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Presidential Address 2000

THE ROYAL COLLEGE OF ORGANISTS

Presidential Address by Simon Lindley
at the Presentation of Diplomas
The Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester,

Saturday, 23rd September, 2000 

As members and friends of the RCO, we find ourselves today at the heart of a remarkable week of activity culminating in our gathering here and in the finale to the 'Performer of the Year' competition at the Bridgewater Hall.

This year, for the first time, that competition - established through the vision of Dr John Birch - is set within the context of a Festival, and a festival held outside London no less. How such a Festival would have rejoiced the heart of two great Mancunians of former years who contributed so much to the organ in totally different ways. The first, that most untypical Cathedral Organist,  Norman Cocker, bids fair to the claim of being one of British music's greatest characters - an artistic ambassador for what today's marketing executives would refer to as 'cross-over'. At home as much at his Cathedral console as at the keyboards of major cinemas, as adept at his conjuring as his cooking, Cocker's contribution in the groundwork that led ultimately to the establishment of Chetham's School of Music has been insufficiently recognised. The other figure is John Robert Makin Pilling, a businessman with a tremendous devotion to the organ - an enthusiasm kindled early at school. The fruits of John Pilling's prodigiously generous legacy are to be found all around Britain in the support of the organ and music in quires and places where they sing. Much of Mr Pilling's professional life was spent right here in the heart of Manchester. We are so much indebted to the Pilling Trustees for their support in the guarantee against loss of this, the first major venture by the College's first regional centre.

Our gratitude is similarly heartfelt to the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group, the Noon Foundation and Virgin Atlantic. Their great generosity in respect of this Performer of the Year Competition has enabled the College to enhance the provision of the prizes and done so much to raise the profile of the festival country-wide and far further afield.

The College is very particularly appreciative of the work of Artistic Director Christopher Stokes and his Manchester-based Committee, together with our principal hosts for the week - the University of Huddersfield, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Bridgewater Hall.

We thank especially Wayne Marshall, Bridgewater Hall's Organist in Residence and Patron of the Festival together with our indefatigable College Staff for everything that has been done to make September of the Millennial Year so very memorable for us all. The additional effort in such special projects sustained by the hard-working staff of the college is not something we take for granted and there are comparatively few chances to make a proper expression of thanks to them. This, happily, is one such occasion.

Finally, it is essential at this stage to tender a sincere expression of thanks to our Millennial President, Stephen Darlington, for his role in setting all this activity in train and presiding over it with visionary leadership and wisdom during the course of the past twenty-four months. Those who have read Stephen's addresses at the four most recent diploma presentations will be aware that his is a very hard act to follow! A warm appreciation by Dr Harry Bramma of Mr Darlington's distinguished service as President for the most recent edition of the College Newsletter.

The ingredients of revival and renewal in our daily experience present themselves for our notice in a great variety of guises. We do well to recall that a world of difference - but just a single letter - separates evolution from revolution.

There are few spheres in which polarisation is more prevalent today than in the art of the organ and the intimately allied skill of choral direction. It is the task of the College to seek to serve both disciplines to the utmost extent of its corporate capabilities and resources. To this end, members of the academic committees and working parties of the College find themselves in the throes of a wholesale review of its examinations. This process has already resulted in the re-casting of the CHM into the CHD and, most recently of all, in the publication of the new FRCO syllabus. The revised ARCO follows next summer, and both new and existing diploma syllabuses will be run in tandem for a suitable period of transition.

As we approach the start of a new century, it is - perhaps - worth recalling the benefits of change to which we find ourselves the fortunate heirs. A sense of integrity in matters of musical interpretation has gone hand in hand with an almost insatiable desire for so-called authenticity - "we are all musicologists now" as Professor Ivor Keys once memorably reminded us. Maybe ours is the last generation in which young singers will find themselves employing Italianate Latin for repertoire emanating from French and German as well as Italian traditions. Concerts, recordings and broadcasts are beginning to suggest a desire for a full veracity in performance - verbal as well as musical. Choralists of all traditions seem as willing to tackle church Slavonic as they have for long been prepared to sing music demanding mainstream languages other than their own vernacular. 

The organ reform movement has come and, perhaps, to some extent gone again. What was once discarded as being sadly Victorian and nineteenth century is now rightly restored to an honoured place in our daily experience - musical expression and organ tone included.

Decades of ever-increasing specialisation have now been succeeded in educational terms by a more inclusive or even holistic approach. Modular elements in academic courses encourage personal selection and achieve a diversity sustained by the advantage of being able to play to one's strengths. Development is fostered and assessed over extended periods of study rather than as the outcome of a single occasion.

What then of the changes that face us, and with which we strive to cope?

It is a profound sadness that in our own time, too often is change the ally of decay, and that a conservative outlook is deemed to be a negative, rather than a positive attribute. We see this particularly perhaps in the pressures of contemporary liturgical requirements, especially with regard to what can be perceived as the preservation of a tradition to the exclusion of incorporating the new or unfamiliar.

The organist as the quintessentially well-rounded musician remains a crucial component in the British cultural tapestry. Though the days of the local organist as a kind of musical mayor may have receded somewhat towards the mists of antiquity, there remains a pivotal role for many as community musicians. Even though there must be many who sustain with reluctance the administrative burdens of such tasks, for others it may be precisely that paradoxical stimulus of busy-ness and the Damoclesian deadline which prove so important a part of our daily routine.

The infrastructure of the British organ remains a cause for concern. They appear to order such matters very differently elsewhere - on the European continent for instance, where organs, organists even, are national treasures maintained and cherished by the government.  Or maybe it is just that the proverbial grass is greener on the other side of any heritage fence.

No member of the College can fail to have been aware of the evidence of increasing activity in the presentation of events nationwide. The links established with kindred organisations and societies reflect the College motto that strength is in unity. Publishing the whole calendar in the form of an almanack listing not only College functions but also those of our colleagues in the field does much to enrich our relationships with partners and friends in other groups. It also goes a considerable way to removing once and for all the excuse that notice of a particular event had been insufficient to facilitate attendance.

The greatest strength of the College is its members. We come in many shapes and sizes, ranging now happily from the very young to those of greater seniority. College membership comprises a remarkable mixture of interests and abilities united by a devotion to music, to the organ and its repertoire.

We need to ask ourselves not merely what we can get out of the College - that has always been obvious, but perhaps is now utterly self-evident by virtue of our manifold activities on a happily broad canvas - but what we can do to further the future of the college. It is the experience of many that the greatest fulfilment in our own dealings with much in life is achieved through the acknowledgement of service rather than status. That great servant of the college, Barry Lyndon, proved himself the embodiment of such an attitude during his remarkable tenure as Clerk. 

Intimately connected with educational outreach is the wonderful college library. This is now a collection of national and international importance - a veritable jewel in the college's crown. Our Librarians are leaders in their field. There are important pastoral as well as scholarly elements in their work.

The development of the library is set to become a prime concern.

The library serves the membership in two ways - firstly as a reference resource, and secondly through the loan of music and other study materials. Many will acknowledge that a computerised catalogue is an urgent need if the full potential of the library is to be achieved. And this potential is as much a concern for those outside the college as those who are current members. Indeed, the library may well prove to be one of the most pivotal attractions in the recruitment of new members of the future - especially those from overseas.

I make no apology for emphasising what may seem to some to be domestic matters rather than issues of aesthetic or artistic probity. There can be no doubt that they are important for the future well-being of the College.

Congratulating our new diploma-holders on their achievement involves a proper acknowledgement of all who have supported them in their endeavour and, very particularly - besides families and friends - those who have taught them and nurtured the diversity of skills needed to yield the fruits of success. Occasions like diploma presentations remind us all of the great debt we all owe to our teachers - a debt that can only perhaps fully be repaid by what we in our own generation may be able in some small way to pass on to others.

Although the educational process embodies the garnering of knowledge to ensure success, it is that strange alchemy of entertainment and enlightenment which can do so much to make the organ and its music a life-enhancing experience for others as well as for ourselves. The motto of another famous musical college has it about right in proclaiming that

      the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

David Titterington is one of the organ world's busiest "Ambassadors at Large".  He is certainly one of the most widely-travelled of all English organists.

His brilliant career includes a special devotion to the art of teaching, and he is Head of Organ Studies at the Royal Academy of Music. Other lecturing and pedagogic activity takes him frequently abroad - as does his hectic playing schedule, which reads a little like an Air Tours catalogue.

His interests are wide and he is known internationally as recitalist, recording artist, organ designer and adjudicator.

A commitment to contemporary music is particularly evident from his programmes and he enjoys the distinction of having given the first performance in New Zealand of Olivier Messiaen's Livre du Saint Sacrement.

A regular and valued member of the artistic staff at Dartington International Summer School, lecturing and contemporary premières are a major part of his annual schedule. He is a series editor for United Music Publishers.

In October of last year, David was elected to Honorary Fellowship in this college. It is only now that we are able to have the chance of presenting his Fellowship to him in person; yet the delay does seem particularly appropriate.

Firstly, the presentation takes place in the North of England, for David is a Lancastrian by birth. Secondly, it is held within a conservatory - so he must feel particularly at home within such hallowed academic portals, and - more importantly - it is made at the heart of a week of relentless activity in the pursuit of excellence by some of our most brilliant younger players.

Mr David Titterington  was then presented with the diploma of Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, honoris causa.

The new diploma holders of the College were presented, and Mr Darius Battiwalla gave the Ogden Recital comprising music by Bach, Karg-Elert and Reger. A vote of thanks to Mr Battiwalla was proposed by Mr Gregory Morris, Winner of the Fellowship Limpus Prize. Tea and the traditional cake was then taken.  

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