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How the UK’s musical Scott Brothers saved Christmas 2021

Written By | Dec 26, 2021
Scott Brothers, Tom Scott, Jonathan Scott

Jonathan and Tome Scott pictured in Manchester Town Hall. Photo courtesy Scott Brothers video site.

WASHINGTON – Prior to the ongoing, worldwide Covid pandemic-turning-endemic, I must admit… Even though I’ve long been a pipe organ fanatic, I’d never heard of UK organist Jonathan Scott. Or his pianist-artist-composer Tom. But as an increasingly gloomy, paranoid and isolated 2020 began to unfold for – eventually – pretty much everyone around the globe, the Scott Brothers — Jonathan Scott and Tom Scott — became an increasingly important part of my life-in-musical-exile. In fact, I think they saved Christmas 2021 for those remaining lovers of classic, time-honored Christmas carols, songs and hymns.

At least for this writer. Maybe you’ll agree.

Here’s why.

As the former music and arts critic for the Washington Times (1995-2010), until that newspaper ceased its arts coverage in early 2010 – and as current classical music and arts critic here at CDN, the world-wide pandemic left me – and most performing arts patrons – without access to the kind of live music and performance events that had been an integral part of our live.

The widespread shutdown of music, drama and entertainment venues for an entire season or more has been life-draining. It’s the artistic equivalent of getting tossed into solitary confinement for an indefinite sentence. The same likely holds true for performing artist. And individuals whose livelihoods directly depend on supporting live musical and performing arts.




Happily, at least some performers and performing arts ensembles gradually figured out ways to mount occasional “virtual performances” online. The availability of Zoom, YouTube and other audio-video apps and online sites certainly helped.

Roughly a year ago, I was wandering around YouTube looking for anything to kill time. Suddenly, a random, virtual organ concert popped up in my suggested list. I figured, “OK, I’ll give this a shot.” It was a solo organ recital featuring an eclectic set of composed and / or arranged organ pieces. All were performed by a British organist named Jonathan Scott. This was a game-changer.

Spirit-lifting online organ recitals in stunning UK cathedrals

This recital was something different, adapted as it was to overcome our seemingly never-ending Covid barrier against attending live musical performances. Jonathan Scott performed his recital in one of the UK’s legendary, historic cathedrals on that cathedral’s equally historic organ. The cathedral, of course, was completely empty, as Scott’s audience was, well, whoever happened to access either the recital’s live, online performance or visit it later as a pre-recorded performance on YouTube.

It was immediately obvious that Jonathan Scott was a first class interpreter and performer on this massive pipe organ. Even better, each piece in the recital got a live, scholarly, yet highly accessible introduction from the artist himself, as he swiveled on the organ bench to face the camera and explain the significance and often the arrangements of each composition.

Enter Tom Scott…

As I eventually learned by finding and viewing more of Jonathan Scott’s virtual recitals – each staged in a different, equally impressive and highly individualistic organ installed in numerous UK cathedrals – the brilliant camera and audio recordings of each recital were the work of Jonathan’s equally musical brother, Tom Scott. Tom, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a skilled pianist, videographer, sound recorder and animator himself.

Tom moves his camera(s) smoothly and unobtrusively through a series of “scenes,” ranging from close-ups of Jonathan on the organ keyboards and pedal board. But he also provides long-range shots of the various organ pipe arrangements as well as the extensive stained glass windows, sculptures, works of art and architecture that distinguish each cathedral – and the occasional public hall – in which Jonathan performs.

As Jonathan’s extended “season” of recitals progressed, Tom himself joined in several of these concerts. He performed as the pianist half of the Scott Brothers Duo. That’s because both artists perform at times as a combo. The “Duo” gig is in addition to their various solo performances throughout normal performance seasons.

The best ticket prices in town, virtually or otherwise

Admission to each concert / recital given by one, the other, or both brothers is free. But old and new fans can support this engaging pair of artists in a number of ways.  (See links below Video#2 below.)

All of us should now be enjoying the 12 Days of Christmas. So perhaps the best way to introduce Jonathan and Tom is to post a couple of their recent Christmas videos.

First up is Jonathan’s most recent full YouTube recital as recorded by Tom. It’s performed on the massive organ installed in the City of Hull’s uniquely elaborate City Hall. Jonathan describes the organ and the venue in this recital’s YouTube commentary section.



The Christmas Concert from Hull City Hall

“…Jonathan Scott presents his Online Christmas Organ Concert from the magnificent Pipe Organ of Hull City Hall. This is one of the largest instruments in the UK with a massive 140 stops and over 6000 pipes, including a whole range of percussion instruments and a 64 foot Gravissima! A perfect instrument for a great Christmas Organ Concert in a dazzling programme of spectacular seasonal music! We look forward to sharing this concert with you all and hope you can join us wherever you are in the world. Jonathan & Tom (Scott Brothers Duo).”

Also in the YouTube commentary section is a list of works performed, the extensive specs detailing the organ and pipes of the Organ at Hull City Hall. You can link directly to the YouTube site for this concert here.

And now, for something completely different…

On December 24, 2021, the Scott Brothers uploaded their second “home concert,” potentially a new tradition they first launched at the end of the first plague year of 2020. And yes, it’s literally a “home concert,” performed on a Yamaha piano and a vintage harmonium. The latter, for those unfamiliar with these instruments, is essentially a simple home or small church organ.

This fine performance gains considerable Christmas ambience by the simple fact that it’s played in the living room / music room of the brothers’ home. Roughly a century or so ago or more – before TV, radio or YouTube — this was generally the way most families could experience live music, assuming they could afford a keyboard instrument. Or at least a fiddle or two.

The brothers’ program is informal and eclectic. It includes seasonal music with decidedly Christmas-y associations. Plus additional transcribed carols and suites. An added bonus: Tom Scott adds his talented chorus of animated Nutcrackers at appropriate intervals in one fascinating arrangement. Nutcracker lovers will also appreciate the surprise guest appearance by one of them as the video begins. (Shades of Terry Gilliam!)

Again, here’s how the brothers describe this concert / recital in the YouTube commentary selection.

“We hope you can join us for our “HAPPY CHRISTMAS HOME CONCERT” this CHRISTMAS EVE! We have some Brand New Fantastically Festive Duos to play and some Marvellous Musical Treats to share with you, as well as Tom’s (drum roll please) New Composition “March of the Nutcrackers” (Jonathan had to learn a new instrument to play it)!!! It’s always great to be at home for Christmas and we hope that you can spend some of your Christmastime with us! Merry Christmas from Jonathan & Tom”

Further information on the Scott Brothers’ musical world

Rather than spend time plowing through my own pedestrian verbiage, the main idea here is to introduce the Scott Brothers, Jonathan and Tom. That includes their extensive selection of videos now available via YouTube, including this pair of special musical Christmas offerings.

For more on the brothers, their online repertoire and scores of Jonathan’s transcriptions and arrangements, check out the following links.

“We fund all of our online concerts ourselves – If you enjoy them and would like to support us please visit: https://www.scottbrothersduo.com/SUPP…

“The Score of Jonathan’s arrangements featured in this concert are available here: https://www.scottbrothersduo.com/SCOR…

“For more information about Scott Brothers Duo please visit: https://www.scottbrothersduo.com”

But wait! There’s more! More fabulous, traditional, High Church-style Christmas music from the UK

Meanwhile, since it’s still the Christmas season, there’s plenty of additional Christmas music to find on YouTube, including organ and choral performances from Westminster Cathedral and Kings College. Click on the links for each performance.

The latter’s audio (circa 2015) is a bit “skippy.” And the organ and chorus don’t always strictly agree on the appropriate tempo.

But the introductory unaccompanied solo by an unnamed choirboy with perfect pitch and perfect diction is positively breathtaking, as is the classic Oxford Book descant that concludes this classic carol.

I can never get enough of this stuff. If you have the same problem, the Brits still have the best solutions. So check these and the many other available Christmas performances that remain available via YouTube. And don’t forget the Scott Brothers!

 

Terry Ponick

Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Senior Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17