Cumbrian Society of Organists

Review : Visit to Organs in Dumfries : 25 June 2016

Our visit started with walking all round the Crichton Memorial Chapel to see if we could get in. Fortunately the weather was pleasant. A phone call to the number given for potential visitors elicited the information that the office was closed and it was suggested that we emailed them. Eventually the "barister" in the nearby cafe managed to get someone to bring us the key (after an hour's wait). The organ is a magnificent 2mp by Lewis and the acoustics of the chapel are more like a cathedral than a chapel. Seemingly a company now run the chapel mainly as a wedding venue, although there is a weekly service on Sunday. As well as the Lewis organ there was also a large and new Bluthner grand and a small portative organ. A large sound system hinted that perhaps the organ wasn't always used for weddings. Certainly it felt rather rheumatic when I played it with many notes not working, but this soon improved and subsequent members had no problems in realising the potential of this magnificent instrument - thanks to David for locating the blower switch (for future reference, follow the Lost Chord and reach behind with your left hand and the key will probably be left at the cafe/restaurant in Easterbrook Hall).

We dropped the key back at the cafe, had a cup of coffee (London prices) and ate our lunch, then drove about a mile to the car park opposite St Michael's South Church. Several observations here: organists tend to use a side door in a church, there are usually several doors in a church and when it’s raining stair-rods, tramping round to find the right entrance isn't an option. Also our breed often don't know how to open the main door. Fortunately Nick Eales heard us rattle the door and shouted to us to go to the north door. What rain! We entered the church and gladly replaced soaking wet shoes with our organ shoes. The organ is in the west end gallery and the detached console sits in front of the organ giving the organist an excellent idea of the sound made. The console was pure 1930's Willis and in a recent renovation, Willis had taken pains to preserve the original appearance without in any way compromising functionality; they had even managed to source some old foot pistons to match the existing ones. A lovely organ with many possibilities. The crescendo pedal was a definite trap for the unwary but we found it very effective in use. Chatting to Nick, he said that Dumfries was an oasis of organs, all within walking distance. As well as the three we visited there is St John's and Troqueer, the later not being in NPOR.

Nick then took us to St Mary Greyfriars where we were met by Robert Lind the organist, and the Session Clerk (David Matheson) and later were joined by the Minister. The organ, originally by Harrison and Harrison, was rebuilt by Binns and this beast resides in the chancel. Binns managed to eradicate any subtlety from the original organ and created a very powerful instrument which we all enjoyed playing. Adrian's Birthday Suite was given an airing, the composer being on hand to offer advice! Animus scored again with their "March of the Gladiators" which suited the organ very well.

As well as the organs, there was much of interest in the churches and it was a real bonus to be shown the churches and organs by people who so obviously cared about them. I am sure that Dumfries, with five good organs to visit, will be on the cards for a return visit by CSO in the future.

National Pipe Organ Register Links

Chrichton Memorial Church
St. Michales, Dumfries
St. Mary Greyfriars, Dumfries