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All Saints Church Leamington | Donald Mackenzie Accompanies Lon Chaney’s 1923 Hunchback of Notre Dame

All Saints' Church Leamington Spa

All Saint’s Leamington is a wonderful church built in a French Gothic style. The church has a wonderful crossing with the Altar backdropmost delightful side chapel in the south aisle featuring the most beautiful altar backdrop (pictured right).  This church is a real gem urgently in need of substantial help with restoration and a visit will confirm just how worthy it is for raising funds.

On a very windy evening I made the short journey from home to Leamington to listen to Donald Mackenzie provide an improvised accompaniment to the Lon Chaney Hunchback film of 1923. We had set up our touring custom organ with 22 speakers on the west end gallery in the church from where it was sounding especially good, the sound rising high into the building from the elevated speaker location.

Donald Mackenzie at consoleConsole and TVDonald is the organist at The Odeon Leicester Square, a position he has held for over 20 years so he is very experienced in film accompaniment (pictured left). He arrived just before 5.00pm and needed very little time to get acquainted with the 80 plus stops that the organ provided.

Next to turn up was old friend Keith Hernshaw with his video equipment and very soon all was in place for the performance, including a video monitor for Donald on the music desk (pictured below). Keith has a very busy business most often providing a screen for audience to view the otherwise hidden organist. In my view, this adds greatly to the enjoyment and is really worth the additional effort and expense.

Just before we were about to start the unmistakeable sound of a chainsaw struck up just outside the church. I have been to concerts where the organist has had to compete against church bells but this was my first organ chainsaw battle. The winds were strong enough to have brought down a tree that was blocking the road and the council were straight onto the job on a Saturday and in the dark. Happily it was only a small tree and after 5 minutes peace returned and we could begin.

Film Title PageI have to say that Donald provided 2 hours of magical entertainment (picture of the screen, left). If you have never been to one of these events, you must, must go. They really open the instrument up to a very wide audience. I would go as far as saying that the performance was the star, it just happened to involve a film and an organ.

As the music reached the climax of the film where Quasimodo falls from Notre Dame and dies I thought the organ might explode. The sheer speed and range of notes that Donald was playing must have pressed the computer processors to their very limit. Was I nervous, yes of course but it all went perfectly and Donald received a highly deserved standing ovation. We will do this again in 2014. It is just a great night out!

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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.

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