World class organist Jonathan Vaughn is playing in Shaftesbury on Sunday 21st July. The performer, who now lives and works in the United States, has added our town to his UK tour dates because he maintains strong Shaftesbury connections.
“I’m doing four concerts. I’ve already played one of them, which was at Christchurch Priory. I’m also doing concerts at Croydon Minster and St Paul’s Cathedral,” said Jonathan.
He says that organ playing is practically in his blood. “I’ve been playing since I was 11. Both my parents were organists. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do so,” said Jonathan. “All of my professional life and all my schooling evolved around playing the organ. It’s all I’ve ever really done.”
Jonathan became a fellow of the Royal College of Organists at the age of sixteen. He went on to read music at St John’s College in Cambridge, where he maintained a close connection with the organ. “I was an organ scholar, which means that I was responsible for playing the organ for services and helping with the running of the choir there. It’s a world famous set-up with one of the best men and boys choirs the world. I did an academic music degree at Cambridge and the work that I did in the chapel fed into that. It wasn’t strictly an organ degree, it was a music degree. Then I played in the chapel.”
Jonathan’s professional career followed, with musical appointments at cathedrals in Bury St Edmunds and Wells. In Somerset, he recorded five CD albums of his organ playing.
Jonathan has played the St James’ Church organ before and he’s delighted to be returning. “I think this is actually my fourth visit to Shaftesbury. Chris Mahon, who is the organist at St James, knew my parents when they were students. He’s been a long-term family friend and I’ve been there about every five years for the past fifteen years,” said Jonathan. “It’s a lovely community at St James,” he added.
The organ at St James Church was manufactured by renowned organ-maker Norman and Beard. “It’s a beautiful instrument. It’s small. I think it has 12 stops. It’s perfectly formed. It is a very different beast to where I’ll be playing in about three weeks, at St Paul’s Cathedral,” said Jonathan. “It is five times, if not ten times, the size of the St James organ. It’s such a beautiful little instrument and I love playing it.”
Jonathan has selected his programme to complement the organ he will play at St James Church. “You’ve always got to make sure that you’re playing music appropriate for the instrument that you’re going to be performing on. So one piece, in particular, is an 18th century voluntary by a composer called William Russell. It’s very much written for the small organs that they would have had in England in the 18th century. It’ll sound super on the St James instrument.”
Jonathan will perform ten pieces in his recital. “It’s an interesting programme because St James is having a flower festival while I’m there. So the last few pieces in the programme reflect the theme of flowers,” he said. “The first piece is called ‘Spring Song’ by Alfred Hollins, just to get us into the mood. Then I’m playing a piece by Brahms. It’s actually on ‘A Christmas Carol’ and then, from the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky, I’m going to finish with ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.
Playing to a packed house in a relatively small venue, compared to the other places in which Jonathan is planning recitals, changes the feel of a performance. “It’s always great to play to a full venue,” he smiled.
Jonathan is now based in Greenwich in Connecticut. He says organ playing is popular there. “The work we do at Christ Church is really valued. It’s a very wealthy community. We are actually installing two new organs in the church right now. It represents a very significant investment in the music and I think that really is the best symbol of how valued we are as musicians at Christ Church,” he said.
Jonathan’s organ recital will be held at St James Church at 3pm on Sunday 21st July. A tea party will follow afterwards.