Organ Tuning

The fiancée of a friend of mine was giving a concert this evening in the church of Saint-Pierre-en-Port on the Normandy coast, and the man playing the organ accompaniment phoned me to ask me to come and tune the organ, since the reeds were off. I went and did the job, and he held the notes for me. On the whole, the cone-tuned labial stops were in tune, apart from the odd note in the treble. The stopped flutes needed some attention, and particularly the 16-foot cromorne and the trumpet on the great. French reeds are very sensitive and unstable, so they require a lot of care and reserve.

Access for the tuner was very cramped and I got very hot and sweaty. The whole organ was contained in a mid nineteenth century case built on classical lines. I found the mechanism nicely designed and fairly well balanced, as often found in French instruments of the Cavaillé-Coll period. Unfortunately, this romantic instrument has suffered from a poor-quality re-do in the 1970’s to “baroque-ise” it, adding upperwork and removing many of the foundation stops. The swell shutters had been removed and a stop crudely added to each manual. That’s why I was particularly cramped on the passage board.

Tuning an organ this time of year reminded me of installing an old English organ (from the Methodist Church in Kettering, Northamptonshire) in the church of Bouloire near Le Mans.

bouloire_organI have already written about the brave priest Fr Pecha, and the fact of this organ installation making us become friends until his death in 2002. There too, I did most of the work in July 1992 (I was a subdeacon at the time) after we broke up from the Trinity term at seminary. The work continued into August with final regulation and two tunings before the inauguration on the Feast of the Assumption. Like today, it was very hot in the swell box with the cable lamp, reed knife and cones!

I didn’t stay very long with Harrison’s of Durham back in 1976, where I was an apprentice on leaving school, but I learned to tune organs and do repairs “in the field”. I also learned how to dismantle an organ and follow such a method as would allow me to transport all the parts in a vehicle and put it all back together in the new location. Unfortunately, in the works, I only had a few weeks in the general workshop (where I made the bellows frame for the tuba of Liverpool Cathedral), but no experience with design of new instruments, pipe-making and voicing. It is an extremely diversified trade, mostly fine woodwork but also electrical installation and many other things to learn. Many things go wrong with organs as with cars or any other complex machinery. I worked with a tuner called Tom Rennie who was very short-tempered, but an excellent tuner who taught me to lay a scale by ear and fine-tune the whole “job”. I admire craftsmen with a lifetime’s experience and who love their work.

I have moved a number of organs from England to the continent. Most of the churches I worked for looked after me well, gave me free lodgings and paid me in cash. Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with a Polish priest in France, who only paid the up-front amount needed to hire the vehicle and get the organ from England – and failed to pay me the rest. Even that amount was hard to get. He wanted me to advance the costs of doing the job, which he would not have paid unless I had told him that I don’t budge without funding. Churchmen can be just as untrustworthy as anyone else! Sad, but true. That job also keeps one away from home for weeks and is hardly compatible with priestly life. That is why I have not done any organ work since early 2001. There’s quite a lot at stake.

Technical translating is much “safer”, though less adventurous…

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I have just discovered this video:

More videos of this amazing seminary can be found here.

It certainly brings back memories of a very particular vision of Roman Catholicism with the old liturgy. The buildings are in better condition than when I was there (1990-1992) and the new chapel was then a wine-making workshop. The eighteenth-century chapel, hardly larger than my own, is still there and used for private masses. The video seems to be a special day when a choir was invited to sing, and the seminarians turned out in their best finery. We didn’t wear blue when I was there and we weren’t called Monsieur le Chanoine. The superiors and priests on the teaching staff have got older as we all have. It creates strange feelings!

I used to feel quite bitter about how things turned out for me. I just realise that I should never have gone there. I made the mistake, not they. They did their job and continue to do so. Roman Catholicism is something very strange to an Anglican, even one who “went over” in the best of faith. It  is closer to our tradition and sensitivity than Orthodoxy, but is difficult, in its “restored” post-Tridentine version, to assimilate. There is always the authoritarian political model in the background, however much Amaretto and champagne we drank on the high days! We see some images of the Roman rite in its baroque glory. My own tastes have changed back to Anglican aesthetics and medieval liturgical rites, which more or less accounts for why I opted for Sarum.

For me it was all a very long time ago and emotions fade. I am as alienated emotionally as intellectually. Gricigliano made a big impression on me. I was not “their type” and my spirituality lay elsewhere. Readers can interpret this as they wish. I found my vocation in the Anglican Catholic Church, but the scars are still sensitive. It seemed like a dream that came and went in my life.

Pray for those good men, as they seem to be producing priests with culture and aesthetic sensitivity. They have stayed the course and are still there, enjoying the favours of Rome and the Archdiocese of Florence. They seem to have plenty of money, and above all plenty of panache.

It looks impressive, but I lived the daily reality – the good and the bad. I also remember the names of many those from the early days who are no longer with the Institute, sloughed off as they were no longer needed. The subject is best left in silence and prayer.

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ISIS Crucifies Christians

As we approach the centenary of World War I, we are confronted by the full horror of the persecution of Christians by ISIS Muslims in Syria and Iraq.

christians-crucified-syriaThe more conservative newspapers and websites give the story. The story goes that the crucified were killed for being too moderate, but others say that they were former Muslims converted to Christianity. The bodies are left for three days. One man out of nine survived his crucifixion. He probably got his throat cut.

There’s nothing I can do but pray for the victims and the barbarians who perpetrated this horror. I can only hope that the west will respond with military force and bring those men to trial. Poetic justice would see those men choking at the end of ropes in a prison gym in some devastated city like Von Ribbentrop and Streicher. Would such a course of action save the world any more now than in 1946? Evil only feeds from evil. I suspect that only war against ISIS and countries who knowingly accept its tyranny will be an adequate response to exorcise this particular demon. As so the twentieth century continues!

I am one of those who believe that Islam comes in as many shades and types as Christianity, from fundamentalism to strict conservative, from liberal to mystical. We can believe in the truth of Christianity and the errors of Islam, but we are called to respect those who do not commit violence or atrocities. That is a subject that the “convert” mentality and liberals will not agree upon. I know too little about Islam, but I have read some things which I don’t need to repeat here. It is not a matter of race or creed, but when they start killing, plundering and raping like the Nazis did, it is a different matter. We condemn them for what they do, not for what they are.

May the blood of these martyrs be upon those who can do something – but who remain silent like in the 1930’s!

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Returning to Brittany

I am returning to Brittany in just over a week, but this time with my wife for our summer holiday. We will be going to Loctudy, shown on the map by a white circle, and in the aerial photo.

loctudy-maploctudy_aerienneIt is not very far from where I went with my boat to the Route du Sable at Chateaulin and downstream towards the Rade de Brest. We will be only 12 nautical miles from the Glénans Archipelago where I went in 2009 for the sailing experience of my life. The sand is white and the water is transparent. It is a little paradise in summer that attracts sailors and holidaymakers. We will be at a stone’s throw from the place my family and I went the first time we ever came to France in 1966 – Beg Meil.

beg-meil-beachI am studying the feasibility of sailing to the Glénans, but 12 nautical miles of open sea is daunting in view of tidal currents and drift errors. I will probably not attempt it this year without a GPS set to compensate for drift and current. A compass and chart alone are not enough, though I’m not too bad at coastal navigation with a Portland plotter and sighting compass. I’ll study it all the same, especially if the visibility is perfect and the tidal current is low. If it really is impossible or too dangerous by sail (in a boat as small as mine), my wife and I could go by motor launch. Those islands will bring back some lovely memories.

Inshore on the mainland, there will be many deep bays (anses) to explore and islands. I could also go some way up the river towards Quimper. There will also be non-sailing days when my wife and I will explore historical monuments and places of natural beauty.

We will be camping in the tent and enjoying the good life – but this year, we only have 2 weeks!

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In Solidarity with the Persecuted Church

nunI first of all express my solidarity with my Bishop who uses Facebook rather than the blog as a part of his teaching ministry. He has written an article on our Diocesan website – Bishop Condemns Violence Against, and Persecution of Christians.

A symbol has been doing the rounds on Facebook, the Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew Nun character. Muslims make this the sign of Christians, the “followers of the Nazarene”. This sign has been adopted by a number of Christians showing solidarity and prayerful sympathy with the persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria among other places where fanatical Muslims want rid of them.

We should read Iraqi Christians are raped, murdered and driven from their homes – and the West is silent. I have also read that the same thing is happening in Syria with burnings of churches and refugees being killed, raped and robbed of their possessions and money. Is their present our future?

How do we react? Fight back? We and whose army? Many arguments for an intolerant Christianity come from the point of view of saying that if we tolerate others, they won’t tolerate us. I don’t think the kind of death the Islamists would inflict on us would be a pleasant one! For most of us in the west, there is very little we can do other than pray and express ourselves publicly where we can, especially the Internet. It is too tempting to respond to hatred by hatred – especially if it is a member of our family who meets a horrible death by those barbarians.

The west is keeping a shameful silence about this pogrom against Christians, which can justly be compared with the way the Nazis dealt with Jewish people! Countries like Syria and Iraq need to be put under secular rule like western Europe or the USA, so that members of any religion who commit terrorist acts and atrocities would be punished as they would in any modern western country. We seem to be as afraid of the Islamic threat as our ancestors were of Nazi Germany.

Maybe our countries will do something, but what good has warfare ever done? As it was in 1944 and 1945, it is now whenever America or Europe goes to war in the Middle-East. Certainly the perpetrators of the atrocities need to be put on trial and hanged. But at what price?

It comes back to the same thing. There is little we can do other than pray for the victims and for the conversion of the barbarians.

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Mental Illness and Religion

This is a subject I have thought of writing about for some time. It is a sensitive one, because I am not qualified in psychiatric medicine or psychoanalysis. I only have a few notions, so I can only express myself like anyone else who has done some reading on conditions like autism across its entire spectrum, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis.

Firstly, two warnings:

  1. In writing about this subject, I am not aiming at any particular person known or unknown to me.
  2. I am aware that this subject needs a considerable amount of discernment and distinction, since the major thesis of atheists like Dr Dawkins is that all religion is mental illness, religion causes mental illness or only mentally ill people are religious. I reject such an all-condemning thesis as being unreasonable and excessive.

However, there are some aspects of religious belief and practice that can be correlated with mental conditions known to psychiatrists. One disturbing sign is fanaticism, which has often been found to be related to depression and bipolar disorder. Their religion has become an obsession.

They are also the easiest to be converted to a new religion.

This happens with many an urban dilettante or some very unhappy people. They sometimes go as far as converting to radical Islam or joining a totalitarian cult. People suffering from bipolar disorder can often change very radically and suddenly as obsessions change and old ones are discarded. Psychiatrists often find that when a patient is put onto an appropriate treatment plan, the religious delusions go away.

At the same time, there are religious expressions that are more difficult to associate with pathology. Belief in a transcendent and immanent being is a part of humanity, culture and philosophy. Many people are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. without being obsessive or harmful to themselves or others. To me, of course as a believer and a priest myself, there has to be a balance. The early Enlightenment was such an attempt with men like Voltaire and Pope Benedict XIV among many others. There were, of course, many atheistic philosophers during that period.

I don’t attribute psychiatry with any charisma of infallibility. There are those who deny the property of science in regard to psychiatric medicine. As with any branch of medicine or science, serious mistakes and wrong assumptions are made. In the days of Bedlam, few things were less rational than the attempts of quacks to treat “loonies”! Progress has been made, but there have been regressions, sometimes due to the extremely lucrative pharmaceutical business.

That being said, any religion placed in the hands of irrational fanatics will suffer more harm to its credibility than from the criticism of its adversaries. What is mental illness? What is reality? Philosophy and science struggle with these issues as any thinking person does.

I refer readers to some articles written by qualified people:

Naturally, some of my readers might know good reliable sites on the Web. We need objectivity and balance.

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Shrill Polemics

Something discussed in our recent Council of Advice meeting inspired me to write on the subject of shrillness on the part of many polemicists seeking to defend their convictions and win others over to them. One Council member regretted having used the word liberal as expressing a position against shrillness. I suggested using the word tolerant in that context, because liberal means different things to different people and points of view. We in the ACC are not liberals (relativism, indifference, etc.) but we are on the whole tolerant.

I have the impression in our polarised times that we are going back to an era like the 1920’s and 30’s when discussion was no longer possible. It is us and them, black and white, might is right, no quarter to the enemy. That era bred Mussolini and Hitler, a cruel totalitarian ideology without pity or tolerance designed to improve mankind, but which slaughtered millions for no reason other than their race or creed. The post-Communist world observes the genocide perpetrated against Christianity in the Middle-East and says nothing. Shrillness on one side and only our silence for an answer. What can we do but pray? It is a good question. We do care, but we are impotent faced with the looming monster.

The Muslims burning churches and slaughtering the innocent in Syria seem to believe they are doing it for God and truth. Hitler made the same claim eighty years ago. Many conservative Christians do not advocate killing people, but would – if they received authority to do so – would curb the liberty of others through laws and policing.

Between Islamic murderers and fanatical Christians, we find that these people are unable to reason. They have rejected both empathy and reason. When we find shrillness, it can only indicate an underlying fragility of their belief in truth and the spiritual. We ourselves have to learn from those people. We are tempted to build up strong positions against other creeds and faiths. Instead of looking at the positive things all Christians do, we seek to show up what is wrong with them and why they should “convert” to our “one true” camp. Insofar as we give way to this temptation, we discredit our own cause. I was so happy that during our meeting between the ACC Bishop in England and we his clergy and laity, we had a consensus that shrillness was not the way – but mature dialogue and empathy.

We are Catholics (even through Catholics in communion with Rome might dispute that fact). Our faith is calm, reasoned and experienced and rooted in the Scriptures and Tradition. We are called to discuss and debate points of doctrine, but always in the respect of the other “side”. We have both to believe in truth and practice tolerance. I have always expressed the idea that we need to be calm and kind. If we are shrill, we must be overreacting from the lack of credibility of what we believe in, from the shakiness of what can easily be refuted by the opponent.

One thing that has attracted me to the ACC is its maturity which comes from having been through suffering the experience of human conflict and sin. I am impressed by the calmness of our Archbishop and Bishops (which is not to say that there are occasional problems that need to be sorted out). We are no more perfect than anyone else, but we have learned lessons.

We must combat shrillness in ourselves and others. Truth has no fear of being challenged and discussed. We need to learn to let go and broaden our minds. We can do that through going out into the world and making the effort to understand what is going on. There is the old fable about the Sack of Constantinople in 1453 that theologians were discussing the gender of the angels whilst the Muslims were doing what they are doing today in Syria – burning churches and cutting priests’ throats. Christianity is challenged by greater realities than what any of us would care to imagine. Our shrillness only serves to fuel the arguments of the real enemy.

Just bear it in mind and think about it. It will make the difference between our survival or our annihilation.

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