Sesquialtera
by Colin Jilks

TO PARAPHRASE Jane Austen, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that an organist in possession of a fine organ, and a generous legacy, must be in want of a new organ stop". For one of our Association members, reflecting Jane Austen's philosophy, a long held aspiration has now become a reality.    

For Gary Tollerfield, organist of St. Mary's Church, Platt, his new stop was to be a Trompette en Chamade as he had always admired St. Paul's Cathedral's dazzling West-End Trumpets.

Whilst the church was considering this proposal, amongst others as a project to mark the millennium, no one could have expected the sudden death of John Collings, father of our member Julian Collings and St. Mary's Church Treasurer.    

It was the family's wish that a truly fitting memorial to John Collings would be the addition of a Trompette en Chamade stop to the organ sited on the West tower gallery. With the blessing of the Vicar and PCC, formal Diocesan faculties were obtained and work put in hand.    

Naturally, the design of this new stop had to be just right, suitably scaled for the building and, especially, tonally balanced for the organ. Many en Chamades can be uncomfortably sharp-edged in tone, which would be anathema in an organ containing early 19th century pipework; a sympathetic, but no less exciting, tonal design was required.  

Measurements were taken of the Platt organ's Great 8ft Trumpet, particularly the shallots and reeds, as it was the design of the shallots, which would fundamentally determine the new stop's tonal structure. The "shallot" is the brass tube, flattened and open on one side, that the pipe's brass reed vibrates against, effectively closing and opening the aperture in the shallot 440 times per second for a pipe speaking middle "A" at 8ft pitch. The first illustration shows the vibrating reed and the shallot's opening beneath. Alas, the exaggerated curvature of the reed in this picture -  demonstrating its function - ensures the pipe could not possibly speak, as a much flatter curve is normally used. 

"Fiery" en-Chamades have the shallot opening as large as possible, in fact the aperture is open under the reed right up to the reed block. But not for our Platt Trompette; the tapered half-open "English" design was used to match and tonally blend the stop with the main organ, complementing its present reeds.    

The scale of the pipe resonators is also vitally important. The second illustration shows some reed pipe scales: a Trumpet, a Tuba (the fattest) and an Oboe. These are shown speaking vertically, although our new en-Chamade will speak horizontally into the church. A pipe speaking horizontally does not directly affect the pipe's speech, but it does enable the sound to project, unhindered, directly into the body of the building. The burnished pipe metal of 80% tin, 20% lead lends strength as well as visual splendour and, perhaps, a little brightening of the sound. 

The position chosen for the new stop was to be the West gallery, which was ideally suited having a balustrade on which to mount the Trompette's wind chests. Seeming to defy gravity, the pipes project impressively out into the church, but they are in fact hung from a supporting frame, which in turn is suspended on ten invisible wires securely fixed to the roof timbers of the church.   

St. Mary's Platt is a very lofty building and it was a courageous organ builder who climbed the scaffold and ladders to reach the roof. As he set off it was with a genuine air of bonhomie, but on gaining height his smile became decidedly stretched and unconvincing, like that of a gala concert-goer with ferocious indigestion; evidently, St. Mary's, which looks only moderately high from the ground, looks like the north face of the Eiger from the top.  

As the new stop's wind chest has electric action, and with the addition of twelve top-note flue pipes, the Trompette is playable at both 8ft and 4ft pitch. The organ was originally a two-manual and pedal instrument, but the luxury and extra flexibility of a Solo manual from which the new stops, including the Great Trumpet, could be played was an addition which provided that extra frisson to this already exciting project.    

The installation of the new keyboard required the complete remodelling of the console, extending the stop jambs and remaking the music desk. The scheme also included new solid state actions and complete rewiring of the console.    

This has been an adventurous project, which has greatly enhanced an already fine organ. Julian Collings and Gary Tollerfield - always a man of youthful enthusiasm -  now display a joie de vivre which is equally reflected in the faces of their listeners.    

Regrettably, I was unable to attend the opening recital by Julian Collings last December and it was not until April of this year when Paul Hale, from Southwell Minster, arrived to put the instrument through its paces, that I fully experienced the new stop away from the console.    

His recital, on Saturday 6th April, was the day following The Queen Mother's stately and momentous funeral procession from Queen's Chapel, St. James' Palace to Westminster Hall where she lay-in-state, mourned by the nation. Thoughtfully, Paul had changed his programme to fit the occasion, concluding his recital with William Walton's Crown Imperial, composed for George VI's Coronation service in 1937. 

Paul Hale's sensitive yet unashamedly bold playing displayed the full tonal richness of the organ, and with the pomp and pageantry of The Queen Mother's lying-in-state fresh in our minds, together with the sheer majesty of Walton's music, shimmering with Trompette en Chamade flourishes, there was a tangible air of national pride rippling through the audience. 

Other recitals have followed, with Roger Sayer in June and  Julian Collings in July, for our Association's AGM. Each organist has revealed different and varied facets of this fine English organ, now graced by a Trompette en Chamade whose English credentials, in spite of its French name, can never be in doubt.

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