Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter October 31st, 2020

Hello to all members on a weekend when we are concentrating more on All Saints and All Souls than on Halloween! 


1. The recent discussion on Zoom (October 17th) replaced a meeting.  There are notes taken by Peter Ramell and these will be sent out to members by Peter very soon.

2. Your Committee has a good programme for 2021 and we sincerely hope that much of it will go ahead.  We’ll let you have full details long before the end of the year.  To start with, the first two meetings are fixed for January 11th and February 20th.  

Monday, January 11th  –  Stephen Disley’s organ recital at Southwark Cathedral at 1.15p.m.  We are invited to arrive earlier, to try the organ.  Afterwards, meet at The Mudlark (next door) for a drink.   

February 20th  –  Composite Recital at Penge Congregational Church at 2.30p.m.

Neither of these events can be guaranteed, but at the moment we must be optimistic!


We recently sent congratulations to Robert Bowles and Pieter Shaw, two SSLSO members who have passed the CRCO exam of the Royal College of Organists.  Pieter explains more about the exam:

“The CRCO exam is aimed at amateur organists or as a ‘transition’ qualification to the ARCO diploma. As with all of the college’s exams the standard is high and the candidate is expected to show a good grasp of musicianship, not just playing organ repertoire well.

“The CRCO diploma comprises of two parts: the theoretical paperwork made up aural tests, some 4 part chorale harmonisation, 2 part counterpoint, analysis and a history topic relating to an aspect of organ music, or composer. The specific details are all clearly stated in the syllabus.

The playing part is made up of three pieces chosen from various lists rather comparable to associated board exams in that respect. The pieces are in many respects quite accessible being around grade 5 nudging on grade 6 standard.

In addition to the pieces there are the musicianship tests. All candidates have to attempt a piece of sight reading. This is usually a short piece of organ music from the romantic period with possibly a change of manual or operation of the swell box required. There are no stop changes required at this level.

The next test is playing a hymn plus a short extension of extemporised music. The exam syllabus gives a list of 10 possible hymns from the New English Hymnal. The candidate is expected to provide a play over, first and last verses and a chosen middle verse and then extemporise of a theme from the hymn for around 30 seconds.

The candidate can choose the third and final test from either transposition or realisation of a figured bass.

“Probably the best way to view the attainment of these diplomas is to see them as a process of development from the first steps of preparation through to actually taking the exam itself. The college provides a wealth of support for those on the exam pathway and there’s loads of material available to help along the way. These exams should be seen as a learning process to develop and improve both organ playing skills as well as practical musicianship in the broadest sense. 

The exams themselves can seem daunting but they are worth working towards. Learning new skills can actually be quite fun even if sometimes rather challenging.

Finally it’s worth mentioning that all the RCO diplomas are now modular. This means that you can ‘bank’ the sections where you are successful and retake those where you don’t quite make the grade. There’s no shame here, many candidates have to retake one or more sections of the diploma. The college recognises that and gives the candidate 4 years to gain a pass in all sections!

“Many organists have a slightly jaundiced view of RCO diplomas. They are undoubtedly intended to be challenging but they are also attainable. There really has to be a commitment to consistent (probably) daily practise over time and probably more important of all, get yourself an organ teacher to support you through the journey.”


As recitals are beginning again, do let Richard Pilliner hear from you of anything which he can help to publicise.  Please email him directly or via

Arthur Wills RIP

Arthur Wills died this week, aged 94.  He was famously Director of Music at Ely Cathedral for many years.

Threat to Freedom Pass

Thanks to the Bromley & Croydon Association for this, which they received from Judith Howard: I’m sure you will have heard on the News that the govt. is trying to force Tfl into withdrawing our senior travel concessions in London.  Bearing in mind the average age of organists these days, I guess this is of concern to many of us!  I’m so worried about the threat to our free travel, that I have started a petition on, “Save the Freedom Pass for London Pensioners”.  The link is

Celebrity Recital:

This is from Reg Boulton of the Bexley Society, with news of a recital by one of our own members:  “Greetings all! I trust everyone is keeping well.  I know our association appears to be doing nothing, but rest assured that we’re trying to get various things moving.  For the moment, I can tell you that our celebrity recital is back on. Norman Harper at St John’s, Sidcup, on Saturday 27.3.21 at 7.30pm.  I shan’t issue a flyer just yet, as the one I’d prepared mentioned food and wine being involved, but, as things stand at least at the present, refreshments won’t be an option. Things may change by then – we’ll see.  And there will be support for this from the Bromley & Croydon and Southwark & S London associations, so it may well be that we have to put a limit on numbers and issue tickets beforehand. Again, we’ll wait and see.  So, for the moment, please put the date in your diaries.”

More from the Bromley Association:

“Greetings Everyone!  I received this information yesterday evening regarding an Organ Recital by Thomas Trotter at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 20 November at 2.30 p.m.  This is to be the first of a series of trial live events at the Hall before their ‘socially distanced’ reopening.  Seats are limited and have just gone on public sale this morning at £10 each.”

Organ Recital – live trial event with Thomas Trotter

Friday 20 November 2020

Be among the first to head back to the Royal Albert Hall as we open our doors this November for our first socially-distanced ‘trial run’ ahead of our Christmas season.

There will be a very limited number of seats available for this show.

Thomas Trotter’s organ recital will feature popular repertoire from J.S. Bach’s to Eric Coates and Edward Elgar played by the renowned organist on the Hall’s majestic 9,999-pipe Henry Willis organ.

Tickets £10

Evensong from King’s College, London

Sue O’Neill in my Church Choir sent me this message: “This YouTube of Evensong at King’s London popped up in my Facebook.  They have five female singers in the choir. The anthem, by Mendelssohn, is lovely.”  Do enjoy it in these days when Evensong is less easy to attend. Link here.

Recitals with lots of organs, including Dulwich

See below the poster which Marilyn Harper has sent me.  Yes, note the word “Dulwich” and the time to listen out!   Remember that it will go live at 3pm Mexican time on 15 November, so we’ll be listening at 9.00pm UK time.

Next newsletter will be on November 28th; do get in touch about anything which you think relevant and helpful.

All good wishes, John