"A morning not to be missed!" was written on one of the Heritage Open Day feedback forms which one of our many visitors filled in after spending Saturday morning peering into the Willis pipe organ, talking to the organ builders Steve and Paul, viewing the history exhibition and enjoying the delicious variety of refreshments available. We also had a history of the organ talk in the hall (both morning and afternoon), a small hand-turned street organ currently being built from scratch which adults and children alike found fascinating and some quiz activities for children (though adults could try them too).
A personal thrill for many of the organ project team was the sound of pipes playing and real music coming from the Willis for the first time since 21 July 2014! The organ builders have been busy reassembling the instrument since our open morning in June and a complete rank of pipes (the Viola da Gamba) was in the Choir organ as well as the complete Flute Couverte in the Great organ and were playable from the console. Throughout the day this gave many of our visitors the wonderful opportunity to sit at the console and try the organ. They could also watch the under-action moving beneath the Great and Choir soundboards as the keys were played and the bellow reservoirs gently floating as they filled with wind which helped us explain how the mechanism works to make each pipe sound. We fielded a lot of questions during the day from people who had never previously thought about how a pipe organ works or appreciated the skilled craftsmanship which goes into building and restoring them.
105 people signed in on the Heritage Open Day visitors sheets, however many of the 32 Bucks Historic Churches Trust Ride & Stride participants signed their sheet rather than our sheet at the entrance with plenty of them stopping for cake and a look in the organ, and we know we didn't catch everyone who came into the church as some came via the street door where we didn't have a sign in sheet. So we're estimating that at least 150 people came to the Heritage Open Day at St Mary and St Giles church on Saturday between 10am and 3:30pm in addition to our team of 24 volunteers, several of whom looked inside the organ too when they weren't serving cake.
On Sunday afternoon the fully booked Stony Stratford Story stroll unfortunately had to be postponed to another day at the last minute due to a bereavement, however we opened the church, put out the history exhibition and about 15 people who had not received the cancellation message about the stroll came up to the gallery to see the work in progress on the organ and ask questions. We plan to re-book Red Phoenix and Richard Frost to do the Story Stroll on another day.
The two Heritage Open Day events Music for all at SMSG team ran this year were primarily focused on giving people the opportunity to learn more about the Willis pipe organ and the history of the church, however refreshment sales and donations resulted in £288.84 being raised for the Organ Project, which was a great bonus.
Feedback comments included:
"Very interesting as didn't know about organ, lovely refreshments and friendly people."
"The boys liked everything - the friendly volunteers, the cakes, the photos and especially the organ. It was a real treat for my pianist 12 year old to be allowed to play the organ."
"We really enjoyed the accessibility of the organ pipes, keys etc for the children which made the experience more exciting for them. The volunteers were enthusiastic and generous with their time. Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable experience!"
"Very interesting and enjoyable in a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Good to talk to those involved in the restoration and get an insight into the organ workings. Well done to all involved."
"Very nice to learn about the organ. Great people and nice refreshments."
I would like to thank Steve and Paul of FH Browne & Sons for making the journey on Saturday for this event, Lesley for organizing the rota of volunteers and cake bakers and all the volunteers for doing a fabulous job of making our Heritage Open Days so enjoyable for the many visitors, many of whom had never been into St Mary and St Giles Church before these open days.
You can view lots of photos of Saturday's open day at https://www.flickr.com/photos/78058413@N06/albums/72157658140901190