Sabbatical Study with Dame Gillian Weir

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Ray Cornils 12 Highlights from his work in Maine

Sabbatical Study with Dame Gillian Weir

Dame Gillian Constance Weir is heralded as one of the most exceptional organists in the world. She has performed in countless international tours, is given credit for popularizing the music of Messiaen, and has been awarded numerous honors throughout her distinguished career.

Between 1980 and 1990, Ray Cornils – Portland’s longest-running Municipal Organist – had attended several master classes taught by Ms. Weir. He marveled each time as she was able to transform her student’s playing and hoped to one day study with her. In 1992, upon Mr. Cornils invitation, Gillian Weir traveled to Portland to give a concert on the Kotzschmar Organ and teach a masterclass for the Portland Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. After attending this masterclass, Mr. Cornils decided it was time to attempt a formal study regimen.



Given her constant touring schedule, the only way to meet with Ms. Weir was to travel to Allentown, PA or London, England – she resided at both locations. This would prove impossible with Mr. Cornils’ own music career and schedule. But a year later, Mr. Cornils took sabbatical leave from his work at First Parish Church in order to focus on his craft, giving him the perfect opportunity to study with one of his musical heroes.

Their six-hour long lessons were conversations rather than lectures in performance. Mr. Cornils remembers, “When we first met for lessons she asked me, ‘How can I be of help?’ No previous teachers of mine had ever started out that way. It was usually that I would play and the teacher would decide what needed to be done. This was more of a partnership.”

Mr. Cornils attributes much of the way he teaches to this time of intense study, stating, “It was a time of great concentration, deep pondering, and invigorating work. Her teaching is insightful, probing, witty, and challenging. I observed her incredible gift of teaching and watched her transform her students’ playing in only a few minutes. She is the inspiration for the way I interact with students and has profoundly influenced my playing and teaching.”

For more information about Gillian Weir