On Wednesday 9th November 2022 we welcome Daniel Justin from Norwich for the next of this season’s organ recitals. Here we find out more about playing the organ by ear, returning to West Yorkshire, and being thrown in at the deep end on live radio!
Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?
Well, it all started for me when I was given an electric keyboard. I used to play hymns for my Granny, and then I ended up playing at Church when the organist was ill. I only played the organ by ear and didn’t read music until I was 12; I used to play the Organ for Mass reading from the words hymn book!
I went to Downside School, so learned an awful lot there about Sacred Music, and the opportunity to have lessons on the wonderful Compton organ in the Abbey was great. We all have at least one school teacher who made a massive impression on us, and in my case it was my organ teacher Chris Tambling – nothing was seen as difficult, so he always pushed me on to the next challenge! I certainly wouldn’t be doing the job I am today were it not for his support and encouragement.
Working at Leeds Cathedral was the eye-opener that my heart really lay in Catholic music, so moving to Norwich to be Director of Music was a great opportunity. I do sometimes play for Evensong at the ‘other’ Cathedral, though!
Having held previous posts in Wakefield and Leeds, are you looking forward to being back in West Yorkshire?
Absolutely! I first came to West Yorkshire in 2008 as a quiet 18 year old, and I really enjoyed living in Huddersfield, Wakefield and Leeds. The quality of music-making around the area was great to be immersed in as a student. I would also say that I spent a year at Bradford Cathedral playing for Evensong on Mondays and playing for the Saturday rehearsals… so I have no doubt it will be very comfortable to sit back at the console!
You’ve had experience of performing on television and for radio – what was that like to be involved in?
I remember the first Radio 3 broadcast; that was particularly scary! I’d chosen a huge piece of Karg Elert as the voluntary (10 minutes long, in D Flat Major, with a four part ladies chorus and a solo violin…) so it wasn’t exactly the most laid-back of events! But when you know the organ and choir so well as I did in Leeds, I actually rather enjoyed the whole thing.
I remember playing for a Radio 4 Sunday Worship from St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Bradford, when the producer didn’t turn off the red light until the very end of the Elgar Sonata First Movement, as he was enjoying it so much. Because of how little of the voluntary they broadcast in that time slot (normally about 30 seconds), I’d only practiced the registration changes with the console assistant for the first three pages. The conductor had to come and help as we all telepathically negotiated our way to the end without incident. I think I had a strong coffee after that.
What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
Hopefully something jolly! I think organ recitals can so often be seen as oppressive and stuffy, so I do like to include something which will either get people’s feet tapping, or make them leave with a smile on their face. I like to offer as varied a programme as possible, so I hope this fulfils the quota!
Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
I really like the diversity of sounds which you can bring to a piece. I enjoy playing pieces on the organ which weren’t originally written with the organ in mind, as it challenges me to interpret the piece in a completely different way!
Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
The Tambling variations on Sagina are a great set of pieces, full of pastiche and fun! I’m a huge fan of Elgar, and Carissima is such a charming little piece. And the Langlais is fun, loud and crashing, so will be fun to play!
Each recital this season includes a piece from The Orgelbüchlein Project – what was it like learning this piece / why did you pick that particular piece?
I chose the piece by Des heiligen Geistes reiche Gnade by Naji Hakim, which I didn’t know before, because I really appreciate Hakim’s tonality. It’s fascinating to see how so many people, whose traditions are so far removed from this Germanic approach of Chorale Preludes, have created something really interesting; Hakim’s is quite chordal and static, but also with a bit of a lilt too. I suppose I’m a grand-pupil of Hakim (he taught David Bednall, my organ teacher), so I’m keeping it ‘in the family’!
Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
Something for everyone, I hope!
You can join us on Wednesday 9th November October at 1pm for Daniel Justin’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about John on Twitter.
You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page.