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Spotlight on the Organist in Retirement

The busy life of Marion Tunwell

What is a typical week?

Since retiring from my day job (twenty-four years as a Finance Administrator with the Worcester Diocesan Board of Finance), I don’t have a typical week. If I’m at home for the weekend, I am likely to play for the Sunday morning service at Broadway United Reformed Church. I take part in church events, I sail and help to maintain a river cruiser on the Norfolk Broads, as well as visiting family in Hampshire and South Yorkshire, walking with the local Ramblers, and, of course, practising and studying music.

How much playing do you do in your church? Do you have supportive clergy and a congregation which values the music?

We have a morning service each Sunday, except for four Sundays in the year, when we visit our Methodist friends across the road. I play for two or three services each month and also for any weekday services, such as funerals. The clergy I work with are very supportive and appreciative. The minister chooses the hymns, but often consults me about the less familiar ones. The opening announcements before worship begins include thanks to the musicians of the day for their musical contribution to worship. Most weeks, the congregation sits and listens to the organ postlude, rather than getting up to leave as soon as it starts.

What made you want to learn the organ? What obstacles, if any, did you have to face/overcome?

I just loved the sound of the organ from an early age. I still get a thrill from being surrounded by the sound and feel of a pipe organ, although mostly I play digital instruments. Having learned the piano from an early age, and the ‘cello in my early teenage years, I started practising the organ in my local church (Ickenham URC) when I was about sixteen. The only obstacle I experienced was a lack of time! I had school work, piano and ‘cello lessons and practice, and was involved in choirs and youth orchestra!

Did you give up playing temporarily at any point?

No, though when I was at university (studying chemistry) I had limited access to a piano, and none to an organ except during the vacations. Later on, the pressures of a demanding family life and part-time work made it hard to keep up my music. I am lucky enough to now have a practice instrument at home, which has vastly increased my practice opportunities.

Do you have any specific advice for girls who are learning the organ?

Nothing specifically for girls, but general advice to enjoy the variety of sounds and the extensive repertoire. Practise carefully to get the best out of the music, try to make the most of every opportunity, and believe in yourself.

What has been the most important thing you have learned this year?

That, despite having learned the basic rules of harmony whilst at school, harmonising in the style of Bach is another challenge altogether!

What has been the most rewarding part of the last year?

Being able to share with so many other musicians at the 2019 RCO London Summer Course, and receiving so much encouragement from the teaching staff. I used to be incredibly anxious about playing for services, but since I have been able to have formal tuition my confidence has improved enormously.

Final thoughts?

I am so lucky to have a talent which was nurtured, and which I am able to share, bringing pleasure to others as well as myself.

Marion Tunwell is an experienced amateur organist, and has been a regular organist at the United Reformed Church in Broadway, Worcestershire, since 1986. Her first formal tuition came when she went to Addington Palace in 1993 for an RSCM course for ‘adult intermediate organists’, which was taught by Anne Marsden Thomas and Martin How. That became the inspiration for her to wish to study more. This became a reality in 2001, when she was able to have lessons with Trevor Tipple of Worcester, who got her through ABRSM Grade VIII. By this time she was also a member of the Worcestershire Organists’ Association, and took advantage of local training events and playing visits whenever she could. Now, in retirement from paid employment, she is still studying further, working towards ARCO, helped locally by Fiona Chryssides and Gerdi Troskie.


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