Each September, Hereford Cathedral welcomes four music scholars to join the cathedral community. Over the next few weeks we will be meeting each of them to find out how their year is going so far. This week we meet our organ scholar, Jonathan Lee ... 

Tell us a little about yourself

My name is Jonathan Lee and I’m 19 years old. I’m currently the organ scholar at Hereford Cathedral and I previously studied organ in Canberra, Australia. 

How did your musical journey begin?

I started playing piano when I was 5 years old and then started to learn the cello. I got into the organ when there was an opportunity to take up the organ at school. My school has an electronic Ahlborn-Galanti organ and I still remember the first time I practised on it – I just sat there exploring the different sounds for several hours. I was amazed at the seemingly endless possibilities; you could combine different stops to create a kaleidoscope of sound colours. I also remember the first piece of music that my first organ teacher gave me, one of the eight little preludes by Bach. I was instantly hooked. Ever since then, the music of Bach also has been a constant thread for me throughout my music-making.

What made you come to Hereford Cathedral?

I had heard about the reputations of the director of music and assistant director of music [Geraint Bowen and Peter Dyke] at Hereford Cathedral when applying to university. That was definitely a very major factor in considering to apply here. I also had heard services sung by the cathedral choir online via webcasts and was impressed by the sound of the choir. I was also able to play the Hereford Willis organ on a virtual organ system called ‘Hauptwerk’ a couple times when I had the opportunity to have lessons in Sydney. The historic Willis organ was also a significant factor in making me want to come to Hereford.

How are you finding life in Hereford?

Life at Hereford Cathedral is really enjoyable because the music-making is of such a high standard. It’s also a very warm and inclusive community here; I feel like a valued member of the music department. The music department has been working together for almost twenty years now and I’m finding it very valuable to observe how everyone works as a team.

What does a day in the life of a scholar look like?

I usually have an early start every day with an 8.10 am chorister rehearsal. During this time, I observe how Geraint takes the rehearsal and I assist Peter with the training of the probationers. I also have a meeting with Peter every week which provides a ‘check-up’ on how the previous week went and then we plan for the week ahead. I am asked to prepare certain musical items, be it the psalms, anthem or canticles for a particular day, and then I will organise my time accordingly to prepare each item for the service. 

What has been the highlight of your time here so far?

My highlight so far was turning pages for Peter Dyke when he was playing chamber organ in the cathedral choir’s performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, directed by Geraint Bowen. I also learnt a lot just from watching how an experienced director works professionally in rehearsals to bring a successful production together with so many little parts that have to be intricately slotted together. It was also an amazing aural experience to be in the midst of the continuo unit surrounded by the sounds of the choir and period orchestra.

What are you most looking forward to during the rest of your time here?

I’m really looking forward to my lunchtime organ recital in May on the Willis organ. I’ve been thinking about what to play for a long time and it will be good to design a programme that best suits the different colours of the organ. Ever since playing the Hereford Willis ‘virtually’, it has been a dream of mine to play a live recital on the organ. I really enjoy giving concerts because you have the possibility to take people to different places and the Hereford organ is an amazing vehicle to do that.

What are your plans for after this year?

In September this year, I will begin reading for a degree in music and take up the organ scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge. I’m immensely excited about this as I will get to work with Stephen Layton. I can still distinctly remember hearing the choir of Trinity College when they came on tour to Australia in 2016. Their interpretations of Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir and Herbert Howells' Te Deum ‘Collegium Regale’ at that concert are some of the things that are still stuck in my memory. Hearing their concert in Canberra was a very pivotal moment for me. I’m also excited as I will have the opportunity to practise and play the Metzler organ at Trinity on a daily basis.