Leave Us A Note
Welcome to the Organ Appeal
The organ at Exeter Cathedral is a particularly fine example of English organ-building. In 1665 local organ builder John Loosemore created what has become one of the most distinctive and striking organ cases ever built; successive generations of organ builders have provided instruments of pedigree which have brought joy to all who have worshipped and attended performances.
In over three hundred years the organ has been expanded and updated to meet the ever changing musical demands of a living Cathedral, from the expansion and raising of Loosemore’s case and the moving of the impressive 32’ pipes to the South Transept, to the creation of an entirely new section of the organ in the Minstrels’ Gallery.
The organ is played daily, sometimes for hours at an end, and needs to tolerate an enormous amount of use. The need for a major rebuild and refurbishment of the instrument is now clearly evident; the time has come to act so that this organ can continue to delight and inspire its listeners both now and for the future.
The Dean and Chapter are custodians of an historic instrument which is part of the living world of a Cathedral in the 21st century. As custodians we are charged with the task of upkeeping the organ but, in the tradition of those who have gone before, also ensuring that it is ‘fit for purpose’ in the future. The organ deserves its dramatic place at the heart of the Cathedral building; your generosity can ensure it remains at the heart of music making in the South West for generations to come. Please support our development appeal and if you would like to talk to us about how you can help do get in touch.
Please Leave us a Note
There are over 4000 pipes in the Cathedral organ, ranging in length from a few inches to over thirty feet long. An organ is somewhat like an orchestra in that the ranges of sounds it can produce are all organised into different families (woodwind, brass, strings etc.). Each of these families is further divided into stops, which are controlled by the rows of individual stop-knobs that one can see on either side of the organ console.
The organ pipes themselves are made of either wood or metal: in the Cathedral organ case one can see how the length of each metal pipe is proportional to its width, or diameter, and this relationship is crucial to the sound production qualities of this kind of construction. These pipes are known as flue pipes, and represent what is recognisable as fundamental organ tone.
The length of the pipe corresponds to its pitch – the larger the pipe the lower the pitch. Within this general relationship is a much more subtle mechanism for tuning each pipe: because organ tone is potentially constant and does not die away, like the sound of a piano note for example, the slightest variation in tuning is very noticeable. Like all musical instruments, the tuning of the instrument is performed at microscopic tolerances, known as temperament. In the case of the Exeter Cathedral organ, the internal layout of the instrument is so cramped that this most basic of maintenance tasks is made, in some cases, almost impossible.
Not visible to the eye in the Cathedral organ are some other families of pipes, most notably those belonging to the reed stop group. These are constructed in multiple ways, and primarily represent the trombone, trumpet, oboe and clarinet sonorities. The most striking example of this is the fine trumpet stop which is sited in the Minstrels’ Gallery, and which speaks with such presence in the body of the building.
In our Leave a Note scheme the families of organ stops are divided into six categories. If one imagines a piano keyboard with just 58 notes then that gives a sense of how each of the organ’s four keyboards appears. There is also a keyboard for the feet, the Pedal division, which has 30 notes. There is a separate pipe for every stop and note in the organ: so, if middle C is played on any keyboard a stop is drawn, one pipe will sound. If another stop is drawn, two pipes will be sounding, and so forth. One can see, therefore, how the multiplication of the four keyboards (or manuals) plus the pedals can soon add up to the 4,052 pipes in our Cathedral organ.
The movement of wind through a pipe, like a flute for example, sets up a series of harmonics: sounds that one can sometimes hear clearly and which are, in fact, pitches that differ from the fundamental tone. Middle C will produce a whole series of other notes: G, E and B-flat among them. They are so quiet or high-pitched that they are, for practical purposes, inaudible, yet they are responsible for the colour of so much organ sonority. Sometimes this series, which is mathematical, is used in what is known as a compound stop: for example, the Mixture stops on the Cathedral organ are all indicated by a roman numeral, and this corresponds (in general) to the number of pipes that is played by one note on the organ. So, middle C might no longer just play one note with one stop drawn but now two, three, four or five notes!
The number given after every stop name is the footage, and represents the sounding pitch of the largest pipe belonging to that stop. The largest pipe in the South Transept is indicated on the stop knob as being Contra Violone 32’. Organ terminology uses the word ‘contra’ to mean ‘double’ i.e. lower in pitch (like a double bass). ‘Violone’ indicates that the tone quality is going to belong to the string family, and the numeral indicates that the lowest note on the keyboard (or, in this case, the pedal board) is going to be thirty-two feet in length. (Before any tape measures are flourished it is worth noting that, in Exeter’s case, as is often the way, the lowest pipe is not quite thirty-two feet in length, for reasons of diameter and wind pressure.)
Please be aware that the refurbishment will not replace pipes and therefore individual pipes will not be notated with each individual name and that the majority of the pipes are not visible. By ‘adopting’ a note your note(s) will be heard regularly by the congregation and at concerts whenever the organ is played – a lasting contribution for future generations of music lovers to enjoy.
If you would like to join the scheme, please download the form from here and send it to:
Cathedral Development Office, 10 Cathedral Close, Exeter, Devon, England EX1 1EZ