St Mary’s Church in Banbury was the host for this event organised by Director of Music Dylan McCaig, who also teaches at the local Warriner School. Dylan is clearly a great ambassador for the organ and hopefully this will be the first of many such organ days in years to come acting to engage local musicians with the instrument.
I live close by and so often find myself in Banbury, but have not stepped inside St Marys Church for many years. My last visit was perhaps 30 years ago when the pipe organ was undergoing some repairs and I was curios to take a look. It was rumoured to have some original Snetzler pipe work though I suspect this information was more hope than reality. Certainly the NPOR entry makes no reference to it.
Both organ and church are rather unusual. St Mary’s built in about 1790 is strikingly Georgian in style and is Grade I listed. Originally with galleries on all 4 sides it had a capacity of 2500. The east end gallery was removed when the apse was added in the 1860’s. The church then also decorated in a striking byzantine style and richly decorated stained glass added. The internal space remains a visual feast.
The bell tower is a later addition and carried a very fine ring of 10 bells. These were at full tilt on the organ day morning with a peal that lasted at least 4 hours underway. Loud as they were outside mercifully, they were barely audible inside.
When I arrived at 10.30am things were already underway. Malcolm Pierce from the Oxford & District Organists Association was guiding a group of about 8 young musicians through the features of this interesting pipe organ and the more curious ones were given a tour inside the pipe case.
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the very fine sounding instrument is the console with drawstops most unusually placed in two wide rows above the swell manual. This means the music desk is unusually high! It must take quite a bit of getting used to on first acquaintance.
Each student was then invited to play the instrument. These ranged from general keyboard players to those studying the organ with one clearly very talented youngster already studying at the Birmingham Conservatoire.
My contribution to the day followed on after the student players had finished. Joined by Malcolm and masterclass tutor James Parsons we were ‘interviewed’ by Dylan on various matters of interest to the small audience of organists and their parents. Subjects covered included how each of us had been introduced and attracted to the instrument as well as issues of how to find practice opportunities which inevitably lead into a modest sales pitch opportunity!
It was lovely to meet up with James who for some years had been my organ tutor when he was based at Oundle. I had monthly trips to Fotheringhay with lessons there on the lovely Vincent Woodstock organ.
Next up was a short recital by James on the instrument. Arriving only that morning and never having visited before he was under no little pressure but gave us a very assured and confident demonstration of music from the early Georgian period well into the 20th century. At the RCO graduation ceremony this year James was awarded with the RCO Gold Medal in recognition of his enormous contribution to education of music in general and the organ in particular.
James founded the Oundle Organ Festival which has grown is size over the years and now runs to a week long event with about 30 young students receiving tuition and visits to some of the wonderful instruments found in nearby Cambridge.
It is now 17 years since I have been involved with Viscount and recently, I am struck how many more young musicians we see being provided with practice instruments. No doubt the instrument is experiencing a renaissance. Through the efforts of people like James, the RCO and now Anna Lapwood through TikTok, we are seeing far more young musicians discovering the magical attraction of the organ.
Hurray! Long may that continue.
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.