Our usual accompanist had made all the practicing arrangements with the organist, but due to her sudden illness was not with us (see “A Fond Remembrance”), and her records were not available. And the Minster organist had taken the weekend off! So on Monday morning I was rather nervous about our first service, as I had not even seen the organ yet!
After knocking around a while trying to figure out how to get the organ key to at least have a look at the console, I gave up and just explored the very quiet Minster (including the wonderful crypt, dating to Roman times), before it was officially open.
Most English cathedrals, large churches or even chapels place their organ consoles up in a loft, which can be quite a distance from choir and conductor. Both the case containing the pipes and the console are together, but away from everything else. Pipes and keys had to be close together until the invention of electricity.
This was true for York and Beverley, and you’ve probably seen pictures of Westminster Abbey and King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The organist watches the conductor through a mirror or by closed-circuit television, or the old-fashioned way with an assistant watching the conductor and beating time for the organist.
Later that morning I saw a large console down in the nave, and figured out that it was very likely identical to the main instrument upstairs, but used on Sunday mornings so the organist can be on the same level as the others. I got permission to just sit on the bench and take some notes—getting some strange looks from some tourists and clergy, but I just smiled and ignored them! This proved to be invaluable, as the layout of these two consoles was different from anything I’d seen—very different!