This month’s column deviates from the norm a little, in that it is in the form of a brief interview with Rex Roxburgh, the GAP Organ Scholar at St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne, and Gap Student at Trinity Grammar School, Kew. I first met Rex in the incredible Eton Choral Courses in July 2013, where many lifelong friendships were formed for me, and it just so happened that he decided to come halfway round the world to Melbourne for his gap year! He has been in Melbourne since September last year, and was a regular performer this past semester in the Melbourne University Series of Organ Concerts (MUSOC). Rex has just completed his gap year, and will take up an organ scholarship at St Peter’s College, Oxford later this year, where he will read for a degree in music.
Could you describe how your musical journey first began?
One of my earliest musical memories with my maternal grandfather was sitting at the baby grand Steinway in his sitting room as he was teaching me to play chromatic scales. My grandfather was a fantastic pianist and a close friend of Claudio Arrau. As a result, my mother loves music and we almost always have classical music on, whether it's in the car or around the house. It's just something I've grown up with.
What made the organ your instrument of choice?
I actually started the violin and then the piano long before the organ. However, I felt I was drawn to the organ during my time as a chorister at Winchester Cathedral due to all of the amazing choral and organ music present there. At first, I didn't have time to fit it into my school timetable with chorister commitments, two instruments and sport, but I practised at home on the weekends between my occasional lessons. At Stowe School, the organ really became my first instrument and it was great to have free reign on the four manual Rushworth and Dreaper organ!
What would you say is your most memorable musical experience thus far?
Without a shadow of a doubt, my fondest musical memory was on a tour of the East Coast of the US with the Winchester Cathedral Choir. We sang Sir William Walton's Coronation Te Deum and Sir James MacMillan's Laudi Alla Vergine Maria (two of my favourite choral works). The Walton especially stands out as the Trompettes en Chamade used in the organ accompaniment are spine-tinglingly good, and those fanfares are just breathtaking.
What were your duties in your role as the GAP Organ Scholar/Gap Student at St Paul's Cathedral and Trinity Grammar School?
I worked four days a week at Trinity Grammar School, where I'd accompany rehearsals, play for chapel services, do administration and generally be an extra pair of hands in the department trying to be as useful as possible. At St Paul's, I sang or played for five or six services a week. I accompanied the choir regularly and sang bass whenever I wasn't on the organ bench.
How does Australia compare with England in terms of the culture of the arts and fine music?
I can't properly compare the two as I lived in remote rural Gloucestershire and obviously the arts and culture there is slightly different to a city like Melbourne! Despite the vast distance between Australia and Europe/America, I'd say Australia copes well and has a pretty vibrant culture of arts and music. Obviously it could be bigger, more popular and widespread but where isn't that the case? I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stint too in the second fiddles with the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra and I've come across lots of amateur ensembles and groups. I'm actually going to see Prokofiev's The Love of Three Oranges at the Sydney Opera House tonight so I'll report back on the opera scene in Australia next time!
What is the one thing you are looking forward to the most about studying in Oxford?
There are so many things that I'm looking forward to at Oxford. However, I can’t wait to study music in great detail and have rigorous intellectual debates with people and tutors who feel the same way about music as I do. Tapping into the libraries and resources that I'll have at my fingertips will be tremendously exciting too.
Finally, what's your plan for the future?
Who knows?! As far as I'm aware, I don't think my career will be in music. I'm certainly going to keep it up as a passion and serious part of my life but I don't think it'll be my career. To be honest, I haven't given it a great deal of thought but I've still got three years to mull this one over!