IT might be rare to see a young person behind the organ at Mass but for Rachael Shipard it’s the rightful place for a Catholic musician.
The 21-year-old classically-trained pianist is the first organ scholar to be appointed to St Stephen’s Cathedral, under the Ralph Morton Memorial Organ Scholarship, launched earlier this year.
It’s a new direction for the award-winning musician, who graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium with a Bachelor of Music with First Class Honours and the University Medal.
Her desire to develop her organ playing is one that is guided by her Catholic faith.
“I think having a gift for music helps you to live out your faith a bit more because you want to share and give your gift back to God and Mass is the time to do that,” Ms Shipard said.
“I’m not doing the organ just to make a career out of it, I want to do it to assist the celebration of the Mass.”
An aspiring concert pianist, Ms Shipard began piano lessons when she was five years old, following in the footsteps of her mother who is also a musician.
“When we were supposed to be having naps, I didn’t have any naps, I just naively eavesdropped on mum’s practice,” Ms Shipard said.
The former All Hallows’ School student has won several awards for piano including the prestigious Theme and Variations Foundation award and prizes at the Lev Vlassenko Piano Competition this year, as well as the 2015 Queensland Piano Competition.
A member of many liturgical choirs since childhood, Ms Shipard previously played organ for Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Kenmore, and applied for the organ scholarship at St Stephen’s Cathedral to develop her skills further.
As the organ scholar, Ms Shipard will learn organ and chorale conducting under Cathedral music director Dr Andrew Cichy and assistant director of music James Goldrick for two years.
Dr Cichy, who has studied with world-renowned musicians both in Australia and Europe, established the scholarship to honour his predecessor, the late Dr Ralph Morton.
Dr Morton died last year after a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was known for mentoring scores of young Church musicians and singers, including Ms Shipard.
“I had some lessons with Dr Morton back in 2009 and 2010,” Ms Shipard said.
“He had a program called Pipes and Pizza at the Cathedral on Saturday mornings, you had a group lesson with him, and then you had food after, so why would I not go?
“I played some of my Bach piano pieces for him on the organ.”
Ms Shipard will be involved in music for the 10am and noon Sunday Masses at St Stephen’s Cathedral and hopes to inspire other young musicians to take up the rare skill.
“Organ playing is a useful skill for a Catholic musician to possess as you’re always going to get asked to play for Masses,” Ms Shipard said.
“I’ll be going to Mass every Sunday so I would like to keep contributing to the Church wherever I am.
“I know there’s a lot of people who can sing but not many people have the necessary keyboard skills to play the organ at Mass around the archdiocese.
“I think we need to get more young people into actual organ playing.”
And under her mentor’s watch, that might just happen.
Within two years Dr Cichy is hoping Ms Shipard will be able to develop online teaching materials for liturgical organists in Brisbane and across the world.
“I would expect there to be no more than about half a dozen organists in the Archdiocese with a full complement of training in liturgical accompaniment, harmonisation and choral conducting,” Dr Cichy said.
“It is pleasing for the Cathedral’s Music Department to be able to contribute to growing these skills in Brisbane – and getting more young people involved.”
“And it continues in a different way Ralph Morton’s important legacy in this area.”