The idea for the Rye Wurlitzer Academy came about in 2009 and was able to become a reality in November of that same year, following an initial donation from Tony Akehurst in memory of his wife Rita. Founded by Richard Moore, his initial idea was to develop and nurture any interested students at Rye College into budding young theatre organists, giving students the opportunity to learn on the school's historic 1925 Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ. A small group of students was about to embark on a very special musical journey, which began with a few masterclasses.
Realising that if the project was to be successful some more regular form of tuition was needed, Sussex-based international theatre organist, Michael Wooldridge, came forward and offered help with one-to-one teaching sessions. These sessions have been on-going as and when funding has allowed and the results from Michael's relatively brief sessions with the students has been staggering, with many now able to play in concerts and four having been featured on BBC Radio 2's ever popular progamme, The Organist Entertains. Besides some generous donations donations to help with the costs of running the tuition, many people also came forward to offer electronic organs so the students could practice on at home.
This is the only scheme of its kind running in the UK at the present time. Nowhere else offers FREE tuition on a fully restored Wurlitzer theatre organ to students during their normal school days. To further encourage the students, they have been taken on field trips to experience other organs and organists, including in 2013 a trip to the world famous Blackpool Tower Ballroom, where they each tried their hands on the Mighty Wurlitzer, and to the Astoria Project in Barnsley, so they could all learn more about how an organ works and try their hands at making some small motors from wood, leather and fish glue!
Whilst longer term funding is being sought, this fledgling scheme is kept afloat by continuing private donations, and by fund raising events. Rather than presenting standard organ concerts, these shows are always special events where the organ is used alongside other popular forms of entertainment, both so the students can see the theatre organ being used as a viable musical instrument and also so they can be exposed to other entertainments they wouldn't normally see, with past nights having included top TV Comedy legend Supersonic Syd Little, an evening with The Fabulous Shadows, top comedy impressionist Drew Cameron from Britain's Got Talent, and even a summer Saturday afternoon cream tea with a brass band joining the Wurlitzer. These events have all served to raise funds and, indeed, to generate a new audience for Wurlitzer organ events in the area.
Events generally start at 7.15pm but please check to be sure. There is ample free parking at the venue.
In the words of Ann Cockerham (Executive Principal of the Rye Academy Trust) : “We feel incredibly privileged to have Michael Wooldridge leading our Wurlitzer Academy. He has inspired many of our young people who want to learn to play the Wurlitzer and has given them tremendous encouragement to develop their skills as organists. We are also most grateful to Richard Moore for his vision in starting this initiative and to those organisations which have sponsored the project, enabling this invaluable tuition to become reality”.
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|February 2nd||Big Band Night featuring 19-piece UK Big Band Sounds plus Michael Wooldridge at the Rye Wurlitzer|
|February 2nd||Michael Wooldridge (more details)|
with UK Big Band Sounds
|May 11th||The Sixties Roadshow (more details)|
No Wurlitzer this evening, but a great 60s night with buffet supper
|June 29th||UK Young Organist of the Year Entrants in Concert, plus Singers|
|September 14th||Michael Wooldridge (more details)|
Last Night of the Rye Proms, with the Rye Bay Crew, 7.15pm
|September 14th||The Rye Proms Night (more details)|
Back by popular demand, Michael Wooldridge at the Wurlitzer, along with The Rye Bay Crew
|October 12th||Michael Wooldridge (more details)|
7.15pm, Jazz Supper, with International Jazz Singer, Liane Carroll and a Fish and Chip Supper
|October 12th||Jazz Supper Night with Liane Carroll & Michael Wooldridge|
|December 14th||Michael Wooldridge (more details)|
7.15pm, Christmas Concert with The Cranbrook Town Band and Michael at the Wurlitzer
|December 14th||Christmas Concert with The Cranbrook Town Band and Michael Wooldridge at the Wurlitzer|