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Malcolm's hands on the keyboard of Wells Cathedral

Organ donor

By Ben Cohen | 17 Jul 2019

Tearfund supporter marks his 70th birthday by playing 70 different pipe organs in 70 different churches – from Penzance to Norway. And he raises lots of money for Tearfund.

One man. One birthday. One aim. Seventy church organs. One year.

‘Do more of what you love in life!’ It’s a sentiment you hear a lot these days across social media. 

When Malcolm Hawke prepared to celebrate his 70th birthday, he decided to put that saying into action.

‘Lots of people do something for their 70th birthday, I wanted to do something that was enjoyable and not entirely self-indulgent,’ he remembers. 

70 at 70
It may not have been self-indulgent, but it was ambitious: Malcolm decided he wanted to play the church organ – and not just one of them, but 70. ‘I started out as a novice organist in my late teens. I've had great fun playing pipe organs at various churches around the country ever since. I decided I would like to revisit places that have allowed me to play over many years.’

It was also a great opportunity to raise some money for Tearfund, favourite charity of Malcolm’s for many years. As he explains: ‘The concept of helping people to help themselves is something I really like.’

The plan was to reach his target of playing 70 different church organs by the time of his 71st birthday – in fact (spoiler alert), he managed it last week with three months to spare.

Malcolm plays the Wells Cathedral organ

Malcolm in action at Wells Cathedral

Pulling out the stops
Malcolm didn’t draw up a pre-prepared itinerary for his UK tour. Often he would just show up at churches on his travels, and hope for the best when he walked through the doors. It turned out to be a fruitful approach.

‘We haven’t had one refusal,’ he says. ‘Churches have been absolutely amazing. One very small church with 14 regulars laid on tea and biscuits, and almost half of the congregation came along to listen.’

He says he received a warm welcome wherever he went: ‘People seem to be intrigued by the project and very happy to allow the organ to be played in their church or chapel.’ 

Malcolm even wandered into a church in Haugesund, Norway, while he was on a cruise with his wife.

‘We left the cruise ship and headed into town. The church doors opened to greet visitors and one of the ladies welcoming told me “go and play the organ.” The main challenge was finding out which stop [switch] actually turned the organ on! It was a voyage of discovery.’

‘Church organs are all different, they’re all hand built and unique'
Malcolm Hawke

Each one different
In fact he says pretty much every new organ challenged him in one way or another: ‘Church organs are all different, they’re all hand built and unique – each one presents a different challenge. They all have their own qualities.’

Organ wise, there were familiar faces along the way, including a surprise reunion with the keyboard he played at Penzance Parish Church. ‘I discovered that it was actually from the University Church in Oxford, and it’s the very organ that I did my music exams on in 1972!’ 

Malcolm wanted to go out on a high for his 70th and final recital. A Tearfund employee pulled a few strings and fixed one last musical hurrah – the chance to play the organ at Wells Cathedral in Somerset, which took place last week.

He was met by The Very Revd Dr John Davies DL, Dean of Wells. Malcolm says the experience was one of the high points of his year. ‘It’s a lovely organ with a lovely sound.’

And while he’s been doing what he loves, donations on his JustGiving page are inching towards £2,500. Feel free to give the total a further lift!


PRAISE GOD:

Thank you God for the creativity and musicality that you freely give to nearly all of us in some measure. Thank you for inspiring men and women like Malcolm, who bless others, by using their gifts to support people in need.
Amen

If you’d like to raise money for Tearfund while doing something you love, head over to our special fundraisers’ page and get dreaming.


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Photo of Ben Cohen

Written by Ben Cohen

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