CSO Training Courses:
Review of 2004 Penrith Course

by "Voix Celeste"

This course was described to me as a beginner's guide for the reluctant organist; however all of the participants on the course I attended were very enthusiastic from the start. Age is truly no barrier: three of our group of four were retired. Nor should anyone of a nervous disposition feel discouraged from trying such a programme. The course tutor, Colin Marston, had a relaxed and friendly manner and structured the five ninety-minute sessions so that all could participate at their own level, or just observe. A interval of three weeks separated each session, which allowed time in between to practice.

So how did we get on? We were a mixed-ability group, some with piano grades, some not, some with considerable experience of playing for services, others less. Our teacher managed this well by providing an introductory talk at the beginning of each session, a demonstration of the main points at the instrument, then a chance for us to have a go with feedback, which was always to the point and encouraging. This for me was the most helpful aspect of the course, as I had been playing for a number of years without any professional observation of my technique. A sheet of graded exercises was given as 'homework', e.g. basic pedal technique with toes and heels, building up over the weeks to a hymn with a pedal line separated out for practice on its own, written with the right hand part, with left, and finally altogether.

There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions, even obvious ones like "how much time should I leave between verses?", "is there a simple voluntary I could play at Easter?" and "What about Mission Praise?"

Although the syllabus was given in a pre-course leaflet, Colin was open to suggestions and incorporated our concerns in his teaching. For example, all were keen to discuss the challenges of registration and providing 'oomph' when playing an instrument of limited specification. We even dipped a toe into the nerve-wracking waters of improvisation; and survived.

We had the opportunity to play two organs: St Andrew's and Christchurch Penrith, although the majority of our time was spent at Christchurch. Colin held a repertoire workshop, during which we examined a wide variety of music books and resources to help the parish organist, such as the RSCM magazine. He also introduced me to Roger Firth's organ music business on the Internet, a useful source of books and sheet music, who managed to track down a good second-hand copy of Percy Buck's First Year at the Organ at a reasonable price.

If outcome is a measure of success, then the fact that half of the course participants have gone on to take lessons with a professional is testimony to the careful teaching received during this highly enjoyable programme. One of the members of the congregation where I play commented that my playing was very much better this St Andrew's day than last. The Foundation Course in Organ Playing bearing fruit, perhaps.

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