Reviving musical heritage: Saint Pius X Academy offers pipe organ course for advanced piano students

Marco Carvalho

Is this the first time that the Saint Pius X Music Academy will organize this kind of course?

Basilla Sam: Yes, this is the first time that the Academy is offering a short certificate course in the pipe organ. The organ has a history of over 2,000 years, and it has pride of place as an instrument in the Church and the Catholic liturgy, in order to praise the magnificence of God. There are some wonderful pipe organs in Macau’s churches. At our new school campus in Rua da Praia do Bom Parto, we are fortunate to have the space necessary to accommodate a number of organs, and hence this course aims to promote organ music and provide support for church organists in Macau. We hope that it will enable students to widen their knowledge of the pipe organ and gain an understanding of the skills required in playing the “king of instruments”.

The pipe organ is one of the most challenging musical instruments one can learn. How many students does the Academy expect to attract? Are there many people in Macau with the appropriate skills?

Basilla Sam: Indeed, the pipe organ is the largest and most complex musical instrument in the world, but it can produce an amazing range of timbres and colours that is totally captivating. Playing the organ requires both hands and feet, so good physical coordination is necessary, as well as fairly good score reading ability, because some scores are in three staves. A performer must also be familiar with the instrument’s many mechanisms and be able to adapt quickly to different instruments because pipe organs are tailor-made for the spaces in which they are installed and the number of manuals, the number of keyboards, and setup for each organ is different. Since this is the first time that the Academy is organizing a pipe organ course, we’re taking this opportunity to find out more about the level of interest amongst the local community, as well as the standard of students and their progress. We’ve already had many enquiries. We will be accepting four students initially. There is a requirement for the students to have reached Piano Grade 7 or above and have some score reading ability. This is to ensure that all participants will benefit fully from the course.

Who will be teaching the course?

Basilla Sam: The course will be taught by one of our most experienced teachers, Ms Carol Sou. Her major study at the National Taiwan Normal University was in piano performance, but the organ became her true focus when she took on musical responsibilities at her church. She was awarded a scholarship to study with Mr Andy Ng in Hong Kong and has attended master classes with world famous organists, including Stefan Kiessling, George Chittenden, David Graham and Dong-ill Shin. She obtained her Licentiate of Trinity College London in organ performance with distinction, and has given many public performances as well as introduced the pipe organ and its history on television.  She also holds a Master of Music Therapy degree from the University of Queensland, Australia.

What is the duration of the course?

Basilla Sam: Enrollment has now begun and will continue until April 6th. The entire course is ten hours in total, including individual tutorials and group lessons. It is expected to start on April 23rd and end in early July. The classes include a general survey of the history of the pipe organ and important organ works, as well as a site tour to visit one of Macau’s most magnificent pipe organs. At the end of the course, students should be able to play at least one work for the organ, which includes the use of the pedalboard.

What other courses and initiatives will the Academy promote in the next few months?

Basilla Sam: Due to the very encouraging response to this course, the Academy will continue to organize short-term courses focused on the organ after this present one is completed, but with possible adjustment and improvement to the course content. Our goal is to foster the development of a community of organists for the Catholic Diocese of Macau, so that more people can serve the Church through music. Moreover, October 8th this year will mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Academy. As plans for celebration are underway – including an exciting series of concerts, talks as well as publications and exhibitions, we are committed to building a dynamic and innovative future in music and the arts in Macau.