BY Amanda Connelly | August 9 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Scots organist wins Young Theatre Organist of the year award

A young Motherwell Diocese organist has proved his musical prowess by winning a prestigious international music accolade.

Aaron Hawthorne, 22, a recent graduate from Glasgow University and resident organist at St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang, was named 2019’s Young Theatre Organist of the Year at the American Theatre Organist Society’s competition.

Mr Hawthorne returned victorious from the competition in Rochester in New York State.


‘surreal’ experience

Describing the experience as ‘surreal,’ Mr Hawthorne said: “The competition was for the theatre organ, which is very different from your average church organ or classical organ, so it’s a bit of a niche area.

“As an organist who plays all types of organ—be it classical or theatre—the theatre side of things is more of a hobby.”

Having won the UK Theatre Organ Society’s Young Theatre Organist of the Year competition in 2017, he decided to try for the American competition on graduating from university, where he achieved an MA Music.

“It’s open to young organists around the world aged up to 25, and they ask you to submit a CD of 30 minutes of music—they give you a rough idea as to what music they want,” Mr Hawthorne explained.

“They take all the CD submissions from around the world and send them off to anonymous judges. The judges don’t know who’s playing on the CDs, they just listen to the music and decide on three finalists.”


Live performance

The shortlisted organists were flown out to Rochester to play live, with judges naming Mr Hawthorne as this year’s champion.

“It was very surreal, because it was a ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen’ type of scenario,” he said, noting that he was aware of the high calibre of entrants each year.

“When they phoned me up saying ‘you’re a finalist, you’re coming to America,’ that was just surreal in itself, and to have heard my name when I won was really quite a moment!”



The musician’s love affair with the organ began as a youngster on a family holiday to Blackpool, where his parents took him to the famous Tower Ballroom and he heard the Wurlitzer organ for the first time, and his experience as a young boy of hearing the church organ played during Mass.

“As soon as I walked into the room, the ornate stage room, it’s almost cathedral-esque in its own right, I just fell in love with the space, the sound, and the feeling that the music was evoking in me,” he said of his Blackpool experience.

“Meanwhile I had always been absolutely inspired hearing the church organ used correctly through childhood.

“Hearing people like John Pitcathley at Motherwell Cathedral in primary school, there was always that thing of as soon as John went on the organ, it was like ‘wow.’”


Music career

He began helping with the Caritas music group at the cathedral’s Sunday evening Mass, and went on to play at weddings and funerals.

In his post at St Bride’s, he plays at the parish’s three weekend Masses.

He said that the Church’s great body of music was a wonderful ‘musical upbringing’ and added that his talent was a gift from God for which he is very thankful.


Catholic upbringing

“There was something so warm about growing up in the Catholic Church,” he said.

“And there’s something so warm about the music you’re exposed to in primary school—all those really classic hymns that everyone knows and loves.

“When I heard a really good organist on a really good organ in a church, I was aware that it made such a difference to the quality of the service.

“I think the music in the Catholic Church has always been a very good musical upbringing in that sense.”


‘God-given gift’

“I think, at its most basic, this is some sort of God-given gift,” Mr Hawthorne said of his talent, as neither of his parents is musical.

“There was no forced musicality at all; it was just me stumbling across a keyboard one day and something clicked, so I do fully believe that there’s some sort of gift there from above. Throughout my childhood and career as well, it’s always been important to me.”


Parish support

He also praised the parish of St Bride’s as being ‘one of the most musical parishes I have been in’ with their singing out during Mass, and spoke of his gratitude for their encouragement and support with his competition win.

“Over the past month people coming to Mass have been coming up and saying how proud they are and well done, so that’s been really nice,” he said.

“I am fortunate to have that weekend position at St Bride’s, which is actually a privilege to call a job, as well as being able to be a member of that parish.”


Priest’s delight

St Bride’s parish priest Fr Paul Morton said everyone in the parish is delighted with Mr Hawthorne’s success.

“I think they were quite surprised because, although he didn’t keep it a secret that that’s what he did, most of the parishioners didn’t know,” he said.

“They knew that he’d won a UK prize in 2017, a similar kind of thing, but not a world prize, so when he won this they were just amazed and delighted for him.

“He’s a very likeable and very modest character. The time he’s been with us, you can see his playing has grown in confidence.”

Fr Morton added that the parish community is ‘very proud.’ “It’s a remarkable thing,” he said. “He’s so young and to reach that kind of level is just amazing.”

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