More light on Harold Darke – an October celebration

Harold Darke

One hundred years ago, Harold Darke (1888-1976) began his fifty-year stint as Director of Music at St. Michael’s Cornhill, in the City of London.  The church is celebrating this event all through October.  James McVinnie will open with an all-Bach recital in tribute to Darke on Monday 3rd October at 1pm.

On Saturday 15th October afternoon an RCO workshop, directed by Richard Brasier, will study the English Romantic style via the music contained in A Little Organ Book for Hubert Parry (1918), composed as a memorial to the Director of the Royal College of Music where Darke attended as a student and as a professor (and which includes a piece by Darke).

More details and booking for this class.

The third Cornhill Colloquium, The Language of Music, takes place from 10am – 4.30pm on Friday 28th October.  It will discuss the relationship between music and words, with speakers including Radio 3 and Gramophone Awards judge, Caroline Gill; composer and pianist, London College of Music, Professor Francis Pott; The Revd Alice Goodman from Cambridge; Professor Francis O’Gorman from the University of Edinburgh and Dr Simon Jackson from the University of Warwick.  The day will also feature a program of organ music by Harold Darke to be played by the current Director of Music at St Michael’s, Jonathan Rennert.

Download a programme for the Colloquium: colloquium-2016-final

At the end of the month, the Darke plaque will be dedicated during Eucharist on Sunday 30th October 11am.  Finally, the Annual Harold Darke Memorial Recital will be given by Jack Stone, this year’s Harold Darke prize-winner at the Royal College of Music.  It takes place on Monday 31st October at 1pm, and the programme includes music by Bach and, and of course, Darke.

Not all the month’s events are listed here – you can find a full account of this Octoberfest on St Michael’s Cornhill Facebook page.


featured image: Steve Cadman

Easter recitals by Hans Davidsson and Stephen Farr in Oxford

hans_davidsson 1660 px
Hans Davidsson /photo Stephen Kennedy

One of the joys of the annual RCO Easter Course for Diploma level students is the organ recitals given by the distinguished teachers on the course, which are open to the public.  Oxford is the venue for the course this year, and Hans Davidsson, of the Royal Academy of Music in Copenhagen, along with Stephen Farr, Director of Music at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, London, will give two very contrasting recitals.

Hans Davidsson concentrates on Stylus Fantasticus, with music by Bohm, Bruhns, Buxtehude, Scheidemann and Weckmann, on the organ of Christ Church Cathedral this Thursday evening, the 31st March.

Stephen Farr celebrates modern British organ music on the Tickell organ at Keble College on Friday evening, 1st April, including music by Judith Bingham, Sebastian Forbes, Kenneth Leighton, James MacMillan and Judith Weir.

Both recitals start at 8pm and last an hour. Full details of the recital programmes, with biographies and organ specifications, can be downloaded here:

Oxford Easter 2016 recitals programme


Or you can find them in the organ events diary.


Full house for a memorable RCO Conferment

RCO members, students and their families filled Southwark Cathedral on Saturday for the 2016 Conferment of Diplomas.

A glorious early Spring day saw 53 Members of the College – the largest number for many years – conferred with Fellowship of the College (FRCO) and Associateship of the College (ARCO), and presented with the Certificate (CertRCO).

The ceremony also saw the Medal of the Royal College of Organists awarded to three distinguished practitioners and scholars from the fields of organ and choral music:

Prof. John Caldwell, in recognition of distinguished achievement in organ-related scholarship.

Dr Christopher Robinson CVO, CBE, awarded in absentia, in recognition of distinguished achievement in organ playing and choral conducting.

Mr Thomas Trotter, in recognition of distinguished achievement in organ playing.

The RCO President, Dr Philip Moore, also announced that the RCO Medal had been awarded posthumously to Dr John Scott, a distinguished Fellow of the College whose untimely death occurred last year.

RCO President Dr Philip Moore with the successful candidates. See below for more photos.
RCO President Dr Philip Moore with the successful conferees. See below for more photos.

In his Conferment address, Dr Moore said: “We have been most encouraged by having 53 new diploma holders in this examination year, a year of special significance, for 2016 sees the 150th anniversary of the first examination session.

“We have been examining without a break ever since; yet another pointer to the tremendous value that is placed on organ and choral music.”

And he added: “With your recent success you are laying firm foundations for the whole of your life, both personal and musical, to help fulfil your hopes and ambitions.

“‘Mozart,’ wrote Goethe, ‘is a human incarnation of the divine creative power.’ And he went on to write: ‘I have my own particular sorrows, loves, delights and you have yours.  But sorrow, gladness, yearning, hope, love, belong to all of us in all times and in all places. Music is the only means whereby we feel these emotions in their universality, for music is the common language of all humanity.’

“This is the language to which you have dedicated your lives.  Thank you for doing so; we wish you every possible success.”

The ceremony closed with a wonderful Ede & Ravenscroft Recital in which John Scott Whiteley, Organist Emeritus, York Minster, played music by J.S. Bach, Saint-Saëns, Verdin, MacMillan and Jackson. The work by Belgian composer Joris Verdin was a setting of the chorale ‘Mein Wallfahrt ich vollendet hab’ (‘I have completed my pilgrimage’). It was specially commissioned by the RCO for the Orgelbüchlein Project in memory of John Scott.

The vote of thanks was given, according to custom, by Ghislaine Reece-Trapp FRCO, the highest scoring winner of the Limpus Prize (in Summer 2015) and the Coventry Cathedral Recital Award.

Congratulations to all the successful examination candidates and prize winners, who were:


Summer 2015

Jonathan Bunney (Hayling Island)

William Fox (Hereford)

Laurence Lyndon-Jones (Chelmsford)

David Maw (Oxford)

Henry Meehan (Oxford)

Edward Picton-Turbervill (Alton)

Ghislaine Reece-Trapp (Oxford)

Daniel Soper (Bury St Edmunds)

Limpus Prize, Frederick Shinn Prize, and Durrant Prize: Ghislaine Reece-Trapp

Turpin Prize and Durrant Prize: William Fox

Dixon Prize: David Maw

Harding Prize and Durrant Prize: David Maw

Samuel Baker Prize: David Maw

Arnold Richardson Prize: David Maw

The Coventry Cathedral Recital Award 2015/2016: Ghislaine Reece-Trapp


Winter 2016

Gregory Drott (Cambridge)

Andrew Furniss (London)

Christopher Jacobson (Durham, North Carolina, USA)

Jeremy Lloyd (Oxted)

Joseph McHardy (Guildford)

Joseph Wicks (Salisbury)

John Wyatt (Watford)

Limpus Prize, Frederick Shinn Prize, and Durrant Prize: Joseph Wicks

Harding Prize and Durrant Prize: Joseph McHardy



Summer 2015

Callum Alger (Portsmouth)

Harvey Brink (London)

Thomas Brockington (Princes Risborough)

Timothy Kwan (London)

George Lacey (York)

Anna Lapwood (Oxford)

Amanda Lockyer (Ipswich)

Gillian McNaughton (Guildford)

Benjamin Newlove (Manchester)

Georgina Sherriff (Truro)

Charles Warren (Beckenham)

Charles Whitham (Ilford)

Limpus Prize, Frederick Shinn Prize, and Durrant Prize: Anna Lapwood

Sawyer Prize and Durrant Prize: Benjamin Newlove

Lord St Audries Prize: Benjamin Newlove

Sowerbutts Prize and Durrant Prize: Anna Lapwood

Doris Wookey Prize: Benjamin Newlove

Samuel Baker Prize: Anna Lapwood


Winter 2016

Rebecca Baker (Oxford)

Michael Carter (Portsmouth)

Richard Cook (Worcester)

Matthew Edwards (Alloa)

Hannah Gill (London)

Claudia Grinnell (Wolverhampton)

Edward Hewes (Scarborough)

David Hinitt (London)

Ben Hulme (London)

Harry Jacques (Chepstow)

Nathaniel Keiller (Windsor)

Christopher Mair (London)

Daniel Mathieson (Oxford)

Rory Moules (Wells)

Jack Oades (Exeter)

Asher Oliver (Windsor)

David Rees (Maidstone)

David Rice (Cambridge)

Matthew Searles (Poitiers, France)

Aaron Shilson (Dover)

David Thomas (South Croydon)

Limpus Prize, Frederick Shinn Prize, and Durrant Prize: Daniel Mathieson

Sawyer Prize and Durrant Prize: Richard Cook and David Rice

Lord St Audries Prize: David Rees

Sowerbutts Prize and Durrant Prize: Daniel Mathieson

Doris Wookey Prize: Richard Cook

Dr F J Read Prize: Daniel Mathieson



Summer 2015

Keith Foley (Bourne)

Luke Hayden (Chichester)


Winter 2016

William Briant (London)

Christopher Embrey (Leominster)

Matthew Kelley (Worcester)


The following Members were awarded the Dr John Birch Scholarship: Nathaniel Keiller ARCO, Charles Whitham ARCO, Jonathan Bunney FRCO, and Joseph McHardy FRCO.

Choral Evensong is good for you

by Morwenna Brett

Whether you experience it as a spiritual event or a free concert of the highest quality, the service of Choral Evensong is one of England’s richest traditions, and it comes as no surprise to organists and choral directors that every now and again the mainstream media discover this.

Tom Service wrote in the Guardian of Evensong at Lincoln Cathedral a few years ago: ‘…the mysteries of the responses and rituals of when you’re supposed to stand up and sit down again somewhat escaped me, but the choir’s performance of a Stanford anthem and their sensitive singing of the Psalms were minor musical miracles in the cathedral’s gigantic space.’

More recently in the Gramophone, comedian and actor Alexander Armstrong recalled his days as a chorister: ‘I’m devoted to Choral Evensong. I find the liturgy so beautiful…the sound of a Precentor singing ‘Lighten our darkness we beseech the O Lord’ at that lovely shadowy time of the day, with the sound of distant traffic, where an inner-city cathedral becomes a wonderful sanctum within a busy town or city…’

This month in the Telegraph, John Bingham notes that evenings in Oxbridge colleges are not necessarily given over to drunken hedonism, but that the chapels are reporting ‘… a steady but noticeable increase in attendances at Choral Evensong, as Christians, Muslims and atheists alike seek solace in choral music and the Prayer Book.’

I’m grateful to Ralph Allwood (@ralphallwood) for tweeting a link to a podcast on Rupert Sheldrake’s website Science Set Free: a discussion of the heritage, philosophy, and spiritual benefits of Choral Evensong, between Rupert and psychotherapist Mark Vernon. ‘A lot of people don’t know this extraordinary cultural tradition is happening,’ says Rupert.  ‘But tradition, beauty and idiosyncracy don’t just happen in Harry Potter books. It’s going on in a totally unpretentious way every day.’

ChoralEvensong org Hamstead Nov15
Rev Stephen Tucker, with Dr Guy Hayward and Rupert Sheldrake, creators of, at St John’s Hampstead, London

Rupert was one of the guiding forces behind, a website with a searchable map to find a Choral Evensong near you.  Churches can upload their own details -read more on iRCO here.  (The launch of the website, appropriately on St Cecilia’s Day last year, involved the extraordinary blessing of a laptop in churches and cathedrals across the nation.)

The team behind is looking for volunteers to help it go global.  At the moment the site covers services in the UK and Ireland, but Rupert would like to spread it out over the English-speaking world – the US and Canada for example.

Performing Choral Evensong on a regular basis is beyond the resources of many of us, but many choirs specialise in liturgical performance, and could help mark a special event and bring the glories of this simple, accessible service back to more parishes.  If you are one of these choirs, could you let us know, via the comments box below?

I’m so glad I came! – finding their feet in Bristol

by James Parsons

‘Amazing’ – ‘brilliant’ – ‘such fun’  – ‘I’m so glad I came’  Emily Keeling-Paglia (age 11) texts home from Bristol.

She was on the RCO Academy’s Find Your Feet! and Build Your Skills! in Bristol along with 14 other young musicians who had decided to spend three days of their October half-term last year playing the organ. Eight organs in fact, ranging from three 4-manual leviathans, to a tiny-keyed, single-manual gem of a 1761 Snetzler (so varied are the excellent instruments found in Bristol and Clifton).

Shuffling through colourful piles of fallen leaves along Bristol’s regenerated waterfront, the youngsters converged on the YHA – some local but others from East Anglia, Gloucestershire, London, Oxford and the Isle of Man. Unusually, girls were in a slight majority. All were soon on the bench, keen to play familiar pieces on new instruments. Tutors Brigitte Harris, Christopher Allsop and James Parsons realised from the outset that pianists would soon be ‘Finding their Feet’, and that organists grade four-and-more would rapidly ‘Build their Skills’. FYF Bristol2015 1

Christopher Allsop’s lunchtime recital at St Mary Redcliffe was inspirational – with transcriptions of Finlandia and Shostakovich’s Festival Overture hitting the sweet spot with students and public alike; it set the tone for the youngsters’ own endeavours as they settled companionably into a programme of nine group sessions across the City and up-the-hill in Clifton.

Two distinct levels were served by streaming into discrete yet parallel streams, with pedalling and hymn-playing receiving especial emphasis for both. Bonding was strong from the start: ‘a super bunch, so confident and chatty’ remarked one parent, while another volunteered: ‘she was pleased to meet so many others and now feels less isolated, with a clutch of new friends.’ The leisure excursion to ‘Locked-In-A-Room’ proved a hilarious and mentally-exercising diversion as groups of four pitted their wits against the dastardly Professor Pottenger to crack the padlock codes.

Events culminated in a highly creditable composite concert Church at Christ, which featured all 15 players – effectively projected onto large screen and video-recorded by Bristol and District Organists’ Association. BDOA’s support for RCO Academy knew no bounds, and no words can adequately convey our appreciation.

This residential programme, now offered for the last five years, has over time proved an important staging post: new organists have followed a progressive path with RCO Academy, enrolling for Raise Your Game! and Set Your Sights! days, moving on to The Organ Scholar Experience and forward to RCO diploma accreditation. ‘… greatly looking forward to the day course in London in two weeks’ time’ was heard from one promising young player as he headed home from three ambition-sparking days in Bristol.

photos:  John Miley

It’s not too late – organ scholarships for all

by Simon Williams

OrganScholar outreach 2015 01

Oxford University’s Access and Outreach promoted the Organ Scholarships for All day on 3 November 2015 to show that organ scholarships can be within reach even for those teenagers who come to organ playing relatively late in the school days, and to raise awareness of organ scholarships in general among state schools.

Hosted by Jesus College and their indefatigable chaplain Rev’d Megan Daffern, the day included presentations by current organ scholars, the University admissions staff, and the RCO, and ended with choral evensong sung by the choir of Canford School.

The feedback suggests that this trial event was well worth the effort and also that young people are keen to hear about what the RCO has to offer – members please take note in your encounters with young musicians! It also was heartening to see an even balance of the sexes.

“It was really pleasing to come to such a well organised and structured event and to get so much out of it!  It gave me a clear insight into what an organ scholar does on a day to day basis and how to achieve an organ scholarship. Also I am really pleased that I have now applied for membership of the RCO which I hadn’t heard of before!”

“[My daughter] was absolutely inspired by her day and had the most wonderful time. It was a splendid initiative of yours and I am sure it will bear fruit. From me personally, a big thank you for your friendly help and support.”

The soundtrack to our lives – organists’ Bowie tributes go viral

by Morwenna Brett

David Bowie 1947-2016

As the RCO has said many times before, no other instrument seems quite able to embrace and sum up the public mood like the organ.  At moments of high emotion, whether personal or public, the organ speaks in a way few instruments can.

The death of David Bowie on Sunday 10th January saddened fans world-wide.  Many people had loved and admired the man as musician and artist; his music the soundtrack to their formative years; his life an example of how personal identity can be successfully transformed many times over.  It was still, however, remarkable to witness the media coverage of his death, which dominated the mainstream news as well as the popular music press, even making the lead story on Radio 4’s Today programme on the Monday morning.

No better example then, of the organ marking a moment of strong public feeling than when two organists’ spontaneous tributes to Bowie went viral on the internet.

Nicholas Freestone, organ scholar at St Albans Cathedral, has been ‘astonished and humbled’ by over a million hits on YouTube and Facebook received by his version of Bowie’s  Life on Mars, played on the organ at St Albans.  ‘So many fans have got in touch and said how much the performance moved them, and how much it helped them deal with their grief at the death of such a cultural icon,’ he said in a later interview with a news agency which filmed a repeat performance,  also to be found on YouTube.

Organist Christopher Nickol decided he would include Life on Mars during the regular Kelvingrove Art Gallery lunchtime recital, after hearing the news of the singer’s death on the morning news.  Chris, Director of Music at New Kilpatrick Parish Church in Bearsden, Glasgow, was similarly ‘overwhelmed’ by the 1.7 million views on Facebook of mobile phone footage of his performance.

Gordon Wilson, in the audience, who was responsible for posting the recording on the internet, said in an interview with BBC News Glasgow ‘It was the strangest thing. People just suddenly appeared.  In the main concourse, people just stopped.  You could still hear kids running around – but people were just in rapture.  I’ve never heard Bowie like that before,’ he added.  ‘The man just played a blinder. I was welling up and I could see people beside me welling up – and it was just crazy.’

Chris Nickol, also interviewed afterwards by BBC News Glasgow, said ‘I thought that would be a good song to do, it’s very melodic, got some good harmonies, it would work well on the organ – and I thought it would be appropriate to play it as it was very much topical yesterday – and a great piece of music.’

He added that he watched Bowie on YouTube before setting off to Kelvingrove and the recital just to check the chords and harmonies.   No better example, then, of the musicianship that is taken for granted in our profession.  Two organists take a piece of music outside the customary genre, adapt it for a complex instrument, and produce a convincing and moving performance, all within the space of a few hours.

Something we are all probably too modest about.

Watch the Kelvingrove Gallery performance on YouTube

Watch the Kelvingrove Gallery performance and an interview with Chris Nickol  (via BBC News Glasgow & West)

Watch Nicholas Freestone’s performance at St Albans Cathedral

Watch Nicholas Freestone interviewed (and performing) on On Demand News