Groundbreaking Anne Lister organ tribute concert at Halifax Minster

Halifax Minster is hosting evening of organ music with a difference celebrating the life of one of the town’s most famous daughters.

By sarah fitton
Sunday, 3rd April 2022, 6:20 pm
Updated Sunday, 3rd April 2022, 6:22 pm

The ‘Organs of Anne Lister’ project features a specially-written organ sonata in honour of the renowned diarist, traveller, landowner and businesswoman best known for her diaries giving a detailed account of her complex life and lesbian relationships.

The project – a ‘pop inspired organ work’ - is the brainchild of female composer and organist Dr Rebekah Okpoti and the Anne Lister sonata will be performed by Rebekah along with Her Ensemble - the UK’s first women and non-binary string orchestra.

The concert - funded by Arts Council England, Calderdale Council and Halifax Organ and Choral Academy - takes place on Thursday, April 7 at 7.30pm, during the Anne Lister Birthday Festival Week 2022.

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Halifax Minster

Rebekah said: “I was inspired after being asked to play for the memorial service of Anne Lister last year.

“I have to admit, up to that point, I had not heard of Anne and because I don’t own a television, I hadn’t seen the Gentleman Jack drama series, charting her life. But when I heard about her, I was completely inspired. She really caught my imagination. She was so ahead of her time and more educated than most women of her time.

“I instantly wanted to learn more about her so I got hold of her diaries – the published transcripts – and I watched the series. I really felt I wanted to respond creatively.”

Rebekah added that she wanted the sonata to reflect Anne as well as Anne’s own love of organ music and the fact that she herself played the organ in Halifax Minster.

“I really wanted to recreate what Anne played as well as what she heard and Anne’s travels have also become a feature. I have tried to capture the music of some of the places Anne visited.

“But I also wanted the piece to be for a new audience, for people who perhaps might not normally go to an organ recital. As a result, the sonata is inspired by the features of pop music rather than by traditional organ composition features.

“A traditional format of organ music would be a prelude and a fugue of around eight to 12 minutes, whereas with the pop inspired sonata, each movement is only around three to four minutes long with a catchy melody and a verse and chorus feel.”

The sonata features five individual pieces, all individually titled, with names such as Dear Diary and My Pleasure.

The evening also features the work of a number of other pieces, all composed by women, and will be presented as a ‘promenade’ format, where the audience is encouraged to move around the Minster as they listen to the music.

“The music will sound quite different depending on where you are in the Minster so moving around allows people to experience this. The musicians themselves will posted all around the Minster so that the building itself become part of the performance," added Rebekah.

Rebekah attended Chethams School of Music and then the Royal College of Music and the University of Central Lancashire, where her first love was piano.

She began playing the organ in 2017 and started studying it in 2020. She is now a pupil of Professor David Baker of Mytholmroyd, who is well known to Halifax Minster audiences. She has also been appointed Associate Organist of Leeds Cathedral.

“I am so excited about the project and the concert and I really hope that people of all ages will come along and listen and develop a passion for the organ and its music as a result,” she said.

Tickets are available on the door on the evening.