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’.
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