It was the great humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer, also a
passionate organist, who once said ‘Thank God each time when you are privileged to sit
before the organ console and assist in the worship of the Almighty.”
Today, many churches in Scotland struggle to find someone to play the organ, assuming of
course that the instrument has been kept in a playable condition. Sadly, we’re relying more
and more on electronic substitutes pre-loaded with entire hymnaries. How fortunate we are
at Max West! Any early arrivals on a Sunday morning usually can share in Stephen
Crosbie’s ‘warm up’ on our organ as he checks out the hymn tunes for the service. Stephen
has always been keen to explore the instrument’s incredible range of tonality, and many of
us have already noticed a fresh, exciting clarity – something of a departure from the standard
church organ sound. With over thirty years’ experience I wondered how his interest in music
S: I was about twelve years old when I came across an old LP record – do you remember
those? – my father had quite a large collection, and this particular disc was of organ music. I
was amazed at the range of sound that the instrument could play – from a whisper to a huge
roar, and that really excited me.
M: So where could you go to learn to play?
S: Here in Dumfries, at St John’s was where I started – I was able to have lessons there,
and then my musical world suddenly opened up – there was a course in St Andrews, and
from there I was lucky to get onto a weekend course for teenagers at the Royal School of
Church Music in Surrey. It was in the very grand surroundings of Addington Palace, formerly
the summer home of the Archbishop of Canterbury; the school was well known as the heart
and home of church music, devoted to improvement of music in Christian worship. That
really laid the foundation for me, and I continued with lessons in Carlisle Cathedral with the
Assistant Organist there for five years. That was an amazing instrument to play – 4,000
M: Did you have many other opportunities to build your experience?
S: Some years ago, I went to the Netherlands for a seven-day organ festival – the classes
that were organised there were absolutely fantastic; the tutors and instruments were all
world class, and it even included the chance to go on to the Müller organ in the Grote Kerk
of St. Bavo in Haarlem that had once been played on by Mozart at the age of 10!
M: You were recently very busy getting ready for a series of new exams.
S: That’s right – the London College of Music and the Royal Schools of Music had just
introduced diplomas for Organ Performance, and I gained awards from both, including an
Associateship at the Royal School of Music. It doesn’t end there – I’m now working towards
the next level to become an Associate (Level 5) of the London College of Music.
Stephen – we wish you well in your musical journeys on the organ! Mike Marshall