York Minster's Grand Organ set to find its voice again in final phase of major restoration project
Now, as a major project to bring it back to glory enters its final phase, a critical reconciliation process begins.
The organ, one of the largest in the country with more than 5,000 pipes, is being gifted its musical voice in readiness for its return.
The painstaking process of ‘voicing’ has begun, in the hope that its resounding song can ring out once again by the spring.
Andrew Scott, director at specialist firm Harrison and Harrison which is carrying out the work, is head voicer for the project to restore the Grand Organ.
“Voicing is the name given to the process that happens once in a generation when an organ is given its musical personality,” he said.
“In many ways, it is a similar sounding process to regular tuning, but whereas tuning is the correction of pitch, voicing alters the physical parameters of each pipe, such as the tone and volume.”
The process to voice the organ is the final stage of a £2m refurbishment project and is done entirely by ear. It is hoped it can be completed by March.
Each pipe in the organ – which range from the size of a pencil to 10m long – plays an individual note, and the voicer’s job is to ensure all the pipes in each stop are playing the right pitch, tone and volume.
“Rather like a choir director moulds the ensemble from the individual voices assembled in the choir, the voicer’s art is to ensure all of the pipes in each stop are speaking harmoniously to create the tonal architecture of the organ’s ensemble,” said Mr Scott.
The organ, which weighs around 20,000kg and contains 5,403 pipes, was removed from the Minster in October 2018 for cleaning, repair and replacement of its parts. It is the first time a project of this scale has been undertaken on the instrument since the last major refurbishment in 1903.
Another part of the final stage of the project is the cleaning of the newly-revealed Pulpitum, known as the Kings’ Screen – the 15th century stone screen which separates the cathedral’s Quire from its Nave.
The Pulpitum features 15 stone statues of medieval monarchs, and conservation experts are using museum grade vacuum cleaners and brushes to clean years of dirt and dust from the detailed carvings.
The screen was revealed again last month after it was surrounded by scaffolding for two years.
Alex McCallion, York Minster’s director of works and precinct, said: “We’re thrilled the work on this once-a-century project is entering its final stages, allowing us to see the beautiful detail of the Pulpitum unveiled again and start to hear the pipes play again for the first time in more than two years.”