RISING up from the surrounding Somerset countryside, Downside Abbey in Stratton-on-the-Fosse certainly makes a statement; the Abbey Church standing mightily above the adjacent school.

The gothic revival designs, much of them by Giles Gilbert Scott, reverberate to the sound of the, nearly 100-year-old, Compton organ. Every nook and cranny seems to be filled with the music which is transmitted high into the transept vaults and down the nave from the roofless, oak-fronted pipe casement. It is sublime. The notes are from a work called ‘Lux’, the composition of the organist, Matt Walters.

At 23, Somerset born and bred Walters, is making something of a name for himself. With 30,000 followers on Instagram and over 40,000 on TikTok, this graduate of Cambridge University is bringing the playing of the traditional pipe organ right up to date.

Encouraged by his parents from a young age to take piano lessons, whilst a student at Downside School he was given the opportunity to try the school organ, taking to it naturally; his love of playing football possibly assisting with the footwork required to play the instrument! Being offered access to the Abbey Church organ allowed Walters to develop his skills further and quicker. 'I’m very driven. Typically Type A. I always need goals and without them I feel pretty lost. Even as a child I often made ‘to do’ lists.' says Walters.

It is not unusual for young people to want to avoid instrument practice and both Matt and brother Tom (a musician in his own right) had moments of wanting to ditch music in favour of other pursuits.

Thankfully, their parents gently persuaded them to stick at it, realising they both possessed talent. Such was his attachment to the organ and through the backing of an inspirational music teacher, that, at around the age of 14, Walters composed a short mass which the school choir performed in the church; a unique opportunity for a young musician.

Through the study of GCSE music he learned more about composition and further developed his playing skills, leading to the chance of gaining an organ scholarship at Homerton College, Cambridge; something he studied for intensely.

The scholarship awarded, Walters continued to develop his passion for the organ alongside his courses in Classics and Philosophy. It should be noted that despite the levels of composition which Walters has since achieved, the GCSE is his only formal training in that discipline, the rest has been learned on the job.

At just 23, Somerset born and bred Walters, is making something of a name for himself. At just 23, Somerset born and bred Walters, is making something of a name for himself. (Image: Matthew Walters)

His love of Mozart and Beethoven undimmed, whilst at Cambridge, Walters started looking, beyond the classical, at artists who mix modern music. He was inspired, in particular, by the work of DJ and producer James Hype whose reputation and reach is worldwide. Excited by something in sharp contrast to the church organ, Walters took up DJing, mixing and making his own dance music, all under the name of Reductio. This lead to an interest in combining genres; not something that hadn’t been done before, but was hardly mainstream. For an example, check out his versions of ‘Zadok the Priest’ and ‘Carmen’. The industry is so easy to get lost in so having a USP is definitely something which helps. Hence the development of a unique brand. Until fairly recently, Walters has kept most of his music online apart from a small-scale recital at Downside in 2022. A huge step forward in bringing his music to the attention of the public was the offer of a concert at Wells Cathedral in July 2023. Much to his surprise the event sold out. The audience were offered a programme of huge variety; from Bach to Handel and from Nino Rota to Hans Zimmer – Walters is a huge fan of music composed for film – but also Pachelbel’s Canon in D crossed with American rock band Maroon 5, traditional hymns and several of the artist’s own compositions. The reactions have been incredibly positive and the filming of the concert has allowed other venues to see just what he can offer.

Of course, tinkering with music is not going to agree with everyone and Walters receives occasional criticism; those who don’t think he is musically up to much and that his mash-ups are inappropriate or ill-advised. The musician is philosophical; 'it means that the music is getting out there and my engagement is being boosted as a result. Tradition is important and I fully respect that, but there should always be room for innovation as well.' He is a curator of work which he develops in his own mould. It is for the audience’s to decide if what he produces is successful. As Walters forges his own path he looks to organists like Anna Lapwood who is pioneering the same instrument and has made an enormous impact within the music industry. There are others too, of course, but with his armoury of talents, Matt is working to stand out from the crowd. With composition, performance, marketing and practice, there is a need to switch off; 'I take time out mainly through exercise; boxing, regularly going to the gym. I’ve taken to working out quite intensely in the hours before a performance; it calms my mind and clears it. It helps a lot, though I do find it difficult to take breaks. Even on holiday I am still itching to compose or practice something. I probably do have some kind of workaholism.'

Is his work unconventional? Is he a maverick? A rebel? 'In some ways maybe I am. Pushing the boundaries of any art form can cause eyebrows to be raised. My programme at Wells created some consternation as it included music from a Harry Potter film alongside sacred music and hymns. I am not setting out to offend anyone of course.' Indeed, Walters’ own faith is important to him and, though this lapsed whilst at university, it has since been restored and the playing of hymns has played no small part in that. Alongside the organ, Matt remains a keen pianist and composing for it is something he is finding increasingly rewarding. 'The challenge is to find a way of building my piano work into the brand, which is tricky as it doesn’t stand out from the crowd as much as the organ; I know what I am doing is quite novel but in this day and age you have to grab people’s attention really quickly and keep things interesting and using TikTok to promote my organ music seems to have worked.'

It is worth following Matt on his social media platforms; he is open and giving of his talent, and invites comments and suggestions particularly with the hymns he plays; 'they do a lot better than some of the other music I play – often people have an emotional connection with them; maybe sung them at school or at an occasion such as a wedding or funeral. I get loads of suggestions from all sorts of people; my support base is wide-ranging.' Recently Walters has been appointed as an Associate Artist at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon and will be giving his first recital there this autumn. The programme of events for the rest of this year is filling up, with future concerts planned for Bath Abbey, Downside Abbey, Manchester Cathedral and a return to Wells Cathedral with a very different programme showcasing other aspects of his work. Walters’ targets range from the amount of concerts in the diary to the number of followers he wants to attain on social media platforms – he is not obsessed with his own vanity metrics, but it does offer a guide. 'After the Wells concert I have realised that live performance is the key to growing my brand, my following and my outreach and the fact that there is further interest out there for more concerts is incredibly exciting.'

'The challenge is to find a way of building my piano work into the brand, which is tricky as it doesn't stand out from the crowd as much as the organ''The challenge is to find a way of building my piano work into the brand, which is tricky as it doesn't stand out from the crowd as much as the organ' (Image: Matthew Walters)

Beyond the immediate future, a current unfulfilled ambition is to play the organ at the Royal Albert Hall; it would be a brave person to bet against that happening at some point. In Matt Walters you have a tremendously exciting, engaging talent; modest but fiercely driven who is exploiting his contemporary brand through a canny and knowledgeable use of the internet, whilst flying the flag for live performance. He will continue to challenge perceptions of the organ and classical music and seek to engage those new to his brand. His innovative, provocative and thrilling music is being lapped up and there are no two ways about it, this extraordinary artist will continue to go places and cement his unique position in the music world.

For future concerts, keep in touch with Matt Walters via:

Website – dionysianmusic.com

Instagram -@reductiomusic

TikTok - @reductiomusic

YouTube - @reductiomusic

This feature was first published in Somerset Life magazine. To subscribe, visit www.greatbritishlife.co.uk/subscribe/somerset.