Organist reveals his ‘very public form of therapy’
PUBLISHED: 10:57 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:57 08 May 2019
Norfolk-born musician Kit Downes is returning to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival 2019 to give audiences a new perspective on a misunderstood instrument.
Kit Downes has performed in Norwich countless times. He's played at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival before, more than once. So you could be forgiven for assuming that his show on May 22 would be just another performance for a seasoned veteran, you would, however, be mistaken - this is no ordinary show.
"I'm playing at St Peter Mancroft church, where I was an organ scholar at the age of 14. It will be the first time I've played that organ since I was kid studying the organ," explains Kit.
The show, which will see Kit playing tracks from his 2018 record Obsidian, is a homecoming of great significance, giving Kit the chance to play the instrument that shaped his life in many ways.
Returning to Norwich to play his childhood instrument has naturally got Kit in a reflective mood: "It was the improvising aspect of the organ that got me into it," he explains.
"I used to sing in a choir as a kid, and the best thing about it was all the organ music I got to hear. I was always fascinated by how organ players could take a melody from a hymn, and improvise with it by framing it in different ways or playing in another key, adding new sounds and techniques to the mix. That felt really freeing to me."
This love of musical improvisation naturally led Kit to jazz, a genre famous for its spontaneity, which took him away from the organ. But around six years ago he rediscovered the instrument and has been making music with it since as both a solo artist and as part of larger ensembles.
Kit's not phased by the often held dismissive perception of the organ: "There's a very established pre conceived notion of what an organ is - that it's an old instrument that is very difficult to make new music on because of the strong religious context it's existed within," he says.
What could be seen as a drawback, a reason to play something else, is in fact one of the many reasons that Kit finds himself drawn to the instrument.
"The organ is really ripe for being subverted. It's easier to make new things on it because there isn't such a well documented and well celebrated tradition of innovation in the same way there is on a younger instrument like the electric guitar," he explains
For many, the organ has strong religious connotations, and the fact most organs are located in a church or concert hall has created an assumption that it's only useful for religious music or big symphonies but Kit is keen to challenge this perception.
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'I think that's part of what appeals to me, having those opportunities to give someone a fresh experience, and maybe change their reaction to the instrument," he says.
Like most Norfolk natives, the county is a special place to Kit: "I always look forward to coming back to play in Norwich, especially at this festival which gives exploratory music such a valuable platform."
Though he now lives in London, Kit tries to give back to the area that raised him wherever possible.
He's a patron of Musical Keys, a Norwich-based charity that provides musical workshops and support for vulnerable young adults and children, often performing at fundraisers for them.
Throughout his career Kit has played with a lot of different people, across a lot of different genres, for him that's just the 'nature of the job'.
He also plays as part of his own band, called ENEMY, who are scheduled to release a record next year.
Kit is now a seasoned performer, experienced in both playing solo and as part of a group: "Sometimes playing solo can feel kind of lonely, without that interaction with other musicians you don't have that ability to bounce off one another.
"You're confronted with your own ideas and have to make sense of that in front of a room full of people, it's a different skill but it's very enjoyable because you get lost in it all and do things you wouldn't have expected," he says.
"It's like a very public form of therapy!"
As for what Kit hopes people will take from his festival performance: "It's an opportunity to really be surprised through music, and see something live that takes a risk.
"Maybe you don't like it, or maybe you do. Maybe it'll turn out that the thing that's been missing all your life is improvised organ music!"
Kit Downes will perform at St Peter Mancroft church on Wednesday, May 22. Tickets available from £15 at www.nnfestival.org.uk
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