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Classical Notes

A 'sports car' pipe organ

Posted at 4:10 PM on November 14, 2013 by Luke Taylor
Filed under: Fun finds, In the media, The blog

Coventry Cathedral pipe organ consoleThe console of Coventry Cathedral's pipe organ (courtesy Coventry Cathedral's Facebook page)

Tonight's broadcast of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem appropriately evokes reflection on what occurred in Coventry, England, 73 years ago, as well as thoughts about the broader consequences of war.

But a recent bit of news cast a fresh spotlight on the music that happens in Coventry Cathedral today.

Just two weeks ago, the 1962-built Harrison and Harrison pipe organ in Coventry Cathedral was awarded the Cathedral Grade 1 status by the British Institute of Organ Studies (BIOS) for its "importance to the national heritage." It is now listed in BIOS's Historic Register of Pipe Organs.

To get a sense of what makes Coventry's pipe organ special, I spoke to Laurence Lyndon-Jones, the former assistant director of music at Coventry Cathedral (he's now assistant organist at Chelmsford Cathedral). At Coventry, Lyndon-Jones regularly accompanied the choir on organ, and he organized the cathedral's Monday-night, summertime recital series. "It was very exciting working with such a wonderful musical instrument," he says. "It's one of the finest instruments in the country, if not further afield."

Lyndon-Jones has a useful analogy for describing what sets the Coventry pipe organ apart:

"The Coventry organ — if you think of it in terms of comparing it with different types of car, which is something I think works quite well to describe what it's like playing the organs — it's definitely a sports car: the Coventry organ is very responsive, very quick and very exciting to play, whereas other cathedral organs in England are fantastically musical instruments, but more grand and less agile. The Coventry organ is a very agile, exciting yet still sensitive if need be, with a range all the way up to very loud, exciting sound as well.

"There are lots of different colors you can use, and all of them are very responsive to your input, really, which makes it a very exciting experience."

Here's a short video of Lyndon-Jones in the driver's seat of that "sports car":

You can hear more of Coventry Cathedral's pipe organ as well as performances on other British cathedrals' pipe organs in this July 30, 2007. episode of Pipedreams with Michael Barone.