Wadham in Objects: The 1878 Willis Organ

16th November 2015


The history, mechanics and renovation of Wadham’s Willis Organ were discussed by expert speakers at the latest ‘Wadham in Objects’ event.

  • Organ pipes

Mathematician Dr David Hewett (Queen’s), Facilities and Estates Manager Christopher Daw (Wadham) and Director of Chapel Music Dr Katharine Pardee (Wadham) spoke to students, fellows and their guests, outlining the history, renovation and significance of the organ. The audience were treated to several pieces of music which highlighted the many tones the newly-refurbished instrument is capable of producing.

Both a mathematician working on the physics of waves and an organist, Dr Hewett began the seminar by describing the way in which organ pipes deliver sounds at different frequencies, explaining the principle of resonance using a helical ‘slinky’ spring and a demonstration machine provided by the organ’s renovators, Harrison and Harrison. This was followed by a fascinating presentation by Christopher Daw on the restoration process, a sixteen-week-long endeavour which involved the transport to Durham and reconditioning of over 1000 individual pipes and the discovery of some unexpected and intriguing paper patchwork in the organ, dating from its original construction and since removed and kept for posterity.

After these presentations Dr Pardee, Director of Chapel Music, gave a musician’s perspective on the refurbished organ, before playing several pieces and ably demonstrating the many tones, voices and timbres of the organ, with the audience given a ‘bird’s nest’ view of her wonderful efforts courtesy of a webcam and screen.

Organised by Wadham’s Research Associates, Wadham in Objects uses Wadham’s intriguing objects to engage College members in the history of the College. ‘The 1878 Willis Organ in the Chapel’ is the second in an ongoing series, the next of which will take place in Hilary term 2016.

Related news