Change has been immense over the past forty years and, as organists, we often find the familiar has slipped away. The tradition of matins and evensong, once the mainstay of Anglican services, now only survives in the occasional oasis, and great hymn writers such as Cowper, Watts and Wesley have been superseded by the trite and prosaic. Rarely now do we hear the music of Dr Edward Hopkins, organist of Temple Church, set to evocative candle-lit hymns like “Saviour, again to Thy dear Name we raise”, with the opening line of its emotive third verse: “Grant us Thy peace, Lord, through the coming night”. A hymn once sung at the close of evensong, followed by Cardinal Newman’s prayer: “Till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over and our work is done”.
The 1960s seem to have been a turning point. Was it, perhaps, the fault of Dr Beeching who so disliked railways and viewed steam engines with disdain? Those titans of steam, heraldic beasts, their fires mercilessly extinguished, left abandoned to languish in silent rusting graveyards.
Schools were not exempt from this wave of modernity; big was beautiful during the 1960s. Small village schools were closed in droves, no longer deemed suitable for the modern age. We were reminded of this when we visited Ash and Wingham, near Canterbury, last October. Ash village school had been a victim of these closures and, although the fine Victorian buildings remain outwardly unchanged, they no longer echo to the sound of children’s voices, as they now provide a home for the organ works of F H Browne & Sons. The organs and organ paraphernalia were fascinating and the old school hall is large enough to house and build complete organs. The classroom section is used as a pipe store, with countless ranks of pipes carefully stacked in racks. This is where the pipes are “voiced”, demonstrated for us by Roger Greensted on his voicing machine. This captivating afternoon concluded with tea and evensong at the historic church of St Mary’s, Wingham.
November’s visit to Shorne and Higham, in north Kent, was no less intriguing with the organ at Shorne by a builder quite unknown to any of us. It was built by T Hopkins & Hepworth of York in 1880 and members greatly enjoyed playing it; regretfully, this did not extend to the Father Willis at Higham which did not inspire confidence, gravely hampered by its poor tuning and regulation.
However, September’s Buffet Supper at Allington was a very pleasant evening and we must thank our President for arranging it and Rosemary and Christopher Clemence for their slide show entertainment. This January’s meeting at Bearsted was certainly a full and interesting afternoon and, although a detailed report will follow in our next Journal, we must thank Peter Hart for his playing and arranging this for us. Interestingly, his profile features in this edition. This summer undoubtedly offers some stimulating meetings, especially our outing to Brentwood and Chelmsford Cathedrals in June, although our Organ Festival day on 16th May will surely be the highlight of the year with a recital given by Margaret Phillips FRCO.
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