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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 13, No. 1 September 2007

Heywood on the Go

by Vanessa Lundgren / September 7, 2007

Internationally renowned organist Thomas Heywood laughs often. Over the phone, his easygoing and down-to-earth personality is automatically apparent as he speaks enthusiastically about his instrument and his career as an organist on the go.

This interview, Heywood says, is a welcomed break. He is in Ireland busy gearing up for concerts in England, a long way from his native Australia; but the 33- year old musician is unstoppable when it comes to touring.

For the past 16 years, Heywood has been performing full-time. He explains, “I want to keep going. I’ve always loved it.” Heywood sees touring as “a job for two” and he is accompanied by his manager and wife, Simone, on all his tours. “Being a solo concert performer would be a very lonely occupation, really ... especially [with] the organ, because you’re often stuck in big concert halls and cathedrals all by yourself.”

Family is obviously important to Heywood’s musical career. His mother, Joan Shewan, was once a prize-winning concert pianist and a self-proclaimed “4th generation Liszt pupil.” Heywood’s father, Douglas, was an opera singer and is now a choral conductor.

Naturally, his musical education started at home. At age three, Heywood remembers hearing Handel’s Messiah and deciding that he wanted to play. His mother started teaching him piano but repeated visits to Melbourne’s Scots’ Church as a child awakened a curiosity for the organ, and at age nine he switched instruments. “They had a very large, manual pipe organ. And as a kid I’d see the organist play it every week and ... I guess I wanted more volume than what I was getting from the piano,” says Heywood, adding that “the one-man orchestra element” was also appealing. He was ultimately “hooked” on the organ by the instrument’s vast repertoire, and according to his web site, Concert Organ International, he boasts over 5,000 works.

Heywood warns that the biggest challenge in playing the organ is developing an ear for the instrument: “The organ, as well as being an incredibly exciting musical instrument, is also a very, very large machine and you’re basically controlling [with larger organs] up to 40,000 different components … You know you mustn’t lose sense of the music when you’re doing all that. It’s all in terms of shaping phrases and you’ve got to really listen carefully to the end result. It’s not an instant thing.”

His constant touring has given Heywood little time for composing or teaching, but he would love to do more of both. Yet, for the time being, he finds a strong appeal in playing for a live audience. The most successful concerts are ones where the public is entertained and educated at the same time. He says that an engaging show does not necessarily have to be in a big, famous venue. Spectators in more low-key locations, such as small country towns and churches “can be so excited and so appreciative” of this one-man orchestra.

Heywood plays a program of operatic transcriptions as a fundraiser
in Lachine for L’Eglise des Saints-Anges’s refurbished Casavant organ on Saturday, September 15. For more information, call 514.637.8345 x 24.

(c) La Scena Musicale