On Wednesday 6th December we welcome Hannah Parry from London for our next organ recital. In this edition of ‘Notes from an Organist’ we discover more about them, and what to expect from their recital, including playing music by women composers and from non-western culture; how the organ recital fits the season of Advent; and more about her activities away from music including scuba diving and journalism.

Could you introduce yourself, how you got into music / become an organist and your musical journey to where you are today?

My early church music experiences were as a chorister at Norwich Cathedral. I was amongst the first girl choristers there and the education of singing to a professional standard at a young age is very valuable. I also heard the mighty organ there and thought I’d like to give that a go. With the aid of a Norwich Diocesan scholarship I had organ lessons with Julian Thomas before meeting Ann Elise Smoot at an Oundle for Organists’ summer school. During sixth form I travelled to London for lessons and classes. Meeting other young people and visiting famous churches and organs was again an invaluable addition to my education.
I was quite amazed to win a place at the Royal College of Music at the age of 18. The lessons with David Graham as well as living and working in London were the basis for the freelance career I have now.
Through volunteer work with organisations supporting refugees, I ended up moving to Germany where I give concerts, play for services and teach – I also travel to the UK frequently to give workshops and concerts.

What can people expect from your recital at Bradford Cathedral?
I always try to include pieces that audiences probably won’t otherwise encounter. This includes music written this century, works by women composers and music from non-western culture. In Bradford I’m playing Tänzerische Weise – Presque Dansant a fun piece by Hungarian composer Erzsébet Szöny and my own take on the Persian popular tune Sarzemine man which translates as “My Homeland”.

Why do you enjoy playing the organ?
I was attracted to the organ because of the variety the instrument can provide – which applies to both individual instruments as well as the huge variety of organs in the world. I enjoy the artistic challenge of re-interpretating familiar pieces on unfamiliar instruments. I am also very fortunate to have plenty of performance opportunities. Unlike other instrumentalists, the church provides a particular avenue for organ playing, being able to make music and serve others.

Do you have a particular favourite piece out of those you are playing?
I’m very excited to play the Bach F major Toccata. It’s been on my “to learn” list for ages and this will be my first public performance of it.

This recital season we are celebrating ‘Fanfares and Fireworks – Celebrating the Return of the Organ’. How are you weaving that theme into your recital?
I have tried to reflect both Fanfares and Advent in my programme! I want to celebrate the organ by showing off as musical variety as possible whilst respecting the liturgical time of year. Bach’s Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, the famous Advent chorale prelude, is a piece I play every year, coming back and reconsidering the music through the lens of another year of life and music always causes me to find something new or different. Franck shows off the darker colours of the organ on the journey through Pièce héroïque which starts quite menacingly but ends triumphantly using the full organ.

Are you looking forward to playing / hearing our refurbished organ?
It’s been years since my last visit and I’m very curious to hear the changes that have been made. It’s always an honour to play after time, money and energy have been spent on improvements. As organists, we really play the whole building and it’s a privilege to have the cathedral to myself to practise.

Your organ recital will feature ‘reflective works for Advent’. How did you choose appropriate pieces for this season?
Advent is often a difficult time for organists. Choirs are busy rehearsing Christmas carols, shops have tinsel up before the Halloween Pumpkins have been put away, and Advent can be skipped over. Yet contemplative music in expectation of what hasn’t arrived is what Advent requires and I want to respect that. Advent is often described as a journey towards Christmas and I hope my programme is a journey around the world, the ages and the organ, yet with space for contemplation.

As well as a musician you are also a scuba diver. Where has been your favourite place to scuba dive?
Tricky question! There are lots of memorable dives that come to mind, but working in Mexico for a month meant I got to know the underwater area really well and know where to spot shy animals. And it was amazing to see sharks, dolphins and manatees in their own environment.

You are also a keen journalist – what sort of stories do you cover?
I write primarily about topics relating to refugees in Europe. This is most often in the form of the Are You Syrious News Digest – a newsletter provided by the Croatian organisation about stories important to migration in Europe.

I have also written short stories for an anthology, profile pieces, and where music and migration collide.

You recently travelled around Lithuania and volunteered there – what was that like?
I was helping out a Lithuanian organisation which supports people newly arrived in the country.. Last year saw a crisis in the area when Russia and Belarus made it very easy for people from some African and Asian countries to get visas. People were promised a new life in the EU whilst the Russian and Belarussian regimes used people as a threat to the EU. Illegal actions by authorities mean that asylum claims and the accommodation of people aren’t handled properly, a situation that is echoed in every EU country to some extent, as well as the UK.

I was collaborating with the organisation Sienos Grupé to provide some language classes in English and German for people staying in a camp while their claims are being assessed, sometimes connecting them with legal or medical advice or making complaints on their behalf. Additionally, we were on call if people arrived in the country and needed immediate help with food, water, first aid and clothing. You can read more about my time there online.

What volunteering do you do, and why is that important?
Volunteering is important to me in many ways. I first met people who had had to flee their countries when I volunteered in France in 2018. Meeting people who have experienced extreme hardship in their lives who are still so generous is eye and heart opening, for me it’s impossible to look away now that I know what hardships people face at different European borders. I also believe that it is a Christian duty to help those in need and stand up for injustice. Plus, it’s enabled me to travel and meet friends from all over which has enriched my life no end.

Finally, how would you sum up your upcoming recital at Bradford Cathedral?
I would sum up with the word ‘variety’. From German baroque to French romantic via Hungary, Iran and the twenty first century.

You can join us on Wednesday 6th December 2023 at 1pm to hear Hannah’s organ recital, with an optional £4 buffet lunch beforehand at 12:30pm. You can find out more about Hannah on their website, Facebook page, or Instagram account.

You can discover more about our organ recital season on our dedicated page.

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