The Organ Project here at Union Chapel ran from 2012 – 2015 to open up our recently restored organ to the local community and beyond through arts, music and education.
Featuring 3 packed days of new commissions, performances, workshops and installations. Watch this space for more info!
Union Chapel gratefully acknowledges support for this new festival from PRS for Music Foundation, Arts Council England, Cockayne Foundation/The London Community Foundation, Islington Business Design Centre and Bellanger.
This will continue some of the work begun by the Organ Project to performances to prove just how versatile the organ can be – that it is not simply a church instrument, but in fact the world’s first synthesizer which can be incorporated into most genres of music.
We bring our organ into the spotlight and challenge outdated preconceptions about it, by commissioning new works that explore its versatility in innovative and unexpected ways.
Who we are
In 2012 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded Union Chapel a generous grant to the completely restore our unique pipe organ: Durham organ builders Harrison & Harrison carried out the repairs in 2012-13, together with Duplex. The HLF grant also included funding to encourage an eclectic programme of organ performances, new compositions and educational activities for all – and so the Organ Project was launched.
This ambitious project came to an end in 2015 but 2016 will see the start of an exciting new festival.
About our Organ
The Organ at Union Chapel was designed and built specially for the size and acoustics of the new Chapel building in 1877 by master organ builder Henry “Father” Willis. It is undoubtedly one of the finest in the world.
Neither James Cubitt, the architect of the Chapel, nor Rev Henry Allon, the minister at the time, wanted the congregation to be distracted by the sight of an organ or organist: they wanted the music itself to be the focus during worship. So the organ is deliberately hidden away behind ornate screens under the rose window, which itself actually hints at the organ’s importance, with its depiction of eight angels all playing different musical instruments.
- It is one of just two organs left in the United Kingdom, and the only one in England, with a fully working original hydraulic (water powered) blowing system, which can be used as an alternative to the electric blowers.
- It has 3 manuals (the organ term for keyboards): swell, great and choral, plus full foot pedals. It has 37 speaking and 2 sound altering stops (these are the knobs on either side of the organ console). By drawing the stops, the player engages sets of pipes, which fall into various categories of sound quality – diapasons, strings, flutes, reeds – and at various pitches and volumes. There is also an enclosed swell organ with a mechanism for opening the box, thus controlling the volume.
- There are over 2000 pipes, ranging from the deepest at 16′ in length to the shortest at only a couple of inches!
- Henry Willis was one of the most celebrated organ builders of his day. He is often referred to as ‘Father Willis’ in recognition of his wide reputation and the fact that he has several family members who followed in his business. Our “Father Willis” is an historic organ and a fine example of its time, which enables organists to play music of the period in an authentic way using the stops that the composers would have had in mind.
What it was about
To demonstrate the organ’s versatility and encouraged new collaborations with the instrument we curate a range of events each year stretching across the genres in classical, choral, jazz, film, rock/pop, contemporary/experimental, sound art and much much more! Highlights included The Hilliard Ensemble, James McVinnie, Linnea Olsson, Phantom of the Opera, Rebekka Karijord, Small Feet and Valgeir Sigurðsson.
We also encouraged people who are performing at Union Chapel to incorporate the organ into their sets. Artists who have played the organ include Bernard Butler, Penguin Café, Rod Argent of The Zombies and Bill Lawrence. This work continues.
We also continue to host free organ recitals through out the year as part of the Open Wednesday Programme.
We ran a number of workshops and master-classes for children, university students and adults. These workshops provided an opportunity for people to learn about the organ through their chosen art form and are designed to enable people of all abilities to reach their full potential.
For primary school children in KS 2, years 3-6. Activities included incorporating the organ in Computer Music Composition, Acoustic Composition, the Science of Sound, Creative Writing and Physical Theatre.
Composition Masterclass Series
With organist Roger B Williams. These workshops aimed to inspire a new generation of composers to work with the organ. Participants to date have included students in the MA course in Studio Composition at Goldsmiths College and the MA course in Sound Art at London College of Communication.
These workshops were open to all and aim to give an introduction to beginners in Computer Music Composition, Instrument Building and Improvisation, as well as how the organ works.
The creation of new music of the highest artistic quality is at the heart of the Organ Project – past and present. We encourage artists/composers to take risks in developing new work, which pushes the boundaries of the traditional organ repertoire, with inspiring performances of the highest standard to increasingly wider audiences.
Our commitment to the creation of new music has already seen commissions from the following composers:
- Mara Carlyle
- Kim Cascone
- Carly Paradis
- Claire M Singer
- Arthur Jeffes
- Adam Jansch
- Pee Wee Ellis
- Max de Wardener
- James Weeks