If a poll amongst organists were put out, I suspect there would be universal agreement that interest in the organ and its music has been in a slow but steady decline over the last 50 years. This is certainly the case in the UK – although it’s still esteemed in some countries. Here, I talk about some of the things Viscount are doing to get the organ, its players and its music back on the popularity track…
I’ve sat in too many local concerts where the musician has worked hard to reach a good performance standard, only to play to an audience of no more than 30. Continental recitals seem to receive a much higher footfall, though I’ve only visited high-profile events, which one would expect to fare better.
Sometimes, it’s self-inflicted as organists often choose music that lacks popular appeal – and by that I mean a recognisable melody. The entire programme doesn’t need to be audience-friendly, of course, but I wonder if the choice of inaccessible repertoire is not in part, linked to a decline in audiences.
As a consequence, I’m always somewhat amused by the intensity of opinion that the installation of a digital organ can attract. For me, the organist’s greatest area of concern should be ensuring the instrument has a vibrant future, with recitals being well attended. Back in the 1920’s – yes, a very different era I know – Lemare was playing to audiences of over 10,000. People fought to get into the concert halls. Clearly there was far less choice of entertainment back then, but the instrument created massive audience footfall and I see little reason why that passion shouldn’t be reignited again.
Surely our main concern is not the well-trod battleground of pipes vs. digital but overturning the general apathy towards the organ, which is slowly leading to its demise. So I want Viscount to help turn the tide.
We live in an age where mass communication has never been easier and at Viscount, we intend to use all the tools we have to promote every event we can. If you visit our blog, you’ll see we’re very active at promoting concerts and we do this for any venue that asks (see “Events” category). These have mainly been our past customers, but we’re happy to use our digital footprint to promote anything remotely beneficial to the organ world.
Another thing we’re doing is promoting teaching courses and, along with The Organ Club, we’re promoting opportunities to visit some very fine instruments on home soil and abroad. We also publish regular videos introducing a variety of repertoire and tips on playing. These are accompanied by free downloads of the music score and a midi file to enable any midi-compatible instrument to play the piece for you. (Have a look at the Music Tutorial Series category on our blog for these.) We’ll add to this in 2016 by publishing a ‘Hymn of the Month’ video feature, which will include an interesting harmonisation of the final verse.
A helping hand
A key project for us in 2015 was supporting the Selby Abbey Organ Appeal. We put the full weight of our advertising power behind their first lunchtime concert series. This was perhaps a small contribution compared to the many fine musicians who gave their services for free, but it all helped raise funds for the restoration of the very fine Hill pipe organ. We also commissioned two organ music DVD’s which will be on sale at the Abbey with the profits going to the organ restoration. This has been a great success and we’re already committed to repeating this support for the 2016 concert series.
I’m also very privileged to be able to visit some of the finest instruments in Europe to help make recordings. I share these experiences via my blog posts ‘Diary of a Page Turner’. This year we have extended this support with a small financial contribution to the recording process thereby easing the producers burden assisting recording of fine music on fine instruments to take place where they may not be justifiable on economic grounds alone.
As a reasonably typical small parish organist, I’m all too well aware how difficult it is to find accessible and interesting repertoire that’s not too technically challenging. Over the coming months, we’ll be publishing a regular blog highlighting pieces that introduce music meeting these criteria. The first one can be found HERE. By sharing this in our new organ forum, I hope we’ll generate suggestions from other musicians for similar repertoire.
We have also supported events aimed at improving knowledge and playing of the organ. In 2016 we have provided an organ for the National Schools Symphony Orchestra Course in Malvern. At the last minute we provided an organ for a Diocesan course in Bury St Edmunds for local church organists. Most exciting of all we are working with Tom Bell and Tom Dagget as part of the St Paul’s London organ outreach programme to provide instruments for East End Schools and so get the instrument infront of students who would not normally have access to the organ.
Finally, I’m very pleased to announce that we’re providing a years’ RCO membership for all our new home practice customers. The RCO is embarking on an exciting initiative to develop a virtual campus in support of organists of all ages and abilities in addition to its more conventional teaching programmes. Over the course of a year, we expect this to raise between £4,000 and £8,000, generating new income for the RCO and we very much hope many will choose to remain members, boosting their resources substantially in the years to come.
Whether we have the joy of a good pipe organ at our church or a digital organ, we all need a solid interest in the instrument for the art to prosper. At Viscount, we want to see this growing and through the initiatives described above, we’ll be taking an active role to make this happen.