In Focus: Joe Fort

Elke twee maanden wordt voor Kerknieuws iemand geïnterviewd die op de een of andere manier betrokken is bij de Nederlandse Kerk. Deze keer is onze nieuwe organist Joe Fort geïnterviewd.

1. Where are you from and how did you end up as an organist in the Dutch Church in London?

I grew up in Surrey, and my school had an annual music competition, which I entered, aged eleven, playing ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ on the piano. I had had no piano lessons before then, and was playing from my grandfather’s rather worn copy of this score! As it happened, the school’s organ teacher heard me, and asked if I would like a few organ lessons. I enjoyed these, and when I went to secondary school started learning more seriously. As time went on, the prospect of a Cambridge organ scholarship began to appeal, although this was a largely foreign world to me at the time. It was a chance meeting with an organist called Martin Ellis that set me fully on this path. Having been brought up a Roman Catholic, I knew little of the world of Anglican music. Martin took me under his wing, and introduced me to all of this, teaching me how to play hymns, to accompany choirs, and to play Anglican psalm chants. Martin also had a former student who had just completed a new one-year organ course at the Royal Academy of Music, studying with one David Titterington.

And so one Sunday I came up to London, to the Dutch Church, to meet David, to play to him, and to consider a way forward. I was about sixteen or seventeen at the time. David introduced me to his student Bart Jacubczak (who I think also played at the Dutch Church occasionally), and for some two years I came up to the church on Sunday afternoons for lessons with Bart and occasionally David—of course with no idea that I would be coming back in my thirties! Following this, I spent a wonderful year at the Academy, studying with Susan Landale and with David, combined with the organ scholarship at All Saints’ Margaret Street. I then took up an organ scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I read Music. Following this, I spent several years in America, doing a PhD at Harvard. I came back to England in 2015 to take up the position of ‘College Organist & Director of the Chapel Choir, and Lecturer in Music’ at King’s College London, where I conduct the choir, teach in the music department, and continue to research (specialising in late-eighteenth-century music). When the opening at the Dutch Church came up, David mentioned it to me, and I was delighted when the Church Council appointed me to the role. It is wonderful to be back at a church that played such a formative role in my earlier musical upbringing.

2.Did the church play an important role in your youth? 

Yes, I suppose it did. My family worshipped at the Roman Catholic church in the next village, which I believe has now been converted into flats. My mother played the organ for a while, and we sang in the choir and occasionally played various instruments. I learnt quite a lot of hymns this way, including some that I am rather glad not to have to hear or sing now!

3.How would you describe your belief now and is it of influence in your work as a musician? 

Although I would still consider myself fundamentally a Catholic, I have long taken communion in the Anglican Church, and am ideologically much more aligned with this faith, in general. I think that this background is essential to my work as a church musician. It has given me a reasonably good knowledge of the scripture, which is crucial to any such role. It also gives me a sense of what it means to worship, and what it means to offer music to serve and elevate the worship.

4. How do you like playing the organ in the Dutch Church?

A lot! The organ at the Dutch Church is a truly beautiful instrument. I have enjoyed getting to grips with the liturgy over the past few months, and have even picked up a few words of Dutch! It has been great to meet and get to know so many members of the congregation, and I already feel very settled! I’m grateful to everyone for giving me such a warm welcome.

Joseph Fort was interviewed by Bertjan van de Lagemaat

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