New Year and new organ to replace church’s 104-year-old instrument

A STATE-OF-THE-ART organ will be built for a town church to replace one that has been inside it for more than 100 years.

The instrument will be crafted specifically for St John’s Church in Station Road, Boxmoor, and will cost about £400,000.

Once complete, the new organ’s 1,913 pipes will take up half of the space in a room next to the church alter.

Vicar James Reveley said: “When people come here for their weddings, baptisms and funerals, they will hear the organ.

“It will hopefully last for more than 100 years – so really we’re just spending £4,000 each year on it.”

The largest and deepest-sounding pipe will be 16 feet long and the smallest, most high-pitched pipe just a couple of inches.

There will be a sponsorship scheme, where children can pay to have a small pipe dedicated to them.

Nicholas King, the main church organist, said: “We regard it as an investment for future generations.”

The church’s present organ was the second created by retired army captain Lindsay Garrard.

It was placed in the church in 1906 before Mr Garrard moved to south west England to set up an unsuccessful yachting company that left him bankrupt.

The organ is not the great instrument it once was, and several of its keys no longer work.

Nicholas, director of music for the 136-year-old church, said: “Some of the organ’s faults are permanent and some just come on from time to time.

“You can never know quite what’s going to happen when you play.”

Church-goer and avid organ fan Alan Munford said more simply: “It’s more than 100 years old and it’s falling to bits.

“It’s served its day, so this year we will be ripping it out and replacing it.”

The organ will be used for the last time on March 6 this year before it is scrapped and its useable parts are sold on.

From March to the start of July, the new organ will be built in a factory before it is brought to its new home.

Then builders will spend nine weeks installing the organ’s gargantuan network of pipes, followed by four weeks dedicated to tuning each of them.

By September, it will be up-and-running and a dedication mass for the new instrument is planned for November 20.

Nicholas said: “Each pipe has to produce a satisfactory blend with all the others, so it can be played well whether the church is full or empty.”

The organ is designed specifically to produce the best sound to fit the church’s shape and size.

Nicholas said: “We want an instrument that’s not just used on Sundays, but can be used by the whole community.

“Since the closure of the Pavillion, a lot of people do come here for their concerts. We have a very clean, clear space here, and the sound carries well.”

The 104-year-old organ was played at its last major concert on January 8, where Nicholas and two sopranos performed work by the classical greats to celebrate the New Year.

Rev Reveley said: “Because we have a lot of concerts here, we want to have an instrument that’s suitable.”

Nicholas King, who is director of music for St John’s, has been playing the organ since he was 10. He is now 61 – but he says he is still learning the finer techniques of playing the instrument.

Nicholas said: “I have always known I wanted to get into organ playing, choir training and church music.”

Nicholas was playing hymns by the age of 12 or 13 and performed for his first church service at 15.

He won an organ scholarship to Cambridge University’s Trinity College at 18 and became director of music for Hemel Hempstead School in 1979.

Nicholas was then chief examiner for Trinity College, where he stayed until he began working as an examiner on a freelance basis in 2002.

He has played at St John’s Church for about five years.

Anyone interested in learning to play the organ should phone the church on 01442 255382.

> For a video report of church preparations for the new organ, visit www.hemeltoday.co.uk.