New EU red tape threatens church organs

MUSIC experts fearful their appeal for cash to refurbish a vital cathedral organ will fall foul of new legislation from Europe have been reassured they will win an exemption from the rules.

MUSIC experts fearful their appeal for cash to refurbish a vital cathedral organ will fall foul of new legislation from Europe have been reassured they will win an exemption from the rules.

Officials from St Edmundsbury Cathedral said yesterday they were wary plans to rebuild their 3,500-pipe instrument would be scuppered by policies, due to be introduced in July, which aim to eliminate the use of lead solder in certain goods.

It had been feared the ruling would extend to organs - prompting representatives from churches across the country and the Bury St Edmunds cathedral to call for an exemption.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry said last night the ruling only extended to new build organs, and added the government was working towards winning an exemption for all musical instruments.


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But the threat has still caused concern amongst the church community - especially in Bury, where a recent appeal was launched to raise £700,000 to refurbish the organ.

“This is a huge concern to us,” said James Thomas, director of music at the cathedral. “I am just hoping someone will see sense and exclude pipe organs as there is an obvious anomaly.

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“We are making every effort we can to rebuild, refurbish and complete our cathedral organ, which is an absolutely integral part of our daily musical life.

“To be told that, from July 1, we are not allowed to build one - well, I cannot understand the directive. It is an example of a policy where all the possible ramifications have not been thought through.

“You expect a lovely wedding with all the traditional organ sounds - but you wouldn't get it any more. It would not be the same over loud speakers.

“I suspect all my colleagues in cathedrals up and down the country will feel the same.”

Katherine Venning, president of the Thurston-based Institute of British Organ Building, has written to supporters asking them to petition their MEPs in protest.

And she pointed out “there is no known substitute” giving the equivalent musical results.

“It is agreed that the mixture of lead and tin alloy is the best combination of materials to make the pipes,” added Mr Thomas. “But at the end of the day, when the organ has lived its life, it is melted down and recycled. This is not a question of burying it in the ground.

“It would be galling to think that after all these efforts, we are then told it is illegal to build a church organ.

“We are looking forward to the response of our friends in Europe, who build more organs than us. Whatever needs to be done to exclude pipe organs specifically from this directive needs to be done - this affects all sorts of people.”

However, a spokesman for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTi) said the legislation did not apply retrospectively to organs being rebuilt or refurbished.

“It does not apply to organs in existence currently, or those which are being refurbished. But it does apply to new build organs,” she said. “We are working with the Institute of British Organ Building to get a derogation with the EU.”

Tory Euro MP for the East of England Geoffrey Van Orden said his party had written to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry “to insist that the Government takes action so that organ pipe manufacturers such as J.W.Walker & Sons Ltd. at Brandon may continue to build traditional pipe organs with lead pipes, if they so require.”

Mr Thomas said the fundraising efforts had reached the halfway point. Anyone keen on donating should contact him on 01284 754933.

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