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Sounds of joy from aspiring church organists


The future of church organ music in Adelaide is looking bright thanks to a new youth tuition program based at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral.

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Thirteen students ranging in age from five to 15 have participated in the program since it began in April and eight of them demonstrated their extraordinary skills at a Christmas organ recital in the Cathedral on December 19.

Astrid Sengkey

The brainchild of Cathedral music co-director Astrid Sengkey, the organ lessons are conducted by accomplished Adelaide organist Gina Dutschke with scholarships funded by the Cathedral parish.

Ms Dutschke said some of the students had received no prior keyboard tuition while others had up to 11 years of piano study.

“To begin with, my main goal was for students to discover the differences between a pipe organ and a piano, how the pipe organ operates, and to familiarise them with the Casavant Frères organ at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral where lessons were held,” she wrote in an article for the Organ Music Society of Adelaide.

“All students completed an enrolment form, which revealed that most wished to become church organists.

“I have taken this as my primary responsibility: to prepare children to be future organists serving at Mass. This goal has already been achieved in part, with students playing before and after Mass, and accompanying hymns.

“Lessons have broadened to include all styles of music, at varied locations, on both pipe and electronic organs. Several students also attended the visit to the Wurlitzer organ at the Capri Theatre in August.

“This has been an exciting project to be part of, and I congratulate Astrid for her foresight.”

OMSA members who attended the concert praised the program and Ms Sengkey for initiating it.

Ian Wardle said he was privileged to witness “what amazing things can happen when the initiative, passion and teaching experience of adults meets the enthusiasm, confidence and perseverance of youth”.

“The transition to the organ and the technique required was quite extraordinary, especially given that students had only received between 10 to 20, 30-minute lessons,” he said.

“Each student played pieces they enjoyed, which showed in the confidence and assurance of the performances, aided by beautiful registrations which displayed the colours of the instrument.

“What a fabulous concert!”

Gillian Collins said it was a “delight” to be present at this end-of-year concert.

“The music played was very varied, reflecting the interests of the students (what a great way to encourage them), so we heard mainstream organ pieces from the likes of JS Bach and Pachelbel alongside music completely unknown to me such as Cleaning Day Rag (Ladd) and Lady Football (Mumford)!”

Gillian said it was pleasing to hear that all the young organists were contributing in some way to the music during Mass at their respective parishes.

“Indeed, one student, who already plays for hymns at her parish, contributed three hymns in the concert for which the audience had the words and joined in lustily,” she said.

“Long may this scheme continue, it gives a very positive outlook for organ music in the diocese in the future.”

John Poynter echoed these sentiments, saying it was greatly encouraging to hear so many young students making good progress on the way to becoming organists.

“It is the shortage of organists which is partly responsible for the decline in interest in church organs today, at a time when attendance at secular organ concerts is strong,” he said.

Parents expressed their gratitude for the scholarship program and the opportunity to learn to play the unique instrument from an experienced teacher.

“As migrant parents with no musical inclination, this has opened-up many opportunities, meaningful connections and best of all, positively impacted our child in his musical journey,” Teena Anish said.

Another parent said the program had built their child’s confidence in playing the piano/keyboard and encouraged her to be more actively involved in church by playing for Mass, which also has improved her inter-personal skills.

“Gina’s approach with her has been wonderful – she has been encouraging, her feedback has been constructive and delivered almost immediate results.”

Cathedral Music director Timothy Davey, who was master of ceremonies at the December concert, said he and Ms Sengkey had been overwhelmed by the response from children wanting to learn to play the close to 100-year-old pipe organ.

“We expected to get one or two and we got a dozen who were eager to learn the close to 100-year-old pipe organ,” he said.

“It is heartening to see the enthusiasm of the students…it was always the intention of Archbishop Wilson (deceased) to have lots of people playing the organ, there’s no point having a magnificent instrument that no-one plays.”

The concert performers, who ranged in age from eight to 15, were: Jonathan and Alexander Siow, Xavier and Anthony Mark, Casper Saens, Benjamin Anish, Erin Irudayaraj and Amos Mulholland. Ms Dutschke also played JS Bach’s In Dulci Jubilo BWV 729.

Mr Davey said it was hoped the young organists would be part of the free Fringe organ recital being held in the Cathedral on Sunday March 17 at 1pm at the Cathedral.

Free lunchtime organ recitals will also be held as part of the Fringe on February 21, 28 and March 6, commencing at 1pm.


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