Cumbrian Society of Organists

Review : Master Class with Anne Marsden Thomas : 22 October 2011

About a dozen members of the CSO and the Newcastle Society met at Hexham Abbey, on a gloriously sunny October afternoon, for a Master Class with Anne Marsden Thomas, Director of St. Giles International Organ School in London.

Six brave members offered to play a selection of organ pieces ranging from Bach to Messiaen, via Marchand, Stanley and Dupré. Each was given 10 minutes to acclimatize to the rather unusual organ with its golf-tee-like stop knobs, Swell stops on the right and Great on the left, its reversed white and black keys, deep key action and highly concave pedalboard.

Anne Marsden Thomas, tall and elegant, appeared like the Angel of Light on the console balcony, high above the central crossing, illuminated by the organ’s west front floodlighting and the afternoon sunshine. She immediately reassured everybody, particularly those about to have their playing exposed to professional scrutiny and put all at ease.

Each organist played their chosen piece through, in some cases preceded by some discussion about their choice of registration. Afterward we were treated to some general points relating to the arts of practising the pedal and manual parts separately, including how to pedal while clutching the keyboard cheeks and then with hands held aloft in a “don’t shoot the organist posture”! Also we were given some very good advice on using our thumbs as double digits – joint and tip - while playing legato phrases. Much clear direction was also given to phrasing and the shortening of the less important notes in order to place the emphasis on the more important ones.

Anne’s evident enthusiasm for the instrument and sympathy for those struggling for perfection was inspirational, and we all left having learnt some very useful tips not only about the playing of these particular pieces but also about organ technique in general.

National Pipe Organ Register Links

Abbey Church of St. Andrew, Hexham