Organ project in the pipeline at the Minster

On their way: Above, the Wingfield organ coming from St Alban's Abbey on loan to  Halifax Minster. Below: the Wetheringsett organ, which is a replica of a medieval instrument, coming to Halifax Minster from Suffolk.
On their way: Above, the Wingfield organ coming from St Alban's Abbey on loan to Halifax Minster. Below: the Wetheringsett organ, which is a replica of a medieval instrument, coming to Halifax Minster from Suffolk.

IT’S impossible to think of Halifax Minster without its wonderful music coming to mind.

After all, the 900-year-old building’s walls reverberate to the sound of it day in, day out. And today is no exception.

the Wetheringsett organ which is a medieval replica coming on local to Halifax Minster from Suffolk

the Wetheringsett organ which is a medieval replica coming on local to Halifax Minster from Suffolk

The lovely old pews are filled with appreciative listeners as the notes produced by organist emeritus Philip Tordoff soar to the very rafters.

Philip has played out 40 years at the Minster and his regular recitals are popular and much lauded.

Now a new project will take The Minster’s tradition with organs and organ music to wider audiences.

As part of a major fund-raising and modernisation plan for the historic place of worship - the 900 Trust - not only will the Minster’s existing organ be completely refurbished but there will be new and exciting arrivals as well.

Professor David Baker, who is leading the project reveals that in a few weeks’ time, an organ originally built for a well-to-do Halifax family will become a permanent fixture in the Minster.

The 1770 organ was commissioned from Johann Snetzler, of Swiss origin by the Waterhouses who lived at Well Head, Halifax centuries ago. It was discovered at the Anglican Convent of St Peter at Horbury, near Wakefield.

“It had been presented to the convent years ago but what no-one had realised was that the old convent building was now a school and the nuns there still used the chapel and its contents and there was the organ. It is due to the kindness of the nuns that it is coming to the Minster. In a way it feels as though the organ is coming home,” says David.

He adds that although in disrepair it is still playable but a restoration programme will mean its pipes will soon be able to “speak out” again properly.

The restoration will now form part of a newly-launched education programme at the Minster aimed at involving local communities of all ages and backgrounds, and which will also see the unveiling of the Halifax Organ Academy, designed as a centre of excellence for the organ in Calderdale and West Yorkshire.

The Academy will provide tuition and support for organists with the aim of raising the standard of playing and the number of good players in the locality.

And because the Academy’s organisers hope to encourage the take up of the organ - especially among young people - scholarships will be available.

The Academy will be run in partnership with other local organisations including the Leeds College of Music.

Visitors will be able to see the Snetzler being lovingly and painstakingly brought back to its original state and ultimately hear it being played.

“It will be like a second instrument for the Minster and primarily used as a teaching instrument,” says David.

“What is particularly exciting about this organ is that it was built for a Halifax location at about the same time Snetzler was building the original organ for the Minster, then the Parish Church, and it was built for people who were very much involved in local music-making so it almost feels as though the circle will be completed.”

The Snetzler organ will fittingly be found a new home in the Minster’s Rokeby Chapel (on the left-hand side), where there are memorials to the Waterhouse family. It is estimated it will cost between £100,000 and £150,000 to restore.

However, it will not be the only organ to undergo a restoration programme. The Minster’s present four-manual organ, built by Harrison and Harrison of Durham and installed in the Minster in 1929, will also undergo a face-lift.

“The last properly documented organ, also built by Snetzler, dates back to 1766 but over the years it was rebuilt and rebuilt and the organ we see in its present form goes back to 1929. However some of the original organ pipes are still there today but it is due for restoration as we are getting to the point where it is starting to wear. Overall it will probably cost around £450,000 but it is something that will be done in stages,” says David.

Two replica organs are also on their way to Halifax and are expected to arrive at The Minster on August 2. The two early English organs will be on loan for a 12 month period.

They are the brightly-coloured Wingfield organ, on loan from St Alban’s Abbey and the Wetheringsett, on loan from Suffolk.

“These are two modern replicas of Medieval organs and have been painstakingly built using traditional techniques right down to the last detail. Both will be used as part of the education programme.”

David explains that not only will visitors be able to learn about the organs and their music but also how people lived at the time these organs were in use. A series of early English organ workshops covering a variety of subjects as well as music, are now to be staged.

“For organ lovers there are some exciting times ahead at The Minster,” says David.

l For more information about the workshops or about The Minster’s 900 Trust and how to help with fund-raising, ring 01422 355436.

In Thursday’s Courier - bringing The Minster to the masses thanks to its exciting new education programme