On learning the organ as a chorister
Miriam Reveley, girl chorister at Ely Cathedral
What made you want to learn the organ?
At the start of my second year as a chorister at Ely Cathedral, I was given the opportunity to learn the organ with Sarah MacDonald, and since then I have been hooked. It’s much more of a challenge than choral singing, but that makes it exciting. I was fortunate enough to do my Year 10 work experience in Cambridge, working at St Catharine’s, St John’s, Selwyn and Pembroke colleges, and this inspired me hugely since I caught a glimpse of what it might be like to be an organ scholar in the future. Playing the organ is on a whole new level to singing in the cathedral choir - it is much more complex and expressive, since it can produce so many sounds and colours.
What obstacles did you have to overcome?
When I started my organ lessons, I had only been learning the piano for just over a year and consequently I had to work hard on my keyboard technique. Finding time to practise on top of my chorister duties and all my academic commitments has also been very challenging at times, especially during exam seasons, but I have learned to be much more disciplined and manage my time effectively.
What has been your favourite thing about learning?
My favourite thing about learning the organ is the fact that you can never be bored - there is always another hymn to learn, or another difficult bar of Bach to fix, or another technical exercise to nail.
Sometimes it can be very difficult practising scales first thing in the morning knowing that rehearsals, school days, evensongs, homeworks and violin practice have to follow, and keeping up with my GCSEs while practising adequately is a tricky balance to work out. I sometimes feel pressured to work less hard, but I’m sure that it will all be worth it in the end.
What goals do you have for university and the future?
I would love to be Ely Cathedral’s first female sixth form organ scholar, and afterwards an organ scholar at Oxford or Cambridge, reading Music. In the future I want to surround myself with music, meet other organists, and keep learning about choral (and other) genres of music to a high level.
How will you go about achieving those goals?
I’ll keep practising and pushing myself as much as I can, and I will also study hard for my GCSEs (and eventually my A levels). I will also use the performance opportunities from the cathedral to help me overcome my nerves and build my confidence.
How has becoming a cathedral chorister changed you? I’ve learnt a lot about time management, focusing and organisation, and I’ve started to think a lot more about my ambitions after I leave school. Most importantly, becoming a chorister has broadened my horizons and helped me discover my passion for both choral and organ music. I am very grateful to Ely Cathedral and the King’s School for allowing me to turn pages for, and work under, the musicians here who have inspired me.
Miriam Reveley is currently in Year 11 as an Ely Cathedral Chorister and she aspires to be an organ scholar. After starting her musical education as a violinist aged six, she became head chorister at her parish church under the composer, Paul Edwards. Miriam was also a member of the Bedfordshire Youth Choir and sang with them in the Royal Albert Hall. In 2016, she joined Ely Cathedral Choir and began piano lessons, and started organ lessons with Sarah MacDonald the following year. As a chorister she has sung live on Radio 3, featured on YouTube and CD recordings, and has also had the opportunity to play for services on the Cathedral organ. In 2018, she did work experience at Cambridge University at St Catharine’s, St John’s, Selwyn and Pembroke Colleges, which consolidated her wish to pursue a career as an organist.