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Mander Organs
D Quentin Bellamy

Royal College Of Organists

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Jeremy Filsell left Ely Cathedral after only one year because, in addition to his work as Assistant Organist, he was required to assist in the running of the cathedral bookshop. (Excuse me?)

But it's a very good bookshop - with lots of lovely CDs... (Can't remember whether it has any of his though.)

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There's a lot in what you say, David, but I'm not entirely sure it's the whole story. When I was a student it was generally rumoured that the then organist at Chichester would not consider an assistant who was not an FRCO. I doubt he was unique in that. But not all cathedrals are that picky. I can think of assistants who only have an ARCO and M. Cochereau has cited a couple who do not. There used to be something of a grapevine by which cathedral organists got to know who were the best Oxbridge organ scholars and when they were "entering the market", as it were. Being now well out of it, I can only guess, but I imagine the same sort of thing happens and that what gets on a short list is a mixture of word of mouth, qualifications and prior experience.

 

Having managed to leave Oxford with no degree and having no other qualification other than a fairly reasonable local reputation, then perhaps it's too late! The last time I saw an assistant's job advertised I phoned up (quite a new-ish cathedral, and not connected with anyone on this board) the D of M and was told in no uncertain terms that without an ARCO I'd be unlikely to get called for interview. Other eminent cathedral musicians past and present of my acquantaince have said exactly the same thing...

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There's a lot in what you say, David, but I'm not entirely sure it's the whole story. When I was a student it was generally rumoured that the then organist at Chichester would not consider an assistant who was not an FRCO. I doubt he was unique in that. But not all cathedrals are that picky. I can think of assistants who only have an ARCO and M. Cochereau has cited a couple who do not. There used to be something of a grapevine by which cathedral organists got to know who were the best Oxbridge organ scholars and when they were "entering the market", as it were. Being now well out of it, I can only guess, but I imagine the same sort of thing happens and that what gets on a short list is a mixture of word of mouth, qualifications and prior experience.

 

There is also something in what you say, Vox.

 

Actually, I suspect that the appointment of more cathedral organists (and assistants) who hold neither the ARCO or the FRCO diploma may become something of a trend - particularly if the RCO carries-on in the way it is presently conducting business. (Living out of a suitcase, squandering resources and wasting opportunities - and commissioning a new organ, then denying having ever done so.*)

 

 

 

* I found the advert in question again, the other day - now I have mislaid it.... When I am sucessful in re-discovering its whereabouts, I shall quote the exact wording. However, I can recall that the text was explicit and that the word 'commissioned' was employed.

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I really wish that was the case... but the first thing people look for is letters.  Unfortunately for someone who has left it fairly late before trying to get onto the greasy cathedral pole, the lack of RCO letters on page 1 of the CV puts the application firmly in the dustbin.  Much as I don't want to do it and can't even afford the membership fee, let alone the exam fee, I've got no choice as far as I can tell.

Should cathedrals and major parish churches be the preserve of the academic elite? Don't think that was quite what our L.J.C. had in mind when he told his disciples to proclaim good news.... B)

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So how to rescue the RCO??    B)

 

I think that what the organ world in general, and the RCO in particular, needs is a kind of Jamie Oliver figure to make some noise in a non-anorakkish way. The nearest we've got to it as far as I can recall is Dame Gillian.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
So how to rescue the RCO??    B)

 

They missed several tricks a while ago.

 

1. Problems with a physical headquarters: They could have invested what they got for the balance of their lease at Kensington Gore and spent it on a more modest place of their own - South London (in particular) offered plenty of possible places at the time. I know at least one of the voices on the council at that time and this strategy was firmly rejected. Instead of this, those in positions of power (Sir David Lumsden et al) wanted to be 'in the city'.

 

You could say that a sort of Vanity is behind most of the problems - I have to say that (to my certain knowledge) those few now steering the RCO are not in any way responsible for the current mess. The previous juntas (sh!! several famous names!) wanted to do great and impressive things on a prominent stage - trouble is, they couldn't afford them.

 

2. Mission

If the RCO is to survive it is as an examination and education body. Trouble is, most of their paid-up membership have relatively little to gain from what is currently on offer. A body that only attracts elite, only examines elite candidates and only serves a small number of those elite (once qualified) has got to trim its sails accordingly. Any elite is, by definition, a small number and former years' small figures are shrinking still further!

 

If they wanted to serve organists in general, they have not gone about this deliberately in the last decade (as they ought to have done) and others have taken over this arena:

 

The English Organ School (Margaret Phillips)

The St.Giles International organ School (Anne Marsden Thomas)

The RSCM with its supportive courses and examinations for 'basic' church musicians

The IAO with their master classes, organ days and grants to afiliated Associations

 

I would love to continue to be loyal to an organisation that has been good to me and help pay its bills, but I'm no longer sure that I can afford to. Needless to say, I want to support our profession and see youngsters fired up as I was/am.

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Paul makes many good points, with the majority of which I heartily concur.

 

Whilst the RCO has overhauled its syllabus of late and made it more relevant, there are still areas in which I would like to see further improvement.

 

However, the fact remains that it is fast becoming something of an anachronism. As long as it threatens the loss of hard-gained qualifications for non-payment of subscriptions, considers introducing obscure clefs in its tests (or stipulating the playing of at least one piece from memory)* and fails adequately to meet the needs of today's organists it will almost certainly continue to slide into obscurity.

 

* I recall that there have been discussions regarding these points, with some contributors expressing favourable views; nevertheless, for the majority of us in our daily situations, there are far more relevant matters which could be addressed.

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Guest Barry Oakley
I think that what the organ world in general, and the RCO in particular, needs is a kind of Jamie Oliver figure to make some noise in a non-anorakkish way.  The nearest we've got to it as far as I can recall is Dame Gillian.

 

You seem to imply an element of disdain towards people that are sometimes labelled "organ anoraks." A one-time very eminent organist once said to me he felt it was wrong to apply the label of "organ anorak" as many of them help to swell numbers (and takings) at what are more often than not sparsely attended recitals.

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You seem to imply an element of disdain towards people that are sometimes labelled "organ anoraks." A one-time very eminent organist once said to me he felt it was wrong to apply the label of "organ anorak" as many of them help to swell numbers (and takings) at what are more often than not sparsely attended recitals.

 

If I say the word "trainspotter" to you, what do you immediately think of? Yet I'm quite sure bodies like privately-run steam railway lines would say exactly the same as you did in the post above. That doesn't stop the perception.

 

It worries me that the musical world in general takes exactly the same view of us, because the organ has so much interest as machine as well as instrument.

 

You could argue that before Jamie Oliver came along, the school dinners debate was being fought by some militant PTA members and a few others who were seen to have a vested interest - "school dinner anoraks" maybe. Look at how quickly the situation was polarised by the making of a fairly cheap TV series showing action, not words. If I could think of a way to do the same for the organ, I would start immediately.

 

It seems that most of the champions of yore (and today, for that matter) have tended to achieve more for themselves than for the organ, whereas I perceive as an onlooker that school dinners came out much better than Jamie Oliver did.

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A one-time very eminent organist once said to me he felt it was wrong to apply the label of "organ anorak" as many of them help to swell numbers (and takings) at what are more often than not sparsely attended recitals.

I wear my anorak with pride. :) After all, as Barry says, it is people like me who attend and pay the entrance fee to organ recitals, buy the CDs that help to oil the wheels, and occasionally enjoy annoying the hell out of the professionals B) by demonstrating my ignorance on forums such as this and posting pie in the sky fantasy specs for Canterbury etc.

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Guest Lee Blick

I think it will take more than a Jamie Oliver to stop things from deterioting further. Either some sort of national strategy to rebuild playing at grassroots level, or a successful local model that could be implemented wider. One would hope that bodies like the RSCM and RCO could work together to produce something but I doubt they have the resources and will-power.

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Guest drd
I think it will take more than a Jamie Oliver to stop things from deterioting further.  Either some sort of national strategy to rebuild playing at grassroots level, or a successful local model that could be implemented wider. One would hope that bodies like the RSCM and RCO could work together to produce something but I doubt they have the resources and will-power.

 

Well, if we are discussing the RCO in these terms, I suspect the RSCM is too far gone for saving. It is subject to far too many conflicting interest groups, is ridiculously underfunded, and is, of course, only legitimately concerned with church 'music' - rather than with standards of instrumental performance as such.

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Well, if we are discussing the RCO in these terms, I suspect the RSCM is too far gone for saving.    It is subject to far too many conflicting interest groups, is ridiculously underfunded, and is, of course, only legitimately concerned with church 'music' - rather than with standards of instrumental performance as such.

 

I really think that all it would take in one seriously gifted person to emerge from the woodwork and unite & motivate ALL of us to do things at a local level and ultimately a national one. To pursue the Jamie Oliver example to the point of tedium, that happened in only one or two schools but it has created a very significant national groundswell. Why, in this usually cynical country? Because he took people with him, and it was clear at all times that it was the kids' interests at stake, not the presenter's. I am surprised this idea doesn't get more immediate support - perhaps we all prefer moaning!

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I really think that all it would take in one seriously gifted person to emerge from the woodwork and unite & motivate ALL of us to do things at a local level and ultimately a national one.  To pursue the Jamie Oliver example to the point of tedium, that happened in only one or two schools but it has created a very significant national groundswell.  Why, in this usually cynical country?  Because he took people with him, and it was clear at all times that it was the kids' interests at stake, not the presenter's.  I am surprised this idea doesn't get more immediate support - perhaps we all prefer moaning!

 

You are quite right David. I remember the bassoon player Archie Camden inspiring me when I was at Junior school. He showed that it could be fun being an instrumental player. Today I would perhaps look to somebody like Howard Goodall.

 

JC

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Guest Lee Blick
Well, if we are discussing the RCO in these terms, I suspect the RSCM is too far gone for saving.    It is subject to far too many conflicting interest groups, is ridiculously underfunded, and is, of course, only legitimately concerned with church 'music' - rather than with standards of instrumental performance as such.

 

That is why I think the rebuilding should initially take place outside an ecclesiastic setting and centered around secular, civic venues such as the concert halls, town halls and other places where organs exist and also in the home.

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If I may jump in, I can cite the Engineering Council, British Computer Society and IEE (or whatever they call themselves these days).. I guess most Engineering institutions which award professional qualifications act in this way...

 

And the RTPI (Royal Town Planning Institute) - my wife belongs.

 

AJJ

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Guest drd
That is why I think the rebuilding should initially take place outside an ecclesiastic setting and centered around secular, civic venues such as the concert halls, town halls and other places where organs exist and also in the home.

 

I agree completely with this view. For too long the instrument has suffered in the public eye with being associated with churches, etc..

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I agree completely with this view.    For too long the instrument has suffered in the public eye with being associated with churches, etc..

 

So how would such an organ playing qualification look? Presumably divorced from choral training etc....??

 

Isn't it about time that RCO qualifications were based solely on playing the organ and on relevant paperwork? If a BMus requires orchestration and knowledge of composition, chorale-writing, string quartets etc, why on earth does the RCO need to duplicate all of this stuff?

 

Surely a better exercise (if compositional skills are necessary to be a qualified organist) would be to compose a chorale prelude after Bach or one of the Romantics or even in free-style. Where would string quartets and 16th Century two part vocal music fit in? Paperwork to include (as I think it does) a full understanding of the organ.

 

I assume that the ABRSM examiners don't have the same expectations of those sitting their exams to be cathedral/church organists/choir trainers; but the RCO seems to think that it is all about Anglican Organists and Choirmasters. Strange though it may seem, there are some organists who have no experience in directing a choir - nor in many cases do they even want to!! So quite why choirs and choral stuff has such a strong influence in the diplomas I know not.

 

It seems to me that the whole thing could do with an absolutely massive overhaul. Then (and only then) would a few more of us be enthused to apply ourselves.

 

Of course there is still another question that burneth in my mind and that is ....

 

How does an organisation gain/lose its Royal Charter?

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Having been "brung up" in the northern town of Hindley, as an early teenage organ student, I was refused permission to practice on what the then churchwardens deemed to be their "precious" Schulze organ for similar reasons - I didn't have an R.C.O. diploma or similar. The (same) churchwardens twenty years later were responsible along with the PCC of silencing their "precious" organ, turning the console into the console for a toaster and committing some of the worst ecclesiastical vandalism ever!

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Isn't it about time that RCO qualifications were based solely on playing the organ and on relevant paperwork? If a BMus requires orchestration and knowledge of composition, chorale-writing, string quartets etc, why on earth does the RCO need to duplicate all of this stuff?

So the RCO should just examine organists, not musicians... Hmm.... :unsure:

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So the RCO should just examine organists, not musicians... Hmm....  :unsure:

Well....

The Royal College of Organists is a charity and membership organisation dedicated to the promotion and advancement of organ playing and choral directing.

 

The College is the only organisation with a Royal Charter to be dedicated to the promotion and advancement of a single instrument, the organ.

So it seems fairly certain that that should be the case

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So the RCO should just examine organists, not musicians... Hmm....  :unsure:

That is ridiculous and certainly taken out of context! The point made was that if a BMus takes in all these other areas of musicianship why should the RCO double up on this. When I did my BMus degree, I learned fugue, orchestration, harmony and counterpoint and a fair bit of history. It was expected if I was going to pass the exams. But then the RCO expects the same things!!! :blink: ???

 

What's the point??

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So how would such an organ playing qualification look? Presumably divorced from choral training etc....??

 

Isn't it about time that RCO qualifications were based solely on playing the organ and on relevant paperwork? If a BMus requires orchestration and knowledge of composition, chorale-writing, string quartets etc, why on earth does the RCO need to duplicate all of this stuff? 

 

Surely a better exercise (if compositional skills are necessary to be a qualified organist) would be to compose a chorale prelude after Bach or one of the Romantics or even in free-style.  Where would string quartets and 16th Century two part vocal music fit in?  Paperwork to include (as I think it does) a full understanding of the organ. 

 

I assume that the ABRSM examiners don't have the same expectations of those sitting their exams to be cathedral/church organists/choir trainers; but the RCO seems to think that it is all about Anglican Organists and Choirmasters. Strange though it may seem, there are some organists who have no experience in directing a choir - nor in many cases do they even want to!! So quite why choirs and choral stuff has such a strong influence in the diplomas I know not.

 

It seems to me that the whole thing could do with an absolutely massive overhaul. Then (and only then) would a few more of us be enthused to apply ourselves.

 

Of course there is still another question that burneth in my mind and that is ....

 

How does an organisation gain/lose its Royal Charter?

 

 

================

 

In all fairness to the RCO, the FRCO was always an alternative to a univeristy qualification, and was recognised as such by the Burnham Committee.

 

So it is essentially a graduate diploma, which covers not only organ-playing, but general musicianship also.

 

The 70% pass mark is the killer, for whilst one may be a good organist and quite capable of passing the practical exam, the paperwork was always "rather difficult".

 

That's why it has a bit of ooomph as a qualification.

 

MM (Definitely not FRCO and never will be)

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In days of yore, apart from one history question, all the paperwork questions required a keen mental ear for notation in some form or other (the ability to orchestrate, write a fugal exposition, complete a partsong in a given contemporary idiom). These days there seems to be rather more prose involved - more appreciation than notational technique. The balance seems to have moved a little away from practicality towards the academic. I'm not sure I entirely approve of this, but the standard required seems comparable.

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