2017 YTOY Competition Report

Our annual ATOS UK Young Theatre Organist of the Year Competition (YTOY) was held on Sunday 30th July at Fentham Hall, near Solihull, home to a splendid Compton theatre organ, owned and operated by the Midlands and Wales District of the Cinema Organ Society (COS), to whom we are deeply indebted for their support, encouragement and enthusiasm.  

It was wonderful to see support from a good audience, many of whom had travelled a distance to join us for this important annual event in the theatre organ calendar.  There are too many people to name them all here, but perhaps of particular note were Blackpool Tower Organist David Lobban, Lancastrian Theatre Organ Trust Heritage Centre bookings manager Roger Fisher, Weston Super Mare Organ Club Chairlady Jo Lucas, Bristol Hammond Organ Club Chairman Graham Wall, and from the COS national committee, Trustee and Vice-President John Leeming, who came along with the UK’s International Theatre Organ Ambassador and current COS Trustee and Chairman Simon Gledhill. 

This year we introduced a new Senior Section, so as well as the YTOY contest for players up to and including the age of 18, we also had the new section for age 19 to 24, as this ties in more with the competition held by ATOS in America (which was initially inspired by ours here in the UK), and allows us to encourage players for longer.  In each section the competitors had the choice of playing either two separate contrasting pieces or a medley of at least three pieces from a West End musical, in either case, the total time not to exceed ten minutes.  The only difference was that the seniors also introduced their own pieces.

The ethos of YTOY has always been to bring together young people who are interested in theatre organ to get to know one another, share in their common interest and hopefully build lasting friendships.  The contest itself has always been slightly secondary to this and it was pleasing yet again this year to see all of the young players socialising and supporting each other throughout the two days of rehearsals and contest. 

That said, it is a competition so we do have judges and this year we had a fabulous panel.  Our Chairman of Judges was our own Len Rawle MBE, a player of huge international standing and renowned for his superb registrations on any and every organ.  He was joined by John Ledwon from the USA who, by his own admission, has the very best job that any theatre organist in the world could have, as he is one of the resident players on the huge Wurlitzer at Disney’s El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.  John has always been a staunch supported of young musicians and has only recently stood down from arranging the International Young Organist Contest in America, which is held at each ATOS Convention and this year was in fact won by an English player, Alex Jones, who is originally from London but is now studying for his Masters Degree in Organ Performance and Literature at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  Our third judge was himself a former winner of our YTOY in 2000, Tom Horton, who has since gone on to have a very full and varied career in the world of music, including work as one of the resident organists on the Wurlitzer at Cotton, as a concert artiste and sales demonstrator for Lowrey UK, accompanying theatre shows, teaching and, most recently, becoming a published composer.  We are indebted to all three judges, who so willingly gave their valuable time to support our future young organists.

After a console riser and welcome from our compere, 1980 YTOY winner and now professional organist, Michael Wooldridge, who is now our Chapter Trustee responsible for organising the YTOY, and a few inspirational words from John Ledwon, the contest began.  The main YTOY featured four super young musicians.  Daniel Lane gave us a rousing start with his rendition of Granada and then softer tones for Stardust.  Then it was our youngest entrant this year, 14-year old Freya Vicarey, who overcame her nerves to give us a enjoyable medley from Les Miserables.  Last Year’s Dean Herrick Memorial Award winner, Lucy Crouch was next at the console, this year playing a varied selection from the Wizard of Oz, and this show featured some more with our final entrant, Robert Eldridge, who gave an exciting performance of the theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark followed by an entrancing version of Over The Rainbow. 

Whilst the judges went off to discuss what they’d heard so far, last year’s YTOY Lewis Scott took to the console, appearing for the very last time in his Chain of Office, and showing how his music has developed in great strides, proving what a worthy winner he was with his very enjoyable cameo concert.

After a short interval, the second half began with our two senior entrants, each of whom engaged with the audience by chatting to them on the microphone.  First up was Aaron Hawthorne, who played two very intricate arrangements, That’s Entertainment and A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, really showing off his skills both as an arranger and by hand registering a great many sounds.  Then it was the turn of Jamyma May Hanson, who was with us a couple of years ago in the main YTOY but missed out last year due to pressures of schooling.  It was lovely to have Jamyma back with us and to hear her very lyrical performance of music from Mack and Mabel.

Whilst the judges again went out to deliberate, we were treated to two songs from siblings of entrants.  Holly Eldridge sang the Fat’s Waller classic, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and then Jayden Vicarey sang On The Street Where You Live from My Fair Lady.  The audience really loved both of these performances, which added a nice contrast to the afternoon’s music and allowed Michael Wooldridge to show off the Compton in an accompanying role.

The judges obviously were having a tough job deciding upon the winners, as by this time they were expected to have returned but were nowhere to be seen!  To keep the audience entertained, Michael played a very evocative medley of big band music.  After that, with the judges still not back, he moved on to music from the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, who had passed away 40 years previously; this gave him plenty of tunes to pick from but he needed lots and lots of them until finally he received the signal that the decision was in.

Len Rawle made some very helpful and encouraging remarks to the competitors, highlighting some general observations from the judges discussions.  Then he handed back to Michael to give the results.

The first award was the Dean Herrick Memorial Award.  This silver cup and £25 award goes to an entrant from the previous year’s YTOY who, in the opinion of the Chapter committee, has done the most to promote the organ out and about in the world at large, or who has perhaps invested themselves most in the theatre organ world.  Following written submissions from the entrants outlining their activities over the past year, this year’s winner is Lewis Scott, who since winning the YTOY last year has been really active playing concerts throughout the UK, plus he has used the organ to play in the pit for a musical on which he was leading the band as Musical Director, appeared on BBC North and received first class internet coverage for himself, the YTOY and theatre organs in general on the Royal College of Organists’ (RCO) website, following his involvement at the COS/RCO joint event at the Troxy Cinema in London.

Then it was on to the results, with Chapter Trustee Judith Rawle, who has been one of the driving forces behind the YTOY since it first began, awarding the prizes.  First of all there were participation certificates for everyone.  Then came the much awaited announcement.  In second place, receiving  a trophy and £125, it was Lucy Crouch and our winner, receiving a trophy, £200, the solid silver Chain of Office for the coming year, and the coveted title of Young Theatre Organist of the Year 2017, it was Robert Eldridge.   Robert then gave us his musical lap of honour by playing the Raiders of the Lost Ark Theme.

Then we moved on to the Senior YTOY.  This had taken the judges around a half an hour to decide between the two entrants, so it shows how tight the decision was this year.  In second place, receiving a trophy and £125, it was Jamyma May Hanson, so in first place, receiving a trophy, £200 and a silver cup to hold for the year it was Aaron Hawthorne.

That just left the Christie Cup.  This silver cup is not always awarded but is given at the judges discretion if they feel there is someone who deserves extra recognition, perhaps because they show huge potential for the future, or maybe because they managed to keep going when the organ had a fault or their music fell down or something like that!  This year they decided they did very much want to recognise the exceptional musicality shown by Jamyma May Hanson by awarding her the Christie cup.

After thanking everyone involved, players, supportive parents, judges, the COS team, the audience and so on, Michael invited Aaron back to the console to play us out by taking the console down with his arrangement of That's Entertainment, providing a very fitting end to a wonderful afternoon of music.

Photographs of the event may be viewed here, and futher details of the competition may be found on our YTOY page.

If you would like to make a contribution to help towards the running costs of this important event, please contact our treasurer Keith Reeve at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.