Reflections after one year as Organ Scholar at Durham Cathedral
Imogen Morgan, undergraduate and music student
Please describe a typical week in your life as an undergraduate music student at Durham.
Not counting my cathedral duties, my week as a music student is very flexible. I have eight hours of lectures spread across Monday to Friday, plus one or two more focused seminars which vary from week to week. I am part of Van Mildert College, but it doesn’t have a chapel, so I play at University College (Castle) where I am Senior Organ Scholar. Durham organists are not restricted by their college and can play wherever there is a vacancy. There are two weekly services, with a rehearsal and evensong on Thursdays, and a eucharist on Sunday morning, although there are tentative plans to introduce a second evensong during the week, which is exciting.
What did you have to do in your audition for the cathedral organ scholarship?
For my audition, I had to prepare a contrapuntal Baroque piece, and a contrasting, more modern piece that showed console management (I chose Howells). I also had to play the Magnificat from Stanford in B flat. The whole programme had to be registered in just 20 minutes. I also had to sight-read, transpose, and extend a hymn for a short period of time.
How much playing do you do in the cathedral?
Last year, I played for one evensong a week as well as some Sunday services during term, and this increased to up to three services a week after university term had ended.
Do you have other playing/conducting duties in your college?
I share the playing duties for each service at Castle with my Junior Organ Scholar, alongside mentoring him throughout the year. Sometimes there are weddings outside of term time but these usually fall during the period when I am still in Durham for cathedral duties, so I also play for these. I don’t have regular conducting duties at the moment but I have conducted services at Castle when the director has been away, and have also conducted a few men's voices services and one service with the girl choristers at the cathedral.
Do you have much involvement with the girl and boy choristers?
I have a lot of involvement with the choristers. On four days each week, at their 8am practice, I take away the newest members and teach them sight-reading and basic musicianship, so that they can be made into full choristers. On occasion I also take full chorister rehearsals as well as taking out older choristers to run through solos. I also teach the older choristers individual theory lessons at their school.
Who do you have organ lessons with, and how frequently?
I have organ lessons with the Sub-Organist, Francesca Massey, on an infrequent basis. Most of my learning this past year has been from going through repertoire for my services with her and observing many weekly evensongs.
Do you have enough time to practise?
It is hard to practise during the day in the cathedral as the building is very busy, so a lot of my practice time happens either on the very different Castle organ or late at night after the cathedral has closed.
What has been the most important thing you have learned this year?
Not to panic when something goes wrong during a service. If you focus on your mistake, the rest of your playing will be affected whereas if you put it to the back of your mind for reflection after the event is over, you have more of a chance of playing the rest of the music at your usual standard.
What has been the hardest part of your year?
The hardest part of last year was during the exam season in May, when I had to keep up the playing at Castle and still accompany a service a week at the cathedral.
What has been the most rewarding part of your year?
The most rewarding part of my year was watching choristers that I had trained in the week running up to the end of year concert sing solos in Bach’s Magnificat and Mass in A.
Do you have any advice for sixth form organists who are looking at university organ scholarships?
It is important to consider how much time you want to spend playing the organ, and how much time you want to spend studying for your academic course. There are a range of university organ scholarships which can vary from accompanying once a week to acting as the director in your final year. Also, don’t forget your keyboard skills. Keyboard skills are part of any audition process, so are vital for a successful application, but it goes beyond just the audition. From using sight-reading to quickly learn new repertoire to improvising daily as the choir process in, there is no getting away from using these skills regularly in any organ scholarship!
Do you have any specific advice for girls who are learning the organ?
It is common to go on an organ course or turn up for an audition and be the only female. My advice is to not let this worry or scare you. Nothing about being a woman makes it any easier or harder to play the organ so trust in your own skill and musicality. Music is for everyone and so is every instrument.
Imogen Morgan is currently in her second year at Durham University reading Music. She is the Organ Scholar of Durham Cathedral and the Senior Organ Scholar of University College. Imogen started playing the organ at the age of ten at Ripon Cathedral where she was a chorister. When she was fourteen, she was awarded the Jennifer Bate Organ Scholarship at St Catherine’s School, Bramley, near Guildford, where she frequently conducted the school chapel choir and played for weekly services, as well as having a regular link to Guildford Cathedral during her final year.
Imogen accompanied her first choral evensong in Ripon at the age of thirteen and since then has also accompanied choirs in Guildford, Winchester, and Durham Cathedrals, as well as performing on the organs of St Margaret’s,Westminster, Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden, and Ljubljana Cathedral, Slovenia. She has recently completed her ARCO diploma and her teachers have included Edmund Aldhouse, Katherine Dienes-Williams, and Francesca Massey. As well as playing the organ, Imogen plays the piano and violin, and enjoys singing.