Weekly Obsession 2023-10-23: Anna Lapwood

I can’t remember the sequence of steps that led me to discovering Anna Lapwood, but I know why I clicked. I’m a fan of any musical artist bold enough to throw in an instrument labeled unconventional” for their genre, like The Black Keys using a harpsichord on a garage rock track, or Kendrick Lamar injecting a healthy dose of jazz into his masterpiece rap album. On the latter, it made logical sense to include the brass cast of a black-borne genre on an album making commentary on blackness, but I would argue it doesn’t need to make sense. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea offers neither rhyme nor reason for their instrument lineup, because the initial idea that drove the album’s conception was simply: what if we collected weird instruments and also collected musicians willing to learn how to play them”. Jeff Mangum, the band’s elusive auteur, found such folk among his Elephant-6 contemporaries and together they made a cult-classic using a guitar, accordion, euphonium, flugelhorn, singing saw, bowed banjo, wandering genie, shortwave radio, and many other instruments. If you ever ask a fan why those instruments?”, or, why that composition?”, the answer you’re likely to get is simply Jeff Mangum.”

Anyways, the latest unconventional instrument combo I’m raving over is Anna Lapwood teaming up with electronic music artist Bonobo on his swan song for BBC Proms last year. Lapwood is a big-name in the world of organists, as an associate musician at the Royal Albert Hall and the first women in history to be awarded the Organ Scholarship from Oxford. She’s the biggest name on organ-tok after several of her TikToks showcasing behind the scenes” of the organ and playing the Interstellar soundtrack have gone viral. She describes herself as an ambassador for the organ” in interviews, which is entirely accurate! Her bright personality and energy is no-doubt attracting lots of young people to the organ who see her, merely 28, and realize that it’s not just old men in churches who can play the organ.

Once a month, Lapwood checks into Royal Albert Hall at midnight to practice on the organ until 6:00am. Unlike most other instruments, every organ is truly unique, and also inseparable from any concert venue because it is the concert venue. Last May, she began her practice session before Bonobo’s band had wrapped up their in-house afterparty. Since there’s really no part of Royal Albert Hall where you can’t hear the organ while being played, they noticed her and shouted up a song request to Play Bach!” (Toccata, of course), followed by several more song requests and finally a suggestion:

Wouldn’t it be cool if we had organ in the show tomorrow?”

Anna Lapwood, being the badass that she is, said in response well, I’m free”, and sent an email to a contact at the hall to ask would this be possible?” before sleeping for a few hours and waking up to an answer: yes, it would.”

The next night she played in the final song, Otomo” to a crowd of 10,000 who had no idea she would be involved. In fact, even Bonobo’s string section wasn’t aware the organ would be played. The result is an unforgettable moment, when electronic music drops away in favor of raw analog power. I love this recording, I’ve listened to it at least 20 times and it doesn’t get old. This, THIS! is what I want to see more of from new artists.

Credit is owed to Bonobo too, who was open-minded and onboard with an impromptu last-minute change to his setlist. Since the 2000s, his musical style has broken into wide-ranged genres, and his latest Black Sands tour has a huge live band; he was the perfect candidate for this sort of tom-foolery.

Follow Anna Lapwood on socials and check her out at the LA Phil this coming April for an organ recital played at the Walt Disney Concert Hall!

I’ve already bought my tickets, see you there!

Until next week, friends.