First Schools Project Event
3 February 2009
Review by Colin Rae

This took place at St. Michael's Church, Stanwix, Carlisle involving a specialist music group of thirteen pupils with their teacher, Mrs Kate Pearson from Stanwix Primary School, with myself and Ed Taylor, assistant organist at the Cathedral, presiding at the console.

The session took one and a half hours and consisted of various activities. Eight organ pipes making a scale of treble F were kindly lent by Mark Latimer of Dalton-in-Furness.

I started by explaining how the pipes of a particular sound were 'switched on' by demonstrating with a model of the action of the slide and pallet. The pupils all had a go at sounding the pipes by blowing in to them. Ed then took over demonstrating the various sounds and giving a talk about all aspects of the organ as a musical instrument.

The next activity consisted of Ed supervising two pupils at a time having a go at the console, who then were conducted by myself round the organ to show them all the working parts: blower, bellows, pipes, slides, swell shutters and the trackers. This activity was the major part of the session.

When the children had resumed their seats, I briefly and simply as possible explained how the sound is produced in the pipe by the air flow producing 'pulses' which then reach our ears producing the sound we hear.

The last activity was a fun time to end the session. Eight of the children, with the help of a music chart, performed Baa-Baa Blacksheep (this uses all the notes of the scale) ably (of course) conducted by Ed. The performance was repeated to include the other five pupils with a greater degree of virtuosity. After a question and answer session by Ed, he performed Widor's Toccata, the final chord ending precisely at the end of the one and a half hours.

There was, needless to say, a great deal of preparation including meetings with Mrs Pearson and with Ed, repairing pipes (one was bent double), fitting them with polythene mouth pieces (to prevent the pupils from getting lead poisoning contrary to EU health and safety regulations), preparing the chart and consulting with the vicar and church wardens (who were most helpful).

This sort of high profile event needs the support of our at-the-moment-non-existent-publicity team. Fortunately Mrs Pearson arrived with her digital camera and subsequently provided me with a CD and a letter of appreciation.

The setting of the event was ideal with a fairly large primary school with a teacher as music coordinator just across a minor road from the church containing a good three manual organ with its working parts observable from a walk-around catwalk. We need now to identify other possible sites in the county, probably by involving non-committee members to explore their areas.

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