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The Organ Project

Organic Update

Praise the Lord that we now at last have a wonderfully renovated Father Willis organ.  It has been a long process but the results are better than I dared hope, and thanks to Michael Farley and his excellent organ-building team we have achieved a great synthesis of old and new.  The wonderful romantic sounds from the foremost organ builder of the Victorian period have been retained – now made all the more versatile, dependable and serviceable having been wedded with twenty-first century control technology.  I am certain that Father Willis, with his innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, would have thoroughly approved.

As eminent organists both local and from further afield have visited ‘New Father Willis’, I have been pleased to compile a little list of their reactions and comments.  ‘Spectacular’, ‘magnificent’, ‘terribly impressive’, ‘beautiful’, ‘jolly good’, ‘very colourful’ ‘very comfortable to play’ to quote a small selection!  We have been delighted with bigger-than-expected turnouts (some much bigger!) at all the celebration events last autumn.  This year we are hoping to build on this success, not only by making great use of the full range of the organ in worship (as recently in our Queen’s Accession Choral Evensong) but also in a series of Tea Concerts on Saturday (or occasionally Sunday) afternoons.  We are currently finalising a list of concerts with organ and other instruments, approximately one per month, to be given in aid of the tower.  Watch this space!

Miles Quick
(February 2020)

Organic extravaganza at St Mary Magdalene Church!

The renowned Father Willis organ at Saint Mary Magdalene Church, built by the foremost organ builder of the Victorian period, Henry Willis, has recently benefited from a complete renovation. The rich romantic sounds can now be heard in their full glory and with new versatility, thanks to a new and state-of-the-art computerised control system. Father Willis, who was a great innovator, would have loved it!

The results have been spectacularly successful, and during the autumn there will be a series of concerts featuring ‘New Father Willis’ beginning with a Gala Celebration Popular Concert to celebrate the organ’s renewal on Saturday 12th October at 7.30 pm. The event will be hosted by BBC Somerset’s Charlie Taylor, and led musically by Miles Quick, St Mary Magdalene’s Director of Music.  The church choir will be augmented by other local singers, with the newly renovated Father Willis Organ featuring Andrew Carter, John Bodiley, Julia Steward, Ed Jenkins, Stephen Bell, Miles Quick  Organists, and additional sparkle will come from a brass quintet and timpani.  Choral items will include the two most famous and celebratory coronation anthems, Handel’s “Zadok The Priest”, and Hubert Parry’s “I Was Glad”. There will also be a chance to hear Finzi’s “God Is Gone Up”, which, like the Parry, features a restrained middle section, and gives an opportunity to hear the organ in quieter mode. Since the organ is primarily a church instrument, there will be a couple of rousing hymns for everyone, and local players who have contributed to music in the area will play some popular solos.  Excellent refreshments will be served and there will be a retiring collection, since admission will be free.

The following weekend on Sunday 20th of October James Lancelot, formerly Director of Music and Organist of Durham Cathedral, will give a celebrity organ recital at 3 pm, followed by tea. At 5 pm there will be a short service entitled ‘Why is our organ essential?’ led by the Revd Dennis Cavaghan and including a dedication moment for the organ. Great pieces of the organ repertoire will be featured along with their spiritual significance, and rousing hymns for all!

Other autumn concerts featuring the organ will include at 3 pm on Saturday 23rd November a lecture-recital on Elgar by Andrew Millington (formerly Director of Music at Exeter Cathedral), and at 3 pm on Sunday 8th December a concert by Somerset County Orchestra conducted by David Hedges including a Handel organ concerto with Miles Quick as soloist.

Please do come and hear the re-born organ, christened by none other than Mozart, as ‘The King of Instruments’.  We hope that – together with the recently renewed set of 15 bells in the church tower –the St Mary Magdalene instrument will be a great cultural resource for the whole Taunton area!

Listings for the Organ Renovation Celebrations, Autumn 2019



  • For general information about the organ at Taunton Minster please click.
  • For a short video featuring our Music Director, Miles Quick, putting our Father Willis organ magnificently through its paces and explaining what renovation work needs to be done, please click.
  • For an inspirational background article by John Bodiley on the Taunton Minster Organ:  ‘From the purring of a cat to the roaring of a lion’ please click.

Introduction to the Renovation Project

With many decades since the last overhaul the organ is now exhibiting many of the frailties of age, and our fundraising campaign for a total renovation which will allow it to continue providing an inspiring support to the music of worship is currently in its final stages.  Like all machines, an organ will wear, and become less responsive as it gets older. Though it still sounds splendid, our Willis organ is in a very fragile state. It is to be hoped that the money will be found – at St. Mary Magdalene and by fundraising in the wider community – to restore this wonderful and historic instrument to good health, so that it can lead worship and musical events in Taunton for many years to come – and be fit for purpose in the 21st Century!

Our 'Father Willis' Organ

Our ‘Father Willis’ Organ


How does the organ support the church’s work and the community of Taunton – what is it used for?

o   regular weekly, Sunday and Festival worship accompanying the large adult and children’s choirs of the church and the enthusiastically-singing congregation

o   Civic services incorporating eg 40 Commando, Mayoral & Council inaugurations

o   Weddings, funerals

o   large-scale events where a large space is needed (Taunton Minster is the biggest capacity space in Taunton easily accommodating 600 plus people)

o   Concerts by local choral groups – eg Taunton Choral Society, Amici, Phoenix and In Ecclesia choirs, Taunton Deane Male Voice Choir

o   Concerts by internationally famous groups eg recently  The Tallis Scholars, The Sixteen, The Gabrieli Choir, The BBC Singers (cond. Eric Whitacre)

o   A properly renovated and fully working instrument will give great new possibilities for the expansion of teaching young people to play the organ and thus to support the  life of the church with their talents.  Two of our young choristers (currently budding pianists) have already expressed a wish to learn to play the organ when our renovation is completed;  the aim will be to attract more people (young and not so young) to learn and increase their skills on ‘the King of Instruments’ (which is what Mozart famously called the organ).

What work needs to be done?

Following a detailed report from Ian Bell, one of this country’s foremost authorities in these matters, recommendations were made which may be summarised as follows:

  • The action needs to be renewed
  • The slider soundboards need to be made free of ‘runnings’ and wind leaks
  • The console needs to be renewed and updates with modern digital systems of memory for the piston system
  • Most of the ageing leatherwork needs to be replaced
  • The pipework, all by Willis, needs to be cleaned and repaired
  • Minor alterations to the layout and specification are proposed to bring out the best in the instrument to meet the demands made on it in the 21st Century
  • An upgraded CCTV system is needed to replace the current outdated system, giving the organist the ability to see clearly the conductor and other relevant proceedings in relevant parts of the church
  • In order to go some way to overcoming the problems with the location and projection of the organ into the nave, a discreet sound reinforcement system is envisaged. This will use a high quality amplification system similar to that installed as part of the renovation of the organ (by Nicholson’s of Malvern) in the large Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge.

How much will it cost?

  • This work is estimated to cost approximately £250,000. This is a large sum ( organ contains many precision hand-made parts and pipes of multifarious sizes and designs which all have their role to play – like the many members of the church!) and yet the cost will not reduce with time but increase.
  • The organ renovation fund already has in it a substantial part of this money (the total currently stands at about £163,000) – so we are hoping that a final major push will soon get us up to the required figure, following the recent completion of our highly successful Bells of St Mary’s project. This saw 15 new bells and a new carillon system installed into our tower to ring out good news over Taunton (the highest church tower in Somerset – a county of particularly fine towers – and recently described by Simon Jenkins of The Times as ‘the noblest parish tower in England’).
  • We are currently continuing to apply for grant funding to help get us up to the total amount, in addition to fundraising events such as the recent ‘Last Hurrah BBQ’, the ‘Wired to Create’ concert by Taunton Choral Society joined with our own church choir in glorious harmony, the forthcoming performance of the musical Apostle by our children’s choir, and the programme of ‘Organic Appetisers’ planned for the autumn.

How can I help?

  • Please send a cheque made payable to Taunton Minster PCC (Organ Fund) to The Treasurer, Taunton Minster Church Office, Church Square, Taunton TA1 1SA
  • Please ‘Sponsor a Pipe’ or make a donation using our Organ Restoration Fund donation form available here, or see below.
  • Alternatively, if you would like to make a donation online, you can do so at our MyDonate page.
  • Please attend one of our fundraising events and recitals* or ‘Organic Appetisers’. 

So what is so special about the organ? 

  • For an inspirational background article by John Bodiley on the Taunton Minster Organ:  ‘From the purring of a cat to the roaring of a lion’ please click.