Musicians piping up around removal of 100-year-old organ from St Albans church

PUBLISHED: 10:11 18 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:29 18 August 2017

Jonathan Humbert is campaigning against the removal of the church organ from St Paul's Church. Picture: Danny Loo

Jonathan Humbert is campaigning against the removal of the church organ from St Paul's Church. Picture: Danny Loo

Danny Loo Photography 2017

Musicians are piping up about a St Albans church which wants to dispose of its 100-year-old organ.

St Paul's Church. Picture: Danny LooSt Paul's Church. Picture: Danny Loo

St Paul’s Church on Blandford Road are applying for permission to remove their pipe organ and replace it with an electronic substitute.

The decision has disappointed 46-year-old organist and auctioneer Jonathan Humbert: “It’s rather sacrilegious we think to replace it with bongos and drums.

“Those of us who have played the organ feel strongly that happy clappy churches should not be disposing of an organ people spent a lot of money to get in the first place.”

The organ has been with St Paul’s since 1910, and with a church in Brighton before then.

The pipes of the organ in St Paul's church. Photo: JONATHAN HUMBERTThe pipes of the organ in St Paul's church. Photo: JONATHAN HUMBERT

A conglomeration of several different organs, it has undergone a number of refurbishments in its time.

“It’s not the best organ ever made, but it’s in 100 per cent working order,” Mr Humbert said.

“To replace it would cost £350,000. And to reinstall it somewhere else would not be economically viable.”

St Paul’s have applied to the Diocese of St Albans for permission to remove the organ because it is underused.

A close-up of the keys on the left-hand side of the organ in St Paul's church. Photo: JONATHAN HUMBERTA close-up of the keys on the left-hand side of the organ in St Paul's church. Photo: JONATHAN HUMBERT

Mr Humbert says this is reflective of a church which has become much more evangelical and youth-oriented in the last few years.

A far cry from the deeply pious place he knew as a boy, he claims.

“As a little boy I used to come here with my grandmother. It was my first experience of a mighty church organ, and it had a really seminal effect on me. As a result of that I became an organ scholar and I’ve played the organ ever since. It’s a fabulous instrument, and really far too good to be unceremoniously thrown out.

“I can understand it does not fit with current liturgical use. This church is quite evangelical, there is lots of buoyant singing accompanied by guitars and drums and the like.”

A notice up in St Paul's Church. Picture: Danny LooA notice up in St Paul's Church. Picture: Danny Loo

But he insists this not a matter of low versus high Anglicanism.

“Who knows what is to happen in 30 years’ time? The church could need an organ, but it would have been thrown away.

“The organ has spoken for us, so we need to speak for it.

“We are pulling out all of the stops to make sure the diocese has a balanced view, rather than it just sliding through.”

The campaign has attracted attention from organist groups across the nation, including the 11,000-strong Facebook Organists Association.

St Paul’s organist from 1979 to 1988, Geraint Jones has also voiced his disappointment.

Mr Jones, who was also music master of Verulam School, said: “I am disappointed a serviceable instrument with some historic significance might be lost. It carries a lot of history with it.”

Mr Jones believes the organ has links to famous composer Thomas Attwood - who was taught by Mozart.

“It would be a shame if the history behind making it would be lost as well.

“Each generation is only a custodian for the next generation, and who knows what the next generation will do?

“I have not got anything against electronic instruments, they’re easier and cheaper, but they’re rarely as good as the genuine article.

“I do not want to stir up trouble but I am disappointed, as any organist would be.

The application (known as a faculty) has gone in front of the Diocese of St Albans advisory committee, which advises on matter relating to church buildings and their content.

The diocese said: “The diocese does not consider the instrument in its current condition, after decades of modification, to be of any particular historic or musical merit, and is content that the electronic replacement proposed will be suitable to meet the needs of the church.”

Anyone with any objections to St Paul’s application has until Tuesday, September 5.

Once that date has passed, the application will be approved or rejected by the diocesan chancellor, a high court judge.

The vicar of St Paul’s, Canon Tony Hurle, could not be reached for comment.

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