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  1. Those of us who made our way to Warrington last Friday evening were rewarded with a fabulous double recital by Roger Fisher and Benjamin Saunders. Although it was four years since the Parr Hall organ's previous concert,  the "Bracewell Queen" was in fine form after being expertly tuned by David Wells, the firm who maintain many notable local organs, including both of Liverpool's cathedrals. Roger Fisher performed the first half, consisting entirely of music from the French symphonic tradition. Franck's Pastorale, dedicated by the composer to Cavaille-Coll, was a particularly appropriate choice. To make up for the lack of modern registration aids, Roger Fisher sensibly provided himself with two assistants (one of them his wife) to operate the large draw-knobs. He finished with Guilmant's March on a theme of Handel, the last section providing a wonderful opportunity to sit back and soak up the thrilling C-C full organ sound. 

    The second half was quite different, but no less enjoyable, as Benjamin Saunders set out to demonstrate the organ's versatility by mixing classical works with jazz and minimalism. I don't remember hearing Lotus Blossom by Billy Strayhorn,  Mad Rush by Philip Glass or Air for rock organ by Dick Hyman at an organ recital before, but they all worked beautifully. He also explained how hearing the Parr Hall organ as a boy made him decide to give up the cello and start learning the organ in the first place. 

    Considering the enormous historic importance of the Parr Hall organ as the largest unaltered Cavaille-Coll instrument in the UK, it's surprising it isn't a little more celebrated than it is. Instead, there seems to be a big question mark hanging over its future. One controversial scheme being considered is to remove it from Warrington and install it in Sheffield Cathedral. There, it would at least get more regular use, but there is understandable opposition from the locals who don't want to lose this important part of their heritage. I also hope it stays where it is because I'm not a big fan of cathedral acoustics, and it seems to fit the hall so perfectly.  The most important thing is to preserve it as a working instrument, a lasting monument to Cavaille-Coll's genius and a source of immense pleasure to all who hear it, as it was to John Turner Hopwood, its first owner. "The organ is perfect,"  he wrote to Cavaille-Coll in 1871, "I am delighted with your work."  And 140 years later, we still are. Happy Birthday, Aristide!



  2. Hauptwerk v4 contains many significant enhancements in the area of registration. The user is less restricted by what is available from the native organ, and can rely on Hauptwerk's own registration tools being available at all times. This was already true in the case of registration sequencing. Although found on only a small minority of real-world pipe organs, Hauptwerk made this invaluable facility universally available, even when playing historic organs.  Now the same idea has been extended to include general combinations and couplers too.  Regardless of what the organ sample set provides, the user will always have 20 "master" general combinations available and a comprehensive set of "master" couplers. Taking the familiar St Anne's organ as an example, this increases the total number of general combinations from 2 to 22, and provides some completely new coupling possibilities, such as octave and sub-octave coupling on the Great manual. Of course, some might object that these extra controls are not authentic, but no-one is forced to use them.

    Another totally new development is "scoped" combinations.  I haven't had occasion to try these yet, but I can see how they could be very useful in some situations. The basic idea is that you can set up combinations which only affect certain stops or controls, leaving the remainder unchanged. For example, in the case of a theatre organ with multiple tremulants, this would provide a means to switch all the tremulants on or off without altering any of the speaking stops. Or, with a classical organ, you could trigger various patterns of coupling without affecting the speaking stops.

    Useful though these new additions are, the registration sequencer (or stepper) remains the part of Hauptwerk I value the most. (What would a psychologist make of that? Do I need to be more spontaneous?) But here, if I'm totally honest, I felt slightly irritated by the way the user interface had developed. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was surprised that what must surely be Hauptwerk's single most-used command ("advance to next frame") didn't appear on the default piston toolbar, nor on the top level of the registration menu. Instead there seemed to be more emphasis on selecting frames by number, and the new 999 frame stepper was stated to be fully random access. Now that, to me, seems to be slightly missing the point. Surely the whole point of a sequencer is that it is not random access, but sequential access? Another minor grievance was that under v4 the user is limited to 2 MIDI inputs per menu command, so it was no longer possible to have an "advance to next frame" piston on each manual as well as on the pedalboard.

    When I turned to the forum, someone had already raised the question of the frame advance pistons, and because this applied to one command in particular, Martin had offered to provide the solution of 2 instances of that command, giving a total of 4 pistons. I took the opportunity to suggest replacing "Set" and "Cancel" on the default piston toolbar with decrement and increment stepper frame. Martin agreed to consider it, but he had his own reasons for preferring to keep things as they are.  (In any case, the user is free to change the default pistons to suit their own preferences, so it's not a major issue).

    Still feeling a tad disappointed, and with the bit firmly between my teeth, I decided to submit an enhancement request for what, in an ideal world, would be my perfect registration sequencer/stepper.  I felt it was important to recognise the essential fact that a registration sequence relates to a piece of music, and the best way was to separate the sequencer frames from the other types of combination, and allow them to be saved and loaded independently, and identified by the name of the music they refer to.  The other part of my request was that registration sequences should behave more like text files, ie they should be of variable length, growing and shrinking as necessary to suit their contents, and they should be fully editable, that is, allowing insertion and deletion, and cut/copy/paste of single or multiple entries. Quite a tall order, I admit, but you know what they say - if you don't ask, you don't get!

    When Martin responded, I was pleased to learn that improved editing facilities were already on his "to do" list. He also pointed out that quite a lot of what I was asking for could already be achieved using Hauptwerk's existing facilities (even before v4). Hauptwerk allows you to create unlimited numbers of combination sets and to give them any name you wish, so there was no reason (apart from being slightly wasteful with file storage space) why I couldn't have a separate one for each piece of music. I must admit I felt slightly foolish not to have spotted this possibility myself, but considering each combination set gives you a generous quantity of stepper frames, I had always assumed it was the intention that you would store sequences for multiple pieces of music in the same file.

    I switched to the new approach straight away, and I've found it works really well. Now, for example, instead of needing to remember that my combinations for Piece Heroique begin at stepper frame #200 (under my old system) I just click on Load recent combination file, then click on Piece Heroique, and everything's ready to roll from the first frame. It's made using Hauptwerk even more enjoyable, and I'm certainly a fully satisfied customer again. I still don't feel any need to select stepper frames by numbers, I mostly use just two MIDI pistons to navigate - one to advance to the next frame, and one to return to the starting frame. On the other hand, I do find those big illuminated pistons at the bottom of the screen provide a very useful and visible indicator of where I am in the sequence. It's all worked out rather well!