Jump to content
Mander Organ Builders Forum

Length Of Tenure For Organists


Recommended Posts

There are some organists and choir masters who have remained in the same post for a considerable length of time. These include Paul Morgan (Exeter Cathedral), John Scott Whiteley (York Minster), Stephen Cleobury (King's, Cambridge), Stephen Darlington (Christchurch, Oxford), James Lancelot (Durham), Alan Thurlow (Chichester), Ian Tracey (Liverpool).

 

A question that I have long mulled over without coming to any conclusions one way or the other is this. Is a lengthy tenure for an organist or choirmaster good or bad (i) for him and (ii) the institution where he works?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm too tired to answer this intelligently tonight - mainly thanks to my favourite distillery - but surely there's no simple answer to this?

 

As far as the individual goes, who can see into another's mind? Who of us has the right to decide what is good or bad for someone? Suffice it to say that the names you mention don't confine their activities to the edifices in which they earn their daily crust. Maybe that's enough to stop them getting into a rut.

 

As for the institutions, the same thing goes. Musically, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. But is it just about music? An organist or choirmaster may have much to offer an institution apart from his musical abilities.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't recall hearing that the musical tradition at St Sulpice suffered from Widor and Dupré between them occupying the organ bench for a century ...

 

Perhaps it's inappropriate to equate the situation in France with that in England, but I suspect not. Ultimately, I think that it must be a "horses for courses" approach. If the church or institution is happy with the continued standard and doesn't feel the need for a move, and the organist / director of music is of the same mind, then change for its own sake would surely be a risky step.

 

Rgds,

MJF

Link to comment
Share on other sites

All good points. The time always does come to move on though, whether through promotion or ill health or whatever. At that point, the most important thing is for the departed to have the professionalism, good grace and courtesy to stay away and not haunt the place.

 

For instance, the great Richard Seal at Salisbury wouldn't set foot in the cathedral for at least year after his very long tenure, possibly longer. I have heard other examples from friends where this is far from being the case, and therefore (however inadvertantly or unintended or possibly even unrealised) the new team have faced terrible difficulty in being accepted, as a result of the old familiar faces being so much in evidence.

 

Without such a break, there's not only the obvious additional pressure on the incomer, there's also often a psychological barrier for members of choirs especially as well as congregations to accept the new authority. Such barriers can be hard to identify (as being seperate from normal resistance to change) and even more difficult to break down whilst retaining both control and musical integrity. It can also make the job much harder to fill next time round.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A question that I have long mulled over without coming to any conclusions one way or the other is this. Is a lengthy tenure for an organist or choirmaster good or bad (i) for him and (ii) the institution where he works?

 

 

This is a question in the same category as "how long is a piece of string" in other words it does not have an answer in the form in which it is put. It requires much more contextual information. That provided, you might quite confidently assert that institution X would indeed be blessed if its incumbent emulated Vierne's method of departure at the first available opportunity, while institution Y's DoM is still going strong after 50 years and providing satisfaction to almost everybody (100% success rate is an unrealistic target to set !!).

 

As another contributor has hinted there is the problem of the individual whose failing powers are manifest to everyone but himself but that problem is spread across almost all human activity , and it does not seem to me that there is any special feature which applies only to the context of a church DoM. At the end of the day someone, hopefully with tact and sympathy, has to break the bad news: a task that is rarely easy and seldom actively sought except by those whose personalities show a liking for inflicting pain which makes others consider them unsuitable candidates for caring jobs !

 

BAC

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't recall hearing that the musical tradition at St Sulpice suffered from Widor and Dupré between them occupying the organ bench for a century ...

 

Perhaps it's inappropriate to equate the situation in France with that in England, but I suspect not.  Ultimately, I think that it must be a "horses for courses" approach.  If the church or institution is happy with the continued standard and doesn't feel the need for a move, and the organist / director of music is of the same mind, then change for its own sake would surely be a risky step.

 

Rgds,

MJF

 

I agree. For English examples one might think of GTB at the Temple Church, Harold Darke at St Michael's, Cornhill, or Heathcote Statham at Norwich.

 

And of course one must be both beware of Ageism and alive to the fact that in the future people will be expected to carry on working past what is now the conventional retirement date of 65.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is a question in the same category as "how long is a piece of string" in other words it does not have an answer in the form in which it is put. It requires much more contextual information. That provided, you might quite confidently assert that institution X would indeed be  blessed if its incumbent emulated Vierne's method of departure at the first available opportunity, while institution Y's DoM is still going strong after 50 years and providing satisfaction to almost everybody (100% success rate is an unrealistic target to set !!).

 

As another contributor has hinted there is the problem of the individual whose failing powers are manifest to everyone but himself but that problem is spread across almost all human activity , and it does not seem to me that there is any special feature which applies only to the context of a church DoM. At the end of the day someone, hopefully with tact and sympathy, has to break the bad news: a task that is rarely easy and seldom actively sought except by those whose personalities show a liking for inflicting pain which makes others consider them unsuitable candidates for caring jobs !

 

BAC

 

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

 

 

I find myself wondering if "length of tenure" really has any relevance in an age of instant gratification, recorded music and changing fashions.

 

I cannot speak with any great authority; having largely dropped out of church-music (except purely as an organist) many years ago. Witnessing what happened to church-music, I saw the work of generations eroded; both in education and in the church.

 

First came the alarm-bells of dwindling numbers, followed by a more "relevant" movement towards people-friendly music. Like a Tsunami, the beach dried out, and what came next was not very constructive, as the wave of "new" music swept in.

 

The fact that the tsunami swept in and largely overwhelmed everything in its path, but then stopped when it reached the great cathedrals, leaves us to contemplate the very different survival techniques of the beachcomber and the traditional farmer.

 

In a strangely perverse way, I actually regret that the tsunami wasn't quite powerful enough to overwhelm the cathedrals (though God knows, they got their feet wet at Bradford). Instead, the cathedrals (and a few red-cassock churches) continue to plough the soil of their tradition as if nothing had happened, whilst the rest of us were left to make a meal out of washed up baked-beans, a couple of dead fish and sun-dried sea-weed.

 

It isn't that the cathedrals are really ivory-towers, it's just that the other towers were all knocked down in the flood.

 

Meanwhile, the beach churches are actually emptier than they ever were, for the simple reason that a choral-tradition at least ensured a congregation measured in double-figures. In most churches, Evensong died out when the music was swept away.

 

I could write for days about the urban-myth of "modernity," as well as the whimpering whirlwind of "revival," but frankly, I can't be bothered. If the original claim was that the church was only speaking to the older generations, they were at least alive and often had a knowing-twinkle in their eyes. After all, these were the people who survived a war and near stravation, but still found time to sing their praises.

 

Back on the beach, above the high-water mark, they're building sand-castles you know, but they forget the corrosive effects of rain and wind.

 

It seems obvious to me, that without proper foundations there can be no security, and without security, there can be no longevity of tenure.

 

Meanwhile, the odd Archbishop sends envoys to America, carrying buckets and spades.

 

I suppose that, in a few years, we will have a new style of music-management in churches, where the cassock and surplice is replaced by someone vaguely resembling Peter Stringfellow.

 

"Great song kids! Don't call us, we'll call you!"

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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

I find myself wondering if "length of tenure" really has any relevance in an age of instant gratification, recorded music and changing fashions.

 

I cannot speak with any great authority; having largely dropped out of church-music (except purely as an organist) many years ago. Witnessing what happened to church-music, I saw the work of generations eroded; both in education and in the church.

 

First came the alarm-bells of dwindling numbers, followed by a more "relevant" movement towards people-friendly music. Like a Tsunami, the beach dried out, and what came next was not very constructive, as the wave of "new" music swept in.

 

The fact that the tsunami swept in and largely overwhelmed everything in its path, but then stopped when it reached the great cathedrals, leaves us to contemplate the very different survival techniques of the beachcomber and the traditional farmer.

 

In a strangely perverse way, I actually regret that the tsunami wasn't quite powerful enough to overwhelm the cathedrals (though God knows, they got their feet wet at Bradford). Instead, the cathedrals (and a few red-cassock churches) continue to plough the soil of their tradition as if nothing had happened, whilst the rest of us were left to make a meal out of washed up baked-beans, a couple of dead fish and sun-dried sea-weed.

 

It isn't that the cathedrals are really ivory-towers, it's just that the other towers were all knocked down in the flood.

 

Meanwhile, the beach churches are actually emptier than they ever were, for the simple reason that a choral-tradition at least ensured a congregation measured in double-figures. In most churches, Evensong died out when the music was swept away.

 

I could write for days about the urban-myth of "modernity,"  as well as the whimpering whirlwind of "revival," but frankly, I can't be bothered. If the original claim was that the church was only speaking to the older generations, they were at least alive and often had a knowing-twinkle in their eyes. After all, these were the people who survived a war and near stravation, but still found time to sing their praises.

 

Back on the beach, above the high-water mark, they're building sand-castles you know, but they forget the corrosive effects of rain and wind.

 

It seems obvious to me, that without proper foundations there can be no security, and without security, there can be no longevity of tenure.

 

Meanwhile, the odd Archbishop sends envoys to America, carrying buckets and spades.

 

I suppose that, in a few years, we will have a new style of music-management in churches, where the cassock and surplice is replaced by someone vaguely resembling Peter Stringfellow.

 

"Great song kids!  Don't call us, we'll call you!"

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I couldn't agree with MM more. We have ended up doing music for the kids yet they hardly turn up for anything other than the "youff" services leaving us singing Happy C**p :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I couldn't agree with MM more.  We have ended up doing music for the kids yet they hardly turn up for anything other than the "youff" services leaving us singing Happy C**p  :P
Which calls into question why the common or garden worship style music is now so prevalent in most Anglican churches (in my area at any rate) and who exactly it is for. Heaven knows, it's style has little or no relevance to today's youth. Most older church-goers I know don't really enjoy it much and would prefer the traditional hymns/settings/etc. I'm left with the impression that the only ones who like it are a comparative few who are unable to appreciate classical church music.

 

But I could be way out. I once had a landlady who thought all classical music was "dirge-like" (even Mozart symphonies) and I guess that's not an uncommon view. Can't have that in today's church, can we? But, as has been said before, it's not the style of music that fills (or empties) churches, but the quality of the minister. Appreciation of classical music among the general public is low, but I don't believe people stay away from church because of that. It is quite possible for appreciation to come with continual exposure.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At the parish level I would say that as long as the organist/choir trainer is capable, then a long tenure is a good thing. It's hard enough to find anyone to fill posts these days, so keep them if you've got them :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree. For English examples one might think of GTB at the Temple Church...

 

I agree to an extent; although apparently GTB should have gone before he did - he occasionally began playing items during the said parts of the service and had to be asked to wait.

 

Sadly, he did begin to lose his faculties towards the end of his very long and incredible life. It was perhaps a shame that he did not decide to retire whilst he was still renowned for his superb playing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree to an extent; although apparently GTB should have gone before he did - he occasionally began playing items during the said parts of the service and had to be asked to wait.

 

Sadly, he did begin to lose his faculties towards the end of his very long and incredible life. It was perhaps a shame that he did not decide to retire whilst he was still renowned for his superb playing.

 

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

 

 

GTB was an amazing organist certainly, and the only time I heard him was when he gave a recital in the north at the age of around 90, and played the Reubke Sonata quite brilliantly.

 

My only other brush with the great man was inside the Temple Church, and oddly enough, we ended up chatting about racing-cars and his days driving an ERA around Brooklands; one of his team-mates being Billy Cotton, the band-leader.

 

It was similar to meeting the late Cecil Clutton, when all we talked about was Bugatti sports-cars.

 

I treasure those memories, because there aren't too many organists who can do that, whereas many play the Reubke.

 

MM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are some organists and choir masters who have remained in the same post for a considerable length of time. These include Paul Morgan (Exeter Cathedral), John Scott Whiteley (York Minster), Stephen Cleobury (King's, Cambridge), Stephen Darlington (Christchurch, Oxford), James Lancelot (Durham), Alan Thurlow (Chichester), Ian Tracey (Liverpool).

 

A question that I have long mulled over without coming to any conclusions one way or the other is this. Is a lengthy tenure for an organist or choirmaster good or bad (i) for him and (ii) the institution where he works?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You might have to go a long way to beat Dr Harry Moreton, who was organist of St Andrew's, Plymouth, for the 74 years from 1884 to 1958 (having previously been an articled pupil and, for a spell, sub-organist at Winchester Cathedral). Moreton was succeeded by his assistant (and pupil) Philip Liddicoat, who served for 33 years. That's just two organists in 107 years!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

F G Ormond was organist a Truro for 41 years. This was before the console was moved to its present position and required a two min walk up a spiral staircase. Sounds like hard work to me, not to mention getting dizzy. :D

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here at Saffron Walden, our assistant organist - Cyril Coe died on Easter Day, having been at the post for a few months short of 60 years. He was a very quiet man, but superb musician who could play virtually anything from sight.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm beginning to incline towards the view that an incumbent organist can stay for too long in one post. I know the usual response to this is to trot out the names of people such as George Thalben-Ball, F G Ormond, George Guest etc. but I just can't help feeling that after so many years in the same post they had become jaded and set in their ways.

 

I think David Hill had the right idea in moving on from Winchester after 15 years, taking a year off and then facing a fresh challenge at St John's College, Cambridge. I just think it keeps things fresh, for both organists and the instutions involved.

 

Mind you, having said that, I listened last night to Hill's first CD with the St John's choir of Sacred Choral Music by Mendelssohn and was bored rigid by it. :P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I just can't help feeling that after so many years in the same post they had become jaded and set in their ways.
Goodness, I'm sure a lot of cathedral organists don't need to stay in a post for many years in order to become jaded!
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Mind you, having said that, I listened last night to Hill's first CD with the St John's choir of Sacred Choral Music by Mendelssohn and was bored rigid by it.  :P

 

Was that down to the material on the disk or the quality of singing/directorship?

 

I tend to find any cd (choral or organ) with music by a singular composer leaves me bored too. There are a few exceptions to this, one is a Winchester/Hill cd of music by Gibbons, it’s fantastic.

 

:P

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm beginning to incline towards the view that an incumbent organist can stay for too long in one post. I know the usual response to this is to trot out the names of people such as George Thalben-Ball, F G Ormond, George Guest etc. but I just can't help feeling that after so many years in the same post they had become jaded and set in their ways.

 

I think David Hill had the right idea in moving on from Winchester after 15 years, taking a year off and then facing a fresh challenge at St John's College, Cambridge. I just think it keeps things fresh, for both organists and the instutions involved.

 

Mind you, having said that, I listened last night to Hill's first CD with the St John's choir of Sacred Choral Music by Mendelssohn and was bored rigid by it.  :P

Jeremy - I was going to keep well away from this one...but while it's true that a spell away from cathedral music might be an option for some, DH (for whom I have the utmost admiration and respect, having been his assistant - he's a thoroughly nice, modest bloke and is a joy to work for in every way) is hardly your average cathedral organist; not many have his range of freelance options to pursue, and his diary was already packed with outside conducting engagements when he left Winchester - it is still is, and rightly so. The other aspect of all this is that people can only move to new pastures when they become available; in recent years the progression through the profession has become a much less predictable thing than it ever used to be. So 'keeping it fresh' is not quite the straightforward situation some might imagine it to be, and while taking a break from it seems the obvious solution, even cathedral organists have to eat...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...