A scholarship in Trinity for many of us mere mortals is beyond contemplation, but for the few organists among us, becoming a Trinity scholar can be much more than just a pipe dream. This year’s organ scholar is Arthur Greene, a third-year music student whose exceptional ability to play the unconventional instrument has acquired him a scholarship.
The scholarship of €2,000 is a substantial gain for any student, but is not rewarded lightly. The successful student must have an ample love for the instrument and be willing to put in hours of practice each week. These lengthy hours do not deter Greene, and it seems that he would gladly spend more hours at the organ stool than is required. “It’s a consuming job but very rewarding”, notes Greene, speaking to The University Times. “It’s a privilege to work with a great choir and conductor in such a beautiful setting with such beautiful music.”
Greene’s first introduction to the organ came when he was 17 and he “started playing in [his] local church at home”. It was a “small electric organ” in a church just outside Athy. He had been playing the piano since the age of 10 and so the organ felt like a natural progression. Greene later became the junior organ scholar in Christchurch, so his advancement to organ scholar in Trinity was an easy transition. After a successful audition in June, Greene is now the designated organist for Trinity Anglican services and weddings.
The chapel choir, accompanied by Greene, sings at each Sunday service at 10.45am. They also sing at the Evensong service at 5.15pm on Thursdays. Greene was trained for the role by Kerry Heuston, the chapel’s main organist. He explains that “it is a tough job, as the choir sing new music each week so you are constantly required to learn new pieces”. The changing repertoire means that Greene spends hours each day in the chapel practicing for upcoming services. The weddings held in the chapel every Saturday further extend his hours of practice.
To accompany the chapel on the organ requires a high standard of musical ability. As the music changes every week, accompanying students must rely heavily on their sight-reading abilities. Often the choir has been introduced to a new piece just hours before they are performing it in the chapel.
Greene readily accepts the scholarship’s obligations. His passion for music means that he views the demanding role as more liberating than restraining. The chapel seems like a haven for Trinity’s organ scholars. With the keys to the building, they can retreat to one of the only buildings on campus where they will find themselves alone. If you were to stumble into the chapel during rehearsal hours, you might hear Greene playing a piece by JS Bach, his favourite composer. “I can’t really escape him. He’s pretty badass. He’s great”, muses Greene.
While the popularity of organ was at its apex in the mid-19th century, the decline of organised religion has impaired its popularity. Trinity’s chapel choir and organist practice twice a week, but only to perform for a small congregation. While it seems that it would be impossible to convince students to attend mass for religious reasons, Greene asserts that the chapel services are worth attending for the music alone: “I had not gone to a single service before becoming organist even though I would have an interest in that music. It is a bit sad because there is genuinely really fantastic music, so even going for the sake of the music would be nice.”
Greene notes how the church is no longer as alluring as it once was. It is a shame to witness the disintegration of religious music along with its institution. “It was the same in Christchurch and they have a proper professional choir. Their Sunday mass would get forty people, which isn’t a lot considering it’s Dublin’s cathedral. For the evening song, you would get 10 maybe.” If a student was searching for an hour of relaxation, a venture to the chapel Thursday’s service would be a great option. The Thursday Evensong service is nothing short of a free concert with music constituting most of the service and some prayers throughout.
The organ’s popularity has vastly declined since Bach was its poster boy. Whether you have heard woeful attempts to play the instrument in your local church or associate it with songs from your confirmation, it seems organ music has not garnered the appreciation that it deserves. It is inextricably linked with religion, but that’s no bad thing: religious music is often powerful and can be admired solely for its musicality. “The organ is underappreciated”, says Greene. “I guess the piano is more popular because there is so much more music written for it and many more people have one in their home. I have never met anyone with an organ in their house.” The beauty of such a complex instrument has bypassed people because it stands in the balcony above a congregation rather than in someone’s sitting room, waiting to be played.
For those of you who wander into the chapel on a Thursday evening, I am sure that you will establish a new and valid appreciation for the organ. The choir and organists are always there waiting for you to listen when you need a break from those long evenings in the library. The sheer size of the organ and its numerous keyboards do not make the organ the most approachable instrument, but perhaps it is time to demystify the instrument and learn to love its complexity. The hours that Trinity’s organ scholars devote to the instrument testify to its charm and value.
The organ scholarship has furthered Greene’s love for the instrument. It is his first time playing with a choir, and while it is a daunting task, he has willingly accepted it. Greene considers himself to be one of the lucky few to play this unique instrument, and not only has it led to a scholarship, but also a passion for its distinct sound. “It’s an epic instrument and the more I play it, the more I love it. It’s like having an orchestra at your fingertips, and it throws out more bass than District 8 on a Friday night.”