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Organ Recital at Holy Trinity Cathedral

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As part of the 2018 Auckland Heritage Festival, we were pleased to join with Holy Trinity Cathedral for a delightful event in St Mary’s church.  Dr Philip Smith, the Cathedral organist, gave a presentation followed by a programme of organ music culminating in Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4.

In his address, Philip told us about the organs in St Mary’s.  The small original organ was powered by water – the air was produced by two paddles turned by the stream of water.  This was a very wasteful method with the water going down the drain and the locals complained as the water pressure dropped dramatically every time there was a service in the church!  After WWI electricity was used to power the organ.

The current organ was built in 1909 by Auckland organ builder, George Croft.  The metal pipes for the organ were brought over from England and the wooden pipes were made here.  In the 1980’s, the ivory keys were replaced with plastic, but these have now been replaced again with cow bone.  When it was built it was the largest organ in Auckland.  At that time and without access to radio broadcasts, it was difficult for people to enjoy full orchestral concerts.  Thus the organ could give renditions of orchestral music to be enjoyed by all.

2018 AGM – Presentations given

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We met on the evening of Thursday 13th September for our Thirteenth AGM at the delightful Quality Hotel in Gladstone Road.  With nearly forty people attending, Co-Chair Mary Barry gave her report and after the formal part of the meeting, we welcomed David McGregor, Chairman Te Araroa Trust (The National Pathway).  Established to honour those New Zealanders who served overseas in WWI, David spoke about The Fields of Remembrance Trust and outlined the work done, especially with schools.  Nearly 80,000 white crosses have been supplied to 2,531 Primary and Secondary schools and mini white crosses were supplied to 4,600 Early Childhood Centres with the aim of informing and inspiring younger generations.

David spoke about the plans for The Domain to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day when a Field of over 18,000 white crosses will be established, each bearing the name of a man or woman who died in the conflict.  The Field will be below the Court of Honour and Cenotaph in front of Auckland War Memorial Museum and will be on display from 22nd October to 21st November 2018.  A separate Brothers’ Field will be established by the lone Gallipoli Pine to commemorate those families who lost more than one son or daughter.  There will be light boxes to talk people through the various aspects of the War.  The Service of Remembrance will be held at 11am on Sunday 11th November 2018.

Mr Bill McKay, BArch Hons, Senior Lecturer, School of Architecture and Planning, University of Auckland, gave us an in-depth look at war memorials through the years.  The Crimean War and the US Civil War were the first modern wars when news of the carnage suffered was spread directly to the public, thus triggering the war memorials.  The first memorial was built in London in 1861 for the fallen in the Crimean War. In New Zealand, the memorials commemorated the fallen in the South African wars, WWI and WWII, the memorials to the Land Wars in NZ occurring later, about 15 years post Boer War.

The first Auckland cenotaph was a temporary structure made of wood and plaster, a scaled-down replica of the cenotaph designed by Edward Lutyens in Whitehall, and first erected in front of the Auckland Town Hall in time for Anzac Day 1922.  The permanent cenotaph, the plans for which were drawn up by Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, was also a replica of the Whitehall cenotaph, but this time was set on a foundation of Coromandel granite and was constructed of concrete faced with Portland stone.

Utilitarian, or ‘living’, memorials were encouraged in New Zealand, where people can walk in each day and remember their dead.  There are many War Memorial halls, libraries, hospitals, bridges, swimming pools, parks, maraes and school entrances, that continue to serve this purpose.  It was hoped that these places would prevent future wars and encourage peace through a sense of community.  The first Labour government donated a ‘pound for pound’ subsidy to encourage this process.      

Medical Transport from Yesteryear!

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A most enjoyable afternoon was held at the Selwyn Library on 1st October 2017 when representatives from AFS and St John brought artefacts used to ferry the sick and injured in the past.

Nina Crawford Spoke about the American Field Service organisation.  This started in WWI when American soldiers, some in their teens, wanted to help, and the volunteers continued during WWII in Burma, India, Egypt, etc.  In 1947 Stephen Velatti, a volunteer, wanted to see more arise from the War service and called a meeting of ‘tinkers and drinkers’.  To form a legacy for the future they set up the student exchange programme which is now 70 years old.  The programme started with US hosting students from nine different countries, NZ being one of these right at the start.

At the 50th anniversary of AFS it was decided to restore an ambulance as an icon, and in 1995 a 1917 truck was restored as a replica of an ambulance.  This was launched in 1997 in Invercargill and driven/shipped right up to Kaitaia.

Four young German people arranged for the ambulance to be shipped to Hamburg for the German celebrations – they worked for the Ford Motor Company who sponsored it and donated the scholarship for NZ students.  The ambulance has travelled up and down NZ for the past many years.  The person driving the vehicle needs special skills as there is no gear lever but plenty of pedals!

AFS is the oldest and largest exchange company in the world.

Guy Marks then spoke about the Order of St John which can be traced back to 1099.  Gerard the Blessed started a hospice to help the needy, sick and injured.  In 1880’s St John in the United Kingdom was almost lost, but the French Order of St John encouraged people to continue.  The main purpose is to teach first aid.  In 1885 St John doctors arrived in NZ to teach first aid, and those who learnt it formed groups that became the St John Ambulance Brigade.  In 1920 St John started to get involved with ambulances and by 1932 had taken over responsibility for ambulances in Auckland.

Peter, a retired ambulance driver, described what it is like to drive an ambulance.  In the early days, the vehicles were Austin Elans and had to be crank-started and there were no front brakes.  The next make used was Buick, and a number of different makes have been used through the ages (Daimler, Dodges, Chev Sierro – 170km/hr easily up the Bombays!, DAF Leyland – the worst vehicles to drive, Mercedes Benz, Rolls Royce).  The tyres gradually improved to give a more comfortable ride until finally air tyres were used.  During the War mudguards were painted white so that they could be seen at night.  Frames and panels were aluminium to keep the weight down.  Women drivers started in 1982.  The new yellow/black colour scheme was introduced in 2015.  Ambulances cover 100,000 km in the city before going to rural areas for a further 4-500,000 km, and then they are decommissioned.

The Ashford Litter was so called as it was produced by a doctor from Ashford in Kent in 1906.  It cost 2s/6d for each ‘ride’ carrying people up to Auckland Hospital.

 

2017 AGM – and the new Cathedral organ

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Andrew Moyes (above), Managing Director of Nicholson & Co., UK, gave a fascinating presentation on Holy Trinity’s new organ at our recent AGM.

Nicholson & Co. was founded in 1841 (same as Parnell!!).  The founder, John Nicholson, died in 1895 and Andrew is the seventh Managing Director in 175 years.  Nicholson & Co. is one of three firms in the UK capable of building large organs of the scale of Holy Trinity’s.

How do they design and build such a large organ?  It is rare to have the opportunity to design a brand-new cathedral organ.  On the strength of their organ design for the Llandaff Cathedral in Wales, they were invited to Auckland in 2012 to give a proposal for the new organ.  Andrew accompanied by their Tonal Director, who designs specifically for the acoustics, came out.  Originally there was a bridge in the cathedral which broke the building into two parts.  So, Andrew saw a great opportunity for the organ to be built in the space where the bridge was, a perfect space in the middle of the building.

Organ builders have two criteria:

  • it is a musical instrument so sound is paramount
  • it is a huge piece of furniture so how it looks is very important.

If the organ is put in a chamber, it cannot be heard properly.  So, the pipes need to be in a position where the congregation can see them and receive the high frequencies of sound, from the smaller pipes, clearly.  The big pipes (32’ long) give low frequency sound which will spread well everywhere and thus may be hidden.  In the Holy Trinity these two aspects came together very well with excellent acoustics and visuals.

The original organ in the cathedral was placed where it was difficult to be heard and hence needed to ‘shout’ which was not good, ie it had to be played with more force and would lose the finer nuances.  They employed a Frenchman, Didier Grassin, who worked for an American organ building company, and he came up with a very ingenious design without visiting the building placing the organ where the two parts of the building collide: the more austere 1930’s design and the Maori-inspired nave.  This has changed completely the cathedral’s interior.

How is the organ built?  It took 20 months to build.  It was so large it would not fit into the factory so was built in three sections and only came together in Auckland.  It took 6 months to install, two teams of four men in 6 week relays.  The final installation took place at the beginning of 2017 and it was finished at Easter.

What are the components of the organ?  There are 5,432 pipes ranging from the biggest at 32’ long to the smallest that is the size of one’s little finger.  The biggest pipe is made of wood and weighs two-thirds of a tonne and is built in three sections.  This organ is the biggest to have been built in the UK for 63 years.  The organ weighs 40 tonnes.  It was packed into seven 40’ containers which were loaded into the ex-refrigerator holds of the ships to give extra protection.

There are two consoles, where the organist sits, one on top of the transept and the other is a mobile console that can be wheeled around.  The connection from the consoles to the pipes is digital.  The sound itself is air blown through the pipes.  The air is generated by six electric blowers.

The Holy Trinity organ is the largest musical instrument in New Zealand and the largest organ in Australasia.  Why is it so big?  This is due to the acoustic space and to give a large tonal palette.  The bigger the organ the greater the variety of tonality.  The Auckland organ is very versatile and has an enormous repertoire of performance potential.