My Weekend: Stephen Hindmarsh

Times Online, October 19, 2007

The organ has a venerable pedigree. If its heyday was perhaps during the English Romantic period, its roots lie in Ancient Greece and its enduring popularity has seen a metamorphosis into electronic, largely pipeless form. Composers such as Bach and Mendelssohn were drawn to the organ, and Holst, Strauss and Mahler all used it in orchestral music. But, for the majority, the organ is most commonly associated with weddings, funerals and Sunday services. It is in this milieu that a Manchester lawyer finds a release from the rigours and stresses of his profession.

As Stephen Hindmarsh, a property partner at Hill Dickinson’s Manchester office, puts it: “Playing the organ is a great release from the law. So, too, the piano. If things at work haven’t gone right, I’ll give the piano a good bashing when I get home.”

Hindmarsh, 54, was drawn to music as a child but lost interest in his teens, after taking the lower piano grades. But just as he set off to study law at the University of Warwick, his passion was rekindled. “I picked it up again and began playing church services at university,” he says.

A religious man, Hindmarsh found himself playing the church organ thanks to the recommendation of a Roman Catholic priest. “Word had got round that I played, and I was asked to play at a chapel at Trafford General Hospital. I started to play regularly there and then, again thanks to word of mouth, became a regular at English Martyrs, a church in Urmston.”

That was some 20 years ago, and Hindmarsh has not looked back. Indeed, he became more and more involved in church life in the Manchester suburb: “I soon started playing at St Hughes church, too. I’d play a Sunday service at English Martyrs at 9.30 in the morning, then rush over to play at St Hughes at 11am. As a Roman Catholic I was delighted to be able to take the opportunity to play so often.”

As well as Sunday services, Hindmarsh would play weddings and funerals — always for free, in contrast to Church of England practice, which provides a stipend for organists. He recalls one awkward moment at a wedding. “Each church has a different layout, and in some the organist can’t see when the bride arrives and so has to rely on a signal before launching into the wedding march. Once I got the wrong signal and began playing as the bride’s mother walked down the aisle.”

But Hindmarsh’s mild blushes on that occasion are easily compensated by the joy of playing the organ. “I love getting to grips with a piece and playing it nicely. Although I had a few lessons at Liverpool Cathedral, I’m mostly self-taught as an organist. You can tell because instead of using both feet for the pedals, I only use my left foot. I don’t think the congregation can tell the difference. It’s also a great challenge to play with a professional soloist, as sometimes happens at weddings.”

Hindmarsh is also known to play in restaurants and hotels. “Clients know that I play the piano, and often, when we’re out after meetings, if there’s a piano they’ll ask me to play.” He enjoys gratifying their requests, usually playing a selection of popular standards, particularly work by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but sometimes taking to a hotel’s piano causes problems: “Once I was at a hotel in London with some clients, who were quite insistent that I play the piano. I did so, only to annoy the resident pianist — who asked us to leave.” As Hindmarsh wryly notes, for a while “the joke was that you could guarantee getting thrown out after a night out with me.”

Hindmarsh is also the president of the Manchester Law Society. Thanks to this role — on top of family life and work with Hill Dickinson — he now tries to keep at least some weekends free. He will still, albeit less regularly, be found playing the organ at Sunday services and weddings and funerals in Manchester, and has no doubts about the interaction of law and music: “Music is a wonderful form of relaxation for me, a great means of stress relief from the law. There’s just one thing - I have to be careful not to play all night so that I don’t drive my wife round the bend.”