Kit Downes’ and Tom Challenger’s Suffolk Church Crawl

Written by Tom Challenger

Kit and I began to collaborate on what we now refer to as ‘Wedding Music’ in the summer of 2012. We embarked upon a recording residency in Huddersfield University; Performed 2 concerts in the Royal Festival Hall and also placed the music in a non-site-specific version that utilised Hammond organs, along with myself as per usual on saxophone.

The common thread throughout this year of collaborating and developing our music was that we were playing material from our first record, and very much looking to get that music to fit the surroundings we were immediately placed in.

The next phase of our collaboration (in conjunction with the Open Space scheme) is very different. We arrived in Aldeburgh in December with the idea of exploring some of the churches and organs of Suffolk as potential candidates for us to use for developing new pieces of music and performance concept. Therefore all the music developed here in Suffolk is completely site and organ specific, and with the idea that some of them would be used on the recording documenting our work.

I had no pre-conceptions as to how the spaces and organs would be. However, I was blown away by the variety that we encountered, and also by the willingness of local people, church-goers and organ enthusiasts to provide a social and historical context to the places we explored.

From the grandeur and warmth of the organ at St. Michael’s, Framlingham, to the sonic intricacies of the small single manual in St. Edmund, Bromeswell, we found every church we encountered did indeed hold something unique. However, our problem was to identify the churches that would be of benefit to the overall project later in 2015.

As already mentioned, Bromeswell houses a fantastic instrument, characterised by sonic oddities that wouldn’t be usually heard in a normal Sunday service. Our aim was to explore all of the hidden artefacts housed in the organ and church – here, we even found something in the bell tower…

On to St. John’s, Snape, an ancient church with a relatively new organ that boasts a real clarity over the whole range of the instrument; then to Shottisham St. Margaret – by far the coldest of all the churches in December! Mince pies somewhat lessened the effect of the cold, and the cassette recordings we made of the trip reveal a beautifully warm tutti on the organ there. We finished in All Saints, Darsham, where again we enjoyed the colour of the space and instrument.

The next day started in Framlingham, where the beauty of the fantastically preserved organ there really jumps out. Apparently famous composers have enjoyed playing on this organ (or so enthusiastically told by people decorating christmas trees on the day), however the compact sounding organ and splendid acoustic really gel these particular improvisers well! A short trip via Grundisburgh St. Mary led us to Holy Trinity Blythburgh, where the light set on two fantastic days of exploration. Blythburgh is beautiful, and its organ similarly so. However, the tuning issues that all instruments suffer from were quickly identified and utilised – this providing a fascinating backdrop to this writer’s improvisatioB5O2v15CMAAFVG5.jpg largens at the end of the day.

The cassette recordings revealed a strong initial leaning towards microtonal nuance and drones. The pace of the improvisations are generally glacial, sometimes punctuated by dense forays into more intense melodic interplay.

It was a great opportunity to sit down and draw up and develop some initial ideas together – oddly helped by the post autumnal Suffolk countryside! Driving around and discovering the local area, meeting the people and creating the building blocks of an exciting project will be part of a great overall experience I’m sure!

Here is a link to some cassette recordings made by us during our December visit: