Fifteen-year old Edmund Smith has been learning the organ for just over three years, and has lessons with David Harris on the Peter Collins organ at St Oswald’s Church, Durham. At the end of October, he had the opportunity to play on Britain’s oldest working organ and Britain’s largest organ, on a trip to the North West with the Newcastle and District Society of Organists, led by Tom Bell and Charles Wooler.
After an early start and a long drive from Durham, we began our visit by joining up with an RCO masterclass at Adlington Hall led by Daniel Moult. It focused on the English Baroque repertoire as Adlington Hall is the home of the oldest functioning organ in Britain making music of the same period really come to life. Daniel’s comments on our playing have allowed us to change how we play these pieces altogether to make them more authentic to the period in which they were written. In addition, Daniel’s knowledge of what was happening at the time in relation to the organ and composers in England at the time was fascinating and added another dynamic to the session.
After a quick lunch, we continued onwards to Liverpool for an evening slot on the cathedral organ. We arrived at the cathedral slightly earlier to have a look round the building and we were amazed at the scale of the building. There aren’t many places that make look Durham Cathedral look small, but Liverpool Cathedral is certainly a good contender! The Cathedral’s “Lady Chapel” was probably larger than many parish churches with “the only two manual organ with a 32’ reed” that Charles had ever seen. Sitting down at the five manual console of the main organ was like being in the cockpit of an aeroplane with stops everywhere and pistons everywhere else. I played the Toccata from the Suite Gothique by Léon Boëllmann and it was an incredible experience to play it on this phenomenal instrument. At the end of our slot at the organ, we were all told to stand directly underneath the dome while Tom let loose the Trompette Milittaire, the pipes of which were directly above us. It was awesome to hear quite how loud it was in an empty building.
The next day, we set out for the church of St Thomas and St John in Radcliffe where a magnificent Hill organ was located. Its history was quite fascinating as it had once sat in York Minster. The instrument was 3 manuals in size with a wide range of stops that suited all our pieces from Bach to Elgar. The final stop on our trip (pun intended) was the Walker organ at Blackburn Cathedral. The organ there was interesting from an architectural viewpoint because it had no case to speak of making all of the pipes, swell boxes and wind chests visible. This instrument was my personal favourite of the whole two days. It had the same awe-inspiring impact of Liverpool but was manageable enough in size that I knew what I was doing in terms of registrations. The organ also featured one or two interesting stops such as the Cymbelstern which, due to the case (or lack of one) was visible from the console. In addition to this, the 8’ Imperial Trumpet was a force to be reckoned with and added so much more to the organ’s texture.
In conclusion, it was an amazing two days and a wonderful opportunity for a young organist such as myself to play such a wide range of instruments and develop how they play pieces of different styles.
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