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Renowned musician and scholar picks up baton at St Stephen’s Cathedral

Andrew Cichy

Dr Andrew Cichy: “It’s clear that St Stephen’s values its music program, and liturgical music has a really important place here.” Photo: Emilie Ng

BRISBANE’S newest cathedral music director decided in his teens to take up playing an instrument that was at odds with his name.

Dr Andrew Cichy, whose surname is Polish for “quiet”, picked the organ as his muse when he was just 15 and a student at Trinity College, East Perth.

“‘Cichy’ does indeed mean ‘quiet’, so I’m not quite sure what the relatives thought when I took up the organ,” Dr Cichy said.

Descended from Polish refugee stock on both sides of his family, he started learning piano aged seven, but was drawn towards the organ in his teens.

Despite his love of music, he started his university studies with a Commerce degree, which he called a “ very useful discipline”.

He went on to complete a Bachelor of Music with Honours, studying organ with Annette Goerke, during which time he tutored in the University of Western Australia’s business school.

“I tutored financial and management accounting as well as corporate finance at UWA throughout my BMus,” he said.

For Dr Cichy, engaging the left and right side of his brain was absolutely critical for laying the foundations of his music career.

“It’s never been either or for me, never,” he said.

“I’ve always seen myself as a performer and a scholar, and to my mind you can’t really do one justice without the other.”

Accepted into the Masters program at the University of Oxford, where he completed his degree with distinction, Dr Cichy was awarded a prestigious Clarendon Scholarship to continue his research on English Catholic Music after the Reformation to 1700 as a doctoral thesis.

In addition to his research, Dr Cichy maintained and developed his practical skills as an organist and choral conductor with the assistance of a travelling scholarship from St Thomas More College at the University of Western Australia and Newman College at the University of Melbourne.

“I had to make the best of it, and took master classes in organ and conducting and plainchant, and did all of that alongside a 100,000-word thesis,” Dr Cichy said, speaking of his five years in Europe.

At just 32 years of age, his international accomplishments are staggering.

“It took me all over the place – Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges, Leuven, Madrid, Simancas, Pittsburgh, Durham, Birmingham, London, Oxford, Cambridge, Paris, Valladolid, Vatican City, Mechelen, and Rome,” Dr Cichy said.

“It was good fun.”

After spending a year in Bremen, Germany, taking master classes with Professors Hans Davidsson and Harald Vogel on the world-renowned organs of Arp Schnitger (considered to be one of the most important organ builders of the Baroque era), he returned to Australia, where he lectured in the School of Music at the Australian National University in Canberra and ran the school’s honours and masters programs.

He was appointed as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy at the end of 2015.

Now the international scholar is working with the cathedral’s choirs and the striking pipe organ of St Stephen’s Cathedral as its new director of music.

He will be responsible for curating the cathedral’s music program, following on from Dr Ralph Morton, who died on February 20, 2016, before the pair could meet.

“But I’ve heard so many good things about him and so many people who were inspired by his contagious dedication and energy,” Dr Cichy said.

From what the young performer-scholar has heard, St Stephen’s deeply-rooted Irish Catholic roots has a lot to offer not just Brisbane, but the world.

“It’s clear that St Stephen’s values its music program, and liturgical music has a really important place here,” Dr Cichy said.

“At the moment my priority is to develop and expand the cathedral choir’s treble line, which is really the heart of the choir.

“After that my priority is to work with our cantors, because congregational participation depends so much on their example and leadership.”

In these early days, Dr Cichy hopes to listen not just to the music but to the parishioners, musicians and clergy who are called to participate in the liturgy.

And he’s happy to meet and talk with them all when he begins conducting sung Masses in the coming weeks.

“One of the questions I am posing to a lot of people is, the artistic treasures of the cathedral are obvious and easy to see – everything from Harry Clarke’s beautiful stained-glass windows to the sanctuary, which are of international significance, through to the profusion of commissioned sacred art, through to the Pugin-inspired chapel next door,” Dr Cichy said.

“Musical treasures are more difficult to pin down because the sound is here one moment and gone the next, so I’m asking people what are the particular musical treasures of the cathedral that I need to be aware of.

“I’m also looking forward to doing some research in the cathedral archives to see what musical treasures are awaiting rediscovery there.

“Every cathedral has its own important legacies. ”

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