HALIFAX ORGAN ACADEMY LAUNCHED
27 October 2011
Halifax Minster organ
Halifax Minster has started the north of England’s first organ academy to try to boost the declining number of organists playing in West Yorkshire’s churches. In some parishes, the organist shortage has meant resorting to ‘karaoke hymn singing’ using music played through an iPhone.
The Halifax Organ Academy aims to create a centre of excellence for the organ in the area by providing tuition and support for organists, as well as encouraging people – especially the young – to take up the organ. The Vicar of Halifax, the Reverend Canon Hilary Barber, said the academy would help make sure the organ survives. He told C&O, ‘In recent years there’s been a decline in the number of people taking up the organ. We still have lots of wonderful organs in many churches so there’s a real urgency, I think, for us to encourage particularly young people to learn keyboard skills and learn this king of instruments.’
Prof. David Baker, who is leading the project, added, ‘I estimate at least one in two churches may have an organ but they don't have an organist, which is why we set up the Halifax Academy.’
The Academy’s first event, led by Anne Marsden Thomas of the St Giles International Organ School, took place in September on the Minster’s 4-manual Harrison instrument and covered the practicalities of organ playing in church, with sessions on how to practise, the physical side of playing, and motivation.
LINCOLN CATHEDRAL APPOINTS FEMALE CHORAL SCHOLAR
30 September 2011
Alto Helen Vincent, 22, has been appointed to the choir of Lincoln Cathedral. Lincoln was one of the first cathedral foundations to introduce separate boys' and girls' choirs to sing the treble line, and has maintained these since 1995.
But Vincent's appointment represents the first time a female singer has been employed below the treble line - as part of the permanent choir singing the alto, tenor and bass lines when either the boys' or girls' choir is singing the service. Her appointment therefore means that an all-male choir will no longer be heard at Lincoln.
Director of music Aric Prentice is positive about the appointment: 'As an alto myself, I have sung in choirs where there's a mixture of men and women, and have always found it to give a greater flexibility of sound. The blends have provided an interesting sound that hasn't deviated far from what people's perception of what a cathedral choir sounds like.'
Peter Phillips, director of the Tallis Scholars, wrote in a recent Spectator article about the decision to appoint his wife, contralto Caroline Trevor, to the deputies list of the choir at St Paul's Cathedral. He described her voice as 'the perfect instrument for sacred singing'.
'For her, and for those who will surely come after her now the breach has been made, it is the realisation of a dream long deferred,' wrote Phillips.
SINGING THE LORD’S PRAISE
30 September 2011
Songs of Praise (SoP), BBC TV’s flagship religious music programme, has clocked up 50 years on air. The anniversary will be marked in October with three specially recorded programmes, culminating in a spectacular celebration from London’s Alexandra Palace, with 7,000 invited viewers and a choir of 200.
SoP was first broadcast on Sunday 1 October 1961. Fifty years on, the programme – the world’s longest-running religious TV series – continues to showcase congregational hymn singing and inspirational music. The first recording was made at the Tabernacle Welsh Baptists Church in Cardiff. The programme has since been filmed in places of worship all over the UK, as well as from locations including Moscow, Beijing, the Falkland Islands, South Africa and Australia. Series editor David Taviner told C&O, ‘It’s good to look back and celebrate this significant milestone; but we also want to look forward as Songs of Praise continues to change with the time and reflect a rich variety of musical expressions of worship and faith. I like to think that Songs of Praise is 50 years young.’
PLUGGING IN THE ORGAN
30 September 2011
Kadir SonukCourtesy Connecting Arts
Holland’s ten-year old ‘Voor de Wind’ festival has a new name and an ambition to restore the organ to a prominent position in cultural life: Connecting Arts – The European Organ Festival links organ music to other art disciplines including visual arts, theatre, dance, film, literature and even acrobatics.
Beginning in Utrecht on 2 October, the event then goes on tour to Toulouse, Copenhagen, Helsingborg, and Malmö before reaching Kristianstad in May 2012. Utrecht will host a three-day English-language conference on ‘Revival of the organ as a common European cultural heritage’.
Highlights of the plans include Simeon ten Holt’s Canto Ostinato – a composition about time, space and perpetual motion, performed by organist Aart Bergwerff in collaboration with Kadir Sonuk (Dervish Dance); ‘Organic Dialogue’ is an audiovisual installation in which the organ can be seen as man-made technology endeavouring to channel the divine breath; in ‘Organ and Soccer’, a tense football match between Holland and Germany in 1988 is revived and transformed into a musical highlight through a ‘creative summary’ with Geerten Liefting (organ), directed by Hans Busstra; ‘Organotronics’ uses live electronics and video projections of works by young composers from Indonesia, Mexico, the Czech Republic, the UK and Greece; and ‘Letters from the War Front’ combines Jehan Alain’s music with a theatrical presentation of the letters he wrote form the battlefront, performed by actress Brigitte Fossey with Michel Bouvard at the organ.
Full details of these and other billed collaborations can be found at the Festival’s website: http://connectingarts.org
PIPING UP AT THE ROYAL FESTIVAL HALL
22 September 2011
RFH CEO Alan Bishop presents the vision of the completed organMaggie Hamilton
London’s Southbank Centre (SBC) has launched a major campaign – Pull Out All The Stops – to raise funds for the completion of the restoration and installation of the organ in the Royal Festival Hall. With £950,000 already committed from the Heritage Lottery Fund, a further £1.35m is needed for the reinstatement of the remaining two-thirds of the instrument, which have been in store since the hall closed for refurbishment in July 2005.
Harrison & Harrison, who built the instrument in 1954 in collaboration with Ralph Downes, will start work the Grade I listed organ’s 5,000 pipes in February 2011, involving the repair and cleaning of 5,000 pipes, building a new wooden frame, renovating the bellows and wind system, and completely overhauling the electrics. Installation will be piecemeal during the summer recesses of 2012 and 2013, with a re-inauguration concert in 2014 as part of a festival to celebrate the instrument’s 60th anniversary.
Members of the public are invited to sponsor one or more pipes, ranging in price from £30–£10,000.
Presenting the plans at the press launch on 20 September, CEO Alan Bishop laid out a stall of exciting new projects associated with the campaign. These will include monthly free concerts over a ten-year period; apprenticeships and organ scholarships; and commissions. A major programme of learning and participation, due to start early in 2012, will include a public call for memories or the organ; a schools project for children in Lambeth and Durham, documenting the restoration; an interactive exhibition; and an international symposium.
Wesley Kerr, chairman of the HLF committee that approved the grant, stressed the importance having organs in secular venues as well as in churches, being not only a solo instrument for works from the time of Purcell, Bach and Handel to today, but also being perfect for accompanying other instruments. Kerr, who had been a schoolfriend of Stephen Bicknell, described the RFH organ as ‘euphonious, melodious, thundering, imposing – but also incomplete’; earlier this year he and HLF colleagues had been ‘impressed’ by a tour of the instrument given by organ curator William McVicker.
SBC artistic director Jude Kelly announced ‘a new age for SBC of commissioning works for organ’, saying that they had already held conversations with leading composers. She then outlined a programme of detailed work based around the organ with a group of around 150 children in the London area, twinning with children in Durham (home of Harrison & Harrison), who will all become organ advocates: ‘The organ has to take on a secular role in the society we now live in; we have to put the organ back into people’s psyche.’
McVicker – praised by Kelly for being ‘stoic and emphatically dogged’ – explained that the third of the organ currently in place in the hall is about the size of a parish church organ, lacking stops at both ends of the dynamic spectrum: ‘It doesn’t have its softest stops. And when the organ is put into a very large orchestral ensemble it needs gravitas and weight at the bottom, and brilliance over the piccolos and flutes at the top end. The organ glues together the jigsaw of sound in works like Belshazzar’s Feast. This organ is special because during the difficult economic times of the 1920s and 30s organ builders needed to take short cuts. What Ralph Downes did was to reach for the sounds of musical instruments that had been lost, the timbres that belonged to the classical period. It’s the only organ in London on which you can play classical French repertoire with authenticity. When it was built, critics thought it sounded like broken glass. But when you play it, it’s like sitting in a Bentley Turbo R, with amazing power at your fingertips.’
Asked if the organ would go back exactly as it was, McVicker said the organ had originally been ‘beautifully thought out’. The extreme LH and RH sides of the instrument have been carefully redesigned for it to fit into the new chamber at the back of the stage. There will be a difference in how we hear the organ now, due to the hall’s improved acoustics following the refurbishment – ‘it’s fuller, brighter, richer’.
Choir & Organ is a Southbank Centre media partner for the organ campaign. We will be supporting the appeal in a number of ways, including regular updates on progress in the magazine and through e-bulletins. Choir & Organ has already sponsored a pipe: c’’ on the Swell 4ft Clarion. C&O readers can sponsor a pipe for anything from £30 to £10,000 direct from the C&O website: www.choirandorgan.com