Early on the morning of the 20th of October I landed in Belfast City Airport and hired a car for the 2 hour drive over to Derry to join the group assembled there for the first of what is very much hoped will be an ongoing annual event focussed on engaging young people with the joys of the pipe organ.
Hill Norman & Beard Pipe Organ
The magnificent Guildhall has a very fine Hill Norman & Beard pipe organ which visually (and at times acoustically) dominates the main assembly room on the first floor.
I missed the morning sessions with the school children. Well over 100 youngsters were introduced to the pipe organ and 3 other Viscount instruments provided by our local retailer Henderson Music and placed in various rooms in the Guildhall. This allowed much smaller groups to be given more intimate sessions by teachers Daniel Moult and Catherine Ennis.
Battle (or Duet) of the Organs
I arrived in time to help set up our organ provided free for the Organ Battle later that evening by our retailer Jeffers Music of Bandon. I have been to a number of organ battles and I have to say this was one of the best planned and most inventive I have had the pleasure to attend.
It was far more of an organ duet than a meeting of conflict and was the better for it. Another unusual feature was the presence of a referee in the person of Roger Gifford, a former Lord Mayor of London and talented recorder player. He provided some lovely Irish folk tunes accompanied by Catherine on both our instrument and the pipe organ.
Below is video taken during the concert. You can see more videos of the evening on our facebook page.
Catherine Ennis & Daniel Moult teaching students
The following day was altogether far more serious with Catherine and Daniel teaching on the Guildhall pipe organ and the organ at St Columb’s Cathedral. About 6 students in all were helped through their pieces and in the afternoon they were then presented with the challenge of public performance on the Guildhall Organ.
As all of us know from bitter experience the pressure of a public performance is very different from normal practice. The students, one polish living in Belfast and another German based in Derry made it a very international entry field. All did well receiving at the end a certificate presented by Dr Gerard Gillen, Professor Emeritus in Music at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and a towering figure in the Irish organ world.
The festival concluded that evening with a concert of more general interest and incorporating the organ rather cleverly into the Irish folk music world. Catherine was joined by fiddler player Paddy Glackin and Irish Piper and cello player Neil Martin. They worked well together showing how the organ can make its contribution in music much more accessible to a general audience.
Attracting younger musicians to play the Organ
Viscount were pleased to be a key funder alongside the Irish Society and Strabane and Derry district council to get this first festival off the ground. Based on the reaction this year we are very hopeful this will establish itself as a regular feature on the Derry musical landscape.
Another important part of the event was the selection of the school to receive our gift of a Chorum S40 teaching instrument which was awarded to Foyle Academy. They have about 400 students with 70 participating in the music department. We hope that in a few years this instrument will have been the reason there are more younger musicians finding the attraction of the organ irresistible.
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.