Sunday, 27 February 2011

There appears to be a slight humidity problem...

When I returned from my foreign adventures, I was lucky enough to be called within a few days of my return, with an offer of a one Sunday out of four job playing the organ in my local church.* Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. After having to play five Sundays out of four for a while, I was certainly up for a job which involved less commitment. I was also overjoyed to have the keys to get in and play the thing once again.

However, all was not well. A few weeks into the preliminary period of my appointment, which mostly just involved getting keys and certainly didn't involve any actual playing of the organ (I was to start in January), the wall at the side of the church, the one which stopped other people's gardens from coming into church,** started to lean in a more exaggerated fashion than usual. Unfortunately, the pipe which carries the gas to the church's heating system runs along this wall. In a moment of brilliance, the PCC (or the architect, or somebody else quite important) decided to turn off the gas to avert a potential explosion.

This cunning plan may have saved the church and the people who live next door to it, but it did come with the disadvantage of making the church itself unusable for a congregation who does not like the idea of frostbite. As a result of the congregation's liking for maintaining body temperature within a range which can sustain life, all services have been moved to the church hall, underneath the church. In addition, they bought several new gas heaters. This means that church services currently take place in a cozy place, in the warm. I expect it has done wonders for the congregation's togetherness - everything is very close. The people even have to sit by each other. No empty rows here!

The organists' fingers are able to move, too. It's a great feeling, turning up to play and not going blue at any point, and on any part of the anatomy. Sometimes, I like to take off my scarf. I always take off my coat. I have even been known to remove my jumper. The piano lives next to a heater, which is lovely for one of us (hint: not the piano).

I am sure that you are currently feeling a bit concerned about what is going on in that big, cold, empty church at the moment. Let me tell you: damp. The humidity level regularly makes it up to 80%, and 91% is not unrecorded.

As I have a one-track mind, I confess that I am not worried about any part of the church, with one exception: the organ. The poor thing has spent so many days wet to the touch, and things started to drop off. Literally. So far, only one disc of ivory which was used to label the stop, but imagine if more had come off! We'd have to work out which label belonged on which stop. Too much like hard work. Additionally, bits of the organ stopped working, and bits started to work a lot better than they had done in the past. The Swell trumpet, for example, comes on more frequently than it is selected, and goes off less frequently. It is showing real dedication to the whole "being on" thing. This displeases us less during loud playing than during quiet playing. It can have a disruptive effect during quiet playing.

It all came to a head the day after I bought a humidity reader. The readings horrified myself, the organist, and my boss. Action was to be taken immediately. We put plastic sheeting round all openings to the organ, and installed three dehumidifiers, which have little heaters in them.

The installation of the sheeting was an adventure. The thing about big organs is that they are big, with vast swathes of fragile, expensive bits, just waiting to be squashed by an unsuspecting foot. The first hole we had to cover was the one at the front of the organ. It went about 3.5m in the air, at the level of the upper floor of the organ. (Yes, my organ is on two levels. Two big levels.) In order to poke it into the place where it needed to be, we used large bamboo canes. I am sure that scaffolding would have been easier, but where would have been the fun in that? Once the bamboo canes had been secured in place, the rest was easier. The console only needed a ladder, a staple gun, a knife and some tape. Don't worry - the stapling all took place where nobody but the very tallest person will be able to see it. It will all come out in the end.

When this was in place, we had to get a dehumidifier or three to dry the place out. This would have been easier had the shop had them in stock. I had to delegate that particular role. One has been installed at the console; the other two inside the organ itself. They get moved every day, when they are emptied. They only have a 6l capacity for holding water, so they need to be emptied every day. Except for the one that doesn't work. That doesn't need emptying at all, ever. I think it's going back tomorrow.

So, someone needs to go there daily to empty and move the dehumidifiers. It's certainly a good incentive to practise - may as well get some in while one is there. Also, the plastic sheeting round the console keeps it at what passes for a reasonable temperature when one is in a church. It's possible to move one's fingers, and everything! On the minus side, it is a bit windy with the dehumidifier. Keeps blowing the pages.

There's a recital on 8th May. By that time, the organ needs to be in tune and working. The dehumidifiers have a lot of work to do! And that's just the beginning....

*This is because it is the church I used to attend before I left to go to University. The organist knew me then, and still knows me know. In addition to this, he really wanted to take the occasional Sunday off. The speed with which he contacted me does not, alas, reflect the quality of my playing.

**Jesus did not have a mission to save gardens. So they can just jolly well stop trying to fall onto our land through some large, heavy sandstones piled several metres high to keep them in their place. Gardens, know your limits!