Organ At Risk

Organ At Risk

Save our rare, historic, hydraulic powered organ.

After 146 years of dedicated service, urgent repairs are needed to save this important instrument, the future of innovative festival Organ Reframed – the only festival of its kind in the UK – plus continue to culturally enhance and teach children and disadvantaged groups.

 

So far you've helped us raise £66,890 out of £130,000 needed.

Every donation and share helps.

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Click here to skip to our February 2024 update.

WHAT HAPPENED?

Although the organ has been regularly cared for over the years, (including a complete restoration in 2012-13 by Durham’s prestigious organ builders Harrison and Harrison), a mechanical instrument of this vintage is incredibly vulnerable - not only from its ageing timbers but also from several other factors including regular use and changes in temperature and humidity.

Through regular observation, since the restoration there have been no concerning conditions which have posed threat to the stability of the instrument, however with the building temperature dramatically dropping during the forced closure during the pandemic, followed by the increasingly dry hot summers, Union Chapel have experienced climate activity never seen before.

In the winter of 2022, because of these extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity a significant crack appeared across the Swell section of the organ, causing this part of the instrument to become unplayable. The majority of Chapel’s organ activities have been on hold since then, including its world-famous festival Organ Reframed, until this part of the organ is dismantled and repaired at Harrison & Harrison’s workshop in Durham. On its return a humidifier will be installed to combat these unknown future changes in weather due to our climate crisis.

“After regular observation and meticulous care of the organ since the restoration in 2012-13, it is heartbreaking to see our historic gem suffer damage from the period when I was unable to monitor conditions so closely. After pausing the organ programme this year to concentrate on submitting urgent funding applications, we now desperately need help from the public to make sure we can proceed with the repair so that the organ programme and festival can resume, and the organ can continue to play its central role in the Chapel for generations to come.” - Claire M Singer, Music Director of the Organ

 

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OUR ORGAN'S LEGACY - Cultural and Educational Innovation

The organ has always been at the heart of the Chapel’s music making, inspiring their voice as a community through regular services, concerts and recitals. People have travelled to visit the organ from all over the world and within the organ community it is often referred to as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of organs.  In 2012 the Chapel appointed award winning composer Claire M Singer as Music Director of the Organ. Claire has since built the Chapel’s highly praised organ programme of education and performance providing a smooth and supported path from childhood to professional organ performance and composition of all genres. During the Covid19 pandemic the programme was redesigned and continued online where needed, providing many with a positive focus throughout the various lockdowns.  

In addition to the annual organ programme, Claire founded the world-famous Organ Reframed festival in 2016 - the only festival of its kind in the UK -and later a record label featuring all new commissions for organ and the London Contemporary Orchestra inviting artists to write works which broaden the current repertoire and push the boundaries of experimental music.  Past commissions include Éliane Radigue, Chris Watson, Low, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Craig Armstrong, Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Since its conception the festival has also travelled to Amsterdam and Moscow gaining worldwide international appeal.  

Between the annual programme and the festival, Union Chapel has worked with over 3500 school children, provided over 530 free organ lessons to schools and supported composers of all ages and abilities to produce over 140 new works amongst the many other annual opportunities on offer.   Union Chapel continues to culturally enhance and teach children and disadvantaged groups, continuing its 146 years of dedicated service to the arts, inspiration, and re-invention.

“It’s really important to not only embrace the historic organ repertoire but also help it to grow. Access to the instrument can be tricky and as Organ Director I feel it is important to offer opportunities to composers and performers (early stages, emerging and established). I do this by encouraging them to spend time with the instrument – through free lessons, workshops and master-classes, take risks, push the boundaries of the current repertoire and continue to celebrate this wonderful instrument. As an artist myself I continue to be fully committed to supporting my younger peers, nurturing their talent and providing an artistic space for them to evolve. To have the opportunity to build on the organ’s rich history and bring it to the attention of a new generation is incredibly exciting” - Claire M Singer, Music Director of the Organ

“As a band, we are currently writing and recording, experimenting with new voices and extremes. We are very excited about the chance to compose something new – something that will challenge us and allow us to further explore Union Chapel which we have loved for so long.”  – Alan Sparhawk (Low) 2017

 

WHEN? Updated Feb 2024

Thank you so much for supporting our organ appeal. Your generosity shows how important the fight is for the future of music heritage and innovation. 

We're extremely grateful to our funders Pilgrim Trust, Benefact Trust, Cockayne Foundation, London Community Foundation, and Friends of Union Chapel, and to you and other individual supporters.

We've not quite reached our target to start work in January 2024 so we've been forced to delay the repairs whilst we push for further funds. All is not lost - your donations are vital for the repair to take place as soon as possible - and we're keeping the appeal open for more donations until we hit our target.

As we persist in our efforts to ensure the organ's repair at the earliest opportunity, our commitment to providing free education for all ages will continue throughout 2024, however we must delay the return of Organ Reframed and our recital series whilst the swell section of the organ remains unreliable. We hope you'll join us in celebration once we're able to host our recital series and world-renowned festival once more. 

Rest assured we will continue the fight to save our rare 1877 Father Willis organ with your invaluable support. 

"Sadly, we must postpone the organ repair due to unanticipated delays in funding outcomes and the current extremely competitive demand for funds in London. Nonetheless, I am utterly amazed by the kindness of everyone who has contributed and messaged me in support; it really does mean a lot. The battle is far from finished; we'll keep the appeal open and continue to look for further funding so we can proceed as soon as possible." (Claire M Singer, Music Director of the Organ)

 

Press Support for Our Organ Appeal

"I'm very fond of Union Chapel, many of us are... I think its a fantastic story and its a wonderful venue and I really hope you get your problems sorted out" - Robert Elms from BBC Radio London interview with Claire here starting 2:12:50.

Hear about the devastating moment the crack was discovered and what it means in this BBC Radio London interview from 1:25:18.

"It's quite a task, but I'm up for the challenge!" Watch Claire's interview on London Live here for a deeper dive into the damage and repair plans.

 

DONATE

KEEP UP TO DATE WITH OUR TARGET by signing up for Heritage updates here or follow our socials @unionchapeluk