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Halifax Organ Academy hopes to hit the right note with its new beginners' workshops
If you play the piccolo badly, hardly anyone notices. Blast out a series of bum notes on a full-size organ, however, and the criticism will reverberate around town longer than a discordant B flat.
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to play such an obvious instrument, especially if you are a beginner with no experience of performing music on a grand scale. Which is where Halifax Organ Academy comes in. This group of dedicated organ enthusiasts, led by Professor David Baker, offers newbies the chance to develop their keyboard skills under the tutelage of more experienced players.
It ran its first workshop at Halifax Minster in September last year, hoping to attract a handful of potential new organists. In the end, at least 40 people turned up.
We were worried no one would come along, but we were overwhelmed, said Professor Baker. It turns out a lot of people want to learn to play the organ but just dont know where to start.
As a result, the academy has now organised a rolling programme of workshops and events throughout 2012 to encourage and enable new players, and to raise the profile of this often neglected instrument.
When the organ is played properly it is wonderfully invigorating, said Professor Baker. People are always amazed by the power and range of this exciting instrument. When its played properly, a great organ sounds and feels like the Flying Scotsman at full steam.
But thats the sticking point when its played well, its wonderful; when its played badly, its like screeching tom cats being squashed into a sack.
Some people have never heard an organ played well, the professor conceded. I used to sing in the choir at my local church when I was a boy and thought the organ accompaniment was plodding and boring. But then our organist went on holiday and another stepped in.
I was simply on fire. I didnt know the instrument could sound like that.
Its not impossible for a complete newcomer to keyboard music to learn the organ, but it certainly helps if youve at least mastered the rudiments of piano before attempting to move up to its more robust cousin.
If you havent played piano before its like learning to drive in an articulated lorry, said Professor Baker. With an organ, youre not only playing with your hands, youve got to think about your feet too, your numerous keyboards and manipulating the stops.
Its a challenging process, but a competent pianist could learn to knock out a hymn on a Sunday in about a year of regular lessons and dedicated practice.
The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life
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