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Songs from the organ loft

The curiously titled work Dick's Maggot features in the easy listening titles in the varied programme British organist and pianist Ian Miles will perform in Gisborne next week.

More catchy than catching, the title is nothing to worry about. A “maggot”, as explained by The French Lieutenant's Woman author John Fowles, who also wrote a novel called A Maggot, is taken from the archaic sense of the word that means “whim”, “quirk”, “obsession”, or even a snatch of music.

English composer Ernest Tomlinson arranged the traditional dance piece as part of his Suite of English Folk Dances.

The suite of musical arrangements came about after Tomlinson — described by Miles as the doyen of the British light music movement — discovered the pieces at a folk festival in the early 1950s. By the 1970s, Dick's Maggot had become the signature tune for pianist-bandleader Steve Race's BBC radio show, Invitation to Music.

Miles' programme presents light music “from the English organ loft”, a selection of classics in various genres, a quartet of live music classics, three pieces of which have been adopted as signature tunes, and a couple of farewell tunes.

In short, the programme is as varied as the multitude of instruments the pipe organ at St Andrew's Church not only mimics but makes its own.

“The organ allows more sustained orchestral textures while the piano has more intimacy,” says Miles.

“They have complementary strengths.”

A bit like classical

The organist/pianist has a great love for English light music.

“It sounds, texturally, a bit like classical.”

Nineteenth century Yorkshireman Alfred Hollins' Allegretto Grazioso is Edwardian in mode and a “slightly kitsch but very well crafted” work from the English organ loft.

Born blind, Hollins toured the world and included a 1904 visit to New Zealand. Wherever he went he played whole programmes from memory on complex, different instruments he could never see, says Miles in the programme notes.

“His own compositions endure as winsome, well-crafted examples of the Victorian/Edwardian repertoire.”

Among TV show signature tunes in the quartet of light music classics, is Eric Spear's 1954 composition, Family Joke. Originally performed solo by Tommy Reilly on harmonica, the tune was used to introduce BBC soap opera The Grove Family. Spear later wrote the signature tune for the long-running soap, Coronation Street.

The organ concert programme also features a world premiere of Miles' transcription for organ of Peter Hope's 1961 work, Jaunting Car (from the Ring of Kerry suite) which was written to evoke a coastal scenic trip by horse-drawn cart in south-western Ireland.

From the selection of classics is the duet La ci darem la mano from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, which will be performed by Catherine Macdonald and Gavin Maclean.

Miles will also take to the piano as accompanist for Macdonald's performance of Vilia, a song from Austro-Hungarian composer Franz Lehar operetta, The Merry Widow.

In shaky places

When Miles first visited Gisborne 12 years ago, the ground shook. St Andrew's masonry loosened, villas were enveloped in faint auras as dust vibrated out of the boards, and mud volcanoes were seen near the Waipaoa River.

The 2007 earthquake did not put him or his wife Alison off and they return every two years to visit family.

Having performed as a parish organist in Britain for several years Miles now plays for two parishes on alternate weeks.

A school student when he took up the organ, Miles later became a teacher of French and German languages.

With 40 years experience as a school, parish and community musician, he now directs a small parish choir, two community choirs in Oxfordshire, and accompanies two others. He is a former musical director of the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir, and a holder of the Archbishops' certificate of the guild of church musicians.

While in the South Island during a visit to these shaky isles one summer, Miles and Alison spent the first Sunday after Christmas in Hanmer Springs.

“We passed a colonial church where people were congregating and went for a look.”

Told they had no organist, Miles stepped up.

“I sat there in shorts and sandals and played carols about snowbound sheep,” he says.

“That was one of the most peculiar and gratifying experiences I've had.”

Although snowbound sheep don't feature in the programme he has lined up for the Gisborne concert, Miles will show the pipe organ in a slightly different, but tuneful guise, he says.

“People will go away thinking their ears have been tickled.”

If not by snowbound sheep then possibly by a maggot.

PIPE UP: British organist/pianist Ian Miles rehearses an eclectic range of works he will perform on organ and piano at St Andrew's Church next week. Picture by Liam Clayton