From The Organ Loft: The Compulsive Recitalist

From The Organ Loft: The Compulsive Recitalist

Harnessing the positives of music-sharing through performance. 

Edwin Kwong
Melbourne, Australia

From The Organ Loft: The Compulsive Recitalist

Harnessing the positives of music-sharing through performance. 

I was recently chatting to Michael Fulcher, the Director of Music at Christ Church South Yarra, and he noted that my teacher, Thomas Heywood, seems to be a ‘compulsive recitalist’. Since he performs dozens of recitals each year, both within Australia and in his multiple concert tours overseas, I’m more than inclined to agree.

However, it made me think about my own concertising habits – am I a compulsive recitalist too? Evidence would certainly suggest so: so far this year, I’ve performed in 15 recitals and concerts, with a few more coming up over the next few months. But why do I feel the need to give so many concerts, sometimes at the expense of my own sanity?!

Mostly, I think I just have a tendency to over share – at least musically anyway! I enjoy the challenge of preparing for a recital, and sharing with the audience works of music that I think are absolutely beautiful, or new works which they might not have heard before. So far this year, I’ve given the Australian premieres of organ works from New Zealand, France, and Italy, with plans to introduce a collection of modern Icelandic organ works and a set of variations by an American composer next year.

It gives me immense joy to create and share music with others, and that joy is especially magnified when members of the audience inform me afterwards what kind of emotions were stirred up within them after hearing a particular piece of music that I’ve just performed. I’ve had one gentleman come up to me after a recital earlier this year, on the verge of tears – remarking to me how moving my performance of the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony was. It was most certainly a very emotional experience for us both!

But I am certainly compulsive in my concertising: in fact, I get anxious if I don’t perform a recital for too long, and this is coming from someone who plays every Sunday at church! However, as I have remarked in previous articles in From the Organ Loft, there is something unique to playing organ repertoire. For violinists, cellists and most other instrumentalists, they play music on the same instruments for a long period of time. But us organists have the unique challenge of having to adapt to new instruments and new buildings often on the go, and having to adjust our musical choices accordingly. Unless I am playing on the same instrument, there is no such thing for me as having the same musical experience, even when playing the same piece of music!

So for an organist like me, being a compulsive recitalist never gets dull. Even if I perform the same programme multiple times, as long as I am playing on a different instrument it is a brand new experience all over again. Essentially, it’s never Groundhog Day for organists!

Perhaps then the real question is – why am I so compulsive in feeling the need to perform concerts? I think it is something to do with the fact that the organ has the largest range of repertoire for any instrument. Aside from the incredible wealth of original organ works, there also exists an incredible variety of transcriptions from orchestral works, to solo pieces for other instruments, to chamber works. There is never a shortage of music for an organist to learn. As someone who loves to gobble up information and knowledge in my daily life, it is then no surprise that I love to compulsively learn new pieces of music consistently. And as a bit of a showman from time to time, it is no surprise either that I enjoy showing off all of the new music that I’ve been learning to audiences.

I really do strongly believe in the healing properties of music, so whenever I perform a concert, it is not only to satisfy my ego, but it is also an act of service to those who take the time out to listen to my offerings. So if you are a musician, I hope that you will offer something meaningful to an audience, no matter how big or small, soon; and if you are a prospective audience member, I hope that you will go and satisfy a musician’s big ego in the near future.

Featured picture from Edwin's concert at the Melbourne Town Hall on August 18th.