Thirteen in twelve

Thirteen in twelve…sounds like an obscure time signature but that’s not what it’s about. It refers to the number of recitals I completed in twelve months (2017). This personal challenge didn’t start as a premeditated one at all, but rather as a natural progression from what happened in the previous year. In 2016, Albury hosted its inaugural Albury Chamber Music Festival – a three-day annual musical oasis of concerts featuring professional recitalists. For many years the Victorian town of Wangaratta (75km south of Albury) is home to the annual Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. A team of local music lovers in Albury, working closely with the St Matthew’s Music Foundation, decided that Albury also needed a claim-to-fame in regard to arts and culture. Cutting a long story short, we’ve now had two successful festivals which included chamber ensembles, string quartets, professional singers and of course organ recitals! So now that this fantastic event is established, how do you continue the musical momentum in the lead-up to the ACMF? Start a lunchtime recital series of course! All credit goes to ACMF Festival Advisor, Dr Allan Beavis, for getting this one off the ground and coaxing me into signing myself up to several recitals at St Matthew’s. The recitals are held each Tuesday fortnight at 1.10pm to 1.50pm and are known to locals as “Tunes on Tuesday“.

I saw this as an opportunity to learn new repertoire and share it with an appreciative audience, whilst contributing to the local musical culture of the city. A monthly challenge seemed the most appropriate way to tackle this and fortunately with already some repertoire under my belt, I could feature various works across the planned recitals and complement them with new material. What initially began as ten recitals quickly made its way to thirteen – Director of Music and Organist, Mark Quarmby, invited me to give an organ recital at St Stephen’s Uniting Church in Sydney for their annual Australia Day series of concerts. Allan Beavis invited me to give a Sunday afternoon recital at his parish at St Jude’s, Bowral and Ross Cobb offered me a Thursday lunchtime recital at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. At one point in the journey, it was twelve-in-twelve months (had a much nicer ring to it) but if there’s anything life has taught me, is that plans and goals change!

On the topic of changing plans, St Matthew’s almost suffered from another fire in early 2017. The first was infamously responsible for giving us the magnificent Létourneau we have today. Whilst the second fire wasn’t catastrophic, the soot had circulated through the church’s air conditioning system and consequently the organ required extensive cleaning, thus causing one of my recitals to be cancelled. Fortunately, some of the repertoire I had prepared for that May recital was suitable for the organ at Jindera, so I presented one there. I was happy that I would still be on track for the magic number 13.

Over the series of these recitals, I discovered what works and what doesn’t work in terms of programme planning. In retrospect, I realised I used too many of my larger works in single recitals rather than spreading them out. The challenge in performing multiple times at the same place is that you would most likely get more or less the same people attending. A programme cannot be repeated unless it is performed at another venue. I really enjoyed the art of planning repertoire, especially after time went on and I discovered what an audience generally enjoys. Whilst I think there really isn’t a holy grail recipe for planning a recital programme, here’s what I have discovered for Tunes on Tuesday:

  • Start with a shorter work that is bright and easy for the average listener to digest. Perhaps something not too difficult to start a recital off with either. One would not be warmed up yet and there may be some pre-recital nerves.
  • Aim for a well balanced programme, unless of course it is based on a theme or works of a specific composer.
  • Select a variety works that show off the varying tonal capabilities of the organ.
  • Play the larger works (difficulty and length) around the middle of the recital programme.
  • If a particular piece is a little short, consider grouping them together with other small pieces by the same composer or style.
  • Add in some “popular” pieces or transcriptions – material that a general audience will recognise.
  • When timing a programme, allow space for short breaks and the time taken to present a verbal introduction and conclusion (if applicable).
  • End with a reasonably rousing piece that will inspire some well-deserved applause!

By rough calculations, I delivered around 7.5 hours of unique organ music in 2017. Most recitals were 40 mins in duration. I definitely felt a big sense of achievement reaching the end. It’s not something I would (or could do) every year, but I found it motivating to have a goal and 2018’s goal is still yet to be decided. One of the great joys of playing the organ is having the opportunity to share your work much more frequently than any other instrument I can think of, so organists, let’s continue to keep organ music alive!

List of recitals

Tunes on Tuesday recital series at St Matthew’s, Albury

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  1. Fr Tim Cahill on January 30, 2018 at 3:20 pm

    Really good perceptions here, James – since 2013 I’ve been organising, co-ordinating or playing concerts centred around our little 1890 Alfred Kirkland Organ in Carcoar, and I heartily concur with your very sound advice re putting together a program. (We started off monthly, or at least 10 out of the 12 months in a year, then went bi-monthly, then quarterly…which I think is where we’ll stay.
    I’ve just about exhausted my repertoire in that time, and never seem to find the time to learn much new material – at least, not to my recital standards – not to mention using up most of my local contacts for performance.

    Having a much larger pool of performers to be part of is a definite advantage; and I wish you well with the Tunes on Tuesday’s initiative ????

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