When it comes to pipe organ music, James Bond theme songs are probably not the first thing that come to mind. But Sarah Svendsen (BMusP 2012) and fourth-year student Rachel Mahon are reviving the appeal of this misunderstood instrument – which is too often associated with funerals and creepy Dracula music – with their repertoire of pop music.
In 2011, Svendsen and Mahon formed Organized Crime Duo, a group that plays both traditional and modern music on the organ and adds tongue-in-cheek theatrics. Inspired by the late Victor Borge – a comedic pianist known for integrating physical elements into his performances – the pair incorporates antics such as texting, drinking coffee and playing musical chairs while on stage. “It’s just as important to see and experience the performance as it is to listen,” says Svendsen, 24. “And you don’t need an orchestra to make a full sound – the organ can imitate many different instruments.”
The pair met at U of T’s Faculty of Music, and first played together in Toronto’s Phantom of the Organ, an annual organ concert organized by instructors Patricia Wright and John Tuttle. Svendsen and Mahon performed Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in blue sequined spandex and five-inch stiletto heels; last year, they played the Star Wars theme. Since then, they have performed at the Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball hosted at Casa Loma, and will be playing again at Toronto’s Organix concert on May 25.
Mahon grew up in a musical family; her mother is a piano teacher and her father is a conductor. Although she was a piano enthusiast, Mahon found the sound of organ music enthralling, and started studying it in her mid-teens. She began working as a church organist at the age of 16. Svendsen pursued organ lessons through beginner scholarships from the Halifax Royal Canadian College of Organists, and played her first paid recital at 17.
In September, Mahon, 23, will take on the role of organ scholar at the Truro Cathedral in England, where she will assist in training the boys’ choir. Svendsen, who is currently assistant organist at the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto, will be pursuing a master’s degree in organ and church music at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.
The duo hopes to continue tearing down the barrier between the classical music and pop culture world with their eclectic musical offerings. “It’s hard to find live music that speaks to more than a 20-year age group,” says Svendsen. “But we want to see children come to our shows with their parents and grandparents.”
To learn more about Organized Crime Duo, visit organizedcrimeduo.com.