Career Profile: Jonathon Scott

Jonathan Scott

Newcomer to's review team, organist and pianist Jonathan Scott provides this month's career profile.

  Where and when did your musical interests begin?

When I was very young my parents had a recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons which I listened to over and over again. I really wanted to play the violin like the soloist on the recording. There were also visiting musicians to my school and a number of children were allowed to play the violin. When I auditioned, however, I failed the clapping test and was told I wasn't musical. It took another four years of haranguing my parents before I was bought a piano, which I started playing at the age of ten. I took lessons from an old lady who lived nearby, who charged only fifty pence for an hour's tuition and she took me right through to about Grade 7. After that, I managed to get private lessons with John Wilson, who is Head of Accompaniment at the Royal Northern College of Music. At the same time I also started playing the organ – this was because the church to which my school was attached had no organist. Since I was the only person around who could play a keyboard instrument, it fell upon me to provide the accompaniment for the hymns on a Sunday morning. After about six months' playing, I decided that I needed to brave the pedals and so bought CH Trevor's organ tutor; gradually, I started putting them into the hymns, and, after a while, thought it might be a good idea to take some organ lessons as well. I was put in touch with Audrey Robinson at the Albion Church in Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester, who was a formidable teacher – she taught me so much, especially about practising, but she was quite hard to please. That might not have worked for some, but it just spurred me on: if I wasn't good enough, then I would go away and work even harder. It paid off because, when I did produce the goods, her praise was a great reward!

I went to Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, but only as a sixth-former. Before that I was at a comprehensive school in Moston, where I learned the trombone and violin. There was a lot of music going on and I gained much experience playing the piano for assemblies and masses. Getting up in front of a crowd of comprehensive-school children and performing is quite character building, and I often paid for it in the schoolyard during break and lunchtimes! Chet's, however, was like a holiday – after five years of being mocked for both playing the piano and liking classical music, I was finally amongst a group of peers who had the same passions. I was joint principal-study piano and organ, studying with Heather Slade-Lipkin and Gordon Stewart, who is now the Borough Organist of Kirklees.

In my final year there, I got a scholarship to study piano at the Royal Northern, where I rekindled my relationship with John Wilson; by the time I reached my second year, I was also taking organ as a joint first-study instrument, tutored by Darius Battiwalla.

  Who influenced you and why?
  Apart from Audrey Robinson, one of the most important influences for me as an organist was Gordon Stewart. His enthusiastic teaching approach and love of music was infectious, and remains a strong influence today. John Wilson was also very important to the development of my skills; without him, I wouldn't have had a piano technique, since my first year with him was spent mainly working on technical exercises and learning how to work independently. Most importantly, he taught me how to perform as a soloist – something organists are not often trained to do.

  What do you think shaped your musical tastes?
  More than anything, it was my love of recordings. The first organ recording I heard was of Michael Schneider playing Bach on an old LP my father had; it was such an exciting recording to listen to and it became my aim to have the same sort of effect on people when I played. However, it was the piano that shaped my tastes more than anything. I love Glenn Gould and Horowitz and read avidly about pianists and piano technique as well as learning countless numbers of pieces. From my first lessons, people gave me pieces of piano music, which I would sight-read my way through, no matter what rubbish I might have been playing. That was such a benefit since now I learn music very quickly.

  Had you always planned a career in music?
  No. My earliest conscious decision to have a career in music was at the end of my time at secondary school. Before that, I quite fancied becoming a doctor, but as with most people, I hadn't really thought that far in advance – I played the piano and organ because I enjoyed it, which is what it is really all about.

  What do you feel is the most exciting aspect of your professional life?
  I am very lucky in that I work as both a pianist and an organist, and my career encompasses solo performing, orchestral playing and chamber music. It is also very varied; one week I might be playing the harpsichord in 18th-century costume, the following I might be giving a piano recital at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester or playing the celeste for the BBC Philharmonic. It's so varied: I have only been out of music college for the last few months and am lucky to be so busy. I think this is because I will do anything that people want – it is important that musicians never say no to anything they are offered because this is one way of building up a following. If you don't have a following and do get a big break, having no-one there to listen to you must be terribly disheartening.

  You have achieved considerable success in competitions. What do you think are the advantages of taking part in such events and, more importantly, what are the pitfalls for any would-be competitor?

I have always been active taking part in competitions and no matter what the result, as long as they are approached in the right spirit, something can always be learned. The first organ competition I ever did was at the St Albans Organ Festival in 1999. I wasn't really expecting to get anywhere, but thought that as long as I played well, anything else was a bonus. Fortunately, I came fourth, despite only getting an hour and a half the week before to prepare my registrations on both instruments. During the competition week I had nowhere to practise – preparation was everything and that taught me a lot.

Last year, I gained second prize in the Royal College of Organists' Performer of the Year Competition 2000. This competition was on a much bigger scale than anything I had played in previously, culminating in a live performance on Radio 3 with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. For the semi-final, Giles Swayne had been commissioned to write a piece for organ and countertenor, which was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to learn. Getting through to the concerto final was a thrill and I was allotted to play one of three concertos we had to prepare, Barber's Toccata Festiva. The panel announced the results for the final at 4 pm and, by 4.15, I was rehearsing with the orchestra! So I think it is important to be very well prepared for any such event. In the final, the organ decided to turn itself off in the middle of my concerto, which resulted in our having to re-start; this would have fazed a lot of people, but I think being so well prepared helped me keep my composure through this rather trying moment!

  As a musician, what do you want from the future?
  Only to enjoy myself. If I ever start to think of music as becoming a chore, then I think it might be time to do something else. Apart from that, you can never expect anything from it – it's so unpredictable that I will go with the old adage, 'whatever happens, happens'.

Jonathan Scott plays Bach: Trio Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 664 (18 Leipzig Chorales)

Need an MP3 player? Click here to dowload Winamp.

Click on highlighted text to download the tracks.

On the Wood organ of St Cross Parish Church, Clayton, Manchester.

JS Bach
Track 1 Trio Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, BWV 664 (18 Leipzig Chorales)
4'40, 4.28 MB