The Organ Talks: Syd Birrell Plays and Talks Bach

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Here’s a wonderful opportunity to hear some of J.S. Bach’s organ music, played by Syd Birrell on Murray Street Baptist Church’s fabulous three-manual Casavant pipe organ. Syd will also share some of his insights into the instrument itself and music created for it. The Organ Talks is a short series beginning Wednesday Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. on the Peterborough Singers’ YouTube Channel.

While these days Syd is perhaps best known as the artistic director of the Peterborough Singers, he’s also a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, and his original vocation was as an organist, travelling throughout North America giving organ recitals.

This past spring, as a balm for his own soul during the pandemic — and thanks to the generosity of Murray Street Baptist Church — Syd began playing the organ once a week. He worked his way through the organ music of J.S. Bach, playing one masterpiece after another: the mind-blowing Toccatas, Preludes and Fugues, the Passacaglia, the Trio Sonatas, the Chorale Preludes. He played for the sheer love of it.

As it turned out it was also a source of solace and joy for a small number of people who were allowed (in accordance with government regulations at the time) to sit in the pews and listen. Soon those lucky few were waiting for him when he arrived each week with his piles of organ music (and special organ shoes!). The appreciation of those folks prompted him to create this series of Organ Talks as a way of sharing both organ music and reflections about the magnificent instrument.

As Syd says, “I hope that I can share with you the inspiration and passion that this music brings me, and that you can find new positives, despite the pandemic.”

The lineup (subject to change) is as follows:

February 3     An Introduction to the pipe organ
February 10   The Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565
February 17   The Orgelbüchlein, three selections
February 24   The Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor
March 3         Prelude and “St Anne Fugue” in E flat major BWV 552
March 10       The Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor BWV 542
March 17       The Toccata in F major BWV 540
March 24       The Toccata in C BWV 564
March 31       The “Dorian” Toccata in D minor BWV 538

Tune in to the Peterborough Singers YouTube Channel starting Feb. 3 at 7 p.m., with one new episode released each Wednesday following. All episodes will be available on YouTube following their release. (No tickets required!)