An Organ Scholarship at New College
Our Junior Organ Scholar, Hamish Fraser, reflects on his first few months at New College.
Given that New College is one of the three choral foundations at Oxford, life as organ scholar here is a particularly immersive experience. The choir is comprised of fourteen singers on the ‘back row’ - singing the lower parts - and, more uniquely, around 16 choristers aged 9-13 who attend New College School. The organ scholar’s role, therefore, consists not only of sharing the weekly playing with the Assistant Organist, but also of a certain level of involvement with the training and rehearsing of these choristers, who have daily lunchtime practices in addition to the full choir rehearsals before evensong.
The organ itself is fantastic to work with: it is a refreshingly modernist and innovative instrument in comparison to many of those at Oxford or Cambridge, housing some beautifully lyrical sounds alongside some rich and characterful reeds on all divisions. The perspective on the chapel from the organ loft is particularly exciting: the organist is in control of a camera and a microphone to ease communication with the choir and conductor, and the loft commands a brilliant view over the chapel, which can be particularly atmospheric in special services such as the candlelit Eucharist for All Souls’ Day.
One of the most attractive aspects of the organ scholarship for me is the diversity of the role. The choir has a very broad repertoire: alongside a number of new commissions in the day-to-day repertoire, there are several opportunities for continuo playing – last term I was played for the choir’s performance of Bach’s beautiful cantata ‘Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit’. The scholarship also provides frequent opportunities for music-making outside of the daily service schedule. The organ scholar is able to give recitals, both at New College and more widely around the university, which provide a fantastic experience for learning and performing new repertoire. I am very excited to be performing music ranging from Bach’s Erbarm Dich Mein, O Herre Gott to Howells’ extraordinary Rhapsody in D flat in recital this coming Saturday at 7pm.
There is also plenty of opportunity to accompany musicians around college - singers and instrumentalists alike - for the numerous concerts and recitals held in college during term-time. This includes travelling to New College’s parish churches around the country, most recently visiting our friends in Radclive, where I and one of our choral scholars performed an anthem for the 800th Anniversary Service of the church. There are also opportunities for the organ scholar as a singer: not only does the College provide free singing lessons, but I have also been able to join the college’s close harmony group, ‘the New Men’, which is comprised of the choir’s choral scholars.