Stephen Mansfield was born in Burton-On-Trent in 1973 and has performed, as a soloist and as part of bigger ensembles & orchestras on numerous occasions in some of the country’s finest concert venues. Stephen has many years of skill attained in the teaching and performance of music and drama in TV, Radio, Theatres, MOD, Schools and other Educational Establishments throughout the UK. He is a dynamic, passionate and highly experienced musical advisor, performer, composer, arranger, instrumental teacher & classroom teacher of music across all key stages and is a Director of Excel Music Schools Ltd, a company that he set up over 27 years ago. Stephen is currently the organist and Director of Music for the United Benefice of Etwall & Egginton in South Derbyshire and a founding member of South Derbyshire Organ Trust.
In this piece Stephen tells us how he became interested in the organ and how he now inspires the next generation of young organists.
Stephen is one of only a few artists in the UK to perform such a wide variety of styles in a single organ concert or recital. His mission is “to help establish the organ as The King of All Musical Instruments and encouraging children and young people to take up an interest in organ playing of all styles”
Born into a musical family, Stephen couldn’t keep his hands off any keyboard instrument and would often be seen (& heard!) “having a go” on organs in local churches. As an organist himself, Stephen’s late father, David, would play the organ not only at his “regular” job as the Organist at Hill Street Baptist Church, Swadlincote, but in several local churches on a Sunday evening. David would actively encourage his young son’s blossoming interest in music calling him to the console at the end of a service to perform to the delight of the remaining “blue rinsed” congregation!
One such church was the Ebenezer Methodist Church, Newhall. David, for many years resided as the organist for the annual Sunday School Anniversary that would take place in early April. In the early 1990’s this job was then passed on to Stephen, now aged 17. A job he undertook until the Church sadly closed in 2004. Little did they both know in the early days just what an exciting, and yet very challenging, opportunity this was going to throw up on the closure of the Ebenezer Church.
On a whim, (and that is, in no means said, in anything less than the complete truth.) Stephen, on the closure of the church offered to buy the organ. Something that caused great excitement (and horror, to his wife, Gill!) when the church said “ok it’s yours”. The deal was done and this paved the way for a rollercoaster of a ride over the next 4 years.
It was a very unrealistic proposition to have a rank of 16’ Open Diapason pipes speaking into the hallway of Stephen’s house and the prospect of the 61 coarse 8’ Trumpet pipes in the bedroom sent shivers down the spine of the horrified Gill. This was not even mentioning the superb sounding pipes of the Great Organ! So, in a chance conversation with Jane Webb, the Minister of Hill Street Baptist Church, Stephen offered the organ to the church knowing that the existing instrument was in a somewhat dilapidated state. Jane’s initial reaction was one of complete disbelief and only after a couple of days digesting the information, she spoke to Stephen saying that it was a huge gesture to the church, what do we do next?
It was at this point that the South Derbyshire Organ Trust was conceived. Several local people with an interest in the project were approached and asked if they would be willing to take up a position as a trustee. In the end SDOT had 7 trustees that would be responsible for securing funding for the project. Over the next few months quotes were gathered from numerous organ builders. The contract was eventually given to Mike Thompson Organ Builders Ltd, a firm based in Burton-On-Trent. Mike was contracted for regular maintenance & tuning so knew both instruments very well. With Mike on board a plan was then made to completely overhaul the organ chamber in anticipation of the installation.
The instrument was given its first public airing for the 2008 performance of Handel’s Messiah although the inaugural concert was given in March 2009 by the late American virtuoso organist Carlo Curley. Since then several big names have given concerts including: Philip Scriven, Keith Hearnshaw & Nigel Ogden.
Today, the trust is not only responsible for the instrument and its upkeep, but educating children and young people about the organ. Stephen runs special workshops for children both on his own and through the Lichfield & District Organists’ Association. By his own admission he uses a slightly maverick approach in gaining the children’s interest in that all the music performed on the organ is child oriented, featuring from: Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Simpsons, Harry Potter, Ed Sheeran, Disney Themes and other such lollipops. He also uses material from the RCO such as Dan and the Magic Musician which is always a hit with younger children.
We aim to run the programme at least twice a year, although this year has been challenging and sadly we’ve had to postpone until 2021. The workshops generally last for approx. 2 hours and are aimed at all age groups and are tailored to the age of the group. Stephen has contact with many schools in the Midlands and sends invitations that are then followed up with a personalised call. The Trust is keen to promote the cross curricular learning that the organ offers – Science, DT, history, art, even PE!
The sessions start by playing a well known piece on the organ. They tend to steer clear of traditional organ repertoire and focus on something that the young people would be familiar with. Dan and the Magic Musician, a short video which was created by the RCO is a very useful resource, particularly with younger children. They then move on to look at the mechanics of the organ – how it is engineered, the materials used as well as the skills required to build such an instrument.
Uptake on the workshops varies – independent workshops held on site are limited to 15 places whereas school talks are limited to the class size (usually no more than 30). The workshops leave the children mesmerised – the idea that the organ is merely 30 or so pretty looking gold pipes and 2 keyboards is very quickly extinguished!
The workshops are always free – donations are welcomed, but are entirely voluntary (no pun intended!).
Stephen is more than happy to assist any other groups/churches/schools that are interested in running this activity – it is tremendous fun and something that lives long in the memory of its participants. Contact details are available from The Organ Manual.
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!