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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; also, a member of the teaching staff at Loretto School, Musselburgh.  As a flexible musician, John is experienced in working in a range of styles and contexts.  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 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, also several for Cambridge and Oxford Universities as part of the organ scholars awards schemes, most recently for Cambridge University in March 2023.  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.  Engagements in 2024 include that of a tutor on the Oundle for Organists Summer School.


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 articles on organ improvisation for 'Organists’ Review' and for 'The Organ' magazines, and various other journals in the UK and overseas; also, on keyboard improvisation in general for 'Music Teacher' magazine. 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 journal Console. In addition, he is responsible for the Scottish Federation of Organists' website.  John also likes to explore the lighter side of the organists' existence and has 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, where he continues to deputise frequently. He combined this with being part of a team of musicians at St. Paul’s & St. George’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, a very large congregation in the low church Evangelical tradition, where he has been a member since 1990. 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.


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.  





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