Was it fate or just a series of lucky breaks?
My mother declared that shed had no more than six months piano tuition. But I recall, in my childhood, hearing her playing Ballads (so-called, I suppose, as this was before the Fox-trot was invented, with its steady four-in-a-bar) in the spread-fingers style that those pre-1914 pieces seem, now, to have required. Looking back, I am impressed with what a teenager could achieve. But another surprise was once hearing my mothers mother (Nana) sit at the piano and play Wont you buy my pretty flowers? This was one of the beginners pieces that came in Smallwoods Piano Tutor; it was a very popular book, but I never asked how she learnt it.
So, did I show any signs of talent or even the ability to finger a version of Little Grey Home in the West? I dont think so. But I did start piano lessons with a local teacher in 1929 at nine years of age and achieved the not very impressive pass in Grade Two of the Victoria School of Music!
I became a member
as a boy in the choir of the local C of E
It didnt take long before I persuaded my parents to pay the church organist to give me lessons on the church organ at the expense of the local lady teacher. She had raised me to the level of Beethovens Pathétique Sonata. (Fast movements a bit tricky!)
Mr. Coles, now my teacher for both piano and organ, didnt have a very large repertoire, although he did have the first volume of Augeners Edition of Bachs Organ Works The Great Preludes and Fugues, though I was attracted by his performance of Wolstenholmes Allegretto in E flat. After more than sixty-five years of humming it, Ive bought my own copy. I note that it was originally written for Viola. But it transforms itself very smoothly into an attractive lollipop (thank you, Sir Thomas!).
I did manage to
get my own two-volume collection of Bachs Chorale Preludes
and my musical education was improved by a couple of visits to
the Chapel of Kings College, in the
My organ-playing studies at this time I was still only about fifteen years of age led me to enter for the Talent contest set up by the Manager of the Trocadero Cinema remember that four-manual console? It wasnt a success. I was told that the show was running late, so I decided to help by abandoning my chosen solo Evensong by Easthope Martin and, instead, play a jazzy quickstep. This was total rubbish, I virtually committed suicide at the console!
Still, I couldnt stay away from Jazz. Id done lots of gigging whilst still at school and now had the opportunity of becoming pianist to the University Dance Band, but with ready access to the college two-manual Father Willis I think I did improve my performance of organ music, particularly Bach.
Then I had more than five years War Service in the Royal Navy. Not much organ playing, but I did have permission to play the organ in Gibraltar C of E Cathedral. The only music available was a volume of Hymns A&M, still, better than nothing.
After Id taken my degree, I had to find a job. At the same time I asked the Organist of the Trocadero at that time Rudy Lewis if he would give me lessons in theatre organ playing. I was lucky that he agreed to do so. I discovered that whilst a student at the Royal Academy of Music he had studied under York Bowen, and the legendary G.D. Cunningham. Hed left after four years study with a teachers diploma, and a certificate for the highest award of the Academy!
Shortly after taking a job in London, and moving into digs at Herne Hill, I looked up an old friend, whom Id first become acquainted with as our piano tuner. He was also a church organist and I was invited to his church, St. Andrews, Stockwell Green. I tried his three-manual Norman and Beard organ, met the vicar and found that Id been appointed Organist and Choirmaster, to start in a couple of weeks time! My friend reckoned he needed a break.
The Church was very high, so a good introduction to church music; we including congregation sang the Psalms to plainsong! As time progressed I had some marvellous instruction in playing from Arnold Grier and achieved a life-time ambition, to be organist at St. Giles, Camberwell, with its three-manual Bishop, built in 1844, and designed by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, who gave the opening recital. By the time I arrived there was an electric blower, but appallingly noisy, one could barely hear the service proceed above the noise of the blower!
By now Id
become a very enthusiastic member of the newly inaugurated Cinema
Organ Society, in addition to membership of the respective
I was fortunate to have some lessons from another brilliant organist, Gerald Shaw. He told me his tutor thought that three lessons were sufficient if one showed a satisfactory response, so three was all I was going to get!
excitement. I went to visit the man who played the organ at the
Trocadero for the childrens Saturday morning film shows. He
was organist at
The Manager was agreeable, so I was Uncle Dennis to about 850 children every Saturday morning. This was in 1952 and I had eight very wonderful years. Quite honestly, not many of us had such an opportunity. Even the tuners came every three weeks honest! It continued until the cinema closed and the Cinema Organ Society was able to buy the organ.
As a church
organist Id developed a great interest in the RSCM and the
teaching it could offer to amateurs like myself. This also
coincided with a move to the
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