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The Organ Project

THE FATHER WILLIS ORGAN RENOVATION PROJECT

  • 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

FAQs

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.

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