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Oldest Living Organist? End of an Era


ptindall
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I have just been told that E.H. (John) Warrell died on Tuesday morning, aged 95. He was for many years organist of King's College London and of Southwark Cathedral 1968-76, and was organist of St Paul's, Deptford until this year...

May he rest in peace.

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I have just been told that E.H. (John) Warrell died on Tuesday morning, aged 95. He was for many years organist of King's College London and of Southwark Cathedral 1968-76, and was organist of St Paul's, Deptford until this year...

My Stepmother-in-law died a few days ago, also aged 95. Although she hadn't played the organ for many years, she had in her younger days been a pupil of George Oldroyd in Croydon, one of whose "Three Liturgical Improvisations" was played at her funeral yesterday.

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I have just been told that E.H. (John) Warrell died on Tuesday morning, aged 95. He was for many years organist of King's College London and of Southwark Cathedral 1968-76, and was organist of St Paul's, Deptford until this year...

 

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When it comes to longevity as an organist, I think the theatre organ world possibly holds the record. I seem to recall that a lady died recently, who had been playing the organ in puiblic at the age of 104, and certainly, the recently deceased Bob Mitchell played in public for a Baseball game at the age of 95.

 

I also recall Ena Baga performing into her 90's, as of course, does Dr Francis Jackson.

 

I think it must be the pedalling that keeps people young, though in Bob Mitchell's case, for his last performance he arrived in a wheel-chair, and had to be cranked out of it and onto the organ-bench. Once perched there, he played superbly.....feet and all.

 

MM

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=====================

 

 

When it comes to longevity as an organist, I think the theatre organ world possibly holds the record. I seem to recall that a lady died recently, who had been playing the organ in puiblic at the age of 104, and certainly, the recently deceased Bob Mitchell played in public for a Baseball game at the age of 95.

 

I also recall Ena Baga performing into her 90's, as of course, does Dr Francis Jackson.

 

I think it must be the pedalling that keeps people young, though in Bob Mitchell's case, for his last performance he arrived in a wheel-chair, and had to be cranked out of it and onto the organ-bench. Once perched there, he played superbly.....feet and all.

 

MM

 

 

Stanley Houlgate, in Brighton/Hove, who is very much alive and well, was born in February 1912 and was playing the organ in public as a church organist until about a year ago.

 

Malcolm

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=====================

 

 

When it comes to longevity as an organist, I think the theatre organ world possibly holds the record. I seem to recall that a lady died recently, who had been playing the organ in puiblic at the age of 104, and certainly, the recently deceased Bob Mitchell played in public for a Baseball game at the age of 95.

 

I also recall Ena Baga performing into her 90's, as of course, does Dr Francis Jackson.

 

I think it must be the pedalling that keeps people young, though in Bob Mitchell's case, for his last performance he arrived in a wheel-chair, and had to be cranked out of it and onto the organ-bench. Once perched there, he played superbly.....feet and all.

 

MM

I think that you may be referring to Rosa Rio (June 2, 1902 – May 13, 2010), born Elizabeth Raub, who was an American organist who began as a silent film accompanist. She became a leading organist on network radio and continued to perform until age 107. With a 100-year career, she was one of the oldest performers in the music industry, along with Swiss-born tenor Hugues Coenod-108 and 106-year-old Johannes Heesters. :rolleyes:

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I think that you may be referring to Rosa Rio (June 2, 1902 – May 13, 2010), born Elizabeth Raub, who was an American organist who began as a silent film accompanist. She became a leading organist on network radio and continued to perform until age 107. With a 100-year career, she was one of the oldest performers in the music industry, along with Swiss-born tenor Hugues Coenod-108 and 106-year-old Johannes Heesters. :rolleyes:

 

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Thanks Tony, that was the lady I had in mind.....107 is three years more than I thought. Astonishing!

 

MM

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I understand there is to be a service for E H Warrell - sometimes known as Ernie or John - in Southwark Cathedral at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 8th September. A friend of mine, who has known him for around 30 years, anointed him the day before he died.

 

Malcolm

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  • 5 months later...
I understand there is to be a service for E H Warrell - sometimes known as Ernie or John - in Southwark Cathedral at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 8th September. A friend of mine, who has known him for around 30 years, anointed him the day before he died.

 

Malcolm

 

 

I have just been to the King's College London memorial service for Ernie or John Warrell, which was a jolly occasion. There is a recording available which he made last year at St Paul's Deptford: proceeds to the Musicians Benevolent Fund. It is a fine memorial, well engineered by Gary Cole in one three hour session. Handel and C18 good, Bach fugue on Magnificat excellent, Rhosymedre foul for some reason, but Howells Epilogue very good: the temperament would only worry the purist in two minor places. Pretty good for 95 years old, and evocative notes. Bill Drake's organ sounds fabulous: I hope this pleases Heckelphone.

 

The choir and the acoustics at King's are great these days (and the choir was ten years ago), but I still don't like the organ any more than I did in 1980, even though it has been fiddled with more recently Too loud all the time, swell too recessed, acid strings, no balance. When the console was at the other end the delay was like St Mary's Southampton, a building about five times as big.

 

Does anyone remember it before the 1978 rebuild, or indeed (we are talking about organists here), the 1932 one? In 1932 they lowered the roof, but not as much as I thought, now that I have seen the original design.

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I am indeed well pleas-ed. It's possibly my favourite Drake instrument, that one. I met Mr Warrell a couple of years ago and my goodness could he play.

 

My goodness he certainly could and did. Born in Camberwell: his first job was as office boy in the Sarson's pickle factory. A classic example of a person who was inspired by early teachers, in his case Dr Warriner of St Matthew's Denmark Hill, a man who must have been born well before 1860. He claimed to have taught 1100 ordinands to sing in tune. Ah, what a waste.

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There is something quite remarkable how someone barely able to walk with a stick can do the most incredible gymnastics once seated on an organ bench. I remember hearing Ralph Downes perform on the RFH organ when he was in his eighties after seeing the trouble he had walking up to the console and thinking, is this the same man I just saw hobbling along?

 

Back to Ernie Warrell and indeed King's College. I have no idea how much better the acoustics would have been when its original vaulted ceiling was in place, but many years ago the chapel roof was removed, a flat ceiling put in place, and on top of that went the Anatomy lecture theatre and museum of morbid anatomy. One had to be judicious when practicing to keep the volume down otherwise the Biochemistry department (I think it was then) would complain, as part of the Swell was based there, and I remember many happy hours as a medical student in the anatomy lecture theatre thinking of far more interesting things when someone was practicing a few feet below us. Subsequently one of the rooms overlooking the chapel through the clerestory windows became the Islamic prayer room, further limiting the ability to practice effectively without provoking outrage. As for the organ itself, apart from the rather splendid painted front pipes, it always seemed to me to be rather dull and far too buried in whatever chambers it could find to inhabit, and the Willis III/Bishop specification bears little resemblance to the original Father Willis spec. Nevertheless it somehow managed to get awarded a Historic Organ Certificate.

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There is something quite remarkable how someone barely able to walk with a stick can do the most incredible gymnastics once seated on an organ bench. I remember hearing Ralph Downes perform on the RFH organ when he was in his eighties after seeing the trouble he had walking up to the console and thinking, is this the same man I just saw hobbling along?

 

Back to Ernie Warrell and indeed King's College. I have no idea how much better the acoustics would have been when its original vaulted ceiling was in place, but many years ago the chapel roof was removed, a flat ceiling put in place, and on top of that went the Anatomy lecture theatre and museum of morbid anatomy. One had to be judicious when practicing to keep the volume down otherwise the Biochemistry department (I think it was then) would complain, as part of the Swell was based there, and I remember many happy hours as a medical student in the anatomy lecture theatre thinking of far more interesting things when someone was practicing a few feet below us. Subsequently one of the rooms overlooking the chapel through the clerestory windows became the Islamic prayer room, further limiting the ability to practice effectively without provoking outrage. As for the organ itself, apart from the rather splendid painted front pipes, it always seemed to me to be rather dull and far too buried in whatever chambers it could find to inhabit, and the Willis III/Bishop specification bears little resemblance to the original Father Willis spec. Nevertheless it somehow managed to get awarded a Historic Organ Certificate.

 

 

 

HOCs now come in four flavours, and the one here is a Certificate of Recognition, that is it refers to to some material, rather than the organ as a whole. In this case I think it was the case and front pipes that were being flagged up as valuable.

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I played the King's College, London, organ before the Bishop rebuild. It was, I thought, a decent Willis III rebuild but not outstandingly memorable. Ernie Warrell maintained that the chapel and its acoustics had been ruined when the ceiling was lowered.

 

I believe King's used to sing a weekly choral matins on a Friday morning. I don't know if this is still the case, but in Ernie's time there was a more than very decent mixed choir. I have, somewhere, a cassette of an Advent service, which is very pleasant indeed - nothing outrageous, just good repertoire sung lovingly.

 

I mentioned elsewhere on this board that Ernie Warrell used to let me go and play the organ at Southwark Cathedral when I was a young teenager. About fifteen years later, I managed to delude the examiners into giving me an ADCM. The King's choir, under Ernie, sang Evensong at the diploma giving at Lambeth Palace and it was very good to see him again.

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  • 10 years later...

Perhaps others would like to be aware of a biography of E. H. Warrell?

I saw a review of it 

http://drmarcsblog.marcrochester.com/2021/06/a-forgotten-life-remembered.html?m=1

I’ve found out where to source a copy and have been been told it’s short print run and sold out. I’ve been added to the waiting list for next run. Contact chriswarrell@talktalk.net to get added to his list.

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Thank you for posting this pointer to E H Warrell's Autobiography and Marc Rochester's review of it.  His appointment as Organist at Southwark Cathedral in 1968 was slightly less out of the blue than it would at first appear; he is listed in Wikipedia as the assistant between 1937-1954 although he would have been away on war duty for some of that period.

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I was privileged to have known Mr Warrell when reading physics at King's College London.  I refer to him rather formally because almost everybody seemed call him something different!  He was kind and welcoming to me, a mere amateur among many common oiks with whom he came into contact, even though there were a number of very good players mainly within the music and theological faculties.  As an undergraduate he tolerated me accompanying his lunchtime rehearsals of the King's Singers, and when I stayed on to do a PhD he let me have a key to the organ.  This fitted in well with my student-y working hours between getting in and going home very late.  In any case, it was virtually impossible to use the organ during the day without attracting howls of protest owing to its position above the Great Hall and below the medical faculty.  I still treasure memories of playing in the deserted chapel late in the evening when everyone else had gone home.  Well, not quite everyone, because an occasional visitor would sometimes creep into the gloom and listen.  Among them was the then-Dean, the Rev Canon Sydney Hall Evans (another nice man I might add).

Thank you, Ernie.

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  • 1 month later...

I finished reading the Warrell biography last night. I'd really recommend it whether you knew of him or not. It's a lot shorter than the Gedge or Guest biographies and it is more a general social history than very specific about the organ or choral scenes. The Marc Rochester review (link above) nails it. 

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  • 1 month later...

I was pleased to stumble across this thread.

I was flattered to meet E J Warrell when he graciously attended a recital I gave on the Harrison at St Mary's, Woolwich the year after he was appointed to Southwark. I remember him as an intelligent and mild-mannered man and sometimes wondered how he coped with the Mervyn Stockwood - perhaps Warrell was able to avoid him. I had left Woolwich by the time he arrived just around the corner in Deptford so regretfully, we did not meet again.

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8 hours ago, Cornet IV said:

...................................... sometimes wondered how he coped with the odious Mervyn Stockwood

I'm not sure this is the place for making unpleasant remarks about people who are now deceased.

Some of us have a very different memory of +Bishop Mervyn as a kind but forthright, pastoral Bishop. 

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On 09/11/2021 at 08:21, S_L said:

I'm not sure this is the place for making unpleasant remarks about people who are now deceased.

Some of us have a very different memory of +Bishop Mervyn as a kind but forthright, pastoral Bishop. 

I have been rapped over the knuckles by admin for this reference. 

My time in South London was a not an easy one and I have less than pleasant memories of some associations, but this should not have influenced the contents of my post.

It was never my intention to cause any distress; I shall be more circumspect in future and readily apologise to any whom I may have upset.

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