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Organist’s space: events, organ travels and player stories

David Briggs at The Yarm School | Sharing A Live Viscount Experience

The Yarm School Stockton-on-Tees | Source: Martine Hamilton Knight

I have to admit that I had never heard of Yarm until we were invited to quote for an instrument for the school’s brand new performing arts auditorium. It’s called the Princess Alexandra Auditorium – since the Princess opened it in May 2012.

Yarm is a pretty old market town on Teeside near Middlesbrough situated in an extremely severe loop of the river Tees. The river runs right past the new facilities and creates a lovely scenic environment for concert goers to enjoy from the terraces during the intervals.

If you had to pick a school for facilities and setting, Yarm would certainly be high on any short list. Recent years of substantial investment have resulted in purpose built rehearsal rooms, dance studio, new preparatory school and of course the 700 seat Princess Alexandra Auditorium. The concert hall technology involved is amazing. A hydraulic stage to lift and lower a full orchestra! Control room with banks of switches for lights, sound system, projectors, curtains and window blinds. The bridge of the star ship enterprise looked less complicated. All of this in a school only founded in 1978!

After 4 hours hard drive up the M1 and A1 from Bicester we arrived on a very mild and sunny evening at the school with an hour to spare. David (Briggs) had finished his setting up but Jeremy was still in the hall carrying out final adjustments according to David’s instructions.

David had requested that the organ was set to its French voicing. During his review of the instrument he had fallen in love with Bourdon voice model 8b which he used extensively. If you have a Physis organ you will find it as well. Give it a try and tell us what you think?  He also asked us to put a piano voice onto one of the stops which he used when in the silent movie a piano was playing!

John Barrymore as Dr Jekyl & HydeThe film he accompanied was the 1921 version with John Barrymore playing both Jekyl and Hyde. The film gives plenty of scope for imaginative registration and David extracted just about every possible combination the 69 speaking stops could give!

David started the evening with his own version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas. Made famous after its inclusion in the Disney film Fantasia, this music runs lightly around the full range of the keyboards moving in a trice from light hearted abandon to sinister and dark mood. An excellent introduction to the film accompaniment that followed.

Princess Alexandra Auditorium  | Yarm School (s)

David is rightly known as a master of improvisation and we were treated to a magnificent demonstration of colour style and tempo drawing on many familiar tunes such as the Bach D minor Toccata and the Mendelsohn Wedding March. There were numerous others that we all knew, but often the name remained stubbornly in the recesses of memory.

David Briggs at consoleA brief interval provided the opportunity for people to chat to David and choose from a huge range of CD’s and DVD’s he had on sale.

We returned to a short second half in which Jekyl looses his battle against the evil Hyde. The drama of the struggle between the 2 characters was splendidly mirrored in David’s playing which ended in a marvellous near full organ climax as the final scene of the now dead Hyde fades from the screen. The evening finished at 9.45, just in time to make our table at an excellent Italian restaurant a few yards from the school gates!

We installed the organ at The Yarm School in 2012 – if you would like to know more about the project – read the blog post all about it here. Feel free to ask me any questions about the performance or about the organ we installed in the comments section below – or contact me directly on 01869 247 333, enquiries@viscountorgans.net or @ViscountOrgans.

(Featured image at the top of this post: The Yarm School Stockton-on-Tees | Source: Martine Hamilton Knight)

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I have had a passion for church organs since the tender age of 12. I own and run Viscount Organs with a close attention to the detail that musicians appreciate; and a clear understanding of the benefits of digital technology and keeping to the traditional and emotional elements of organ playing.