Belmont organist finding his way with music

Ashley Thompson
Published on January 27, 2014

An organist who got his start at a small church in Brooklyn is making his name known at a national level.

Shawn Potter, originally of Belmont, won the $5,000 Godfrey Hewitt Prize at the 2013 Orgelfest in Ottawa last year by wowing the judges in the national Royal Canadian College of Organists competition.

“Being picked by a jury of distinguished Canadian organists as the first prize winner, that’s a pretty gratifying experience,” the 25-year-old said in a phone interview from Ottawa.

“Every time you give a concert or prepare a set of music to present to people, I think that’s a very rewarding experience.”

The win came as no shock to those familiar with Potter’s musical talents.

Before accepting a job as Director of Music at First Baptist Church in Ottawa, Potter studied organ at Mount Allison University and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Music Performance in 2010. He then moved to Montreal, Quebec to complete a Master’s degree in Organ Performance at McGill University, where he was awarded the Godfrey Hewitt Scholarship.

“It was something different from what you would normally expect for a path for a musician. There are very few organists currently studying in Canada compared to other instruments like the piano, which would have been my other main choice.”

Potter says he’s dedicated seven years to seriously studying the organ so far, and he’s far from finished perfecting his craft. He’s considering travelling abroad to further his studies.

“Every organist’s dream is probably to go study in Europe. I mean, so much of the music that we play is based in the 16th, 17th, 18th centuries and the only way to find instruments that are original to that time is to go… and play on original instruments in Europe.”

The Annapolis Valley Centre of the Royal Canadian College of Organists has helped Potter get where he is today by providing the budding musician with performance opportunities in his teenage years, and presenting him with a scholarship in 2006.

Local residents may recall seeing him perform at the St. James Anglican Church in Brooklyn.

Potter advises up and coming musicians interested in studying the pipe organ to make a concerted effort to learn what the unique instrument has to offer.

 “Listen to as much music as you can and take advantage of every opportunity to perform that comes your way because you learn from every performing experience and every concert you go to — every chance you have to take something in.”