Organized Crime more than a novelty act

  • May 11, 2013

TORONTO - Anyone who has ever attended an organ recital knows that no good concert is complete without stilettos. At least, that’s according to hot and humourous duo Organized Crime, whose Betty and Veronica good looks, costumed antics and serious musical chops are turning the organ world on its head.

Rachel Mahon and Sarah Svendsen, both University of Toronto graduates, are Organized Crime, a mash up of vaudeville style and classical organ repertoire, as well as standards of the cinema and stage, and pop culture covers — all put together in a performance package that came together almost unexpectedly. They are bringing their act to Toronto May 25 as part of the Organix concert series.

“Sarah and I met at university; we were both in the same program… and every year Sarah’s teacher, Patricia Wright, would organize a concert… to raise money for the student memberships of the RCCO (Royal Canadian College of Organists),” said Mahon.

“That’s where we would play a lot of popular tunes for the organ, one of which is the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Neither of us really had time to learn it, so we decided to play it together,” she laughs. “We bought matching outfits and decided to wear our stilettos while playing just to have fun while doing it, and that was how we first performed together.”

Just how hard is it to play Bach in stilettos? You have to make sure you use your toes only and don’t let the heels get caught, laugh the girls. Easier said than done.

Before their days as a duo, Mahon and Svendsen took completely different paths on their journey towards becoming professional organists.

“I actually fell into it,” said Svendsen, who was offered free lessons at 16 through a scholarship program in her hometown of New Glasgow, N.S.

“I’m honest about it because I think it’s important for organ organizations to understand that not all people think, ‘hey, I’ll just play the organ!’ I figured I could make money while I was in high school. I didn’t really study that much performance music when I started; I was just studying towards music in church because I took a job right after I started taking lessons.”

For Mahon, the route was more traditional as she was exposed to the instrument in the way most people are — at her local parish.

“I’m from a musical family and I would go to church all the time and always hear the organ, and I was listening to this really awesome piece, and I decided, ‘hey, I wanna be able to play that,’ so I started taking lessons,” said Mahon, who was awarded a Barwell scholarship by the RCCO.

Both girls have a world-class musical pedigree; Mahon recently graduated from U of T where she was under the tutelage of Dr. John Tuttle and has been the organist for the Oratory Children’s Choir of Holy Family Church. She has also been the Bevan Organ Scholar at Trinity College, U of T, as well as the Principal Organist at Timothy Eaton Memorial United Church.

After her studies in Nova Scotia, Svendsen spent 10 months in Denmark studying with organist Randi Mortensen at the Odense Domkirke. She has a degree in organ performance from U of T, studies with Wright and is the Organ Scholar at Metropolitan United Church. Additionally, she is on the executive of the Toronto Centre RCCO.

“It was interesting, when I lived in Denmark, people listen to the organ legitimately,” said Svendsen. “They knew what it was, they went to concerts, and it was very well funded.

“You could go to the public library and get all these amazing works that, in Canada, you would
have to order from Europe,” said Svendsen.

While organ appreciation is not at the same height in North America as in Europe, the girls hope to be a part of the movement bringing awareness to the instrument by making it a more attractive to a wider demographic.

“We don’t just want to be playing to a small group of people who always go to organ concerts. We want them there too, and we want to make sure that they feel satisfied, but we also want to inspire others who wouldn’t normally come,” said Svendsen, adding the girls have been researching other acts with a comedic nature who also exhibit merit and talent.

“Schtick is part of it, but there’s something about that vaudeville vibe and we’ve really been trying to draw from all the great (performers). Specifically, we’re looking at the variety show concept and what that used to mean to people. Look at The Carol Burnett Show, for example… it segued and it spoke to people of all ages.”

Looking forward, both have exciting opportunities awaiting them. In August, Mahon is moving to England to take up the position of Organ Scholar at the Truro Cathedral, while Svendsen will be
pursuing her masters in music at Yale University.

They hope they can continue performing as a duo.

“We’re hoping that next year Rachel and I will be able to schedule some concerts. That’s definitely being optimistic, but we’ll see,” laughs Svendsen.

Audiences at their concert at Metropolitan United Church can enjoy classical tunes like works from the opera Carmen and Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, as well as a number of popular culture songs and references.

“We’re trying to make it as accessible as possible, so nothing that really zones in on one generation,
but something that all generations can reference,” said Svendsen.

For tickets and information on Organized Crime’s Toronto concert, visit or

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