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Page last updated at 16:13 GMT, Friday, 9 July 2010 17:13 UK
St Edmundsbury Cathedral's new organ taking shape
By Andrew Woodger
BBC Suffolk

The organ at St Edmundsbury Cathedral
James Thomas takes a look at the completed keyboards

St Edmundsbury Cathedral's new organ should be ready by November 2010.

The project, which is costing nearly £1m, involves rebuilding the organ from scratch and providing two ornate casings to cover the organ loft.

The instrument has around 3,500 pipes which are operated electronically using wind reservoirs and bellows.

"It's had to take a back seat as other projects have come along, but now it's the organ's turn," said James Thomas, director of music at St Edmundsbury.

"What you see of the organ is really the tip of the iceberg. There's a huge amount of mechanical things going on behind the scenes.

"We've been extremely fortunate in having a number of large donations from all sorts of people and charitable trusts."

The project is being paid for wholly by private funds rather than the public purse. The old organ was removed in January.

"It was put together in 1970 and was becoming very unreliable," said James. "We felt it could be better spaced out and laid out in terms of it 'speaking' efficiently into the building.

"This organ has got to fulfil a variety of functions including the quietest accompaniments for psalms, fanfares to usher in the Lord Lieutenant down the nave and big hymns.

"And we want to attract lots of first-rate recitalists to come and play it. It's certainly going to be well-built enough to do all of that.

"So we thought let's do the whole thing properly rather than piecemeal.

"We're reusing about 30% of the pipework but otherwise everything else is entirely new."

The organ at St Edmundsbury Cathedral
Geoff Pollard in the wiring room in the organ loft

The organ builders

The organ loft is reached via a 39-step spiral stone staircase.

"A lot of it is based on old technology but using modern systems," said Geoff Pollard of organ builders Harrison & Harrison.

"We get a tremendous sense of achievement and pride in our work. Cathedral organs are always special and they usually sound fantastic.

"The sound seems to carry a lot better in cathedrals.

"As far as other projects go, we're currently working in Westminster Central Hall, we're going to be doing some work in the Royal Festival Hall and we've got plenty of other little projects on the go.

"I'm not an organist, but some members of the team are. We test them and know which notes should do what and how quick they should play.

"We have a specialist voicer who comes along once the organ is installed and he'll tune the organ and sit and listen to every single pipe and make sure it 'speaks' correctly."

Rob Maybank working on St Edmundsbury Cathedral's organ casings
Rob Maybank at work painting the quatrefoils for the organ casing

Interior decorators

The job of building and painting the two organ cases is being carried out by Campbell Smith & Company. The wooden cases are roughly 10m x 7m each and it takes around 10 weeks to paint each one.

"I'm the sixth generation in my family to do this work and I've been taught on site by my father and grandfather - the best training I can have!" said Rob Maybank, architectural interior decorator with the firm.

"The hardest part is marking and the working out. Everything is hand-done.

"It's job satisfaction to sit here and think I helped create that.

"It's a great history that this country has and it's nice to be able to keep on this tradition of keeping them renovated to their former glory."

The project should be completed in time for Advent Sunday on 28 November 2010, but there won't be a grand unveiling on that day.

"We're not going to make a fanfare about it," said James Thomas.

"We're going to run it in like a car, treat it gently and make sure it's all working properly and then have some celebratory events next year to mark it."

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