I have completely forgotten how I first came to be involved with the various Oundle initiatives to provide organ teaching to youngsters. I do know it was at least 30 years ago when the programme was under the direction of my old friend James Parsons.
James was Director of Music at Oundle School and the arrival there of the magnificent Frobenius organ under James efforts, was the catalyst to getting the Oundle initiative underway. I was invited to support the event by way of underwriting guest recitalists performance fees. I even went to a number of these performances and started monthly lessons with James at the wonderful Fotheringhay Church just a few miles from Oundle.
The recital I recall best was a duo recital by Martin Baker and Ann Elise Smoot in a Great St Mary’s Cambridge with two organs. I remember it well as I clumsily tripped over the Chancel steps and gave myself a good bang on the head as a result. Ann Elise by the way is now the Oundle course director.
The Oundle Organ Festival expands
This support carried on for many years but over time the event changed. The Oundle Organ Festival slowly expanded into the Oundle International Music Festival and I sensed the sponsorship needs were more to fund the side line events as opposed to the teaching mission which was dear to my heart.
I remember attending one year the highlight event which was an outdoor concert with the Alan Price Set as the headline event. Alan is a very gifted keyboard player and musician but that is as close to organ is it got. The focus on organ had diminished greatly, too greatly to my mind.
In 2006 after I had purchased Viscount, I suggested that my future sponsorship would come from Viscount Organs rather than in a personal capacity. Its an interesting reflection on those times that I was advised by the committee that they could not accept support from a digital organ company. So a convenient reason to bring my support to an end was provided. The focus so desperately needed on the instrument had by and large been diluted too far in my opinion.
Oundle Initiative regains focus on the Organ and Organists
So it is today immensely encouraging that this Oundle initiative has regained its focus and expanded on the original plans started by James over 30 years ago. Oundle for Organists in the Summer is preceded by a course in the spring called Pulling Out the Stops specifically for even younger and less advanced musicians.
Course numbers have grown and once again I am involved in supporting their efforts. For many years now we have provided three practice instruments placed in the boarding house so students do not have to be taken to the surrounding churches to keep on top form.
The Oundle week now also includes four recitals as part of the student experience. These are usually organ recitals but this year it included one on harpsicord given by Stephen Farr, Chief Examiner for the RCO.
The value of Practice Organs
The value of having a home practice organ is now generally seen to be hugely helpful even if the sound may not meet everyone’s approval. The ability to grab short practice opportunities of ten and fifteen minutes a time is very significant. You can focus on the practice challenge and not be tempted to wander off topic. Its all too easy to be lured to just enjoy what can otherwise often be a brief opportunity at an instrument and tempted to let rip in a wonderful building!
Its also rewarding to see customers children taking part in these courses. Lizzy Regan is top left in the group photo below. The home practice organ was vital during lockdown and hopefully she will get an organ scholarship to carry on with music studies at university in the near future.
This year we also had a talented school boy on work experience from a local Bicester School. He helped prepare the instruments we delivered to Oundle and by a strange coincidence the week after we showed him how to fit the plugs to the power leads, he was an Oundle student playing the instruments!
Oundle for Organists is a much needed Initiative
The Oundle for Organists initiative is a much-needed excellent way for young musicians to experience the joys of all aspects of organ playing and includes an introduction to church musicianship. It is great value and a really fun week as well.
If you have a child with ambitions to learn to play the organ, then this is an excellent place to meet like minded students. It’s the perfect place to enjoy some wonderful Northamptonshire Churches, visit some Cambridge College instruments, while receiving expert tuition along the way.
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.