Chapel Organ Refurbishment
The Strand Chapel's 150-year-old Father Willis Organ and pipes have recently undergone renovation to improve the sound. The organ was removed from the Chapel, renovated by specialists off-site and is now installed in Chapel.
The organ within the King’s Chapel was built in 1866 by the pre-eminent organ designer Father Henry Willis, shortly before he completed the new organs for the Royal Albert Hall, the Alexandra Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Although altered in 1932 and 1977, the organ still remains an integral part of the Chapel’s Grade I listed status and history. In 1932, the Chapel was substantially altered to accommodate the installation of an Anatomy laboratory above. This resulted in many of the organ pipes being rearranged in order to fit into the new space which impacted on the sound quality in the altered acoustic of the building. A further renovation in the 1970s extended the life of the organ however these alterations have now run their course and the organ sometimes malfunctions, disrupting rehearsals and services. Today’s advancement in materials offers the opportunity to make a substantial and long-term improvement to the state of the organ. The 2,500 pipes will be arranged to maximise their sound quality, whilst preserving as much of the original pipework as possible. The organ’s currently compromised musical identity is far from Willis’s original design, and we would like to restore the musical integrity to this object of historic and religious value.
The organ is as an important educational instrument for music students both at King’s and outside the university. In particular, our King’s Choral and Organ scholars receive the majority of their training from playing and singing with the organ which forms an integral part of their education. However, the organ’s frequent mechanical malfunctions mean that our students often have to adjust their performance repertoires at the last minute to accommodate a programme of purely unaccompanied songs. They also occasionally have to wait for the organ to be fixed during lessons and rehearsals. This regularly undermines their creativity and confidence in the organ. For our students, the organ renovation will provide a robust instrument to learn, practise and perform on, enriching their musical educations and elevating rehearsals and performances during services, concerts, recordings and broadcasts.
The Chapel’s timetable of activities saw nearly 10,000 people use or visit the Chapel within the last year and all of them will have experienced first-hand our exceptional music making environment. The Chapel holds a number of annual services in addition to the weekly timetable. One of the Chapel’s most popular services, the Advent Carols service, is a highlight within the liturgical year for many in the community. Beyond London, our national broadcast of Choral Evensong every year on BBC Radio 3 regularly reaches audiences of thousands. Unfortunately, recent concerts and broadcasts have necessitated having an engineer on hand to deal with any organ related problems during the transmission, and in 2016 we had to pre-record the broadcast rather than broadcasting live, because we could not rely on the instrument. Renovating the organ will elevate rehearsals and performances during services, concerts, recordings and broadcasts, and will also renew our once thriving concert series. It will allow us to once again become the venue of choice for amateur choirs and young developing musicians, performances for which there is a strong appetite amongst local residents. We will have more confidence in hosting external groups for whom the chapel and organ are very important, for example, Christian Aid holds a Thanksgiving service that is normally attended by around 250 attendees.