Pull out all the stops

On Saturday there was a free event at Reading Town Hall to celebrate the 150 year anniversary of the installation of the Father Willis Organ. Ten years ago the organ was in such disrepair that it was proposed by the council to scrap it. However a local resident said it would be a good idea to get a lottery grant to save and restore it back to its original condition. Having seen and heard the organ this was a very good idea indeed.I went to a talk given by the organ curator William McVicker. Where  he talked about the rich history of organs and got some of the children present to draw a timeline in chalk on the floor. The organ is called a ‘Father Willis’ because it was made in 1864 by Henry Willis who was such a prolific organ builder of the Victorian period he was known as ‘Father’ Willis and this is one of his ‘children’.He talked about organs originally being in churches. Small organs began to appear in people’s homes so that they could sing popular hymns that they had heard at church. In the Victorian period they also started to be installed in Town Halls and big spaces where people could go for light entertainment to listen to the pop music of the day being played.An organ works by blowing air up through the pipes which resonate to make the sound. The air would have originally been pumped by hand using bellows and it was not until later that mechanical pumps were developed. Then he explained the different sounds that the organ stops can make and got his assistant to pull them all out. It was so loud that I had to be peeled off the ceiling.http://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/collections/social-history/father-willis-organ/