Visit to Greenlaw and the Borders
23rd September 2000

Review by Tracker

If members of the CSO feel shocked that such a conservative, serious and church orientated collection of individuals that constitute the CSO committee should have suggested a visit to such a supposed down-market exhibit in the form of a theatre organ, then any such member may feel reassured that the committee suggested no such thing. The visit was the result of an invitation by STOPS to our web site operated by Sam Carradice. The mini theatre at Greenlaw was built by STOPS by purchasing and modifying an existing property. On entering we were confronted by a gigantic console on a stage, giving the impression of a medieval oriental potentate awaiting supplication from those daring to seek an audience.

This machine with its five swell pedals bristled with stops, buttons, lights and pistons in all directions. It must be made clear that the machine is a pipe organ, not electronic. The proceedings started with a brilliant recital by Larry McGuire, who has studied with notable theatre organ virtuosi and was obviously no mean virtuoso himself, and he explained that theatre and church organ playing are very different ball games. Following the recital we were invited to play. A lack of response born of numbed apprehension was mercifully resolved as usual by Chris Price who proceeded to sanctify the machine with his ritual blessing in the form of Widor's toccata. Most of us had a go. It was rather like being invited to drive a nuclear submarine on a first visit. No doubt as church organists we would dearly love to accompany our vicars to their pew with a jangle of sleigh bells.

Chris Price at the Hilsdon Organ - New Palace Centre - Greenlaw

The theatre has regular concerts and events. There is a tea room and a small museum in which were exhibited some of the worn out electrical equipment which could not be reused in the reconstruction.

In 1933 St. Cuthbert's church organ in Carlisle was electrified by Compton at the time when theatre organs were being installed so it contains the same type of equipment. I was shown a small computer board which I was advised by Gordon Lucas, the resident director, could be "simply" wired in to replace the current worn out electrics.

On our return journey we visited Melrose and Galashiels parish churches. Melrose possesses a 3 manual organ by Brindley and Foster (1880), since rebuilt in 1956 and 1976. After playing, we sat around the impressive church and listened to the equally impressive sound and performance of some Buxtehude by the organist, who welcomed us on our visit.

The CSO Party at Melrose Parish Church

At Galashiels there is a beautiful 3 manual Willis on which much money has been spent. Again we were welcomed by the organist and church officials and enjoyed playing a fine organ. As usual, much more time is required to fully explore these instruments.

The Willis organ at Old Parish & St.Pauls, Galashiels

We, (Colin Rae, Chris Bell, Sam and Nan Hicks, Sam Carradice and parents, Chris Price, Irene Duckworth and Jane Easterby), also enjoyed travelling through the beautiful Borders countryside and are grateful to STOPS, Sam Carradice and Dr. Ishbel Coy, President of the Borders Society, for providing contacts at Melrose and Galashiels.

Colin Rae at Old Parish & St.Pauls, Galashiels

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