Please note the information in this article is correct as at the time of publishing in 2019.
This month’s feature is written by Anna Hallett, creator of ‘The Organ Manual’. Anna is 14 and has been learning the organ with Chris Totney for 4.5 years. She is currently working on her grade 8 pieces and she hopes to take the exam in summer 2020. As well as the organ, Anna plays the piano and sings in St John’s Choir, Devizes. Anna is an RSCM Pipeline Organ Scholar, supported by St John’s Church Devizes and attends Stonar School, where she is also a Music Scholar.
Earlier this year I published a report, ‘Inspiring Organists of the Future – does more need to be done?’. I set about this challenge in the hope that I might be able to do the GCSE version of an Extended Project Qualification (HPQ) at school. It was on a subject close to my heart and I thought I could do it around my music and school commitments. I never dreamt the response, research, findings or report would be so large that an HPQ was out of the question, and in the end my report was three times too long for an EPQ.
You might well ask why I continued with the work, when it was obvious no qualification was going to come of it. I did so, because I was overwhelmed by the feedback I received from a questionnaire I sent out and because of the willingness of some big names in the organ world in giving me their time to discuss what could be done to help improve things for not only young organists, but all organists.
I consider myself a passionate young organist. I attend recitals when I am able, courses as time and finances allow, my music playlist has a healthy eclectic mix from musicals to films (including of course Interstellar), pop to choral and every genre of organ music you can imagine. Having started playing the organ at the age of 9, I have worked my way through all the grades, not least because I was too short to reach the pedals when I started, but also to help me develop a sound knowledge of the workings of the organ as I progress.
Despite this passion and activity in the ‘organ world’, during my research I came across countless sites, magazines, organisations and more that I wasn’t previously aware of. As a result of my project, I became a member of my local organ association, subscribed to various magazines, became the youngest member (or so they think) of Friends of Cathedral Music, learned about other courses and scholarships I wasn’t otherwise aware of. I wondered how I could be so ignorant of all this information. It certainly wasn’t through lack of support from my teacher, family or friends, nor was it for want of looking.
As my research developed, it became more and more apparent that many organists benefit from memberships of different organisations, gaining experience, advice and/or qualifications from them. In addition, there are numerous ‘self-help’ groups set up to answer questions, some dealing with more specific areas of organ playing than others. And then there are the publications, the various magazines covering all aspects of the organ. Let’s not forget the sites that detail recitals, competitions, organ builders, vacancies and so much more.
And so, that is how ‘The Organ Manual’ came about. As I wrote the conclusion of my report, drawing months of research together I felt something needed to be done so others could hopefully benefit from all I had discovered.
I wrote down list after list of areas I thought should be covered, topics to write about and questions to answer. It was those lists that helped the logo for the site evolve. After much planning, more research, drafts, redrafts, discussions, templates, design and development ‘The Organ Manual’ took shape. Slowly but surely the site grew to what it is now, at a stage where I think, I hope, it is ready to be released to the organ world and be of use to its visitors. There is barely a week that goes by without me adding another useful site, page or link to the manual, so it is ever evolving, especially if you can tell me about sites, support, courses, schemes, sponsorship and anything else organ that you know of.
My hope is that this site becomes the ‘go to’ place for every level of organ player to go to, from the 9 year old who is interested in having a play to the 89 year old (the oldest player who responded to my survey) who perhaps is considering hanging up his organ shoes after 70 years of playing. Perhaps it’s an over simplistic approach to the problem. Who knows? I can but try!
If you would like to write a ‘Monthly Feature’, do please get in touch. It can be about anything to do with the organ. Perhaps your experience on a course you’ve attended, buying a new organ, the day in the life of an organ builder, my favourite organ. I’d love to hear from you!