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NHOA / SOA Play the Organ Day

St. Mary's, Quarry Street, Guildford

Saturday 19th March 2016, 12noon - 4.30pm

This educational outreach event took place as part of the 2016 Guildford Spring Music Festival (GSMF) Organ Events. Following the launch of the SOA Organ Student Scheme during the 2014 GSMF, the event was intended to provide more publicity for organ training opportunities in the NHOA & SOA areas, and to generally publicise the organ.

Since 2014, some 15 students have been provided with a small bursary from SOA funds for a set of ‘taster’ lessons. Play the Organ! Day provided opportunities for these students, and others from the NHOA area, to play the excellent 2 manual mechanical action organ at St Mary’s, as well as attend an educational workshop directed by Tom Bell. Moreover, during the afternoon, several prospective students attended to find out more about the schemes and opportunities available from NHOA & SOA, or to ‘have a go’ on an organ, or to simply find out more information about the organ.

Publicity for the event was included as part of the GSMF general promotion, which was widely distributed. Both SOA & NHOA mailed large numbers of people on their own mailing lists, and we were also able to send details to all on the local Diocesan and RSCM email lists. This advance publicity produced a number of replies from interested/prospective students who couldn’t attend the afternoon, but who anyway wanted more information.

The day itself was well organized, with plenty of stewards from both NHOA & SOA & refreshments throughout the afternoon were provided by a willing team from NHOA. The afternoon opened with a short and inspiring recital by former Guildford Cathedral Organ Scholar Tak Man (Phoebe) Chow who recently graduated from the RCM. Thereafter, and until Tom Bell’s workshop at 3pm, existing and prospective students provided a more or less continuous stream of music on the St Mary’s organ. Existing students – many of whom had not previously encountered a mechanical action organ – enjoyed the direct action and sureness of touch, as well as investigating the array of stops available. Prospective students – most or whom were already able pianists – tried the organ for the first time, supported with helpful comments from Gillian Lloyd, Ian Church, and Phoebe Chow. A working model organ, kindly supplied by John Porter from Poole, was demonstrated throughout the day, and many of the students enjoyed seeing exactly how the sound is produced.

The workshop at 3pm was enjoyed by an audience of around 25 people, of which 15 were students or prospective students. Tom invited a number of students to come and play short pieces as he described how the stops can be built up to make a chorus of sounds, or used to provide a solo line. One willing volunteer, who has only just started to have lessons, helped Tom explain the different pitches of stop. As well as discussing the technicalities of the organ, providing helpful tips for each student who played, and generally enthusing about the instrument and its possibilities, Tom also gave some useful comments on suitable footwear – and where to buy the shoes.

Ian Church