The year of 2016 is rapidly drawing to a close, and I thought it would be appropriate to reflect on some of the things I’ve learnt throughout this year and offer some (hopefully good) advice from my experiences.
For much of January, I was travelling overseas and got to play a number of different pipe organs in that time. Each encounter was enriching in its own way, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity for those experiences. However, much of that would not have happened had I not reached out to a number of different organists, some of whom I’ve never met before, and asked to have some playing time on their instruments.
Takeaway of the month: If you want to make something happen, just give it a shot! The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t pan out – which is the same outcome as if you didn’t try at all. In the infamous words of Shia LaBeouf, just do it…
I performed in Wellington, New Zealand at the end of July, in the Cathedral of St Paul. The cathedral possesses a wonderful and historical instrument, having existed in various forms since the late 19th Century. Coupled with the cavernous acoustic of the building meant that making music there was an absolute delight. Sadly, that instrument there was greatly damaged in the recent earthquakes in New Zealand, and the exact instrument that I played will unfortunately never be heard again, at least in the same context.
Takeaway of the month: Value every chance you get to play music, publically or privately – whilst my example is on the extreme end of things, you never know what life might throw at you next.
I was asked to perform at the Melbourne Town Hall for a solo concert in mid-August and had to think long and hard in planning my concert programme. Striking a balance between performing works that you enjoy, showing off your skills/your instrument, maintaining musical integrity, as well as entertaining your audience is not easy by any means! But I believe all of those are important factors when planning any recital, and must be considered carefully.
Takeaway of the month: To varying degrees, musicians are always entertainers in some form – keep that in mind when you perform, and your audience will probably like you!
During this month, I somehow ended up playing for five funerals and two weddings in three weeks. It would be unheard of for anyone planning such important events to not include music within them – the reason of course is that music provides comfort and joy to people at all stages of life. Whilst events such as funerals and weddings are obvious examples, perhaps even a recording of you performing a piece of music online might provide these feelings to someone who might have stumbled upon it by accident one day.
Takeaway of the month: Do really make every note and every phrase count when you play – it might not always matter to everyone, but it could to someone, and that enough is reason to give it your best effort!
As a church organist, the period from the end of November until late December is, inevitably, incredibly busy due to the Advent and Christmas rush. From the beginning of Advent until Christmas Day, I organised and played for 11 different services, and it was without a doubt exhausting! But in the midst of that hectic period, when it would have been easy to go into auto-pilot mode and just get it over and done with, one particular moment really stood out and reminded me that what I’m doing really is an incredible privilege.
In the arrangement by Sir David Willcocks of the final verse of the famous hymn “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”, there’s a particularly spicy diminished chord at the beginning of the phrase “Word of the father” – despite having played the hymn for the umpteenth time by Christmas Day, that particular chord without fail, gave me tingles down the spine every single time!
Takeaway of the month: It’s simple - find something that gives you tingles down the spine too, and do that thing!
Of course, it’s easy to theorise about these things, but none of it can happen without all the background hard work that we all need to do, no matter how young or old we are. So, consider that my message for all the other months I didn’t write about: put your head down, and work, but have fun whilst you’re at it!
In conclusion, thank you all so much for reading my various musings in From the Organ Loft in the past year. I hope it has been informative, or perhaps thought provoking, or maybe even funny (as you chuckle at my geeky obsession with the wonderful instrument that is the pipe organ). Have a wonderful 2017, and I hope to see you at an organ recital at some point next year!
Photo: Taken at the Abbey of St Ouen, Rouen, in France - on the historic Aristide Cavaillé-Coll organ.
Loved Edwin's column this year? Find out more about his work on his website.