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

Hidden Heroes of the Organ World

Thank you to Stephen Smith

Recently, while I was setting up a blog post on the Regent Classic web site to promote the 6 recitals that Joseph Nolan will play for us this year, I remembered that I must get them listed on www.organrecitals.com and this got me thinking.

Management of web sites as they grow gets ever more time consuming and complex. Keeping them up to date is a burden and people expect a real time platform to be just that in a way that printed publications are forgiven. So the sheer enormity of the task that faces Stephen Smith, who runs the site, suddenly came home to me. And this is a job that he does at his own expense and for no commercial reward.

There are in many walks of life very generous and quiet individuals who just get on with a task because it needs to be done and they are totally absorbed by the interest they serve. Stephen is one such person.

No one can doubt that the world of organ music needs its champions to draw attention to the fabulous instruments we have, the musicians that play them and the music written for them. Past names such as Carlo Curley and Virgil Fox come to mind as perhaps today a little controversially does Cameron Carpenter. (He is pictured below, from his Instagram account, showing some youngsters his dazzling custom organ.)

With Michael last night in Newport News! Everyone’s invited to see the organ when there’s time, but especially the young ones.

A photo posted by Cameron Carpenter (@cameronorganist) on

The front of house heroes are easy to list but what of the back stage crew? Raising the profile of the art, be it playing, restoring teaching or building has never been more important and I am sure there are more people like Stephen out there getting quietly on with a valuable job who deserve our thanks and recognition.

So I thought for starters you should know a little more about Stephen and the web site.

The birth of Organrecitals.com

The list of concerts now known as organrecitals.com dates back to 2002 when it started life as ophicleide.org

It started as a list of recitals Stephen wanted to go to. Computers were commonplace by then and it seemed logical to keep his list online, rather than in a paper diary – which he was prone to lose. It meant he could look at the list when away from home and, also, people could see what recitals he was thinking of going to. Quite quickly some organists took exception to their concerts not being on the list! Stephen therefore started including all the concerts he was told about and secretly marked the ones that he intended to go to. He still uses that secret mark today. By 2004, he had received a number of complaints saying it was difficult to spell “ophicleide” and, as a result, the site became organrecitals.com

The format of entries – venue details on the left, organist info on the right, and a picture of the venue in the middle – was established early on, as was the colour-coding for days.

Organrecital.com

Snapshot of the page listing for Organists

Organrecitals.com

Snapshot of recital listings

Coloured bands denoting recitals starting the morning, at lunchtime, etc. came later. Other features have come and gone, e.g. links to CDs were ditched because he was spending too much time adding new ones and checking for/deleting out-of-date ones.

The day to day running

Running the site is mainly a one-man show but about twice-a-year when he gets stumped by something-or-other he calls upon my technical adviser, Stephen Walmsley, whose programming experience he acknowledges is light years ahead. Stephen W showed him how to automate the site in 2005. Until that point, he had been creating the content longhand, as it were and, frankly, it was driving him to distraction. It now takes mere seconds to list a recital and have it displayed on all of the appropriate pages (instead of having to write it for each of those pages). Setting things up for a venue that hasn’t previously appeared on the site takes about half-an-hour – but once it’s done, it doesn’t need to be done again.

Some interesting numbers

Here are some fascinating number facts for you which Stephen has been formally recording since April 2005:

  • almost 1,700 venues have been listed on the site
  • 3,000-plus organists have been featured performers
  • 39,000 recitals have been played
  • 4,000 concerts per year are listed
  • and around 1.5 million of its pages are viewed annually.

The site, quite understandably, is now “part of the organ establishment” and thanks to the energy and skill Stephen has put into this project, (just because he wanted to), many people have a fountain of information at their finger tips. So perhaps the next challenge will be to add in the rest of the world when Stephen can find a few more spare hours.

What else does Stephen get up to?

Stephen is also well-known as the author of two comprehensive books, totalling more than 600 pages, about the seven-manual Atlantic City Convention Hall organ. He has also penned dozens of articles on that subject for various organ journals and is the instrument’s Honorary Curator In Perpetuity.

Do you know anybody who also quietly does do much for the organ world and deserves a huge thank you? And we do thank you Stephen – for all that you do!

Who else do you know that adds so much of their time to contribute to the Organ World and rarely gets the recognition? Comment below, drop me an email or message me on Facebook.

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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.