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Guest paul@trinitymusic.karoo.co.uk
One assumes the organist in question was at the organ.

 

Slight tangent, but lying awake in the small hours with a bad cough, set me thinking, when did the trend for the No.1 to conduct and the No.2 to accompany, start? 

 

 

This goes back, at the very least, to the early 1960's.

The results of some of the first 'downstairs' chiefs drew a lot of attention and approval. Early practitioners of this new art were

Stanley Vann at Peterborough

Willcocks at Kings

Guest at John's

Lumsden at New College Oxford

...some of the first places to take recordings really seriously.

 

Without disprespect to Stanley Vann, he was much more a choirmaster than an organist but this didn't hurt his career any! Meantime, people like Alwyn Surplice at Winchester and Douglas Guest at Westminster Abbey had their folks trained to the point where only a single finger from a choirman on each side seemed to be enough.

I fondly remember Alwyn Surplice in action - his psalm accompaniment was fascinating....and his conducting in procession had to be seen to be believed!

 

A sidelight on 'the old tradition' is the fact that in some prominent places the Sub Organists actually did very little. They used to assist with training - a bit of probationer development etc. and obviously any depping required. Must have been a bit of a shock when they finally got positions of their own.

 

However, I'm not sure if the situation now isn't worse.

 

Take the scenario of a first-rate player at 18 - they go somewhere at Oxbridge with a 'star' director, so quite possibly don't do any actual choir training (unless numero uno is off with the vapours or 'on tour'!). They proceed seamlessly to a sub position in a cathedral - could well be the same situation. The more ambitious ones usually form a rebel choir to get their hand in - voluntary singers, local Bach Choir that sort of thing. Those that are happy just playing..... wait five to ten years and they've suddenly got a cathedral choir of their own.

 

They know the repertoire backwards (having played it all many times at a very high standard) and they know how it should sound - but do they know anything about voices, personalities, power struggles in the stalls, negotiations with God's Chosen? Do they beep! A bit of a shock for some, don't you think? Mummy thought they were a little miracle, they were doted upon by one and all, then gently nurtured at private school, the sun always shone just where they stood....to suddenly find that there is something new to learn in public at the age of 25, something that cannot simply be waltzed through on musical ability alone! Further problem: one gets on as a no.2 by being charming, efficient, mild-natured - these are not necessarily the character traits that enable you to brave rougher waters further out from the shore. Ouch!

 

Don't think these rougher waters don't exist when you reach your top appointment. The late Dr.John Sanders was greatly appreciated and admired at Gloucester; you couldn't get more established and recognised. An extremely efficient and hard-working man with his choir highly trained, proficient and above all 'on top' of their work. His tales of the 'support' he received from above stood one's hairs on end. The saddest one that I can remember now concerned a BBC Wednesday Choral Evensong. The service went well, a number of new works received their first performances and the choir (and John S.) were on a high. Afterwards he received a ton of personal phonecalls of praise from friends and well-wishers in the profession. Following morning he was bawled out by the D&C 'How dare you represent our cathedral in such dreadful music?' You can't win.

 

How about this one? A new work had been commissioned for a Gloucester Three Choirs Festival from Malcolm Williamson. Didn't arrive! Couldn't be rehearsed. A partial score arrives a few days beforehand - all publicity having been 'in the machine for months' of course, the work can't be dropped from the programme. Williamson himself hanging around, chain-smoking (in the cathedral!) as JS has to sort out enough of what he has received for something to be performed!!

 

Anyone who sits in a comfortable chair thinking, 'if only I'd been a cathedral organist' - wake up and be grateful you're not! Sometimes it's not even one cherry, let alone a bowl of them.

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I fondly remember Alwyn Surplice in action - his psalm accompaniment was fascinating....and his conducting in procession had to be seen to be believed!

 

Alwyn Surplice was one of my predecessors at my current church (between the wars). Surprisingly, none of the current choir remember him - given that I have at least 2 members in their late eighties, this really is a surprise. As one of my choir members points out - I'm the last qualified organist to ever have held the post. Somehow I don't think it's meant as a compliment...

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They know the repertoire backwards (having played it all many times at a very high standard) and they know how it should sound - but do they know anything about voices, personalities, power struggles in the stalls, negotiations with God's Chosen? Do they beep!  A bit of a shock for some, don't you think?

 

 

His tales of the 'support' he received from above stood one's hairs on end. The saddest one that I can remember now concerned a BBC Wednesday Choral Evensong. The service went well, a number of new works received their first performances and the choir (and John S.) were on a high. Afterwards he received a ton of personal phonecalls of praise from friends and well-wishers in the profession. Following morning he was bawled out by the D&C 'How dare you represent our cathedral in such dreadful music?'  You can't win.

 

 

 

Anyone who sits in a comfortable chair thinking, 'if only I'd been a cathedral organist' - wake up and be grateful you're not!  Sometimes it's not even one cherry, let alone a bowl of them.

 

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

 

 

You could almost be describing me Paul!

 

I have no time whatsoever for training choirs, but I have done. I absolutely detest the politics, the in-fighting, most of the clergy and almost anything which calls itself "Anglican."

 

Much as I love animals, it could only have been an Anglican dog which left four holes in my leg, and a resident Anglican cat which spat at me and tried to remove my eyes.

 

In fact, if the truth be told, I don't like the RC church much, but I dislike it less than I dislike the C of E, so I can wander in, gaze around, and wonder what they're all up to; especially when more normal people are busy cooking or washing the car.

 

I guess I was never born to be religious, but oddly enough, I admire Christianity.

 

As for people smoking in church, Malcolm Williamson would have been hard-pushed to improve on a sight I saw in Holland, when the wife of "mine host" sat down in the church cafe at St.Lauren's, Alkmaar (located in the transept), ordered a coffee and then lit up a clay-pipe full of evil-smelling tobacco, as she chatted to the two young men sat at the next table holding hands, and reading a theological book by Boenhoffer!!!!!

 

MM

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Alwyn Surplice was one of my predecessors at my current church (between the wars). .... As one of my choir members points out - I'm the last qualified organist to ever have held the post. Somehow I don't think it's meant as a compliment...

 

 

Dear AJT

 

Could you perhaps explain this in rather more detail , since I cannot grasp the meaning from the words written. Whilst leastqualified would make sense , I am sure it is not true. I suppose "last qualified" could mean youngest. If it simply means that you are the most recently qualified, then it is hardly surprising for the current incumbent to be younger than his predeccesors, but how could that carry an uncomplimentary meaning ?

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Dear AJT

 

Could you perhaps explain this in rather more detail , since I cannot grasp the meaning from the words written. Whilst leastqualified would make sense , I am sure it is not true. I suppose "last qualified" could mean youngest. If it simply means that you are the most recently qualified, then it is hardly surprising for the current incumbent to be younger than his predeccesors, but how could that carry an uncomplimentary meaning ?

 

I happen to know he's away for a few days so I'll suggest he probably does mean least qualified - he has had some rather glittering predecessors. As I never tire of saying and he never tires of denying, that doesn't stop him being one of the best non-professional musicians (especially when it comes to choral conducting) you're ever likely to encounter - the display he put on for the church's 50th anniversary was nothing short of breathtaking. I bet none of his "qualified" predecessors could have got a scratch choir to sing Faire is the Heaven, I was glad and other large scale stuff to such a degree of perfection with an hour's rehearsal.

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I happen to know he's away for a few days so I'll suggest he probably does mean least qualified - he has had some rather glittering predecessors.  As I never tire of saying and he never tires of denying, that doesn't stop him being one of the best non-professional musicians (especially when it comes to choral conducting) you're ever likely to encounter - the display he put on for the church's 50th anniversary was nothing short of breathtaking.  I bet none of his "qualified" predecessors could have got a scratch choir to sing Faire is the Heaven, I was glad and other large scale stuff to such a degree of perfection with an hour's rehearsal.

 

 

For what it may be worth, I would like to affirm David's opinion.

 

Some months ago, Adrian was kind enough to send me some sound files of his choir singing various items of repertoire. I was deeply impressed by both the intonation and the dynamic range of the choir. Furthermore, the sense of ensemble was excellent.

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Dear AJT

 

Could you perhaps explain this in rather more detail , since I cannot grasp the meaning from the words written. Whilst leastqualified would make sense , I am sure it is not true. I suppose "last qualified" could mean youngest. If it simply means that you are the most recently qualified, then it is hardly surprising for the current incumbent to be younger than his predeccesors, but how could that carry an uncomplimentary meaning ?

 

Doh - I meant least... It was early. I think.

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Since Quentin Maclean has been a topic of discussion in the RCO thread I thought I'd post a story - possibly apochryphal, but then very possibly not - which proves that good music well played crosses all boundaries.

 

As you may/may not know, between 1930 and 1939 Maclean was organist at the vast Trocadero theatre, Elephant & Castle. Eyebrows were raised on his appointment as he in his previous posts as Brighton, Shepherds Bush and Marble Arch he had been presenting top notch music (including items from the classical organ repertoire and transcriptions of major orchestral works) to then relatively top-notch audiences - Shepherds Bush had a slightly different population demographic in those days!

 

Arriving at E & C, rather than play down to his audience of tough dockers, through his modest character, softly spoken verbal introductions, and thorough musicianship, he succeeded in raising their musical aspirations, taking a whole generation of South Londoners on a exploration of music which they otherwise would have been unlikely to have experienced. In turn his audience took him to their hearts and became very possessive of him. He was THEIR organist.

 

That's the background - the story - short that it is - goes like this. Somehow or other a quite well-turned-out young couple found their way south of the river one evening to see a film at the 'Troc'. In a minority of two, they were sat right in the middle of a throng of the aforementioned dockers. Having sat through the first part of the programme the time came for the interlude and up came Maclean on the Wurlitzer and began with a transcription of something fairly 'heavy' - history does not record what. The young couple took this as an opportunity to start talking. After a short while the burly Bermondsey docker sat in front of them turned around, grabbed the young man by the tie, pulled him up out of his seat, and said - fairly loudly - "Shut the f*** up, Mac's playing!"

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Who'd have thought it? Nice one, Stephen.

 

Here's one from Alan Mould's article ‘George Guest 1924-2004: A Tribute’ in Cathedral Music, April 2003:

 

"There was a little-publicised occasion when an exceptional bass candidate came to compete for a choral award, stating King’s as his first choice and St John’s as his second. That year St John’s examined in the morning. George was determined to ‘hook’ him and, with some connivance from the then dean, persuaded the young man to lunch with them. Two bottles of sherry and uncountable brandies later the poor man was capable of no more than being assisted onto a train at Cambridge station. King’s neither saw nor heard him. He proved an excellent St John’s choral student. It had been a good lunch."

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Guest Nigel ALLCOAT

My teacher at our cathedral told me once about the purchase by the organist of Christ Chuch Oxford, of the 32' Open Wood - that great range of pipes that once stood against the back wall of the Ante-Chapel and now (I believe) resides in Tewkesbury Abbey attached to the Grove organ.

 

Sir Henry Ley (for I am sure it was he), did not get on too well with the Dean of the day and the holy man was not particularly enamoured of organ music and especially loud organ music and thus, Sir Henry who made it (and who I was also told by my teacher, could use the Choir pistons with his tummy). The organ had been quite considerably enlarged but Sir Henry still lacked a 32' Open. He eventually talked around the Dean and assured him that this new and latest addition would be so soft yet so useful and all pervading. The purchase was reluctantly made by a begrudging Dean and Chapter.

 

The day the rank arrived in Oxford, the Dean happened to be walking in the great quad outside his Cathedral and met some of the pipes being carried towards the West Door. It was unfortunate that he had had a scant knowledge of music imparted in his Public School days, for he intercepted quite a considerable length of pipe (about 22 feet or so) that had stamped upon it FFF. The last the builders heard of the Dean as he stormed off in the direction of the Organists' abode was "He's done it again!"

 

Chuckle,

 

Best wishes,

Nigel

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Who'd have thought it? Nice one, Stephen.

 

 

 

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

 

Indeed!

 

Whatever the merits or demerits of cinema organists (some were quite dire) in the 1930's, it was they, and they alone, who made the organ popular in the minds of "ordinary" folk.

 

That's precisely why the BBC had a theatre-organ....sheer popular demand.

 

I wonder if anyone knows how much the top cinema-organists earned, and what that would equate as to-day?

 

:(

 

MM

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Since Quentin Maclean has been a topic of discussion in the RCO thread I thought I'd post a story - possibly apochryphal, but then very possibly not - which proves that good music well played crosses all boundaries.

 

 

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

 

Not quite Stephen!

 

Do you want to tell the story of Gerald Moore, or shall I?

 

(My lecture notes are buried in the loft somewhere!)

 

MM

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

 

 

Do you want to tell the story of Gerald Moore, or shall I?

 

 

MM

 

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

 

 

As Stephen hasn't come up with the goods, I guess he doesn't know the story about Gerlad Moore, the celebrated accompanist.

 

Now, it's avery long time since I read the book "Am I too loud?" (the biography of Gerlad Moore), and it is a good 12 years ago since I last included this in a lecture, but I'll try and recall the quote as best I can, with appropriate apologies if I get it too wrong.

 

Gerald Moore it seems, was a cinema organist for a little while, and in the book, he says someting on the lines of:-

 

"That instrument of torture, the cinema organ.......the best stop of all on this sordid box of tricks was the Vox Humana, which with the tremulant, produced a sound like the bleatings of a flock of sheep. I used it ad nauseum whenever I could, and never grew tired of it. You couldn't go far wrong with the Tremulant and the Vox Humana!"

 

I wonder what Cesar Franck and Cavaille-Coll would make of that?

 

MM

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

As Stephen hasn't come up with the goods, I guess he doesn't know the story about Gerlad Moore, the celebrated accompanist.

 

Now, it's  avery long time since I read the book "Am I too loud?" (the biography of Gerlad Moore), and it is a good 12 years ago since I last included this in a lecture, but I'll try and recall the quote as best I can, with appropriate apologies if I get it too wrong.

 

Gerald Moore it seems, was a cinema organist for a little while, and in the book, he says someting on the lines of:-

 

"That instrument of torture, the cinema organ.......the best stop of all on this sordid box of tricks was the Vox Humana, which with the tremulant, produced a sound like the bleatings of a flock of sheep. I used it ad nauseum whenever I could, and never grew tired of it. You couldn't go far wrong with the Tremulant and the Vox Humana!"

 

I wonder what Cesar Franck and Cavaille-Coll would make of that?

 

MM

 

Ah, yes - sorry I was trying to think what the story would have been. Mind you, I did say that good music, well played, crosses boundaries.

 

Well played in this context might possibly NOT include constant use of the Vox Humana and tremulant!!

 

:P

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Not strictly an organ story, but perhaps better told here than under "Michelin stars for vicars."

 

I knew an old clergymen who scrounged meals wherever he could, and one of his principal targets was the organist and his wife, who always made a fine Sunday Lunch.

 

The trick was to turn up to discuss "business" just as the meal was served, and which the vicar seemed to know with uncanny accuracy. Of course, being the good folk that they were, the vicar was always invited to stay for lunch; at least until the day the organist and the vicar fell out, and the organist told the vicar where to put his organ!

 

In any event, the vicar was something of a connoiseur when it came to food, and his pre-meal 'Grace' always reflect his appreciation for what was on offer.

 

If the food was something like a fish-pie with boiled potatoes, the vicar would put his hands together and say mournfully, "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful."

 

If the food emerged as a full Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding affair, the vicar would clasp his hands gleefully, and declare, "Oh most bountiful provider!"

 

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

 

Then there is the delightful story about the little girl, when the vicar called around to have lunch.

 

Anxious that they 'keep up appearences," the little girl's mother asked her to say 'Grace' before the meal, but couldn't remember the words her mother had tried to teach her.

 

"What do I say mummy?" The little girl asked.

 

"Just say what we I said yesterday," the mother told her.

 

The little girl clasped her hands and closed her eyes, then said, "Oh Christ, why does the vicar have to eat lunch with us on Sunday! Amen!"

 

MM

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  • 4 months later...
The story about GTB and Thiman reminds me of Sir Henry Wood's acquaintance H.C Tonking. Wood had organ lessons with him and thought very highly

of him. Tonking was organist at Westminster Chapel,Buckingham Gate.However he was dismissed and before the first Sunday his successor was to play,he got into the organ and made certain alterations. He took Wood with him to the Sunday service and was delighted when the unfortunate organist selected soft stops for his prelude and was rewarded with 16ft and 8ft reeds plus 8 ranks of mixtures! Tonking thought it hilarious but Wood told him waht he thought of such a low trick and never saw him again.

 

 

 

There's a good GTB story about how during a service the presiding minister announced "the organ will now play". Silence, GTB remained in his seat. The minister repeated: "The organ will now play". GTB responded, "Then let it!"

 

Peter

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  • 1 month later...

Quote - Slight tangent, but lying awake in the small hours with a bad cough, set me thinking, when did the trend for the No.1 to conduct and the No.2 to accompany, start? - unquote

 

I've come in slightly late on this thread and despite some careful coaching from my local cathedral organist I haven't yet mastered the art of managing quotes.

 

I think it is probably unlikely that one would find an earlier example of separate conducting and accompanying than that of Michael Howard at Ely (1953 - 1958). IMHO he, together with Sir David Willcocks, was one of the most influentail choirmasters of the latter half of the 20th century. His book "Thine adversaries roar" is one of the most interesting books that I have chanced upon in recent times; an "apologia" of the highest order and a fascinating insight into the mind of one of the most interesting characters of Anglican Church music. It's published by Gracewing Press 0 85244 530 X, and appears still to be available; don't miss it!

 

DRH

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  • 2 weeks later...

There is a story about a certain organist (long deceased) of Gloucester Cathedral that:

 

"....a singer from away with a good voice was asked to sing a solo anthem in the Cathedral, and for this purpose stood by the elbow of the organist. Stephen Jefferies, finding him trip in the performance, instead of helping him and setting him right, promptly rose from his seat and leaning over the gellery called aloud to the choir and to the whole congregation, "HE CAN'T SING IT!"....."

 

[stephen Jefferies was organist of Gloucester Cathedral 1682 - 1712/3. The organ at that time was in the south arch of the choir].

 

(Quoted from "Gloucester Cathedral Organ")

 

Dave

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