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Ian Carson: A Brief Musical Biography

Ian Carson playing the organIan was born in Wolvercote, Oxford, in the shadow of a mill until recently renowned for its Bible paper. He entered church music through the village church choir, developing an early enthusiasm for the organ. Ian was awarded a choristership at Magdalen College Oxford to sing in the chapel choir. As soon as his legs were long enough he received organ lessons from the organ scholar, Dudley Moore, later from John McKinnell, formerly Director of Music at Rugby School, then from John Webster, University Organist.

He gained an organ scholarship to Selwyn College Cambridge, where he read music, conducting the chapel choir and choral concerts. Acute family circumstances led him to abandon any thought of further studies after gaining a degree, and he entered the BBC. At this point he had to put aside any hope of taking up an organ post, because of the irregular hours involved in broadcasting.

Ian progressed to BBC Television Music & Arts, where his work brought him into contact with such international figures as Pierre Boulez, Jascha Horenstein and Paul Tortelier. For a while he concentrated on production rather than music, but that all changed when he became a BBC music producer, mainly for Radio 3, based in Bristol. The major part of his work initially was in fostering the talents of the young musicians in the Academy of the BBC. He assisted (whenever he was available) as organist at Christ Church Clifton (the largest church in the Bristol diocese), where a broadly based music repertoire gave many musicians, especially students, the opportunity to contribute to worship. He became a house group leader and was elected to the PCC.

In 1988 he moved his family out of Bristol, to the Blackdown Hills. Here he played the organ in rural churches, and gained a wider experience of worship, developing an interest in the Vineyard movement. He progressed to assisting as organist at St George’s Wilton (Taunton) and playing keyboard in a worship band. During this period he produced a CD Going for God for the Bishop of Bath & Wells, representing a cross section of music in the diocese.

Meanwhile his production work had come to embrace editorial responsibility for Radio 3’s organ music strand, and its reflection of amateur choral music. The organists he produced include Peter Hurford, Thomas Trotter, David Sanger, Gillian Weir, Christopher Herrick and Alexander Fiseisky. He researched and produced a section of The Mighty Voice series covering the development of the organ in Victorian England. He has sat regularly on the elimination round jury of the St Alban’s International Festival, has lectured and taken part in a seminar at the festival. He produced several Choral Evensongs for Radio 3, and has played the organ for a number of broadcast services on Radio and TV, including Songs of Praise.

His daughters both became choristers at Salisbury Cathedral, where he was asked by former precentor Jeremy Davis to lead worship seminars for parish choirs on contemporary worship and the music of André Gouze; and by Bishop David to sit on a diocesan worship committee. In 1999 he was invited by Revd Nicholas Maddock to become organist of the civic church in Taunton, St Mary Magdalene. This church has a robed adult choir, plus child choristers, and sings anthems and choral evensong on a regular basis, and until Ian retired in 2010 was under the direction of Brian Cresswell, the then Director of Music.

Ian took the choir in the absence of the Director, has led reflective worship-type services, and still plays there on occasion.

Ian Carson playing the OrganIn recent years Ian became one of two organists at the Crematorium near his home, again by invitation. The services brought him into contact with a broad spectrum of Christian (and other!) denominations, as well as demanding an equally wide repertoire – and instantly. In 2011 the organists were replaced by a computerised music system, but Ian still plays there several times most weeks, engaged by discerning funeral directors as a freelance organist.

In his last year at school Ian designed and built (with a little help from his friends) a two manual harpsichord. Later he purchased a concert instrument by Andrew Garlick, which has been widely used for CDs and broadcasts. Ian took up continuo playing again in 1999 and for five years played in Devon Baroque, both concert and major sacred works, under the demanding direction of Margaret Faultless (Amsterdam Baroque, OAE). Organists will recognise the significance of harpsichord playing in terms of finger work – touch and articulation especially.

Music journalism is a further aspect of Ian’s career. He has written about organs, organists and choirs in Organists’ Review, The Organ, Classical Music, Choir and Organ, and about worship in west coast USA in his article Tasting the Vineyard for Renewal magazine. He has supplied programme notes for the Bath, Brighton, Newbury, Chelsea and St Albans Festivals and for Hyperion records. View his articles on Messiaen at Gillian Weir’s website.

Since 2010 Ian has worked entirely as a freelance musician, accompanying two local choirs in rehearsal and concert, playing the organ for concerts, functions and services at churches in the area. As a pianist he accompanies singers and instrumentalists, and is continually looking for fresh challenges.