From 540-hymns for Latvia to four pieces for Bradford: Chris Totney to play in the final organ recital of October 2019

Chris Totney

Each week we welcome a guest organist to Bradford Cathedral to play as part of our Wednesday@One Organ Recital season, and on Wednesday 30th October it’ll be the turn of Chris Totney from Devizes and we got the chance to speak to him ahead of the recital as he prepared for the final performance of a production of Made in Dagenham.

How has the production been going?

It’s been going really well but it’s been eight weeks of hard work putting it together.

Could you tell us a little about your musical background?

I started out in music by being a chorister in a local parish church in the West Midlands and singing in the choir brought me into a love of the organ, which I took up afterwards. I ended up enjoying it so much I went to study it at Durham!

You’re also a music director – how do you find that?

It’s an enjoyable thing to do and certainly gives me a lot of variety. I get to work with large choirs and individuals as well, when you’re preparing for exams. And there’s concerts, services and shows, so it’s all great variety.

You are keen in throwing yourself into supporting things musically. I believe you once took part in a fundraiser where you played more than 540 hymns in one day?

Yes, I did! The choir that I run in Devizes in Wiltshire wanted to go on a tour in Latvia where we have a link through the Diocese of Salisbury. To help raise funds for it I sat down and played every hymn in the New English Hymnal which took eight hours! It was hard work, and I didn’t know what to expect. By the end of it I certainly had a sore back which lasted for a day or two!

It was well supported. There was me playing the organ and there was a bunch of faithful supporters who left sandwiches on both sides of the organ bench as the day went on, with cups of coffee too!

It was amazing to think that a country parish church choir could pull together and make that trip happen. There were plenty of times, especially early on, where we wondered if it was too big a hill to climb, but everyone kept believing and we staged fifteen separate fundraising events. Not all of them were musical though: we had a swimathon, some cake sales and a talent show. It resulted in a fantastic trip too!

How did you pick the pieces you are playing at our organ recital?

I’ve got four big pieces down for the recital and the first three of them I’m preparing for my Fellowship diploma. It’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for the last fifteen years or so but haven’t got round to, so I figured it was time to really try hard and do it. I’m playing them at as many recitals as I can just to try and give them an airing before the day of the exam. It’s been the result of about two years of hard work. The advice I was given was to play them in lots of recitals before attempting the exam and I’m doing it in 2020.

I picked the pieces from a selection but I had to choose a balanced programme with a variety of different styles and eras of the organ music. It’s been a lot of fun putting it together.

Do you have a particular favourite piece you like to play?

Boellmann’s Suite Gothique, which is the piece that I’m finishing with, has always had a special place in my heart. My dad isn’t an organist, and wouldn’t call himself a musician, but he’s certainly a big appreciator of the more popular organ works, the sort of pieces you’d like to hear at a lunchtime concert. This one has always had a special resonance both for him and for me as he used to play it quite loudly on his hi-fi at home when I was growing up!

You also compose your own pieces; do you find that an interesting challenge?

It is actually. I haven’t written that many pieces, but people often ask for them to be written to a specific brief. For example, one of the last choral pieces that I composed had to be singable by a choir of four-parts and also if the choir only had one line of voices singing, so it had to have an element of flexibility about it. It’s always exciting to be able to respond to such a challenge.

Finally, what are your plans for 2020?

The Fellowship diploma will be the big thing I’m working towards and it’s coming up quite soon in January! I’m hoping that now I’ve learnt these pieces – and they’ve really tested me – that I’ll be able to make use of them by giving a few other recitals around and about during the course of the year.

We welcome Chris Totney from Devizes to give this week’s organ recital (Wednesday 30th October) at 1pm. Entry is free with a retiring collection in aid of the Bradford Cathedral Organ Appeal. A buffet lunch (£4) is served from 12:30pm to 12:55pm with the recital from 1pm.

Chris’s programme
Prelude and Fugue in D BWV 532
– – J S Bach (1685-1750)
Sonata No. 1, Movt ii
– – – ii. Sehr Langsam
– – P Hindemith (1895-1963)
Sonata No. 4 in B flat
– – – ii Andante Religioso
– – F Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Suite Gothique
– – – Introduction-Choral
– – – Menuet Gothique
– – – Priere a Notre-Dame
– – – Toccata
– – L Boëllmann (1862-1897)

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