Paul and Kathy’s Picks: Neil Cockburn

Recommendations and insight from President & CEO Paul Dornian, and his wife Kathy Dornian.

Since my last blog in which I mentioned that cello and oboe count among my favourite instruments, I have had some friends politely ask if there are perhaps any instruments that I don’t like as much. This is a sensitive question that requires a sensitive answer and while pondering an appropriate response, I recall an anecdote that I would like to share.

A few years back when I was accompanying a student in a masterclass with the great Canadian (indeed, Albertan) clarinetist James Campbell, the student asked Mr. Campbell what inspired him to choose the clarinet. He thought carefully for a moment and then replied, “I’m not really sure but here’s the thing. I don’t really think of myself as a clarinetist so much as I think of myself as a musician.”

So there’s the rub. It is the quality of music making that ultimately matters; less so the vehicle through which it is being transmitted. So while I might reluctantly admit that organ has not traditionally been one of my favourites, I will go out of my way to hear Neil Cockburn play this most grand of all instruments quite simply because he is such an incredible musician.

Neil will be performing an exciting program of organ music (or should I just say, music?) from the French Symphonic repertoire in this rare solo recital. More information about Neil can be found on his website, Suffice to say that he is a real treasure and an immensely gifted musician whom I hold in great esteem.

Originally hailing from Scotland, we in Calgary are so fortunate that he chose to make his home in our community. I have had many an opportunity to hear Neil in collaboration with the CPO. One performance that stands out in my memory is the Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, during which the powerful reverberations of the organ were such that I felt as though I was sitting in a 4–D theatre.

Still, we certainly cannot ignore the instrument itself. At every CPO concert, we all bask in the visual glory of the Carthy organ which sits front and centre onstage and for which we owe thanks to the generous contribution of the Carthy Foundation.

Organ construction is a marvel in and of itself. It is one of the oldest instruments, invented by a Greek engineer in the 3rd century B.C.  As much a machine as an instrument, its construction over the years has become increasingly complex and varied. In my research on the instrument, I came across a most interesting website, “Curious Facts from the Organ’s History, Westfield Centre.” Among other juicy bits of information, I was reminded of the silent film era in which the organ played a prominent role. Did you know that organists have to wear special shoes? This is as much for cleanliness as it is to facilitate ease in pedal playing. Keep an eye on Neil’s ‘virtuostic’ feet during the concert. Parts written for the foot pedals can frequently be as complex as those for the hands!

Please join Paul and I at Neil Cockburn’s magnificent organ recital. Come to hear the organ. Better yet, come to hear the music.

– Kathy Dornian