This month’s blog is by Andrew Butler who set up the UK Catholic Organists, Choirs and Cantors in June of this year. It has steadily been growing in numbers since the day it was formed, with conversations about many aspects of music and traditions of the Catholic Church. You don’t have to be Catholic or play the organ in a Catholic church to be a member. The threads tend to have a positive input from many members with friendly discussion taking place. As this is a new group, I asked Andrew to write about his reasons for setting it up and his experience of doing so.
It is a great honour to have been asked by Anna to write the first monthly guest feature for her new website “The Organ Manual”. I must start by congratulating Anna on the tremendous amount of work that she has put into this, alongside her monumental report Inspiring Young Organists for The Future. May I also offer my best wishes – in which I am sure all reading this will join me – for the success of this website, for her continuing musical and academic studies and future career. Honourable mention too for Chris Totney, and the musical establishment at St John’s, Devizes, who play such a huge part in Anna’s musical life.
Now to why Anna asked me – read on and you will see! I have been Organist and Director of Music at St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in the small market town of Tenterden, Kent, UK since February 1993 – where I play for all weekend Masses, plus weddings and funerals, and have a small SATB choir including a team of Cantors, accompanied by a Viscount Prestige 40 organ with a customized stop list. I also have regular monthly engagements at two Anglican churches, and the local Unitarian Meeting House. My “day” job is as a peripatetic piano teacher in three local state primary schools, plus playing engagements wherever I am required for weddings, funerals and special services.
For various reasons, music in the RC Church – where most of my church work lies – in the UK has had a different history and developed differently than it has in Anglican and Nonconformist churches – and I quickly discovered that, partly because of this, there are aspects of RC music, and church life, that bring different challenges to those found in other denominations.
There are various web-based forums for organists and choir directors, but with the growth of social media, Facebook groups seem to attract more traffic – I imagine because it is perhaps convenient to have everything (personal, hobbies, work-related etc) within one site. I certainly find that to be the case. There are many Facebook groups for organists, but I have found that asking for advice, and discussing experiences regarding specifically RC matters in most of these groups didn’t really work, simply because people couldn’t relate to the problems in question. (An example being, an embargo on playing “loud” postludes – a stance very strange to Protestant organists, where organ voluntaries are often an integral part of an act of worship!) I discovered a USA-based Catholic organists’ group, but again, there is a somewhat different dynamic “across the pond”. I also found a UK-based group aimed more at musicians working with “Music Groups” – but as far as I could see, nothing specifically for UK-based Catholic organists.
One day in June, before going off to give piano lessons, rather on the spur of the moment I created a new group which I called “UK Catholic Organists, Choirs and Cantors” with the stated aim of catering for those of a perhaps more “traditional” organ-based approach to liturgical music. I invited a few friends and colleagues to join, posted a few “conversation-starters” and sat back…
As I have said, I felt the need for a Catholic group in the UK, and the fact that after less than three months the membership currently stands at 169 and is growing almost daily, suggests that there was indeed a need. I was adamant from the start that I wanted to keep the group discussions relevant, and for it to be a friendly group, without the somewhat almost “tribal” attitude prevalent I some groups, of “I am right and everyone else is wrong!” On the whole, this approach has found considerable support amongst the membership – although one has to guard against things becoming too anodyne – a tricky path to tread sometimes! An interesting thing emerged, namely that there are members who are not Catholics themselves, but who play in Catholic churches – and vice-versa – as well as others who simply like the dynamic of the group. As an example, the organist of my local Methodist church is an active group member. We also have members abroad, who are interested in the UK “scene” as well as those looking to us for encouragement and guidance. Among our members are several current cathedral organists, and eminent composers. I would sum up the group by saying that it is a place where organists, singers and choir directors of all attainments – professional, amateur (in the sense that music is not their main source of income) students and those seeking to learn, can come together on an equal footing.
In the course of her research Anna had come across the group, recognized its different dynamic, and been impressed with the content and steady amount of “traffic” and as a result of this was kind enough to ask me to write about it – which I have been delighted to do.
Anyone interested in joining the group will be very welcome UK Catholic Organists, Choirs and Cantors .
If you would like to write a ‘Monthly Feature’, do please get in touch. It can be about anything to do with the organ. Perhaps your experience on a course you’ve attended, buying a new organ, the day in the life of an organ builder, my favourite organ. I’d love to hear from you!