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A world of inspiration


Award-winning British organist Colin Andrews hopes to inspire a new generation of musicians to follow in his footsteps as he tours concert halls and cathedrals worldwide. 

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When UK-born, US-based musician and sacred music lecturer Colin Andrews sits down to play the organ, a transformation happens.

“I become a different person,” Andrews told The Southern Cross ahead of his performance at Adelaide’s St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.

“I become totally absorbed and lost in the music. I become that music and hopefully I transmit its message.”

Andrews tours the globe as a concert organist, performing in major concert halls in Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, Sydney, and Auckland. He has also performed at the Royal Festival Hall, London, King’s College, Cambridge, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris, the Moscow Conservatoire, the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Hall and the Mariinsky Theatre Concert Hall in Russia.

Not bad for a Brit who was born without a musical bone in his body.

“Interestingly, I’m not from a family of musicians but I am from a family who absolutely adored classical music,” Andrews said.

“My parents and grandparents played classical music in their houses every day. When my father saw my interest in music, he tried to inspire me and at the age of 45, he took up the piano.”

By a sheer stroke of luck, the well-meaning dad chose a piano teacher who really knew what she was doing.

“There were two piano teachers on opposite sides of the same road,” Andrews said.

“He could have chosen the one on the right, which my best friend was studying with at the time, or he could have chosen the lady on the left. I wouldn’t be where I am right now if he had chosen the lady on the right.”

It wasn’t long before the teen took up lessons, too.

“I’d obviously heard the organ at church and my older brother and father were mad keen on organ music and were always going into organ recitals.”
When a top organist played in their hometown of Bristol, the youngster begged his father to take him, too.

“Something happened that night; a switch went off inside me and I knew I needed to play the organ. I guess there was all this influence around me waiting for the right chemistry. I was 14 when I started organ lessons and was very good at sport at that time but gave up activities like table tennis, cricket, and soccer so I could go to the local church to practice after school every day.”

Serendipity played its part, but no musician graces the world’s stages without years of hard work.

Andrews studied the organ with Garth Benson of St Mary Redcliffe Church and at 16 entered London’s Royal Academy of Music where he honed his organ and piano skills under the guidance of principal professors Douglas Hawkridge and Margaret McDonald. There, he first started teaching.

“My first experience teaching was at the Junior Academy which is part of the Royal Academy of Music in London,” he said.

“After about two years there, I started to teach young kids piano on Saturday mornings. Interestingly, one of the alumni of that Junior Academy was Elton John. Obviously not in my time.”

Andrews later moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was a student of Professor Lionel Rogg. Following his return to Britain he studied privately for two years with Dame Gillian Weir.

Andrews frequently features on the worldwide radio program Organroxx and is one of only five organists in the world to have recorded the complete organ works of Olivier Messiaen, part of which features in his repertoire when performing in Adelaide.

In 2012, Christianity Today magazine listed his recording of Messiaen’s ‘l’Ascension’ and ‘Messe de la Pentecote’ in the top 10 recordings of Sacred Music.

He also has more than 14 CDs under his belt. Add BBC programs and appearances on television and radio in Japan, Belgium, Russia, Poland and New Zealand, and you’ve got a busy schedule.

He loves every second of it.

“You don’t become a musician; you’re born a musician,” he said. “There’s something in your DNA and in your spiritual makeup that makes it unavoidable. It’s just part of who you are. In my early years and through the course of my career, I learned that it’s something that needs to be nurtured and followed. It’s like a voice you can’t ignore.”

Over the years he’s witnessed this in many students.

“Some start and have aptitude then fall away and lose interest; those folk don’t have that special edge or the gene that makes it unavoidable to be musician,” he said.

“You’re born a poet, you’re born a dancer, you’re born an artist, you’re born an actor, or you’re born a musician. It’s a spiritual experience.”

Andrews is currently based in the US where he is director of music at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Indiana.

When he performs at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on May 24, it forms part of his 16th tour of Australia and his fifth time visiting Adelaide.

As he journeys the globe, he hopes to inspire the next generation of organists.

“There’s a need to communicate through music and a desire to pass on my knowledge as well,” he said.

“It’s something I can’t avoid. It’s just there; a message that keeps playing. I love teaching and the organ is quite a specialised backwater and the more children who are interested in learning, the better. We need more organists.”

Colin Andrews performs at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral on Friday 24 May at 7pm. Entry is free.



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