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D Quentin Bellamy

Royal College Of Organists

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
Yes, I had a conversation with a cathedral DoM last week, and said something along the lines of "would a late twenties organist without a premium Oxbridge organ scholarship and an A/FRCO get a look in". The answer was that the CV would almost certainly get tossed out.

 

Sadly, an xRCO is still a requirement to get a look in for a real job. Once you have the reputation, that's another matter. I'm not sure if this is generally true, but my experience of cathedral organists is that they know everybody in their circuit well, but outside the circuit, their knowledge of "lesser organists" is limited.

 

 

I think it still depends on 1. talent and 2. who you know. [Maybe in a reversed order?]

 

A one-time pupil of mine is now in his second major cathedral appointment and he holds no RCO diploma, he hasn't ever been a member. I have to say, I always thought he was wrong not to take these qualifications, but he was advised against (at the RAM - no surprise there!) and he seems to have done absolutely fine.

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When a cathedral recently came up in Church Times, I rang the D of M and asked how the land lay.  The response I received was "put in an application by all means, but without at least an ARCO I can tell you you almost certainly won't make it onto the shortlist."  And that, I fear, is always going to be the problem - I'm reasonably confident of what I could do at interview - it's just getting one...

 

Not always, David.

 

As I wrote a few days ago, there are at least three people (probably more) who did not hold either the ARCO or the FRCO, who were offered interviews for a cathedral assistant organist's post. In two cases, the persons concerned were ultimately successful.

 

Whilst there are undoubtedly some cathedrals and other establishments which would still hold out for the ARCO or FRCO qualifications, there are a mumber which have a more enlightened view.

 

In any case, it is possible that those cathedrals which require candidates to hold these diplomas are the places you would not wish to work for - that type of mentality probably pervades the entire ethos of the place.

 

You are also forgetting such people as Simon Preston and Dr. David Lumsden, neither of whom hold either diploma by examination.

 

I believe that Simon Preston has been Organ Scholar, Assistant Organist and later Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey.

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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
probably pervades the entire ethos of the place.

 

You are also forgetting such people as Simon Preston and Dr. David Lumsden, neither of whom hold either diploma by examination.

 

I believe that Simon Preston has been Organ Scholar, Assistant Organist and later Organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey.

 

 

I hope I'm correct, since I'm rushing in to correct your statement but I had always understood that both of the above named successfully gained ARCO.

 

It's just jealousy, of course, that we keep harping on about it. Sir David Lumsden is an extraordinarily successful and able man (if not one of my personal heroes) and Simon Preston - well, at the very least he is the finest organist of his generation, isn't he? A rivetting and fastidious player, who (for my money) has done more for the profession than almost anyone to establish concert organists as artists on a par with famous performers on other instruments.

 

Andrew Lumsden is a far nicer guy than his dad (and a superlative player) and you have to ask why he never took the FR. I think when you get to a certain reputation, the problem is that if you pass (and are beaten to any of the prizes by someone lesser known) then this could be felt as a set-back. Just a theory.

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I hope I'm correct, since I'm rushing in to correct your statement but I had always understood that both of the above named successfully gained ARCO.

 

It's just jealousy, of course, that we keep harping on about it. Sir David Lumsden is an extraordinarily successful and able man (if not one of my personal heroes) and Simon Preston - well, at the very least he is the finest organist of his generation, isn't he? A rivetting and fastidious player, who (for my money) has done more for the profession than almost anyone to establish concert organists as artists on a par with famous performers on other instruments.

 

Andrew Lumsden is a far nicer guy than his dad (and a superlative player) and you have to ask why he never took the FR. I think when you get to a certain reputation, the problem is that if you pass (and are beaten to any of the prizes by someone lesser known) then this could be felt as a set-back. Just a theory.

 

I remember being told that Nicholas Kynaston, when asked why he had never sat the RCO diplomas, remarked that having been appointed Organist of Westminster Cathedral at 19 years old, having studied with Germani etc. etc. he didn't really feel the need... (or something like that!).

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I hope I'm correct, since I'm rushing in to correct your statement but I had always understood that both of the above named successfully gained ARCO.

 

 

This I did not know! Thank you, Paul.

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I hope I'm correct, since I'm rushing in to correct your statement but I had always understood that both of the above named successfully gained ARCO.

 

It's just jealousy, of course, that we keep harping on about it. Sir David Lumsden is an extraordinarily successful and able man (if not one of my personal heroes) and Simon Preston - well, at the very least he is the finest organist of his generation, isn't he? A rivetting and fastidious player, who (for my money) has done more for the profession than almost anyone to establish concert organists as artists on a par with famous performers on other instruments.

 

Andrew Lumsden is a far nicer guy than his dad (and a superlative player) and you have to ask why he never took the FR. I think when you get to a certain reputation, the problem is that if you pass (and are beaten to any of the prizes by someone lesser known) then this could be felt as a set-back. Just a theory.

 

Andy is a very different case, from, say someone like David C.

 

IMHO, the "usual" route to a decent cathedral post is something like:

- Oxbridge organ scholarship

- Assistant post somewhere

- DoM post at a lesser cathedral, then move up the ranks.

 

If you haven't done the above, then, IMHO things like an A/FRCO will help your application be taken more seriously. If, for example, I was a very talented player (oh, I wish), but submitted my CV as is (as I did for Romsey Abbey when it came up), then it would get binned (as it did for Romsey). My background is - lesser known independent school, organ scholar at an odd university (Keele), then lots of parish positions, G8 ABRSM, lots of choral conducting, but no ARCO, and no demonstrable cathedral-style experience. I could be a bloody fantastic player, but unless someone assessing applications has ever heard me, I wouldn't get a look in.

 

Andy L had a fairly conventional path to a cathedral position - Father an eminent organist, studied at Winchester, organ scholar at St. John's, then assistant/sub at various cathedrals including "The Abbey", then DoM at Lichfield, now Winchester.

 

There's not much need for him to take his F.

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Simon Preston - well, at the very least he is the finest organist of his generation, isn't he? A rivetting and fastidious player, who (for my money) has done more for the profession than almost anyone to establish concert organists as artists on a par with famous performers on other instruments.

 

 

 

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

 

An interesting observation Paul, which finds a certain resonance with me. He is such a passionate "balls out" performer with phenomenal technique.

 

Slightly off-topic perhaps, but when you talk to Americans, they've seldom ever heard of him!

 

MM

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Yes, I had a conversation with a cathedral DoM last week, and said something along the lines of "would a late twenties organist without a premium Oxbridge organ scholarship and an A/FRCO get a look in". The answer was that the CV would almost certainly get tossed out.

 

Sadly, an xRCO is still a requirement to get a look in for a real job. Once you have the reputation, that's another matter. I'm not sure if this is generally true, but my experience of cathedral organists is that they know everybody in their circuit well, but outside the circuit, their knowledge of "lesser organists" is limited.

 

 

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

 

 

Sometimes NOT getting a look-in might be a blessing.

 

It forces one to think sideways and perhaps pursue a different path in life. It worked in my case, for having qualified in music (just), I moved into the commercial world and found a real hidden talent, which ended up carrying quite a premium-rate.

 

Life really is like that, and few can nowadays pursue a set career path or even predict the likely future; unless it is within the set professions such as medicine or law.

 

Sadly, playing ability is only a small part of the story, but there are those who pursue a single-minded obsession as out-and-out performers, and for them, qualifications mean very little. They survive or fail on the back of other's criticisms and opinions, and under great pressure, strive for perfection at every turn.

 

Personally, with the plight of church-music and the underlying finances of the Anglican Church, I would never recommend anyone to go into Anglican church-music as a possibly secure career path.

 

I feel sure that the declining fortunes of the RCO are not unconnected with the

decline in church-music, and the same is possibly true of the RSCM, but that doesn't mean that one cannot use musical skills in other ways, if muse one must.

 

How many people on this board are full-time paid professionals, working in church-music?

 

The fact is, many struggle on in various ways....full or part-time teaching, a bit of exam marking, a bit of playing, a part-time church appointment, a wedding here, a funeral there, a bit of examination work out on the road and perhaps a bit of organ-building or piano-selling on the side. That is a very tough life for anyone to pursue.

 

That's why I have always been happy to have dropped music in favour of other things: retaining music as my main hobby, and when I feel inclined, more than capable of delivering a good recital performance when time permits.

 

At least I have not starved and I have been in control of my own life, which is actually worth a lot, if only in terms of solvency and peace of mind. It is for this reason that I am quite happy to rumble around the country driving a very large truck 3 nights a week, but being self-employed, I am free to change that or pursue something different at any time, and may well do in the near future.

 

It is probably worse for the Polar Bears that balance upon melting ice flows and diminishing icebergs.

 

MM

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My background is - lesser known independent school, organ scholar at an odd university (Keele), then lots of parish positions, G8 ABRSM, lots of choral conducting, but no ARCO, and no demonstrable cathedral-style experience. I could be a bloody fantastic player, but unless someone assessing applications has ever heard me, I wouldn't get a look in.

I wonder whether it might be helpful to make a demonstration CD and send a copy with each application. Or would that look too pushy?

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I wonder whether it might be helpful to make a demonstration CD and send a copy with each application. Or would that look too pushy?

 

Personally, I do not think so. Tha most recent cathedral post for which I applied, I adopted this tactic - and I was called for interview.

 

Fortunately, I did not get the job. I think that I would have been miserable (and broke).

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It is probably worse for the Polar Bears that balance upon melting ice flows and diminishing icebergs

 

The fact is the Organ world has been changing as the church has downsized. Massive downsizing is coming soon as the church becomes mission shaped.

The role of the organ has diminished in many places and the nature of the music has changed.

Add to this a changing cultural climate and things are not easy.

 

What is more profound is the changing aesthetic of music itself. Nothing stands still and the days of quiet cathedrals and wall to wall Howells have given way to Sentamu's drums.

The objection to instruments and music groups from so many organists was that they were producing music of low quality. Music needs to speak to people, worship songs and the like are very direct and have clear understandable moods that have gained a hold on peoples imagination.

Every so often music changes and complexity gives way to more simple forms. Howells and much of the cathedral repertoire(and the great french schools of the belle epoque) are culminations of their aesthetical milieu and the future lies in reacting to them in radical ways. In 1600 composers steeped in polyphonic writing of the most beautiful kind were exploring the new simplistic direct music of monody, the change must have seemed radical(it was fairly gradual)to many and a loss of accumulated riches over time. The new style gave us the early baroque with adventorous harmonies and daring rythmic juxtapositions.

By the time Bach hung up his spectacles he had seen music change from the complex rich style of the baroque to the new almost naive melodic style. And Bach was worried.

 

So with pop music. It marked a new dimension in music and the simple instrumentation, tunes and easy harmonies are here to stay. People express themselves through pop music and relate to it as never before. We are now at the stage of gradual integration of styles timbres and instrumentation. Pop music is coming of age. To many, the electric guitars and drum kits added life and vitality to this years Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall. It united the generations without patronising them. It was a super show (and good to hear the brilliant fiery Peter Crompton at the keys). The aesthetics of ceremonial have changed, we must all take note and embrace the future or as organists see the instrument decline further into irrelevance.

 

Now lets stand and sing hymn 445.......

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The fact is the Organ world has been changing as the church has downsized. Massive downsizing is coming soon as the church becomes mission shaped.

The role of the organ has diminished in many places and the nature of the music has changed.

Add to this a changing cultural climate and things are not easy.

 

What is more profound is the changing aesthetic of music itself. Nothing stands still and the days of quiet cathedrals and wall to wall Howells have given way to Sentamu's drums.

The objection to instruments and music groups from so many organists was that they were producing music of low quality. Music needs to speak to people, worship songs and the like are very direct and have clear understandable moods that have gained a hold on peoples imagination.

Every so often music changes and complexity gives way to more simple forms. Howells and much of the cathedral repertoire(and the great french schools of the belle epoque) are culminations of their aesthetical milieu and the future lies in reacting to them in radical ways. In 1600 composers steeped in polyphonic writing of the most beautiful kind were exploring the new simplistic direct music of monody, the change must have seemed radical(it was fairly gradual)to many and a loss of accumulated riches over time. The new style gave us the early baroque with adventorous harmonies and daring rythmic juxtapositions.

By the time Bach hung up his spectacles he had seen music change from the complex rich style of the baroque to the new almost naive melodic style. And Bach was worried.

 

So with pop music. It marked a new dimension in music and the simple instrumentation, tunes and easy harmonies are here to stay. People express themselves through pop music and relate to it as never before. We are now at the stage of gradual integration of styles timbres and instrumentation. Pop music is coming of age. To many, the electric guitars and drum kits added life and vitality to this years Festival of Remembrance at the Albert Hall. It united the generations without patronising them. It was a super show (and good to hear the brilliant fiery Peter Crompton at the keys). The aesthetics of ceremonial have changed, we must all take note and embrace the future or as organists see the instrument decline further into irrelevance.

 

Now lets stand and sing hymn 445.......

 

 

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

 

 

A splendid discourse, thank you.

 

Now perhaps you could let us know what Sentamu's drums are exactly!

 

As I quite like a lot of pop music, one thing does fascinate me. Other than the awful machine-gun rhythms of "trance" and "Indi" music, which I hate, the rediscovery of "swing" has been a very interesting phenomenon of late. Perhaps that is a good sign that real musical style still commands respect.

 

I must start practising my Billy Mayerl pieces.

 

MM

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What is more profound is the changing aesthetic of music itself. Nothing stands still and the days of quiet cathedrals and wall to wall Howells have given way to Sentamu's drums.

 

I had heard that since said drums came on the scene the quality of the rest of the music has slipped.

 

:P

 

PS Apologies for being totally off subject.

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

A splendid discourse, thank you.

 

Now perhaps you could let us know what Sentamu's drums are exactly!

 

 

 

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

 

 

Ah! I undertand now. This is a reference to Ugandan drums, as heard at the enthronement of "di Archbiship" of York.

 

Which reminds me of a funny story.........for which, see under Paul Durrett's "Old stories"

 

MM

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Before this thread is hi-jacked by Sentamu's drums .... :P

 

Having considered the difficulties that the venerable old institution has undergone in recent years, it would be a tremendous calamity if one day there was no RCO. I sincerely hope that the less threatening comments :P in this thread will be noted and that a change in fortunes will take place. It would certainly have been very nice to see the college located in Birmingham and the plans were exciting - shame about the dosh.

 

Going back to the content of the examinations, I always felt that the difficulty of the exam was that which made passing it a _really worthwhile_ thing to do. To pass either AR or FR is a considerable achievement. But one thing that I have felt for ages is that I would like to see local examination centres. In this area I can think of three or four FRCOs immediately. Two are cathedral organists, one a pretty busy freelance player who also examines for the ABRSM). One is a retired cathedral organist, Roger Fisher (ex Chester) who lives just about three miles from here. He has a more than adequate house organ set in a rural and quiet area which would be ideal for sitting an examination of this type. Why couldn't local FRCOs in good standing be allowed (on behalf of the RCO) to examine candidates in local centres? I am sure that were this to be done it would be a PR triumph. Certainly it would get me working again!

 

This debate started with the question of membership of the RCO being set at £68. I still think that is far too much, but if it must be so then it has to be made worthwhile. The examination fees are also very, very expensive especially if travel and overnight accommodation and a trip to "have a trial run" on the organ are included in the cost. It can cost hundreds of pounds and these externals which I have just mentioned add hugely to the cost, and make it beyond the budget of most. (Paul Derrett mentioned that £68 = 2 months electricity bill, so I guess he could power his house for about a year or more on what it costs to take an FRCO diploma) Consider that the nearest examination centre to me in North Wales is Huddersfield which is (according to the RAC) 95.6 miles from here. The Dulwich centre is 227.7 miles, and Edinburgh, well goodness knows! :P

 

If the RCO has no physical HQ, and if that is not now perceived to be what the organisation is about in any case, then why not go for local centres and encourage a whole new generation of musicians to strive for the excellence which is/was an RCO diploma? I am positive that a move such as this would be a public relations triumph. :P

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

 

As I quite like a lot of pop music, one thing does fascinate me. Other than the awful machine-gun rhythms of "trance" and "Indi" music, which I hate, the rediscovery of "swing" has been a very interesting phenomenon of late. Perhaps that is a good sign that real musical style still commands respect.

 

I must start practising my Billy Mayerl pieces.

 

MM

 

Yes, I've just discovered Jamie Cullum. Excellent, IMHO!

 

Peter

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the difficulty of the exam was that which made passing it a _really worthwhile_ thing to do. To pass either AR or FR is a considerable achievement.
Very true, but my beef is not the difficulty of what is asked, but its usefulness. If I'm going to make and spend a couple of hundred hours or whatever studying and practising, I want to feel before I start that, whatever the outcome of the exam, I'll be able to go on using those skills and that knowledge afterwards - and this is the reason I'm more interested in the ABRSM diplomas than the RCO ones. Every hour I spend avoiding consecutives in Bach harmony is a page of a Bach Fugue not learned...simple as that.

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Every hour I spend avoiding consecutives in Bach harmony is a page of a Bach Fugue not learned...simple as that.

Ah but somehow when you have a BMus you seem suddenly to be able to sniff consecutive fifths out! :P

 

I never managed to learn a page of a Bach fugue in an hour!!! B)

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Guest Lee Blick

Not wishing to stir up a hornets nest but looking on the examinations results page it announces the names of 17 names who passed. Does that mean there were lots of other people who didn't or are there really only a small number of people taking the examinations? Is there anyone who can confirm this please?

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Guest Lee Blick
Yes, I've just discovered Jamie Cullum. Excellent, IMHO!

 

Peter

 

At least he is the real thing, others have attempted that genre including Robbie Williams and Westlife B)

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

How many people on this board are full-time paid professionals, working in church-music?

 

The fact is, many struggle on in various ways....full or part-time teaching, a bit of exam marking, a bit of playing, a part-time church appointment, a wedding here, a funeral there, a bit of examination work out on the road and perhaps a bit of organ-building or piano-selling on the side. That is a very tough life for anyone to pursue.

 

 

MM

 

Has it ever been known for cathedral organists to pursue a well-paying job simulatneous to their cathedral post, or indeed for anyone to give up such a job to be a cathedal organist i wonder?

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Has it ever been known for cathedral organists to pursue a well-paying job simulatneous to their cathedral post, or indeed for anyone to give up such a job to be a cathedal organist i wonder?

I don't know about today, but 35 years ago I was assured in all seriousness that there were people who would happily pay to be a cathedral assistant!

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Has it ever been known for cathedral organists to pursue a well-paying job simulatneous to their cathedral post, or indeed for anyone to give up such a job to be a cathedal organist i wonder?

 

What about Norman Cocker's parallel careers as cathedral and cinema organist? I imagine that the latter paid rather better.

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Not wishing to stir up a hornets nest but looking on the examinations results page it announces the names of 17 names who passed.  Does that mean there were lots of other people who didn't or are there really only a small number of people taking the examinations?  Is there anyone who can confirm this please?

 

I don't think you can tell from this Lee. The RCO used to publish (in the yearbook) the number of successful diploma candidates, together with the total number of candidates who actually took the exams. When I passed ARCO in 1984, I think roughly 20 were successful (Summer and Winter), whilst some 60 actually sat the exam. Of course the mists of time have blurred my memory somewhat, but I think that sort of ratio was pretty standard at that time. Try checking the balance sheet in the latest yearbook (2004 - 2005?) - examination fees amounted to £23,486. Work out the number of successful candidates and subtract their fees from that total - it may give you an indication of numbers.

 

Or not.

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