player in his well varied programme, and is a lesson on how to play a Unit Orchestra quietly as well as loudly, both effective in their own way. Note the’cascade’ accompaniment in the ‘Pilgrims’ Chorus’, as John mentions in the 32-page booklet provided. He felt there was something more he wanted to achieve on such an instrument of 80 ranks at the San Filippo residence, and he was able to fulfil his desire. So, a new concept has emerged in theatre organ entertainment, and today organists are making a new statement in their playing. How successful Dan Bellomy has come to perform jazz on pipe organ. So let’s get modern and let go the past; we have much recorded material to remind us of that era. Let’s look forward to the future and encourage our today exponets by buying their CDs for our collective enjoyment. Everything has to move on in one shape or form, be it the instrument or the player – in this instance it’s both, with fine instrument complemented by fine playing. So, with installations as at Mesa, San Sylmar and Barrington Hills let’s enjoy the fruit thereof – not forgetting the refurbishment of the COS [South Bank] Wurlitzer. Let us be joyful and enjoy a new millenium in theatre organ fayre.
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