JOHN RILEY - BIOGRAPHY
Based in Edinburgh, John Riley is a freelance musician. His varied career has included music retailing, Piano-Director of a German spa orchestra, and working in schools with children of a very wide range of abilities, including many years as teacher in charge of music and computing studies at a special needs school. As a flexible musician, John is experienced in working in a range of styles and contexts. He is also an examiner for the National College of Music.
John is particularly noted as a performer and teacher of organ improvisation. He is also an exponent in the neglected art of classical piano improvisation.
John has taught organ improvisation and musicianship skills on several Oundle for Organists and Royal College of Organist study days, including the Prospective Organ Scholars courses based at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. John has acted as guest tutor on two of the annual London Organ Improvisation Courses, (LOIC). He has given classes on improvisation to various organists’ associations and schools across the UK, including Rugby School and St Albans Cathedral; also in 2017 and 2019 for Cambridge University organ scholars' Masterclass programme, and will again in the academic year 2022-23. In June 2019, John gave a recital on the famous Princess Amalia Organ in Berlin, together with an improvisation class for Berlin church cantors. In 2021, he acted as tutor for the RCO-SCOTS organ training day at Dunblane Cathedral, and in May 2022, gave a presentation on organ improvisation to the annual conference of the Scottish Federation of Organists.
John’s recitals invariably contain improvisations on submitted themes or pastiches on ‘hidden melodies’ and he has performed at a number of major venues and festivals. These include:- Bavokerk, Haarlem, (Haarlem International Organ Festival); Örgryte Nya Kyrka, (Gothenburg International Organ Academy); Chester Cathedral; Liverpool Anglican Cathedral; Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
John has written series' of articles on organ improvisation for 'Organists’ Review' and for 'The Organ' magazines, including for the 'Organists' Toolkit' section of 'Organists' Review' in 2016; also on keyboard improvisation in general for 'Music Teacher' magazine, (August 2016). Other contributions include for 'Organ Australia' and New Zealand Organ News (2018). His book 'The Creative Organist' was critically well received and a new tutor book on improvisation is in preparation.
John is on the Council of the Edinburgh Society of Organists and editor of the ESO Console journal. He also likes to explore the lighter side of the organists' existence and recently contributed to 'Organs & Organists - their inside stories', ed. Jenny Setchell, (Pipeline Press).
Commissions include transcriptions and performances of ‘Happy Hardcore’ pop songs as part of the Dundee Contemporary Arts/Royal College of Organists ‘Sacred Selections’ project.
From January - July 2018, John was Acting Organist at St. Mary's Metropolitan Cathedral in Edinburgh. He combined this with being part of a team of musicians at St. Paul’s & St. George’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, (situated just across the road from The Cathedral), a very large congregation in the low church Evangelical tradition, where he has been a member since 1990. He has acted as organist for various concerts and services at the Usher Hall, St. Giles Cathedral, St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, together with Loretto School, where he also teaches organ. As a church musician John is experienced in working with a wide range of styles and ensembles, from traditional organ and choir to contemporary worship group.
John has composed extensively for school choirs and these have featured at special services, concerts and productions, venues including St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh and Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
Born in Leeds in 1958, John started playing piano from a very early age. His formal training was at Liverpool and Cambridge Universities. He also holds a Diploma in Church Music from St Andrews University.