One of Australia’s most talented young organists is about to enroll at Yale University to further her musical studies, but it might never have happened if it wasn’t for a cute Hollywood pig.
At the age of 17, Holly Broadbent was inspired to take up the organ after hearing Saint-Saens’ “Organ” Symphony in a scene from the movie Babe.
“I think it was the organ’s majestic sound and grandeur that made me want to play it,” she says.
“The organ unfortunately isn’t popular among young musicians but I think this could be changed if the organ could be heard more often in a wider variety of contexts other than the church.”
Growing up in Perth, Broadbent was musically talented from a young age and started playing piano aged seven, but the pipe organ was a whole new kettle of fish, pushing her feet and hand co-ordination to the limit.
“As the organ is so often hidden in the church, a lot of people don’t realise that organists not only have several manuals (or ‘keyboards’) but that they also have an entire keyboard they play with their feet,” Broadbent says.
“It’s expected that the feet should be able to scales and arpeggios just as well as the hands!”
Thankfully she managed to secure lessons from Alessandro Pittorino, who trained at the famous Juilliard School in New York and is one of the few world-class organ players in Perth. Since then she’s never looked back and has gone on to play at prestiguous venues in Perth and across Australia including Perth Concert Hall and St George’s Cathedral for four years, and has toured with the Australian Youth Orchestra and entered the Sydney International Organ Competition.
Recently Broadbent flew to America for a nerve-shredding audition to study organ at Yale University in Connecticut.
“The audition process certainly required a lot of hard work…I felt a lot of pressure when I’d travelled such a long way and I knew that very few people get selected,” she says.
“I felt incredibly excited when I got the acceptance letter because it had been a lifelong dream to study at a prestigious institution like Yale and I was glad that the hard work paid off!”
Before she heads off to the US in September, Broadbent will give a farewell performance at St Patrick’s Basilica in Fremantle, as part of an organ concert series across three weekends.
Featuring a lot of French pieces, it will be a powerful and immersive experience as the Basilica pipe organ is the largest in WA.
“I’ll be showcasing the instrument’s capabilities with some of the most incredible music of the organ canon like Cesar Franck’s E major Choral and Tournemire’s Victimae Paschali,” she says.
“There will be screens placed around the venue so that the audience can see what I’m doing at all times and get an insight into what organists do.”
Broadbent, 24, hopes her performance might inspire other young female performers to take up the ‘unfashionable’ instrument.
“Pursuing a career as a performing organist isn’t just about doing what I love but also trying to shatter stereotypes about the organ to ensure it doesn’t become a dying art,” she says.
“In comparison to other musical instruments, the organ scene is highly male-dominated, rooted in the church, and is seen as an instrument that young people don’t play.”
Broadbent will performing at 2.30pm at St Patrick’s Basilica in Fremantle on Sunday May 28. For more info and tix see eventbookings.com/b/event/winter-pipes
by STEPHEN POLLOCK