Our guest writer this month is Richard Godfrey who is currently Co-Coordinator of the PipeUp Scheme for the Diocese of Salisbury. He is also Organ Consultant to the Salisbury Diocesan Advisory Committee, Chair of the Annual Conference of Diocesan Organ Advisors, and President of the newly created South Wessex Organ Society.
How did PipeUp start?
PipeUp is the brainchild of Robert Fielding, who worked as Church Music Adviser to Diocese of Salisbury from 2005 to 2015. Recognising that many church organists were approaching retirement, he decided to try to attract children to learn the organ, no easy task in an increasingly secular society and with so many competing attractions. Robert decided that the best starting point would be to invite young people to come to local churches with their parents to hear the organ, and try playing it too if they had any keyboard experience. The incentive to come along was a simple one – namely to provide free Pizzas – and it worked!
Pipes n’ Pizza Mornings
With the catchy title of Pipes n’ Pizza, these mornings were set up across the Salisbury Diocese in towns where there is a good organ and a willingness to teach, either by the local organist or other experienced teacher. The mornings started at 10.30am and finished with the distribution of free pizzas soon after noon. Expenses were covered through the generosity of an independent trust fund (Mrs R P Tindall’s Charitable Trust), which makes regular contributions to the Diocese.
Altogether 6 Pipes n’ Pizza mornings have been held in during the life of PipeUp, in widely scattered towns in Wiltshire and Dorset (Devizes, Edington, Sherborne, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, and Marlborough). At each session the organ has been described and demonstrated, and any children with keyboard skills have had a chance to play. Those showing an interest have been invited to come to follow-up sessions on Saturday mornings. In total over 90 children were attracted to Pipes n’ Pizza mornings, but of course the scheme can only be truly judged by the take-up for longer term lessons, and ultimately by the number of new organists created to be competent church organists for the future. Here the numbers are naturally very much less than the initial uptake, but as a start-up there is no doubt that the pizzas helped, and will be continued when a boost of uptake is needed, or a new venue is being developed.
The original plan was for follow-up teaching to take place weekly with several pupils attending a chosen venue at the same time. When I took over from Robert Fielding as coordinator of PipeUp, this was the general pattern. For example in Dorchester, where Robert asked me to take on the Saturday morning teaching, there were 6 pupils following a successful Pipe n’ Pizza. We met at St Mary’s Church, with its striking 1970 3-manual Peter Collins organ. After a few Saturday sessions I realized that the wide variation in ability and age amongst the group was a bar to progress, and fact 2 pupils reinforced my feeling by leaving after 3 sessions. We therefore switched to individual one-to-one tuition, and this has become the normal pattern at all PipeUp centres. The decision to work with each pupil individually of course had implications for the teachers’ time and costs to the Tindall Trust.
Typical Teaching patterns and fees
Most PipeUp tutors teach in lessons lasting from 30 minutes for beginners to an hour or more for senior pupils. As well as taking ABRSM exams we strongly encourage widening the repertoire, and include hymn playing for all above about grade 4 standard. We also encourage pupils to play in church as soon as possible, and here local connections are very important. Key people are parents, clergy, and existing organists – all three groups must be ready to welcome young people, and make instruments available for practice and tuition.
At present all PipeUp Tutors receive a subsidy from the Diocese of £15 per hour, allowing them to charge parents at substantially lower rates than normal private lessons. Central Diocesan funding is dependent on the RP Tindall Charity trustees, who meet annually to review progress of the PipeUp scheme and decide whether to continue support. In recent years the costs have increased as tutor and student numbers have grown, and we have been very fortunate to have additional funding from the Margaret James Trust.
Arrangements for Practising
This is one of the most challenging aspects of organ teaching. Gone are the days when a young person could practise alone in the evening in their local church. Sometimes it is possible to arrange for a church to be open on specific days until early evening to allow practice after school, and in rare cases parents have been given keys to churches. The students who make fastest progress are those with electronic or small pipe organs at home, and PipeUp tutors try to encourage parents to invest in these instruments. Unfortunately electronic organs are often second hand, and may become faulty to the point of actually discouraging practice. The piano may be a better bet for practising, at least up to Grade 3 standard.
A very good feature of PipeUp right from its inception has been a programme of events to which all current students are invited to take part. The events include concerts in churches with adequate instruments, and the peak experience of a morning playing the great Willis in Salisbury Cathedral every alternate year. Concerts have been held in Edington Priory (new organ by Harrison and Harrison) and Lyme Regis Parish Church (new organ by Skrabl of Slovenia). At all combined events there have been between 12 and 20 players, and music has ranged from grade 1 pieces to the major works of JS Bach. In 2018 we enjoyed a morning in Salisbury Cathedral at which no less that 35 young players were able to play a short piece. The morning was rounded off by a thrilling performance of Messaiaen’s Dieu parmi Nous by the Cathedral’s Director of Music, David Halls. A talented 9-year PipeUp student commented that he only wanted to learn Messiaen henceforth! As the Cathedral organ is currently out of action the next large event will be at Wimborne Minster on February 8th, 2020.
Selection of Tutors and Safeguarding
Tutors have been recruited mainly through personal knowledge and contacts. All potential new Tutors are visited to discuss local arrangements, especially checking the availability of suitable instruments and making sure that safeguarding is in place. Tutors are required to have up-to-date DBS certification, and in addition parents sign a specific safeguarding form for PipeUp. If there is any question of a child being taught alone with a tutor, we require a personal letter from the parent or guardian saying that they agree for this to happen.
Administration and the future
In 2016 one of our existing tutors, Chris Totney, kindly agreed to take over the central administration of PipeUp, keeping a secure database of pupils and tutors, and overseeing financial matters. We also have strong support from the Diocesan music coordinator, Revd. Heather Waldsax.
The future at the moment looks bright for PipeUp, and we are delighted to know that a similar scheme is being set up in Devon, administered by the Exeter Diocese. Further afield a similar highly successful operates in Leeds. So one way and another we can be cautiously optimistic that a new generation of young organists is appearing.
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!