Reflections of a fledgling organist, aged eighty

January 5, 2018

Peter Woodward came to organ playing late in life. It was unexpected, but the involvement with the instrument and its music has been transforming. Here's the story in his own words - how on the death of his wife Mary he took up the piano and then the organ, and followed her in attending the RCO's big Summer Course for the last three years.

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January deadline for Leicester MusicFest organ competition- enter now!

December 22, 2017

Leicester MusicFest 2018 welcomes amateur organists of all ages and abilities to showcase their talents in two competition classes in their annual pipe organ competition which takes place on the afternoon of Saturday 10th February 2018, on the Peter Collins organ in the St Cecilia Auditorium at English Martyrs Catholic School in Leicester.

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Virtuoso contemporary music from trumpet and organ duo

December 1, 2017

Trumpeter Ellie Lovegrove and organist Richard Moore spent three nights earlier this year in the magical space of Portsmouth Cathedral, recording the music for their debut CD. Ellie and Richard form Illumina Duo, and this recording project was funded in the main by the Eric Thompson Charitable Trust for Organists as their 2016/2017 Annual Award. The CD is now available to buy online, and includes previously unrecorded virtuoso contemporary music by by contemporary British and American artists - including two new commissions by emerging British composers.

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The President’s Evening 2018

November 30, 2017

Westminster Cathedral’s Grand Organ Festival 2017 ended on Wednesday 29 November with a recital by the Cathedral’s Master of Music, Martin Baker. In his role as RCO President, Martin arranged for this also to be an occasion for members of the College’s Anniversary Circle and other supporters to enjoy a pre-concert talk and post-concert reception in the atmospheric surroundings of the Clergy House Library.

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Thomas Trotter plays the Troxy

November 17, 2017

Those of us who attended the RCO/Cinema Organ Society Organ Day at the Troxy Cinema in London's East End last January are aware of the skills of organists like Richard Hills FRCO - equally at home on the classical as well as the cinema organ. Now, a year on, another celebrated classical organist will step up to the Troxy Wurlitzer - Thomas Trotter gives his first concert on the cinema organ this coming January, in the company of Simon Gledhill. We look at the legacy of other crossover artists in the organ world.

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Performing Messiaen: insights into his working and creative life

November 7, 2017

How did Olivier Messiaen combine the creative life with the conventions and strictures of his role as organist? And how can that help us understand and perform his music? In this year’s RCO Organ Forum at the Royal Academy of Music, Artistic Director Robert Sholl brought together academic and performance experts to answer these questions, in a celebration of Messiaen’s work held in this, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the composers’ death.

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Raising the profile in Derry-Londonderry

November 2, 2017

The College was a partner in the inaugural Guildhall Organ Festival in Derry-Londonderry at the end of October. A packed programme over three days was led by artistic director Catherine Ennis, supported by Daniel Moult, using the three-manual Hill organ in the Guildhall as the centrepiece, and included workshops, concerts, music for traditional Irish instruments with the organ, and a Battle of the Organs, featuring Sir Roger Gifford on recorder.

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Take part in a masterclass on a unique 1930s instrument

October 30, 2017

The Royal Hospital School in Holbrook is offering the opportunity to join an organ masterclass and play a unique 1930s instrument in a splendid acoustic - the 1933 Hill Norman & Beard organ in the school chapel, which is one of the few instruments from that time which hasn't been altered from the original tonal design. The master classes follow a series of Monday organ recitals, between 2.30 and 3.30pm. Anyone of any standard can apply, with repertoire that relates to the recital.

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Pipes and frets – bridging the gap between worship styles

October 26, 2017

The Royal School of Church Music is running a workshop to give church musicians the chance to bridge the gap between worship styles and find ways of combining organ and band in church music. It includes practical teaching and the opportunity to work with a live band, and will be held at St Michael's Chester Square, in London, on 4 November 2017.

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Francis Jackson centenary celebrations

October 23, 2017

The Royal College of Organists marked the 100th birthday of Dr Francis Jackson CBE a couple of weeks ago with a special event in conjunction with York Minster, where Dr Jackson directed the music with great distinction for 36 years. Guests included the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and Katharine, Duchess of Kent, and tributes to Jackson as organist, choral director and composer, came from around the world.

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Organ Reframed – releasing the organ from its traditional roots

October 5, 2017

The Father Willis at the Union Chapel in Islington, North London, will be centre stage in a three-day event next week, as Organ Reframed challenges artists and audiences to rethink the organ. The festival, from 13th to 15th October 2017, features eight new commissions, and rare performances from musicians and artists from the UK, US and Canada.

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Northern Ireland competition attracts an international line-up of young organists

September 15, 2017

Sebastian Heindl, aged 19, has won the Senior section of the Northern Ireland International Organ Competition (NIIOC), which took place in August on the Walker organ in St Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh. Applications for the competition, for organists aged 21 and under, were received from Hong Kong, China, France, Germany, Poland, Budapest, Slovakia, Lithuania, Canada, UK and Ireland. RCO Student Members were among the prize-winners: Thomas Trotter comments on the experience of chairing the competition jury.

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Commemorating Messiaen at the RCO Organ Forum 2017

September 9, 2017

This year marks the 25th anniversary year of the death of Olivier Messiaen. The quantity and quality of his organ works are remarkable, and, unlike many other major organ composers, Messiaen's other instrumental works, and choral and orchestral music, place him firmly in the first rank of composers across all genres and periods. Join a team of internationally respected Messaien scholars and interpreters at the RCO's Organ Forum in October, together with Messiaen's successor as organist titulaire at the church of La Trinité, to commemorate and celebrate the twentieth century's greatest composer for the organ.

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See you again next year! RCO courses hit the spot in Oxford and London

August 28, 2017

See you again next year! was the verdict of many students on two of the RCO's flagship courses - The Organ Scholar Experience, this year based around the colleges and organs of Oxford, and the Summer Course, with over fifty organists rushing from their base in St Giles, Cripplegate around the City of London's churches, for classes, private practice, and performance.

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Playing the repertoire on Classical French instruments

August 17, 2017

Privileged access to historic places and instruments is a feature of RCO courses and classes, but it doesn't get much better than sitting at the sky-blue and gold organ of the Royal Chapel at Versailles. Eleven organists visited Paris to play the Classical French repertoire on instruments of the period on an RCO study trip in June this year, under the tutelage of the organist at the Royal Chapel, Jean-Baptiste Robin.

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If you can manage a cathedral organ, you can manage an international airport

August 8, 2017

It's not uncommon for professional musicians to also maintain a job in a non-musical field, but Paul Griffiths, spectacularly, holds one of the top positions in the aviation industry, as well as being an international concert organist and recitalist, and a Vice President of the RCO. With a recital at Westminster Abbey coming up on 13th August, he describes his practice routine, and how important both his occupations are.

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The Orgelbüchlein Project – in competition and performance

August 2, 2017

The Orgelbüchlein Project (a composition project to complete the 118 "ghost" pieces missing from J S Bach's Orgelbüchlein) is entering its final phase, with only a few commissions remaining. Two of the chorales were reserved for an RCO composition competition, and the finals were held a few weeks ago. We report on the results, and performances of further Orgelbüchlein commissions coming up at the BBC Proms.

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Inspiration for young organists – the Organ Scholar Experience

July 11, 2017

The RCO's Organ Scholar Experience is the essential summer course for young organists. Held in Oxford this year, from 18th to 23rd July, it introduces teenage organists to the life of an organ scholar. Come and listen to choral evensong and choral compline in Oxford Colleges taken by the course students, and recitals from the top-flight recitalists who are their tutors for the week.

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Freezing moments in musical time – the Archive of Recorded Church Music

July 7, 2017

"500 uploads on YouTube!" tweeted the Archive of Recorded Church Music, triumphantly, last week. Colin Brownlee who runs the archive has been gathering recordings - LPs, 78s, cassettes, reel-to-reel, CDs, commercial and private - for 15 years, and has created a collection of cathedral and church choral music which is now seen as definitive, illustrating the changes in choral sound since 1902.

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Two big organ contests, in a tale of two cities

June 30, 2017

Two European cities hold festivals devoted to the organ and its music this summer - each basing their festival around a major organ-playing competition. Catch up with the celebrations around the instrument, in England and in France.

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Ten ways to find non-stop organ listening

June 26, 2017

Opportunities to hear the organ uninterrupted on UK network radio are few. But did you know that if you transfer to pure internet radio, there's a wealth of sources dedicated to quality organ music out there? All it needs is a computer, smartphone or tablet with an internet connection and speakers, plus a slight change of approach and listening habits.

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Making keyboard skills a pleasure

June 9, 2017

For teachers of all keyboard instruments, it can be an uphill task to find teaching material for keyboard skills - realising figured bass, score reading, transposing, harmonising and improvisation. Two books of graded exercises have just been published by RCO tutors Anne Marsden Thomas and Frederick Stocken to help students of every standard improve their keyboard skills.

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The twenty-first century hymn-player

June 2, 2017

Playing hymns is an essential part of the musical lives of most organists. The hymn is a resilient art form, and has survived into the twenty-first century, with twenty-first century resources to match. Here's a guide to some of them.

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Memorable for the right reasons

May 27, 2017

The Bristol and District Organists' Association thinks they may have qualified for the Guinness Book of Records this month, with a unique public concert of 16 previously unheard organ compositions. The occasion was the finals of their competition for new compositions for the organ, to find a piece that was approachable, could be used as service voluntary, and also within recital repertoire.

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Leeds Organist leads the way

May 10, 2017

The opportunity was there, so I took it, says Giles Taylor, of his recent success in being the first to gain one of the College's new CAM (Certificate of Accredited Membership) qualifications. Giles had previously browsed the College's Diploma requirements, but the CAM awards appealed because he felt the elements were straightforward and achievable. In this interview he describes the experience of taking the examination.

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Complete the Orgelbüchlein – competition deadline June 1st 2017

May 2, 2017

The Orgelbüchlein Project is a major international composition project to complete J S Bach’s Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book). The task for composers contributing to the Orgelbüchlein Project is this: if Bach were alive today, how might he go about writing a short chorale prelude in the Orgelbüchlein style?

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Conferment – the view from the backstage crew

March 31, 2017

The RCO management team is required to pull together on Conferment day and perform some interesting tasks, outside our usual skillsets. First thing in the morning wicker baskets arrive full of assorted gowns and hoods, and the robing department has to make sure that everyone gets the correct gorgeous garments for the ceremony. We stuff the programmes with appropriate fliers and donation envelopes, and become ushers and usherettes as soon as the audience starts to arrive. And all in amongst the Royal College of Organists holds its Annual General Meeting...

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“Playing the organ can be quite tricky” – but they love the new training programme

March 20, 2017

Playing the organ can be quite tricky, says Raina D'Souza, though she hasn't lost enthusiasm for the instrument, learning under the guidance of David Pipe, Director of the Organists' Training Programme, launched in November last year by the Diocese of Leeds. The scheme now comprises students, both children and adults, in centres across Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Harrogate. Three of those students comment on their progress so far.

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Masterclass with Bine Bryndorf on Bruhns and Buxtehude

March 8, 2017

The thirty-first IOA London Organ Day was held on 4th March, under the direction of Tom Bell, featuring the stylus fantasticus of the early Baroque. The venue was the Dutch Church, in the City of London, with its Flentrop organ, perfect for this repertoire. The morning session included a masterclass on with Bine Bryndorf, who gave valuable practical insights into the performance of Bruhns and Buxtehude.

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Young Theatre Organist of the Year

February 10, 2017

The RCO's toes are still tapping after spending a day with the Troxy Wurlitzer in January, in the company of our colleagues of the Cinema Organ Society. Young Theatre Organist of the Year 2016, Lewis Scott, was also there, and he talks about winning the competition, how he manages to practise, and his plans for the future.

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Let’s hear it for the Harmonium

February 1, 2017

The San Francisco-based musician, Michael Hendron, travels the world, seeking out harmoniums and reed organs in dusty corners of French cathedrals and village churches, recording interesting repertoire. He has made videos at Sainte-Clotilde and La Madeleine in Paris, on harmoniums dating from the time of Franck, Fauré and Saint-Saëns. Michael joined David Aprahamian Liddle last November at St Barnabas, Pimlico, where David is the proud owner of a 2-manual harmonium built in 1868 by Philip J Trayser of Stuttgart.

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Finding the best – a scholarship for senior organists

December 7, 2016

Applications are invited from senior organ students, or organists in the early stages of their professional careers, for the W T Best Memorial Scholarship, worth £,4000 for up to 3 years. Auditions are scheduled for 23rd February 2017, with a closing date for applications of 5pm on 20th January 2017.

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In search of nightingales – the diary of Elizabeth Campbell

November 25, 2016

In 1927, Elizabeth Campbell travelled to England from her home in Melbourne, Australia, to study organ and conducting at the Royal College of Music in London with Henry Ley. She became one of Australia's leading organists, but always dreamed of going back to London. In 1933 her dream came true and she was invited back by the RCM as part of their Jubilee Celebrations. She kept a diary of this remarkable year's visit, which survived, and has been transcribed and published by Robert Cox, a close friend of her family.

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Throw off your cassock, and meet the mighty Wurlitzer

November 18, 2016

The RCO throws off its cassock and surplice, and slips into something a little more glamorous, for the 2017 RCO Organ Forum: a toe-tapping day of light organ music with the Cinema Organ Society on Saturday 7 January - the first time the respective worlds of the classical and theatre organ have come together for study and discussion.

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A life-changer for two young composers

November 11, 2016

Two young RCO members are carving out careers for themselves as composers, alongside their organ playing. Both Matthew Kelley and Tammas Slater won in the junior category the BBC Proms Inspire Young Composers competition in 2015, and for both of them this has been a life-changer, leading to a series of further commissions.

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Attention teenage organists! – London Organ Competition deadline 10 November

November 2, 2016

There's just a week left for teenage organists to enter the competition which takes place on Thursday 29 December, organised by the Organ Club, for cash prizes and opportunities for recitals. Prizewinners also gain free entry into the Northern Ireland International Organ Competition - which is co-organiser of this event. The deadline for entry is Thursday 10 November - so no time to lose!

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The pin-up of the organ world

October 25, 2016

What pipe organ would you expect to see on the wall of an organ scholar’s bedroom? The 1735 Christian Muller instrument of the St Bavokerk, Haarlem, of course, in all its beauty and grandeur. The RCO took twelve lucky organists on a Masterclass to play it, under the tutelage of Reitze Smits.

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My RCO – Joe McHardy on winning the John Birch Scholarship

October 11, 2016

Joe McHardy was convinced he'd failed his FRCO earlier this year, so when he got emails telling him not only that he had passed, but been awarded the Durrant Prize, and then the John Birch Scholarship, he thought there must have been some mistake. He tells us what the Scholarship, and the RCO, have meant for him.

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Celebrate the organ – OrganFest opens in Edinburgh in October

September 28, 2016

OrganFest, the annual weekend celebration of the organ, moves north this year. After two years in the Midlands, it will be held in Edinburgh from Friday 28th to Sunday 30th October, and showcase organs by Willis, Ahrend, and Reiger.

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More light on Harold Darke – an October celebration

September 20, 2016

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, and James McVinnie will open with an all-Bach recital in tribute to Darke on Monday 3rd October.

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Philip Moore’s Requiem – world premiere and national broadcast in November

September 7, 2016

Philip Moore’s new Requiem will be given its world premiere on Friday 18 November 2016 at 2pm at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge in a concert to be given by the BBC Singers, conducted by David Hill. The concert will also be broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Dedicated to the memory of his Mother and Father, Philip Moore’s Requiem is written for soprano solo, mixed voices and organ.

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Organists in Business: presentations now available

August 4, 2016

The Organists in Business conference was organised in Summer 2016, with more than a dozen musicians at the top of their respective professions giving detailed guidance to an audience of organists looking to start, build, or change their careers. Selected presentations from the day are now available on iRCO.

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Croydon Minster hymnathon: non-stop through the New English Hymnal for the organ appeal

June 26, 2016

Croydon Minster is inviting all Choirmasters and Music Directors to join them in their Hymnathon on 1st and 2nd July, when they will be singing non-stop through the entire New English Hymnal, to support the organ appeal.

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Bishop of Leeds launches new organ school

June 23, 2016

Bishop of Leeds the Rt Rev Marcus Stock launched the new Diocese of Leeds Organ School with a service at Leeds Cathedral last month. The new Organ School is a partnership between the Diocese of Leeds Music Department and The Royal College of Organists.

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Free music day in Leeds Cathedral to launch organists’ training programme

May 20, 2016

The Diocese of Leeds Music Department will host a workshop day for parish musicians, school music leaders, organists, choirs, cantors and clergy in June, based in Leeds Cathedral. Participants will have the chance to play the Cathedral’s superb organ, rebuilt by Klais of Bonn in 2010, and admission is free.

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Organists in business: learning the skills for a successful career

May 17, 2016

Bach famously had moments of contention with his employers and colleagues over fees, commissions, teaching schedules, leave of absence. In these respects at least, it seems that nothing much changes. Working as a professional organist requires additional skills beyond musicianship, so the RCO has organised a one-day Organists in Business conference in June to provide business skills and career advice to organists at all levels.

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Advanced hymn techniques: reaching the next level

April 18, 2016

‘To accompany hymns well is our bread and butter’, said Daniel Moult, at the start of our RCO workshop on hymn playing last year, ‘but also quite an art.  So take pride in your hymn playing - have your own hymn book marked up with your pedalling, cues, and notes.’

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The man who bought an organ

April 13, 2016

Tempted by a fine redundant organ? Steve Mansfield was: by a recently overhauled Lloyd of Notttingham organ from the late 1800s in his home town in Derbyshire – and he bought it for £750. “And how much room is this going to take up?” was his wife’s first question.

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A glimpse of Conservatoire life

April 4, 2016

In February, Aine Kennedy attended ‘The Conservatoire Experience’ presented by the Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Organists. This is her report from a day designed to give young organists an insight into life at a music conservatoire.

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Peter Williams – a personal recollection

March 30, 2016

Professor Peter Williams, Bach Scholar and a Vice President of the RCO, has passed away, appropriately around midnight just before Bach's birthday, the 21st March. Official tributes will of course be paid elsewhere, but I would like to remember a study day which I attended as a very newbie organist, in which his sharp, questioning intelligence, combined with great authority, were powerfully in evidence.

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Easter recitals by Hans Davidsson and Stephen Farr in Oxford

March 29, 2016

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.

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Full house for a memorable RCO Conferment

March 14, 2016

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

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RCO launches iRCO for online learning and research

March 7, 2016

If you are reading this, then you have reached iRCO, an innovative virtual campus from the Royal College of Organists, designed to provide easy access to learning, research and general information for organists and choral directors.

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RCO survey shines a light on the musical life of organists and choral directors

March 5, 2016

The RCO received more than 900 responses to its 2015 survey, providing a unique insight into the musical life of organists and choral directors. The importance of the organ and choral music in religious worship was strongly emphasised throughout the responses.

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Celebrating Bernard Rose

March 2, 2016

Famously prickly, irascible, caring and encouraging, Dr Bernard Rose was a one-off, and for over five decades a living legend in the UK's choirmaster world.

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Viscount Organs launches RCO membership offer

January 28, 2016

Viscount Classical Organs offers free membership of the Royal College of Organists to new and recent customers. The initiative means that anyone buying a Viscount organ for home practice will receive a year's free membership of the RCO.

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Choral Evensong is good for you

January 23, 2016

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 […]

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

January 23, 2016

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 […]

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It’s not too late – organ scholarships for all

January 23, 2016

by Simon Williams 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 […]

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

January 23, 2016

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 […]

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