For nearly 900 years, the walls of Bristol Cathedral have been alive with sound; sacred choral music, rich teaching, sell-out concerts and whispered words of private prayer. Our choir has reached new levels of excellence, providing some of the city’s highest quality music each week and providing hundreds of children from each generation with the best foundation of musical training. As the Mother Church of the Diocese of Bristol, the Cathedral and its music is the focal point of many shared occasions, which in the current 12 months will include the retirement service for Bishop Mike, Advent and Christmas, Chrism Mass and the Blessing of the Oils, Ordinations of Lay Readers, Deacons and Priests and a service of welcome for the new Bishop of Bristol in 2018. In 2016, the Cathedral was the location for BBC One’s Christmas Morning service and BBC Radio 3 regularly broadcast from Bristol for their Choral Evensong programme. However, the quality of this sound is at risk. Our renowned Walker organ is on the brink of collapse and our PA and sound systems fail to be at the professional standard required for concerts and performance. Come and hear is the Cathedral’s new campaign to ensure that the Cathedral’s walls continue to resonate with sound for years to come.
The centrepiece of this project is the renovation of our historic organ, the lifeblood of cathedral worship and daily practice. This will be accompanied by a range of engagement activities including new workshops for schools, exhibitions telling the history of music at the Cathedral, specialist talks and new events. We will also install a new sound system fit for the 21st century, which will better bring the sound of our choir to the congregation seated in the Nave and West End and will cement the Cathedral’s role as a venue for theatre, cinema and concerts.
Music is integral to life and worship at the Cathedral. At the very heart of this is our organ, originally built by Renatus Harris in 1685, the same year that both Bach and Handel were born. The casing and some of the pipes date back to this Stuart-era instrument. After the creation the new Nave in the late 19th century, the decision was taken to employ the best organ builders of the time, Walker, to create a new instrument for the new Cathedral space. This pneumatic-action Cathedral organ survives to this day and is now one of the last examples of its kind and period in the country and one of the finest examples of the English Romantic organ to be found anywhere in the world.
The years have, however, taken their toll on this antiquated technology and the role of our organ has changed. The organ accompanies services, recitals and concerts in the Cathedral seven days a week and in an average week is played for around 24 hours. Contemporary organ music has become more sophisticated in terms of the technical demands of both the organ and organist. The technology is failing on an increasingly regular basis, which is disrupting the pattern and nature of our worship and drawing unexpected repair costs from the Cathedral budget. We need to complete a once-in-a-generation renovation to secure our magnificent instrument into the twenty-first century, ensuring its future for future generations.
The Sound System
The Cathedral has always been a site of special services and a key concert venue for the city. Over 6,000 people join us for concerts and services at Christmas alone. In recent years, our programme has become more ambitious as we seek to stage new types of events for new audiences. The main body of the Cathedral has been used to stage theatre productions, hold high profile author events, screen classic and silent films, host fine dining events and mark occasions including graduation and business award ceremonies. Our current sound and PA system is of a basic design primarily aimed at amplifying the spoken word, making it unsuitable for the larger and more sophisticated events that we would like to be programming. In the past year we have received a growing number of complaints about the inaudibility of services and events, especially from those seated at the far west end of the cathedral seating. It is vital that, at a time when other venues in the city are making significant investments in their concert and performance capabilities, that the Cathedral does not get left behind. An overhaul of the sound system will complement the work being done to restore the organ and will provide sophisticated acoustic support for our growing programme of activity.
- new speakers, fit with hearing loop for the hard of hearing
- sound-mixing capacity, to tailor sounds for different events and audiences
- new and reliable audio equipment with the ability to record talks and music events and share them with digital audiences.