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Article on the RCO in the New York Times


pcnd5584
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I can't honestly disagree with any of it except, to split a hair, I think Ms Ennis possibly over-estimates the standing and salaries of nineteenth-century British organists.* The last paragraph is spot on. As a student I had it very firmly impressed on me that to be a true musician you had to be interested not just in one instrument and its music, but in all types and all eras of music, orchestral, instrumental, vocal and the rest - and have the full range of keyboard harmony skills. My teacher had no time for musical narrow-mindedness.

 

However, with the best will in the world, all the ablest musicians the RCO can produce aren't going to solve the problem, because the cause of the rot lies elsewhere. To my mind the fundamental problem is the direction British culture has taken since the end of World War I, the advent of broadcasting and, particularly, since the explosion of popular music in the 1950s. The media have inevitably fed popular demand and the education system has, for whatever reason, been unable to counterbalance this by fostering a popular demand for the higher arts. In short, classical music is in a gradual, long-term decline and most people are just not interested in it. They prefer music with instant appeal and are disinclined - and probably ill equipped - to put the necessary effort into listening to music which may be perceived as "difficult" because it yields its secrets more gradually. Radio 3's solution to this growing disengagement with classical music is regularly lamented by music lovers elsewhere on the internet - but the dumbing down process actually started in the 1970s. In the face of all this it is hardly surprising that the church has tumbled down the same road in the quest for bums on pews. I can't see any long-term solution other than a change of fashion and taste that creates a popular clamour for classical music. If classical music were to be widely demanded, the future for organists might look brighter. How you go about educating people and creating that demand I have absolutely no idea. I honestly can't see it happening. Do I have too pessimistic and blinkered a view? Can the organ really be viable if classical music is only a niche interest?

 

* I like this snippet that I found in The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette of 6 April 1844: "FALMOUTH:- ... The organ was silent on Sunday, the organist's salary having been reduced from £40 to a shilling a year by the vestry." In July 1890, at Charles Church, Plymouth, Thomas Hele (brother of George and John) resigned the organist's job after the church decided it could no longer afford to pay an organist at all, having already cut his salary a year or two previously - and this was the second most important church in the city. Samuel Sebastian Wesley famously had a chip on his shoulder about his status and our local record office has a snorter of a letter from him to our city centre church, responding to a newspaper advert for the Organist and Choirmaster post that the churchwardens had sent him in 1868. The church was offering £80 a year. Wesley pointed out that they were combining two distinct jobs and ended, "At Leeds they gave the Organist £200, and the Choirmaster 120, when I was there. This is better, but, really, far from what it should be."

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  • 2 weeks later...

Vox Humana,

 

I agree with most of what you are saying.

 

I have no idea what musical education in schools looks like at the moment in the UK. My personal opinion is that schools should ideally provide the opportunity for every child to learn the basics of playing an instrument of pretty much their choice (some restrictions may have to apply) and also provide music education in terms of giving an overview of how music developed in the world over the centuries and milenia.

Music and culture are closely linked together so it could be a great stepping stone to combine with learning about other cultures, but not to the exclusion of learning about our own culture also.

I think children should have their minds opened about music and playing instruments before they reach their mid teens when for some it becomes far too important to appear cool to their peers and adjust their lives around that concept.

 

Schools should also talk to their local church and arrange for a little "adventure" visit to the organ once or twice a year with smaller groups.

There are some interesting programmes in continental Europe of intorducting kids to the organ by telling a story and the organ provides the accoustics backing to the story, giving tonal voices to animals or particular charatcters in the story line etc. I don't know if such things are commonly used in the UK but it could be well interesting for a young audience. And just seeing the console of an organ for younger kids can be overwheliming and get their interest up in the instrument.

 

But schools are having ever more obligations put on them which must be funded from existing budgets and I don't see my vision of music education coming anywhere to the top of spending priorities in the foreseeable future.

I'll leave that argument right there. Anything more is not for an organ forum but rather for a political debate over an afternoon pint or two.

 

 

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There are some interesting programmes in continental Europe of intorducting kids to the organ by telling a story and the organ provides the accoustics backing to the story, giving tonal voices to animals or particular charatcters in the story line etc. I don't know if such things are commonly used in the UK

 

Indeed it has, by at least one person - see the first CD on this page:

 

http://www.davidcoram.co.uk/record.html

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  • 1 month later...
Guest Organconvert

I'm all for introducing young people to the the organ. They are its future performers, builders and composers, after all.

 

Of course, there are also the mid-life piano-to-organ converts, like myself - and I know I'm not the only one around. We have got plenty of performing years ahead of us - l got ARCO earlier this year. Outreach could and should extend to other potential piano-organ converts of more mature years. Obviously, the challenge would be knowing where to find them, but I would guess that church choirs could yield a few, for starters. Such people might come to the organ with a passion and be totally driven - I speak from experience.

 

Between the various age-groups of organists present and to come, I have my fingers crossed for the future of the organ, over here. Regular broadcasting of organ music would help, too.

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Regular broadcasting of organ music would help, too.

 

I think we'd all like to see more of that. I can remember only ever seeing three TV series about the organ:

 

Gillian Weir

Howard Goodall

John Scott Whiteley

 

and radio programmes featuring the organ are very rare these days.

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I think we'd all like to see more of that. I can remember only ever seeing three TV series about the organ:

 

Gillian Weir

Howard Goodall

John Scott Whiteley

 

and radio programmes featuring the organ are very rare these days.

 

There was one other single broadcast which I recall.

 

It was probably during Holy Week - and it would have been years ago. It featured Arthur Wills at the organ of Ely Cathedral. (At the time, he was still very much in-post.) He played only one piece: Franck's Troisième Choral. As far as I can recall, it was quite well (and conventionally) played. However, I do recall that, just prior to commencing to play, Arthur Wills (who must have been watching a monitor), nodded clearly. Presumably he had just been given the all-clear to start by a floor manager or producer. Secondly, there was a reed pipe which was slightly out of tune - I think it was either a C or an E. This was somewhat unfortunate, and slightly spoiled my enjoyment of the piece.

 

As far as I know, I still have this on videotape in a box in the loft somewhere.

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It's going back somewhat, but I can remember one short programme (there may even have been two) from 1965 or thereabouts, featuring Ivor Keys playing Bach on some modest neo-Baroque job (did he have a house organ?) I distinctly recall that he played Bach's Herzlich tut mich verlangen BWV 727 (which seriously underwhelmed me then as I am afraid it has ever since) and one of Bach's chorale preludes with interludes - possibly Allein Gott in der Höh BWV 715 - which he described as youthful, followed by the "more mature" In dulci jubilo BWV 729. I have a feeling that BWV 565 also featured, though I might be imagining that.

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