One of the strands of the Heritage Lottery funded Willis Pipe organ restoration and reach-out project is the production of a 25 minute educational video about the SMSG Willis organ, its history, restoration and use.
We've been filming for this DVD (which will be used in the church for educational purposes and will not be commercially available) since the earliest months of the project as we needed to capture some of the problems before restoration, the progress of restoration and the history research. As Geoff Wheeler, who is doing the video production, said half way through the filming, this is the longest video project he has ever worked on, because with the restoration taking longer than expected (18 months) and the final filming happening 3 months after John Neal first played the organ in a church service, the DVD part of the project has been quite drawn out.
On 5th March 2016 we had the absolute pleasure of filming the final footage as Jonathan Kingston, who was organist and choir master at SMSG in 2006-2007 when he was deputy head of Music at Stowe School, returned to play for the recording session.
He was delighted to get his hands back on the keyboards again and was full of praise for the work which has been carried out by FH Browne & Sons and for our fundraising efforts to realise the dream of bringing the organ back to full working order.
We had booked the church for the whole morning and had to keep the church doors locked (with notices on the West door and passage door into the church) as we needed quiet for the filming. In the event Geoff and John Moss (editor), David Wolfson (script and commentary), Jane Wolfson (project manager) and Anna Page (project leader) had the wonderful treat of hearing and seeing Jonathan explore the wide variety of sounds and tonal colours which the Willis organ can produce.
This is what Jonathan said to me just before we finished the recording session:
“Well the restoration has been a total success, it has given the instrument back its vigour, its life, it is certainly wonderful to play, very exciting to play and the addition of the prepared for stops of course we now have just completes the tonal palette beautifully so it’s absolutely first class.” Jonathan Kingston, 5 March 2016
Jonathan will be giving the inaugural organ concert on the newly restored Willis organ on 30th April 2016 at 7:30 pm with a programme that includes Widor, Bach and Handel – as Jonathan says "expect the Fireworks Suite and much more!" We'll be showing the DVD in the Parish Hall an hour before his concert and you can book for both events via Eventbrite.
Words and photos by Anna Page