Church mouse has overheard this on a number of occasions during a life spent in ecclesiastical buildings – and today was no exception. Michael d’Avanzo, ARCO, still at school with A Levels yet to take – he of the exotic name and a pretty exotic career to date (considering his age), entertained a goodly crowd of enthusiastic listeners at St. George’s, Woolhope, on Saturday October 5th at the civilised hour of 11.00 a.m. As previous performances have included accompanying the choir of Holy Trinity (where he is the organ scholar) in the American Cathedral in Paris and directing a performance of Bach’s fifth Brandenburg concerto from the harpsichord, the Church Mouse was delighted he helped the Friends of Woolhope Church and HHCT. He is, of course, no stranger to MiQP, appearing with Hereford Cathedral School’s Senior Chamber Choir (and sometimes even conducting it) on several occasions.

The organ at Woolhope has been recently refurbished and Michael put it through its paces confidently and competently. Organs, like people, need exercising, and today saw a thorough work-out. A varied programme, helpfully introduced by Michael himself and starting with the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (the Dorian, BWV 538, not the more famous BWV 565) allowed him to display his considerable talent, this first piece providing the audience with a musical conversation between manuals and one of Bach’s longest fugues. The J.S. Bach Toccata in C (BWV 564), a fairly early and quite showy work, gave the opportunity for a pedal solo which is stated to be unique among works for the organ and is, apparently, the longest known pedal introduction. The works by Johann Sebastian contrasted with more meditative pieces such as the Fugue in F Minor (1839) by Mendelssohn and the downright sombre Choral Dorien by the French composer Jehan Ariste Alain, whose short career was brought to a very early end when he was killed in action in 1940 while fighting with the French Army. Perhaps the most popular pieces for the younger members of the audience were the breathy high notes of the well-known Two Pieces for Musical Clock by Haydn, which transported listeners to cobbled squares in Vienna, Salzburg or Innsbruck. Each item was different in its own way and each performed with the ease and musicality which we have come to expect of Michael.
Two screens (which had been thoughtfully provided by Tony Fox of Woolhope Church) enabled the audience to watch Michael as he pedaled away energetically. They were an excellent way to see the different stops being pulled out, the different manuals being played and the pages turned – and gave the audience an opportunity to marvel at the coordination of hands, eyes and feet which is beyond most humans (and all mice) but which Michael has – in spades.

HHCT/MiQP thanks a number of people for the chance to be involved – the Rector, Chris Moore, the team at St. George’s, Woolhope, including Ruth, Mandy and the Barbaras who provided refreshments at the interval, Beth who cleaned the church and, of course, Bill Gunn, who organised the event. It was particularly good to see the wonderful repairs to the stonework of the window on the south side of the church, towards the cost of which HHCT gave a grant.

Michael d’Avanzo, ARCO
Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust