We caught up with organist and Coventry Cathedral’s Director of Music, Rachel Mahon, ahead of ‘Symphony of Remembering’ at Coventry Cathedral, on Saturday 11 June when she will be performing Francis Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani.
The Swan: We’re really looking forward to this weekend’s fundraising concert, Symphony of Remembering that is generously being funded by Coventry University. Could you tell us about your role as Director of Music at the Cathedral and what it entails?
aching cello to took part anyway though and everyone had a brilliant, fun time playing the instruments the Birmingham Music Hub had lent the students for this project.
RM: In a nutshell, I conduct the choirs, plan music for services and concerts, play organ and organise our organ recital series. The Cathedral Choir consists of adults and a separate boys’ choir and girls’ choir and there’s an adult Chamber Choir too. I recruit children from across Coventry and when they join the choir, they learn music theory and how to sing well before passing their “Fresher Test”. The organ recitals bring organists from all over the world to play at the Cathedral and runs from May until September each year.
The Swan: How old were you when you first started playing the organ and how were you introduced to it.
RM: I was 14 when I started playing the organ. I had already done several years of piano and was inspired to learn organ after hearing Widor’s Toccata. I was a chorister in my church growing up, so I was aware of the organ and had sung with it on a regular basis since I was 7 years old. When I was 13, there was an introduction to the organ session for children called “Pedals, Pipes and Pizza” and that was what spurred me on!
The Swan: This concert is in aid of the Diamond Jubilee Organ Appeal for the Cathedral. Could you tell us a bit more about the organ you will be playing on- it’s origins and history and why it’s so important to restore it.
RM: The organ (Sir Basil Spence designed the façade) was completed along with the new Cathedral in 1962 and was built by Harrison & Harrison. Many people say it’s their finest instrument and indeed one of the best in the country. It’s a magnificent instrument because it sounds so well in Coventry Cathedral and fills the whole building. It’s a successful fusion of two different styles of organ building – romantic and classical. As an organist, it’s extremely satisfying to play and works in all sorts of repertoire. It is a Grade I listed instrument from the British Institute of Organ Studies and as a national treasure, it’s important we preserve and care for it.
The Swan: Recently a video of Anna Lapwood went viral of her playing the closing set for Banobo, at the Royal Albert Hall, after them hearing her play during her 1am rehearsal. If you could play with one musician or band who would it be and why?
RM: Hmmm…. This is a tricky one… Coldplay would be a good one, or Queen. Their music would work well with organ and I’ve definitely played some of their tunes on it before!