It is hard to believe that Mark Blackwell has been a church organist for 40 years. As he prepares to celebrate that milestone, he looks back to where it all began and the journey he made to his new home here at St James’s.
My interest in playing the organ started when I was a very young choirboy at St Augustine’s, Whitton, and used to watch the organist play after the service. He suggested to my parents I should have organ lessons (I was 11 at the time and had been playing the piano since I was six). My first organ tutor left the area after I was with her for a year or so. I was then recommended to see Geoff Bowyer, pictured right, who, as some of you will know, was organist at St James’s for a number of years. His enthusiasm for teaching the organ and his amazing musical talent (the only organist who never plays a hymn in the original key, and his interpretation of hymns with the registration of the organ for different lines) was inspirational.
It all began at Twickenham URC
Organist at other denominations
During this time I also played for the Wednesday evening service at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Richmond, a post I held for nearly 20 years.
Back to Anglican roots at St James’s
I was playing occasionally at St James’s after an earlier curate, Debbie Oades, asked to me to help out one Sunday. When I played at St James’s in January 2015, I was surrounded by a number of your choir members who persuaded me to make it my new home (it did not take much persuasion). The warmth of welcome I have received from everyone at St James’s has been wonderful and this has been echoed following the recent Choral Evensong by a large number of the visiting choir.
Apart from playing at St James’s I have a keen interest in
youth music having been, for the past 13 years, a trustee of a youth
choir in Staines called Spelthorne Young Voices (SYV), under the direction
of another very talented musician and friend, Joanne Gardner, pictured.
The choir numbers over 100 young people at present across three choirs,
and they attract large and enthusiastic audiences whenever they perform
together. I also have Joanne to thank for encouraging me in a new
genre of show and contemporary music which, for some reason, always
seems to have multiple key changes, much to Jo’s amusement.
My cathedrals choir
A celebration concert
at St James’s
Without their support and encouragement I would not have met some
amazing people, a lot of whom I now have the privilege to call friends,
as well as the moving experiences of singing in cathedrals, playing
for Sunday services and the shows. From the bottom of my heart, I
thank you Mum and Dad.
The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
Main site: stjames-hamptonhill.org.uk