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The Organ Project

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Organ Appeal

We are delighted to announce that the Organ Appeal now has sufficient money for the proposed renovation and enhancement work to go ahead, and the contract has been signed with Michael Farley the organ builder.  This means that the appeal is now closed and pipes will start disappearing to the workshop in Colaton Raleigh from next week.  Old Father Willis will be out of action until about Easter 2019, his place being taken by the Viscount electronic organ so generously provided as a stand-in by Mick Polley Thank you so much to the many people who have supported the appeal over a long period.  We look forward to the opening celebrations for New Father Willis which we are aiming to arrange for Autumn 2019.  Watch this space!

Miles Quick (24th May 2018)



  • For general information about the organ at St Mary Magdalene please click.
  • For a short video featuring our Music Director, Miles Quick, putting our Father Willis organ magnificently through its paces and explaining what renovation work needs to be done, please click.
  • For an inspirational background article by John Bodiley on the St Mary Magdalene Organ:  ‘From the purring of a cat to the roaring of a lion’ please click.

Introduction to the Renovation Project

With many decades since the last overhaul the organ is now exhibiting many of the frailties of age, and our fundraising campaign for a total renovation which will allow it to continue providing an inspiring support to the music of worship is currently in its final stages.  Like all machines, an organ will wear, and become less responsive as it gets older. Though it still sounds splendid, our Willis organ is in a very fragile state. It is to be hoped that the money will be found – at St. Mary Magdalene and by fundraising in the wider community – to restore this wonderful and historic instrument to good health, so that it can lead worship and musical events in Taunton for many years to come – and be fit for purpose in the 21st Century!

Our 'Father Willis' Organ

Our ‘Father Willis’ Organ


How does the organ support the church’s work and the community of Taunton – what is it used for?

o   regular weekly, Sunday and Festival worship accompanying the large adult and children’s choirs of the church and the enthusiastically-singing congregation

o   Civic services incorporating eg 40 Commando, Mayoral & Council inaugurations

o   Weddings, funerals

o   large-scale events where a large space is needed (St Mary Magdalene is the biggest capacity space in Taunton easily accommodating 600 plus people)

o   Concerts by local choral groups – eg Taunton Choral Society, Amici, Phoenix and In Ecclesia choirs, Taunton Deane Male Voice Choir

o   Concerts by internationally famous groups eg recently  The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen, The Gabrieli Choir, The BBC Singers (cond. Eric Whitacre)

o   A properly renovated and fully working instrument will give great new possibilities for the expansion of teaching young people to play the organ and thus to support the  life of the church with their talents.  Two of our young choristers (currently budding pianists) have already expressed a wish to learn to play the organ when our renovation is completed;  the aim will be to attract more people (young and not so young) to learn and increase their skills on ‘the King of Instruments’ (which is what Mozart famously called the organ).

What work needs to be done?

Following a detailed report from Ian Bell, one of this country’s foremost authorities in these matters, recommendations were made which may be summarised as follows:

  • The action needs to be renewed
  • The slider soundboards need to be made free of ‘runnings’ and wind leaks
  • The console needs to be renewed and updates with modern digital systems of memory for the piston system
  • Most of the ageing leatherwork needs to be replaced
  • The pipework, all by Willis, needs to be cleaned and repaired
  • Minor alterations to the layout and specification are proposed to bring out the best in the instrument to meet the demands made on it in the 21st Century
  • An upgraded CCTV system is needed to replace the current outdated system, giving the organist the ability to see clearly the conductor and other relevant proceedings in relevant parts of the church
  • In order to go some way to overcoming the problems with the location and projection of the organ into the nave, a discreet sound reinforcement system is envisaged. This will use a high quality amplification system similar to that installed as part of the renovation of the organ (by Nicholson’s of Malvern) in the large Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge.

How much will it cost?

  • This work is estimated to cost approximately £250,000. This is a large sum ( organ contains many precision hand-made parts and pipes of multifarious sizes and designs which all have their role to play – like the many members of the church!) and yet the cost will not reduce with time but increase.
  • The organ renovation fund already has in it a substantial part of this money (the total currently stands at about £163,000) – so we are hoping that a final major push will soon get us up to the required figure, following the recent completion of our highly successful Bells of St Mary’s project. This saw 15 new bells and a new carillon system installed into our tower to ring out good news over Taunton (the highest church tower in Somerset – a county of particularly fine towers – and recently described by Simon Jenkins of The Times as ‘the noblest parish tower in England’).
  • We are currently continuing to apply for grant funding to help get us up to the total amount, in addition to fundraising events such as the recent ‘Last Hurrah BBQ’, the ‘Wired to Create’ concert by Taunton Choral Society joined with our own church choir in glorious harmony, the forthcoming performance of the musical Apostle by our children’s choir, and the programme of ‘Organic Appetisers’ planned for the autumn.

How can I help?

  • Please send a cheque made payable to St Mary Magdalene PCC (Organ Fund) to The Treasurer, St Mary Magdalene Church Office, Church Square, Taunton TA1 1SA
  • Please ‘Sponsor a Pipe’ or make a donation using our Organ Restoration Fund donation form available here, or see below.
  • Alternatively, if you would like to make a donation online, you can do so at our MyDonate page.
  • Please attend one of our fundraising events and recitals* or ‘Organic Appetisers’. 

So what is so special about the organ? 

  • For an inspirational background article by John Bodiley on the St Mary Magdalene Organ:  ‘From the purring of a cat to the roaring of a lion’ please click.





Father Willis’s Organic Appetisers



Some of the above principles can be heard in practice in the coming months, not only during services, but also in a series of short ‘appetisers’ after the Sunday morning communion at St Mary Magdalene.  After the service and a dignified pause, probably at around 11.30am,  there will be an opportunity for those who wish to gather in the choir stalls and hear a short talk on a particular aspect of our organ’s capabilities (eg the quiet reed stops), followed by a short demonstration by one of our organists in the form of a piece featuring that particular ‘flavour’.

To further enhance the gastronomic delight a pre-Sunday Lunch appetiser or canapés will be served for you to enjoy while listening, having been expertly prepared by a culinary team drawn from our highly talented choir.  All this for your delectation, in return for a donation (£5 suggested, or amount at your discretion) towards the organ renovation fund.  The whole experience will last about 15 minutes and will set you up perfectly for lunch and the rest of the day.

The Appetisers will take place approximately once a month.

Dates already booked are as follows:

  • Sunday 22nd October 2017:  Miles Quick
  • Sunday 26th November 2017:  Andrew Carter
  • (no Appetiser in December)
  • Sunday 28th January 2018:  Julia Steward

Further information will appear here and in the weekly Today Sheet as it becomes available, or our Music Director Miles Quick.

Article by J Bodiley

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From the purring of a cat to the roaring of a lion

The Father Willis organ at Saint Mary Magdalene can be made to purr quietly like a contented cat. It can roar like a defiant lion, either in the distance or alarmingly close. Dark mystery, evocative of a foggy Exmoor, is also within its compass, or it can offer tremulous, plaintive, solo voices. There are brazenly triumphant trumpets and trombones, or a whisper so soft that you have to strain to hear it. The organ can make all of these sounds because it was designed to add colour and expressiveness to words: to characterise joy or sorrow, pride or humility, defiance or pleading. The accompaniment of the liturgy is its primary purpose, and it has fulfilled this obligation with distinction for many years.

To make an organ play, you pull out a stop, press a key, and an electric impulse from the key will travel along a wire to open a valve under a single pipe, to allow a column of air to blow through the pipe to create a sound. All of the pipes in the organ, nearly 2,000, stand over reservoirs of compressed air. If you play a chord of 4 notes, 4 pipes will sound: if you pull out 10 stops, and play a chord of 4 notes, 40 pipes will sound. It is possible to join the mechanism of the manuals together, and therefore, to allow all of the stops to be brought into play together.

In the opening bar of Widor’s famous Toccata, there are 74 notes. The music is loud, marked fff by Widor, and therefore you need to have a lot of stops drawn. If you have, say, 20 stops out, arithmetic will tell you that the organ has to perform 1,480 electrical and mechanical actions to play that single bar, which takes about 4 seconds. There are 78 bars of music in the piece, so even if you add no stops, there are well over 100,000 separate actions that the organ has to perform. This does not take account of the tune, played loudly by the feet, using other pipes, and the fact that towards the end, stops are usually added to create the climax of the piece. This 4-minute piece therefore involves the organ making about 150,000 actions.

Organ Donors Urgently Needed!


Organ Donors Urgently Needed!

Not hearts or kidneys, but PIPES!!

Taunton is very fortunate to have two ‘Father Willis’ pipe organs – in St John’s and St Mary Magdalene Churches.  Willis was the English ‘Rolls-Royce’ brand at the end of the nineteenth century when these instruments were built.  Unfortunately they are both in urgent need of repair.  As part of the fundraising programme, along with a ‘sponsor a pipe’ campaign, there will be a lunchtime concert of 45 minutes of colourful organ music by great composers in St Mary Magdalene Church at 12.45 pm on Friday 11th August.  Refreshments and light lunches will also be served.  The concert will be given by Miles Quick (Music Director at St Mary Magdalene), who will aim to demonstrate the beautiful colours and wide range of this ‘King of instruments’ – which is what Mozart called the organ.

Please come to enjoy a musical feast and help to make Taunton’s organs fit for purpose in the 21st Century!

Admission free, with a retiring collection to support the organ renovation funds for both churches.

“The Beatitudes”


We have enjoyed Jackie Frost’s exhibition entitled “The Beatitudes” and we hope to host a similar event in March 2019. The Mayor, Cllr Hazel Prior-Sankey and her husband Adrian visited the exhibition on Tuesday and we were delighted to welcome them.


Sheila on the Move


If you would like to attend Sheila’s licensing on 30th September in Ripon please sign the form at the back. The cost will depend on the numbers going and, as soon as we have figures, we will try to work out the transport and accommodation.

‘Our Giving’


We are delighted to say that the number of GIFT Stewardship envelopes returned has risen to over 40 and folk have been most generous – thank you. It will help the mission of this church greatly. Seven of the envelopes returned indicated that the giving was not increased. We understand this and we are so pleased that you replied and let us know. Over 160 envelopes were given out so there are still more to come in. If you have lost the envelope, there are spares at the back of church.

Glebe House Demolition


The Glebe House is now completely demolished and the ground cleared. The foundations of the new vicarage will be dug very soon and hopefully the house will be built and finished around Christmas time.

Parish Away Weekend


Bishop Peter is looking forward to being with us for our Parish Weekend and the theme of our time together will be “Snakes and Ladders”. If you are coming and have a game of snakes and ladders – do bring it along! There are still a few places left, so please see Valerie if you would like to come.

¨ Why a weekend away?
   A time of fun, teaching, and relaxation.  Given that church is a family, it is good to spend time together being refreshed in body, mind and spirit.  Both the programme and the venue have much      to offer people.

¨ When and Where?
Friday afternoon 22nd September to Sunday afternoon 24th September 2017 at Buckfast Abbey.

¨ What will it cost?

¨ Accommodation:
   All rooms are en-suite in the Northgate House complex.

¨ How?
   Find the leaflets and booking forms at the back of the church OR speak to Diana Fletcher OR Valerie Gaskell

Printer and Copier for Charity


Parish Office Printer & Copier and folding and stapling machine

Do you know of a charity who would like these items.  If so please contact the Parish Office.  They will be available from 7th September.