World-renowned organ tuner David Gallichan was born in the city of Birmingham in 1959. For forty years, David has been studying, building and tuning the biggest, best and most challenging organs around the world; and he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon! David’s passion and commitment to his work has attracted the attention of musical organisations far and wide; and as such, David spends a lot of his time working in other countries such as Hong Kong, Sweden, Spain and Ireland. As well as working on some of the most prestigious and sizeable organs inside concert halls (our very own Symphony Hall and Town Hall organs to name a couple!), castles and cathedrals, David is also invited to private homes to tune much smaller organs inside actual family dining rooms! We’ve asked David a few questions about his career, and how he became one of the most respected and sought-after organ tuners in the world.
1. How did you get into this line of work and how long have you been doing it?
I had been thinking of going to college to study furniture design and becoming a cabinet maker, when someone at the careers centre just happened to mention that Nicholson’s of Malvern were looking for new apprentices, and would I like to take a look? So, without any idea of what to expect, I went for an interview and tour of the Nicholson workshops. Having seen what was involved with organ building, all thoughts of college were forgotten and a career in organ building commenced. The year was 1975.
2. Tell me about an average day; what does your job entail?
I don’t really have an average day. And that’s how I like it! One day I can be tuning organs like that of Town Hall, and the next I can be working on tiny chamber organs in some of the most stunning locations around the country.
3. Do you ever get nervous when climbing into these huge organs?
No, I never get nervous or daunted by the size of pipe organs; on the contrary, the bigger and more challenging the task, the more I enjoy it.
4. What do you specifically like about the Town Hall organ?
Its raw power, English sound, and huge dynamic range of tones. People sometimes ask me which is the better organ…Town Hall or Symphony Hall? The answer to that is that they are very different. Symphony Hall organ is a brilliant technical achievement, with a continental style of voicing. This involves opening the tip of the pipe and controlling the volume at the mouth of the pipe. Town Hall pipes are closed up at the tip to control the volume, and all the voicing of the pipe is done at the mouth. This gives a much warmer and romantic sound.
5. Do any memories in particular, good/bad/funny stand out from your career?
Our old foreman at Nicholson’s used to give us all a hard time and to get revenge, we would play tricks on him. We did all the usual things, like drilling holes on the glue pot and screwing it to the bench, before filling it with glue etc. However, when loading the van one day, the largest pipes wouldn’t fit, and so they needed to be strapped to the roof. I turned them all around so that the tips faced forward. Under normal speeds there isn’t a problem, but, when you hit the motorway and increase speed, they all start to sound. We fell about with laughter, imagining what it was like driving this van with C major blaring all the way to Scotland. When our foreman returned, he was furious with us!
6. What’s your favourite organ?
I don’t have a favourite organ, but I do have favourite stops; to make my favourite organ. These are:
The William Hill Diapason Chorus from Shrewsbury Abbey
The 18th Century Flutes from Oscot College
The Unda Maris from Symphony Hall
The Heavy Pressure Reeds from Town Hall
The J W Walker Tromba, Trumpet and Oboe from Bristol Cathedral
The Strings and Mixtures voiced by Dennis Thurlow from Nicholson’s
The remaining additions would then be from the early J W Walker Pipes of around
David was kind enough to invite Emily from the Marketing and Communications Department at THSH, to see the Symphony Hall organ up close, and witness it ‘at work’. Emily said, regarding her time with David, that: “The extent of David’s passion for the organs in his care is incredibly inspirational, and watching him labour inside the vast Symphony Hall organ, and amongst its 6000 + pipes, is observing a master at work. It is David’s creativity and sharp attention to detail that makes him so valued and sought-after in his field”.