Kent County Organists’ Association
February 2011 Journal
The articles on this page are in the order published in the paper edition of the Journal
To go to a specific article click on the alphabetical list of contents below
All Saints’ Maidstone Lunchtime Concerts 2010
Dr Allan Wicks CBE 1923-2010
Dr Kenneth and Grace Somer
Finchcocks Musical Museum
Notes from the
The Organ Festival 2010
Salomons’ Welte Organ & Southborough, St Thomas
The IAO Congress 2010
Wittersham St. John and Dr David Flood
Time and technology move on at an alarming pace. For example, the printing equipment used to produce our Journal has changed dramatically in the past few years, now requiring the Journal to be supplied to the printer in a fully digital format. Our cover design and picture has, until now, continued to reflect earlier manual printing techniques, but this Journal’s cover has broken with tradition to give full prominence to Gary Tollerfield’s cover photograph of Arundel Cathedral as, regrettably, he is standing down as our resident photographer and this will be his last picture. What has never changed, however, is the quality of Gary’s work, with the carefully crafted photographic prints he has provided for KCOA publications for over thirty-five years. His service to our Association is incalculable and we include a special tribute to his years of support in this Journal.
We are fortunate to have a reassuring and hard working committee who arranged some most enjoyable and intriguing meetings last year. The meeting at Wittersham in September was an addition to our normal programme, but with a recital by Dr David Flood, this was a special occasion. Our President, Kevin Grafton, has been tireless in arranging some fascinating meetings: Tunbridge Wells, Salomons’ Welte organ visit in November and the September Buffet Supper, in particular.
Our Organ Festival, at All Saints’ Church, Maidstone on the 30 October last year was a great success, with seven contestants, allowing all the categories to be filled and, of course, Dr David Flood adjudicating in his usual unique way. We are indebted to Barbara Childs for her unceasing work in bringing, finally, the 2010 Festival to fruition, following the disappointing response in May when it was regrettably postponed.
We are also greatly indebted to our member, Nicholas King, for his in-depth article on Allan Wicks’ life, work and his time at Canterbury; an absorbing piece we were unable to publish in our last Journal owing to lack of space. In our regular ‘short profile’ column we feature Dr Kenneth Somer, together with his wife Grace, who provide some fascinating reading. Kenneth particularly remembers hearing George Thalben-Ball performing, at his very best, in 1949; Marcel Dupré at the Royal Albert Hall in 1950; and Helmut Walcha at the organ of the ‘new’ Royal Festival Hall.
We, of course, unreservedly value and encourage all our members. Nevertheless, as we have already mentioned, time moves on with prodigious haste and our membership moves irrevocably with it, making it incumbent upon us all to explore and foster new members, for without the injection of new blood our Association will eventually cease to pursue new activities resulting in atrophy and decline.
On a lighter note, when have we ever seen an organ fashioned from chocolate cake and green icing? Ian Payne’s wedding, last August, sported a wedding cake replica of the William Hill organ of St Michael’s Church, Sittingbourne where he and Andrea were married.
Reposing on the picturesque Isle of Oxney, the village of Wittersham has retained its attractive unspoilt charm; this, and an invitation to the inaugural recital on the recently restored organ of St John’s Parish Church, by Dr David Flood, was a welcome addition to our normal meetings schedule.
The afternoon’s KCOA preview of the organ on 4 September, by St John’s organist, David Holloway, was arranged to allow time for a good tea, a talk and a slide show in the village hall by church member, David Fletcher. This revealed much of Wittersham’s history dating from Saxon times; but most intriguingly, the quite astonishing topographical changes which have taken place around the Isle of Oxney over many centuries, bringing dramatic changes to Wittersham and the lives of its people.
However, the recently restored organ, by Hele & Co of Exeter & Plymouth, at St John’s Parish Church, was originally built for a Methodist church in Plymouth and dates from the late Victorian period. The organ came to Wittersham in 1965 and was squeezed into the claustrophobic low-roofed south aisle, requiring many of its longer pipes to be cruelly mitred. However its tracker action was retained, together with its pneumatic Pedal actions.
After many years’ service, with nothing but normal tuning, the instrument was desperately in need of cleaning and a full overhaul and, whilst dismantled, the opportunity was taken to electrify the pedal stops and make some additions. With assistance from Giles Ridley at the console, David Holloway demonstrated the new 8ft Pedal principal and 8ft flute; also the new Great trumpet 8ft, which is also playable at 8ft on the Pedal. The specification is now: Great Organ, 8 8 8 4 4 22/3 2 8; Swell Organ, 16 8 8 8 8 4 2 11 8 8; Pedal Organ, 16 16 8 8 8, with usual couplers. The manual tracker action has remained unchanged, including the six mechanical pedal combination pedals, three for each department. Before tea, members were able to try the organ for themselves, finding a pleasant late 19th century tonal warmth and colour, now supplemented by the new Pedal principal, flute and Great trumpet which provide an additional clarity and focus.
Following tea we found the church quickly filling with a near capacity audience, concert-goers delivering much needed funds for the organ work. Dr David Flood’s recital programme was well chosen for this assembled local audience, with many familiar pieces. Opening with Henry Purcell’s Trumpet Tune and Air, David could not fail to engage with his audience, even though the treble ‘D’ of the new trumpet had slipped wildly out of tune. With his usual charm, David explained that as the trumpet was new it would take a little time to settle and this was not in any way indicative of poor workmanship. He continued with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat (St Anne) BWV552 followed by Chorale Prelude on Schmücke dich. The first half of the recital continued stirringly with Pièce Héroïque by Franck and concluded with Nun danket alle Gott by Karg-Elert.
David Holloway and Dr.
Photo C Jilks
During the interval, with an appreciative audience exuding much bubble and excitement, wine and canapés were served adding to the pleasant atmosphere, allowing time for the organ tuners from Brownes of Canterbury to climb into the organ to attend to the Great trumpet tuning. The second half of David’s recital was no less engaging, starting with Flor Peeters’ Ave Maris Stella, followed by Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4, delivered in full patriotic style. A deftly singing Tuba Tune by C S Lang was followed by Suite for a musical clock by Haydn, with a flawless Toccata from Symphony V in F by Widor, providing a stunning recital climax.
Dr Flood had captivatingly demonstrated the organ’s wide variety of tonal colours and textures and, with fulsome applause, an encore was a must and David willingly responded with Sortie in E flat by Lefébure-Wély. All was well until about half way through this ebullient piece, when the organ’s trumpet stop cyphered. David, the consummate professional, hardly missed a beat, clearing the wayward stop and continuing to a full organ finish. Possibly, many in the audience were quite unaware of the technical hitch and the Wittersham parishioners, as well as our twenty or so KCOA members, were extravagantly warm in their applause at the end of a very fine recital.
Dr David Flood is always a delight, his introductions and playing exhibiting his captivating articulation and musical fluidity. We must thank him for such an entertaining recital, and also David Holloway for inviting us and arranging such an enthralling afternoon and evening.
Gone are the days of the once familiar village hall with its draughty corrugated roof and rough-hewn timbered walls adorned with Boy Scouts’ knots, woggles and badges, watched over by a benevolent Coronation-robed Monarch, patriotically pictured as a just and right reminder of one’s duty to God and the Queen.
Visiting the new church centre at St Bartholomew’s Church, Otford for our Buffet Supper last 25 September was an altogether different experience, with its swish automatic sliding doors and state-of–the–art facilities. After a recent visit in the summer, St Bartholomew’s has become comfortably familiar and on arrival we found the main reception room beautifully arranged with tables laid for the expected thirty-eight members and guests.
We are most grateful to our President, Kevin Grafton and his wife Sylvia, for arranging the evening for us. As well as arranging the room and table places, they had also selected and organized the buffet, provided by Rafferty’s, a local restaurant. The quite exotic options included: Whole leg of ham, glazed with honey and sweet soy reduction; baked line-caught salmon with lemon caper and dill salsa; roasted whole lemon chicken with roasted vegetable medley; and vegetarian moussaka, all with accompanying salads. Puddings included: Carrot cake; Blueberry cream cake; Pavlova and cheese board.
Following coffee, Kevin had thoughtfully arranged a quiz, with entertainingly devilish “name the composer and the piece” questions, which, alas, proved difficult as only the first chord of each piece of was played. Nevertheless, as the game progressed, more complete excerpts were revealed, making things perhaps a little less daunting for those seated some distance from the small transistor tape player. However, it was an engaging addition to the evening and Andrew Cesana proved to be the most knowledgeable amongst us, winning the quiz and a box of chocolates.
As tradition dictates, no Buffet Supper would be complete without a raffle, and with the magnanimous benevolence of the committee in donating the prizes, and members purchasing tickets with a singular alacrity, the princely sum of £94.00 was raised for association funds, resulting in a total surplus of £114.00 over costs for the evening.
Nevertheless, as shades lengthen and with passing years, our knots and woggles will have become understandably rusty; but Otford’s church centre, with its innovative contemporary facilities, had provided an excellent venue for our bi-annual Buffet Supper and we thank Kevin and Sylvia for arranging and inviting us to this successful evening.
With seven entrants for our 2010 Organ Festival at All Saints’ Church, Maidstone on 30 October, each of the four Festival categories of: Elementary; Intermediate; Advanced; and Open were fully represented. Once again we were most grateful to Dr David Flood, Canterbury Cathedral’s Organist and Master of the Choristers, for agreeing to adjudicate and Margaret Phillips, our Patron, for her generous support and in entering two of her students for the Festival.
Dr Flood deployed his peerless musical skills in a forensic analysis of the performances, but, as always, wrapped in his erudite allure ensuring the afternoon was an enjoyable Master Class, not only for the contestants, but for us all.
The entrants for the Elementary class were Martin Hau and Simon Lindley. Martin is from Hong Kong, although he now studies at Ashford School where he has organ lessons with Janet Hughes, learning for six just months. Simon is from Orpington, attending the sixth form at Ravens Wood School, Bromley, and is tutored by Gary Sieling at Bromley Parish Church, where he has just been appointed organ scholar.
The Intermediate class candidates were William Fairbairn and Guy Steed. William is a music scholar at King’s School Canterbury and was a chorister at Westminster Abbey; he also plays the piano and bassoon. Guy is fourteen years old and attends St Edmund’s School, Canterbury. He was a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral for five years and also plays the piano and harp.
The Advanced class also attracted two entrants: Michal Bryks and Evelyn Tinker. Michal was born in Rzeszow, Poland, where he studied piano for six years before joining the organ class. He came to the UK in 2007 studying under Michael Wynne at St Mary’s Cathedral, Warrington, then at St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh under Duncan Ferguson. He is now at the Royal College of Music under Margaret Phillips. Evelyn is 19 years old and started organ lessons with her father at the age of ten. She has since attained her ARCO Diploma and a distinction in an advanced diploma in piano performance from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. She was the first Jennifer Bate Organ Scholar at St Catherine’s School, Bramley in association with Guildford Cathedral, where she frequently accompanied services. She has been studying at the Royal College of Music with Margaret Phillips, but is now studying for a degree in Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics.
The Open class was contested by three candidates: Michal Bryks, Evelyn Tinker and Matthew Nicholls who is aged 12 and is also studying at Ashford School under Janet Hughes, and has been learning for just six months.
The Festival syllabus was set by Dr Flood and the pieces for the Elementary section were, Prelude in F (Short preludes and fugues) BWV 556 by J S Bach and Aria by F Peeters. Martin Hau opened the Festival with a musical performance of the Bach, although nervous hesitations caused a few interruptions to the music’s rhythmic flow. The Aria by F Peeters displayed a fluent Swell reed solo, well balanced against a choir organ accompaniment; regrettably a hint of nerves again intruded and there were some pedal mistakes. Simon Lindley’s Bach showed a confident musical performance, with manual changes adding colour and interest. His Peeters’ Aria was engaging, if a little rushed, with the accompaniment perhaps slightly unsteady in tempo; registration changes and use of the organ was well considered.
The music for the Intermediate class was: Little prelude and fugue in E minor BWV 533 by J S Bach and Whitlock’s Fidelis from Four Improvisations. William Fairbairn’s Bach set off at a comfortable speed with clear articulation and clean registration; there was well controlled playing in the Whitlock with musically phrased solo passages. Guy Steed’s Bach used telling registrations with a good musical start, although a few hesitations disrupted the flow; his Whitlock had good phrasing with hushed Swell strings under singing solos.
The Advanced class was, as expected, more demanding with J S Bach’s Fugue in A minor BWV543 and C Franck’s Cantabile. Michal Bryks played first, his Bach demonstrating a mature insight into phrasing, musical clarity of parts and registration. His Cantabile showed generous phrasing and musical flow with full use of registration, although stop changes sometimes impeded the music’s rhythms; nevertheless, exciting crescendos and diminuendos were produced with clear articulation throughout with intelligent use of the organ. Evelyn Tinker set off with a stunning musicality in her Bach, beautifully clear part playing using distinctive registrations, including a telling pedal reed, and changes of colour in the manuals sections. Franck’s Cantabile brought warm flowing melodies, evolving musical phrases with exciting crescendos all produced with engaging registrations, which regrettably caused a slight musical hiatus with a piston mix up in one spot; nevertheless, Evelyn remained completely unfazed, continuing with a fine performance.
Before the final Open section, where the music is chosen by the individual candidates, played using only the softer stops of the organ, Dr Flood announced the winners of the set syllabus sections together with his helpful and encouraging observations and analysis of the candidates’ performance. We had listened to nearly ninety minutes of enjoyable music where all the candidates had played well, and with some so evenly matched, his choice of winner, he suggested, might not coincide with the thoughts of others. However, the winner of the Elementary section, and a cheque for £100, was Simon Lindley. The Intermediate section, and a cheque for £150, was won by Guy Steed with the award of £200 for the Advanced section deservedly won by Evelyn Tinker, a young musician of outstanding musical ability and promise.
Before the cheques were presented we heard three candidates play in the Open section. Michal Bryks played Elegie by Louis Vierne, with an articulate and musical performance. Matthew Nicholls, who had waited so patiently to perform, played Zu Bethlehem geboren by Helmut Walcha, a simple piece, but beautifully played. Finally Evelyn Tinker played Pastorale by Peter Racine Fricker with clear articulation and gently flowing melodic phrasing. Evelyn Tinker was the winner of this section with an award of £100.
There were also two £50 awards for the two most promising students and they were Michal Bryks and Matthew Nicholls.
(Left to right) Michal Bryks,
Martin Hau, Guy Steed, William Fairbairn, Evelyn Tinker,
Matthew Nicholls, Simon Lindley, Dr. David Flood
Photo C Jilks
This had been an enthralling afternoon for the KCOA and the candidates, an afternoon which had started in Maidstone Baptist Church, with its, reputedly, 1851 Great Exhibition organ, enthusiastically described by their organist, Lucy Prior and demonstrated by Andrew Cesana.
Maidstone Baptist 1851
Photo C Jilks
Tea provided for us at All Saints’ by Elizabeth Marchant and her helpers, was of the highest order, with a fine selection of sandwiches, scones and delicious cakes. We must thank Elizabeth and Lionel Marchant for ensuring all ran smoothly, and also the Festival committee for all their tremendous work in bringing this successful 2010 Festival to fruition.
There are organ purists who harbour an undeniable antipathy towards organs with pneumatic actions, and to whom an instrument activated by a perforated paper roll would be a complete anathema: but, they are misguided. The Welte organ, installed in 1914 at David Lionel Salomons’ house in Tunbridge Wells, ably demonstrates what extraordinary wonders can be achieved, as witnessed on our visit last 27 November.
The Salomons’ family history is well documented. Sir David Salomons was both Sheriff of the County of Kent and Lord Mayor of London; on his death, in 1873, his nephew, David Lionel Salomons, inherited his title and estate. David Lionel was both practical and intellectual with particular interest in science. His house, the first in the country to use electric lighting, incorporated a science theatre which has housed three organs, the last, and most significant, the Welte Philharmonic reproducing pipe organ. This can be played conventionally from its 3-manual and pedal console, its ‘Orchestrion’ paper rolls, and recorded ‘Philharmonic’ rolls, which faithfully reproduce live performances recorded by eminent organists of the day.
Welte 'Philharmonic' Organ
Photo C Jilks
Before sound recording had matured, keyboard musicians of the late Victorian and Edwardian period could make recordings on punched paper rolls on specially adapted ‘player’ recording pianos. Welte’s Philharmonic organ was also able to achieve this using a sophisticated paper roll pneumatic mechanism similar to that used in player pianos, and the first piece we heard on the Welte organ was Grand Chœur Dialogué played by the composer himself, Professor Eugène Gigout. This was a revelation, with the Welte organ reproducing the original tempo, phrasing and dynamics. The organ’s warm Edwardian voicing filled the theatre, with its rich diapasons, keen strings and tubby flutes, all topped with colourful crisp reeds, recreating Professor Gigout’s unhurried playing, imbued with telling phrasing and gentle rubato. Following this, Kate Wright, our house guide, played two ‘Orchestrion’ paper rolls, by Bizet and Sullivan. These were dances from Carmen and Mikado which utilised the organ’s percussion section, demonstrating the impressive mechanical performance from these hand-cut rolls, providing a contrast to the ‘live’ Gigout recital piece.
Salomons, Welte front pipes
Photo C Jilks
Perhaps not all members were fully aware of these distinctions, as Kate Wright, although an excellent house guide in her introductions, was not an organist. Nevertheless, all marvelled at the quality of this unique organ containing over 2,000 pipes, beautifully restored with completion in 2006 using a substantial Heritage Lottery Fund grant, allowing the organ to be heard for the first time since the early 2oth century, following the death of David Lionel Salomons in 1925; coincidentally the same year as Eugène Gigout.
E Gigout recording on a Welte organ 1912
With support from the Sir David Salomons Society, the Echo Organ, which is some 200 feet from the main organ, high in the rear gallery, has also been restored, together with its electro-pneumatic actions. An additional Lottery Fund grant enabled Salomons’ extensive paper roll library to be carefully duplicated and preserved allowing the recorded performances to be played at will for visitors. Set in lush rolling countryside, and built in warm local sandstone, Salomons is an architectural delight now occupied and maintained by Canterbury Christ Church University.
Salomons, Welte organ console
and paper roll players
Photo C Jilks
St Thomas’s Church, Southborough provided a complete contrast to Salomons with its Hele & Co of Plymouth organ. This is late Victorian, but rebuilt by Martin Cross in 1984 with electric action, tonal additions and a new floor-level console in the chancel. St Thomas’s Organist and Director of Music, Wilmarc Elman, made us most welcome and after a brief introduction, gave a short recital beginning with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue BWV536. Then, appropriately for the season, Bach’s Wachet Auf followed by Toccata by Dubois. Wilmarc concluded his demonstration with Nun Danket Alle Gott by Karg-Elert. His playing was most enjoyable, and executed with a rumbustious musical exuberance. But even Wilmarc’s lively playing could not compensate for the dry church acoustic, which rather emphasised some of the tonal deficiencies of the organ. The original Hele flutes and diapasons were suitably warm for the building but the added upperwork and mixtures stood uncomfortably tonally apart. The reed stops had an exciting edge, which was unfortunately spoilt by poor tuning, as was the instrument in general. However, a fine tea with delicious homemade cakes was available for us in the adjoining church room, supplemented with plentiful cups of tea.
A number of members were able to try the organ for themselves during tea, following which, Wilmarc gave a short talk on his experiences as a church organist. He spoke of making the service ‘uplifting’ through the music and his charming anecdotes, especially where the clergy were involved, were delightfully entertaining. His experiences with improvisation were most informative, having attended courses at Salisbury he was able to demonstrate simple ‘filling in’ during those short awkward pauses during a service. Wilmarc delivered his talk with an engagingly modest charm, making our visit pleasantly memorable, warming us on a cold November day. Together with Salomons, this eventful afternoon must be one of the most interesting and enjoyable of the year.
Brighton – now part of the city of Brighton & Hove – is older than the Domesday Book, but did not achieve any substantial importance until Regency times. Only when the railway arrived, in 1841, did any real urban development begin so it stands to reason, Victorian building being of an enduring quality, that there is still much 19th-century architecture on display: the beautiful original railway station for a start, and there I arrived on the last Sunday in July for the 2010 I.A.O. Congress. Dumping my luggage, I visited the East Pier and the splendid Aquarium before literally just crossing the road to check into our hotel. A blue plaque tells us that King William IV and Queen Adelaide stayed just two doors away, in 1829. A wise choice, their hotel’s plumbing was probably more modern than ours.
And there, as of old, sat Jeanne Cawley, recently retired Congress administrator. Resignedly, Jeanne explained that her would-be successor had suddenly withdrawn from the arena and, pleading a subsequent engagement, was at that very moment in Italy. But, as I studied my Souvenir Congress Programme, it was clear that the organizers, beset by difficulties, had surpassed themselves. Five days of uniformly excellent organ-playing awaited us; traditional repertoire (only two of the composers still living) that could scarcely offend the most bigoted delegate.
Our programme took us to one sports centre, two cathedrals, three Public School chapels and four parish churches, introducing to us 16 organs – 17 if one includes Arundel parish church, which was not part of the programme but where the organ was available to delegates. The choice of Lancing College, Christ’s Hospital and Tonbridge School was inspired. These quintessentially British institutions with their chapels have nurtured many famous musicians and offer opportunities not readily available to the generality of youthful organ enthusiasts. In Lancing College three young students took part in a master-class on the chapel’s 1986 Frobenius which we heard after the chapel’s more traditionally English west-end organ by J.W. Walker. The students had all chosen Bach, and Daniel Hyde, who conducted the master-class, had included Bach in his recital on the more romantic instrument, which underlined this contrast. They were given a few guiding words about editions and then performed their prepared pieces before hearing Mr. Hyde’s suggestions. Having told them that ‘the music invites you to play around with it’ and ‘what fits my hand might not fit yours,’ the tutor emphasized that development takes time and finished by remarking that he hoped they wouldn’t agree with everything he’d said. Closely following every word was K.C.O.A. member Martin Holloway, 100 years old and still active as organist in Sandwich. Mr. Holloway missed nothing of what was on offer throughout the Congress.
On arrival at Christ’s Hospital we were welcomed in the Dining Hall (with its largely unsupported roof): state-of-the-art hand-crafted biscuits and a scrumptious 1876 Henry Willis (with half as many stops as Lancing’s Frobenius) awaited us. We listened to Samuel Wesley while Queen Victoria, uncomfortable on horseback, looked skittishly down at us. Andrew Bawtree, our host, jested that, like sailors wanting a girl in every port, he want an organ in every building. The chapel (seating 1,000), a religious, royal and ancient foundation, is second only to Lancing College chapel in size and is central to school life. We took our places (I could gaze up at Frank Brangwyn’s portrayal of St. Augustine’s acceptance of Christianity in 386) and heard the five-manual Rushworth and Dreaper organ in Widor´s 5th symphony in a performance as structurally unswerving as the Dining Hall. Unfortunately Adrian had had problems with the wind that morning so we didn’t get to hear alumnus C.S. Lang’s Tuba Tune, the tuba was nevertheless resplendently pompous in Healey Willan. Adrian also took us to look at the Hill in Big School, sitting silent between two humidifiers that might have been chronotransported from a front page of The Eagle.
Our third school was Tonbridge where Simon Preston gave the Brereton recital on the chapel’s 1995 Marcussen. Schumann (born two hundred years ago) was represented by the six B-A-C-H fugues in interpretations that, though architecturally sound, seemed more concerned with power than colour. This enjoyable day ended frustratingly when our coaches got caught in a traffic-jam lasting, literally, hours.
Tuesday was cathedral day. After some free time to explore the town we entered Arundel’s cathedral for Mark Wardell’s demonstration-recital of the Hill organ with a pleasantly mixed programme including Frescobaldi. The most substantial offering was Basil Harwood’s C sharp minor sonata in which several plainchant fragments were revealed.
And so to Chichester. Reconstruction of the cathedral’s collapsed tower in 1861 was given financial preference, so the main organ remained unromanticized. Seated in the choir (the organ speaking in that direction) we heard Catherine Ennis play a programme comprising Jongen, the canonic studies by Schumann and Bach’s Sei gegrüsset partita with her customary aplomb. But that is only part of the story: after a short pause we took our places in the nave for a witty extravaganza for five organs. The performers’ infectious humour as they innocuously manhandled well-known (and less well-known) repertoire around the cathedral, from the Lady Chapel to the west end, on randomly tuned organs provided a light note. “The tuning of the final unison D,” said Alan Thurlow drily, “might well remind you of your visits to organs in Spain or France …”
Organists’ conventions seldom seek out sports facilities, but 2010 must go down as the year in which the I.A.O. Congress took in the East Sussex Golf Resort. Compulsory exercise had not been decreed: we went to hear the largest Wurlitzer outside America. We marvelled at Michael Woodridge’s astonishingly rapid manual changes while his left foot rollicked and romped up and down the lower half of the pedalboard: Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
But Congress is essentially of sterner stuff and it was fruitful to brush up on South-Coast Anglican goings-on once the railways had put Brighton firmly on the map. Main-line English organ-building has survived well in the area so we could hear a choice of upper-crust organ music lovingly played at Hove Parish Church and St. Bartholomew’s and St. Peter’s churches (Brighton). It was good to hear the whole of Peter Hurford’s (80 this year!) suite Laudate Dominum played at Hove by Michael Maine. In the noise and glitter of cheerful Brighton, wrote John Betjeman of St. Bartholomew’s, this great church is a tall sanctuary of peace. Its interior awes beholders to silence. Equally awesome was Julian Thomas’s (anything but silent) recital on the 1901 Walker in this church.
All too soon our last visit was upon us, replete with a dismal warning. Long before Neil Cockburn began his impressive recital the state of the building’s dishabille had already told its own, sad, story. The 13th-century St. Peter’s church is now kept open by a group of volunteers, no longer being used for traditional services. True, the Henry Willis organ sounded magnificent, despite a banner covering the mouths of several pipes, its hook actually screwed into the wood of one of them. How long before this corruption is shared by other ecclesiastical monuments in the area?
Earlier on this Feast day of St. Martha, the A.G.M. had been held at St. Paul’s church, followed by Holy Communion in which the names of I.A.O. members who had died in the past year were read out. The R.C.O. Lecture followed, more an ‘interactive’ discussion led by Kim Gilbert and Simon Williams about nourishing enthusiasm for organ-playing. ‘There’s a whole world out there waiting to learn,’ they assured us, though very few present seemed to have any pertinent ideas about what it was all about.
The Speaker at the Annual Dinner was the Rt. Rev. Graeme Knowles, Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral who regaled us with droll memories of church musicians and a cleric’s difficulties in maintaining relations with musicians. Each has his own thing, he suggested, and we must try to work effectively together ‘... and keep in tune with Heav’n.’
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The 2010 series of Thursday lunchtime concerts started on 6th May and concluded on 30th September with an organ recital given by Dr David Flood, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Canterbury Cathedral. It has become a tradition that Dr Flood should end the season of concerts, and this he did with his usual engaging introduction to the music and splendid playing.
His programme was:
Fugue in D minor - J S Bach
Pastorale - César Franck
Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor Dietrich Buxtehude
Prelude and Fugue on the name Alain Maurice Duruflé
Carol - R Vaughan Williams
Carillon Sortie - Henri Mulet
Dr Flood used the full colourful resources of the organ in playing which was full of vitality. The All Saints’ organ is particularly suited to French romantic music, and it sounded particularly majestic with the reeds well in tune - unlike some heard in France!
As well as the organ, the series has included singers and instrumentalists. £3,381 has been raised for the charities chosen by the performers, a tribute to them and the generosity of the audience.
The 2011 Lunchtime Concert series will begin at 1.05pm on Thursday 5th May with an organ recital by Lawrence Ockenden.
It is perhaps unusual, but a pleasure, to report a member’s wedding, the wedding of Ian Payne and Andrea Don last 7th August at St Michael’s Church, Sittingbourne, which was quite a special occasion in a number of ways.
Ian is the Organist of St Michael’s Church and thought he should, if possible, play for some of the service. As guests assembled, he played the Final from Organ Symphony No.1 by Vierne, a piece he had been recently working on. As Andrea, together with the wedding party and choir, processed Ian improvised on Woodlands, the Walter Greatorex tune for Tell Out, My Soul! utilising three verses and finishing with a splendid full organ climax.
Andrea 7th August 2010
Photo C Jilks
The remainder of the service was then played by assistant organist, Nigel MacArthur, which involved four hymns, Psalm 60 and the anthem O Thou The Central Orb by Charles Wood. During the signing of the register, the choir sang Nicholson’s Love Divine, All Loves Excelling; and O Perfect Love to the tune by Joseph Barnby. Nigel then sensitively accompanied Rebekah Elliott, Andrea’s friend, in a solo of Make me a channel of your peace. The final recessional was La Réjouissance from Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.
However, what was quite out of the ordinary was the wedding cake, designed and made by Siriyani Summers, a talented cake-maker and wife of one of Ian’s work colleagues. Working from photographs of the St Michael’s William Hill organ, she created a replica of the real thing. The wooden casing was made from chocolate, and the green and gold pipes were fashioned from painted Royal Icing.
The William Hill Wedding Cake
Photo C Jilks
All were impressed with the accuracy of the detail, as she had included a radiating concave pedalboard, stops, two manuals, music and an organist’s bench. The black and white photograph does not do it justice, although the colour picture will be on our KCOA website soon. We extend our good wishes to Ian and Andrea for the future and trust he will still be allowed to come along to meetings from time to time.
Much has been written and spoken about Allan’s outstanding career, almost all of it from the viewpoint of his former choristers, many of whom have gone on to become leading lights in the musical world today. Less has perhaps been said of him as an organist or as a person.
Allan came to Canterbury in 1961 at the age of 38 from Manchester, having previously been Jackson’s assistant at York and Organ Scholar at Christ Church, Oxford. It was comparatively early to be appointed to such a prestigious post; word has it that the Chapter only selected him over several older candidates as an act of defiance to the “Red” Dean, Hewlett Johnson, whose vote was firmly cast behind another candidate. War service in the Army had taken Allan to the Far East, where his knowledge of languages had seen him kept behind the lines to interrogate prisoners of war when his comrades had been sent forward to their slaughter as rifle-fodder. Both in this aspect of his earlier life, about which he spoke little, and in the tale of his appointment, Canterbury and the world of cathedral music were to be particularly fortunate.
Dr Allan Wicks CBE
Photo Kentish Gazette
Allan was a musician with that rare gift of bringing a formidable intellectual dimension to all of his work without letting anything stand in the way of the personal touch. For him, the heart was always foremost in performance, the concept of making a piece sound convincing on an individual level. There were plenty of performers around at the peak of his career who followed the fashion of the time in allowing precision and alleged “purity” of interpretation to stand too often in the way of letting the music speak as a human experience, particularly in baroque repertoire. Perhaps this is one reason why we have all too few recordings of his playing; for all that, he was one of the most notable recitalists of his day, though he had in any case an instinctive aversion to the clinical nature of the recording studio, preferring the spontaneity of live performance.
Those of his generation will particularly remember his fervent championing of modern styles. For instance, it was Allan who was in the vanguard of introducing the music of Messiaen to audiences and performers of this country. Others since jumped onto that bandwagon and made bigger names for themselves, all too often unaware of the particular debt which they owe to him. One must also remember his commissioning of new works, such as Joubert’s remarkable Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, and his electric interpretation of Williamson’s Fons Amoris, McCabe’s Dies Resurrectionis and many others. His association with Alan Ridout at Canterbury was especially fruitful, and whilst it is the choral pieces that are most readily remembered, especially those for the boys’ choir, one remembers also organ pieces such as the Seven Last Words and the Stations of the Cross, both ground-breaking in their demands on the performer, of which well-thumbed manuscript copies (never the printed versions) were always close to hand in the loft at Canterbury.
On the recital circuit one would hear Allan playing repertoire which would rarely be acceptable as outgoing voluntaries to the Dean and Chapter of the day - that same Dean and Chapter which for many years was so reluctant to allow him too much leave of absence to be away from weekday Evensong at 5.30pm or from any of his weekend duties. Not that he would have been prepared to tear himself away from his work with his choristers that readily, for there was also in Allan that perpetual love of the daily round of worship and of his mission to instil an appreciation of it into the musicians of the future.
He could certainly be selective. He had little time for Peeters, and not a great deal more for Hindemith, regarding them as composers whose work owed more to calculation than to inspiration. More surprisingly, Howells rarely formed any part of his performing or teaching (though the choral repertoire was regular enough in the cathedral), and his Franck always had a distinctly English smack to it, especially the Final, which in Allan’s reading came dangerously close to the fairground, yet all the more convincing for that.
His teaching was always geared to drawing the most from those within his charge, stretching them to (if not beyond) their limits. One always had the feeling that he was sharing the voyage of musical discovery as he sat alongside on the bench during lessons. He would lean across to mark in the occasional fingering or pedalling, but more often than not such things were left to the individual to work out; Allan would be more concerned with what the music was actually saying. Tutor-books such as C.H. Trevor played no part in his work, and Dupré editions of Bach and Liszt with every single note fingered, as if every player had exactly the same shape and size of hand, earned his unveiled scorn. Nor would he be averse to allowing the individual to make mistakes and to learn from them; the safety-net was always there, but he would let one fall off the tight-rope from time to time as an essential part of the learning experience. One would surface with the scars, but would know how to avoid doing the same thing again. Many of us only came to appreciate that rather later as being not just part of our musical armoury but also as a wider life-skill.
As in his teaching, so in his improvisation. There is a particular skill in setting the atmosphere for a service, and to hear (or indeed watch) Allan at the console before Evensong in the quietness of a winter weekday brought a whole new dimension to the liturgical experience. Likewise his colouring of the psalms. Whilst Allan would usually spend most of the service downstairs conducting — one of the earliest cathedral organists to do so — he would very often come back upstairs to take over for the psalms, bringing his own individual touch to the moth fretting the garment (a Vox Humana overlay with tremulant), or the drunken sailors at their wits’ end (full swell with violent lurches of the swell-pedal). In his hands, psalm 107 to the Bairstow chants took on a completely new meaning. He was always very proud of carrying forward the York traditions which he had absorbed whilst Assistant Organist there, regarding himself (via Jackson) as the disciple of Bairstow, and imbuing in his pupils their part in that apostolic succession.
Unlike many cathedral organists, Allan was also a consummate liturgist. Not ordinarily a committee man, he nonetheless spent much time working with groups formulating revisions to orders of service, and one can detect his pragmatic touch in a great deal that was done at that time of experimentation and change, as much in what should not be done as in what should. This extended to new hymnals, some of which have stood the test of time better than others; and many of us still refer to the repertoire list of anthems which he compiled with John Dykes Bower, and which contains several surprising but highly effective examples of lateral thinking. It was not until the latter stages of Allan’s time at Canterbury that the cathedral authorities found themselves comfortable about embracing many aspects of the new liturgy, the ancien régime having ensured that the spirit of the ark survived there long after many other places had gone their two steps ahead, followed by one backwards. When Canterbury did eventually move on, Allan’s hand was there to guide them away from the pitfalls (even pratfalls) which had occurred elsewhere.
The chorister obituarists have recounted in great depth the colourful aspects of Allan’s training. It was not unknown to hear occasional non-ecclesiastical language up in the practice-room (though never in the body of the cathedral itself), nor to witness actions which in these more protective times would have one quickly on the wrong side of the Dean’s desk, such as the launching of a hymn-book through the air to demonstrate how to shape a phrase. As in his organ teaching, so in his choir-training; vocal technique as such was rarely on the agenda, and it was rare to hear Allan actually sing by way of demonstration. Yet the quality of sound and the sincerity of interpretation were, by some mysterious process of osmosis, always there in the finished product.
A wider aspect of his work which has perhaps been overlooked is on the broader scale with Canterbury Choral Society. It was Allan who brought Britten’s War Requiem to the cathedral only a short time after its first performance at Coventry; and who can forget the drama of his Belshazzar’s Feast, a work from which his predecessors had shied away? Hearing “slain” reverberate around the cathedral was an experience in itself.
He retired from the cathedral in 1988, having seen in the new archbishop (and one can guess who instigated the round of applause which, most unusually for the time, greeted the completion of the consecration). He might have been expected to have followed the example of others in then embarking afresh on the recital and recording circuit, not to mention giving master-classes or adjudicating competitions (both activities which he had rarely if ever undertaken hitherto), and several eyebrows were raised when he made it very clear that “retirement” meant precisely that. Allan knew instinctively to leave at the top of his game, and although he would play occasionally in the local church at Petham, he henceforth devoted himself to his wife, Elizabeth, and their family. Having finally moved to Wye, he was drawn with some reluctance, though doubtless also pleasure, into a special service at the cathedral for his 80th birthday in 2003, followed by a dinner given by (and perhaps regrettably exclusive to) the choristers’ association. It was sad to see then the early signs of that ill-health which dogged his final years before merciful release on 4th February 2010.
Allan was a man who commanded immense respect from all whose lives were touched by him, whether probationer choristers or exalted ministers well past their threescore years and ten. His immense personal charisma meant that there was always a sense of presence when in his company (“remember, we’re in show business”). Sometimes this would verge on the outrageous: many of the mutterings in the organ loft during over-indulgent sermons would doubtless have been considered libellous if repeated, and it has to be said that he did not always suffer fools gladly. Yet outside the cathedral and its cloisters he became a valued friend for life to those in whom he placed his trust, taking a close interest in the subsequent careers of his pupils. The packed congregations for his funeral at Wye (supposedly intended as a private service) and his memorial service a few weeks later in the cathedral bear their own eloquent testimony to the bequest which he has passed on to so many who have immense reason to be grateful for his influence on their musical, and personal, lives. Requiescat in pace.
We regret to report that our member Jackie Howard sadly died on 29th January 2011 having endured a long and difficult battle with cancer over many years. She was Secretary of the Association for two years and played at Christ Church, Gravesend. We were pleased to see her, together with Joan her mother, at our meeting at Platt in November 2009. Should you wish to send a card to Joan her address is: 23 Pine Avenue, Gravesend DA12 1QY. We hope to publish a full and fitting obituary in our August Journal.
The A27 in Sussex provides views of two wonderful Victorian 13th century gothic style buildings, being Lancing College Chapel and Arundel Roman Catholic Cathedral. Both buildings have west end rose windows under which sit fine organs. There the similarity ends, for Lancing College has a new Walker organ of 1987 with a stunning case, whilst Arundel Cathedral retains its Hill organ, installed second hand in 1872.
It is thought that the organ was originally built by Hill in the 1850s, although no definitive records exist. Its original home may have been in St John’s Catholic Church, Duncan Terrace, Islington. Hill produced some very fine organ cases in the early to mid-nineteenth century, notably Birmingham Town Hall, but this organ apparently came to Arundel without a case. It is also somewhat unusual for an organ to be installed in a west end gallery at this time, when the current fashion was to place organs in the chancel, usually on the North side.
Photo G Tollerfield
No doubt any discussions about an organ case would have required that the rose window did not become obscured. It is thought that the organ “case”, albeit a centre pipe rack with two towers separated by joinery panels, was built by carpenters, (not the organ builders), a few years after the installation of the instrument, to the design of Hansom, the church architect. (That’s the Hansom celebrated for his “Hansom cab”). One presumes that the pipe stencilling must have been carried out at this time in consequence of the display pipe design. The display pipes are speaking and from 8 foot and 16 foot Open Diapason ranks.
The “case” is very minimalist, consisting of only support posts and rails, so I am a little mystified as to what held it all together before the carpenter’s joinery arrived some years after installation!
I have been providing photographs for the front cover of the KCOA Journal from the early days, (when it consisted of photocopied sheets), using my trusty Hasselblad cameras and film. Certainly the difficult challenge of photographing and making good prints of organs on west galleries with rose windows behind is now made much easier for those with digital cameras and Photoshop skills. Also the process of reproduction of an image on the cover is simplified by using digital capture.
With good keen photographers as members of the KCOA, (Colin Jilks and Chris Clemence come to mind), it is time for me to hang up the film spool and hand over to 21st century technology. I hope you have enjoyed my photos over the years, along with my written wanderings around the topic of organ cases and their design.
Finchcocks is most well-known for its wonderful collection of harpsichords and fortepianos, but does possess four organs, the largest being the 1766 John Byfield instrument. These were all celebrated over 10th and 11th September in a programme entitled The English Organ.
On Friday Margaret Phillips, Professor of Organ at the Royal College of Music and Patron of the KCOA Organ Festival, gave an enthralling recital of mainly 18th century English organ music. She explored the full resources of the Byfield and the other organs, two of unknown origin circa 1675 and 1790 and the John Avery of 1792. The three smaller organs are foot pumped and two without music desks, but any inconveniences were overcome with aplomb. The intimacy of the sound and the superb articulation were a joy.
The following day Jonathan Hope and Alexander Bliss, both previous winners of our KCOA Organ Festival, and Simon Lindley, an entrant for the October 2010 Festival, were able to rehearse in the morning under the guidance of Michael Overbury. Margaret Phillips introduced the afternoon programme when Simon bravely played English 18th century pieces on the three small organs, managing very well with foot pumping. Jonathan kept to the Byfield, again playing mainly 18th century music and making judicious use of the organ, including the combination pedal for echo effects. Alexander ranged over English, German and Italian music, also on the Byfield.
Included in the afternoon was a talk entitled A Day in the Life of John Byfield given by Dominic Gwynn, who had spent three days preparing the organs for the weekend. It was a privilege to share his knowledge of organ building in Georgian London.
In her closing remarks Dr Jennifer Bate OBE warmly complimented the organists on their playing and felt that the whole project had been very worthwhile. It was an experience that players and audience alike much enjoyed and appreciated.
Dr Jennifer Bate plays the
Photo C Clemence
The day was rounded off with Fantasia for Organ and Blown Brass given by Nick Wright (trumpet, cornett, and bugle) and Katy Hamilton (organ and harmonium). The programme included music by Lully, Corelli, Purcell, Handel, Bellini, Gounod, and the virtuoso Concertstück by Küffner. The range of historical brass instruments used was amazing and it was a very well presented and entertaining evening.
Notes from the
Organs are commonly the largest of all musical instruments. There are, of course, exceptions: my own little three-stop chamber-organ, for instance, perfect in the chamber music of Purcell or William Lawes (and, actually, quite a lot besides) probably has a smaller cubic capacity than the grand piano on which I accompany, amongst other things, the rich but little-known repertoire of 20th century English art-songs (but I’m not going to fill them with water to find out). Organs therefore generally stay, at least for a number of years, in the same place and, being static, are far more likely to be designed to satisfy local needs and conditions than, say, violins or bass drums. So inquisitive organ enthusiasts are necessarily well-travelled individuals who sooner or later will come to realize just how many people are passionately involved in the whole wide organ world whilst retaining virtual anonymity beyond the confines of their immediate circle.
A name that pops up frequently in Dutch organ literature will, I expect, be unfamiliar to most K.C.O.A. members; nevertheless his importance in all matters concerning the design and restoration of our organs in the years between ca. 1945 and his death cannot be overstated. Lambert Erné was born in 1915. A top-ranking organist and long-standing chairman of the Dutch Organists’ Association, he incontestably master-minded the re-introduction of mechanical action into Dutch organ-building in the post-war, so-called neo-baroque period (that had its roots in France and Germany at least 25 years earlier). This movement must not be seen as a ‘baroque’ revival (just as the Pre-Raphaelite painters had not essentially been backward-looking) but as a forum for propagating historical principles in organ-building. Erné’s trend-setting approach to organ restoration was nurtured by his extensive knowledge of 17th/18th century North German/Dutch traditions and his fertile collaboration with the Danish firm Marcussen has left an indelible mark on the Dutch organ heritage for which we may be truly grateful. The Danish company was the first to incorporate neo-baroque ideals into their organs, which were of consistently superlative quality.
One of the most important opera of this post-war volte face in The Netherlands was erected in the St. Stephanuskerk in a village called Moerdijk, where it still stands, though not for long. The organ was far from the first of its type to be built in this country: its history begins in 1958, the year in which the church was built. St. Stephen’s church is Italianate in appearance, with a separate campanile and is unexpectedly large for a village of 1,200 inhabitants (according to the 2006 census). This is because it was intended to be the cultural focus of a large, thriving and economically healthy community populated by commuters to the Randstad, the huge conurbation of the four largest Dutch cities and their surrounding area. It was decided that the church should be provided with a large organ suitable not only for (Roman Catholic) liturgical use but more especially for concerts.
A number of this Journal’s readers will remember the 1953 North Sea flood disaster with its associated storms, which ravaged the Dutch and English coastlines throughout the night of the 31st of January in that year. This catastrophe practically devastated the already war-torn Moerdijk. As far back as 1925 a national foundation had been created to administer financial aid to victims of natural disasters, the rampenfonds. Moerdijk was the last of several communities to be awarded a contribution from funds specifically set aside to furnish churches that had suffered from the 1953 floods with a new organ. The Danish state, also a victim of the North Sea floods, provided monetary help to this end with the proviso that some of the contracts should be awarded to Danish organ-builders. And so it came about that Marcussen & Søn of Aabenraa, thanks to Erné, were chosen to build the large 3-manual Moerdijk instrument but their order-book was bulging and it was 1962 before construction could begin.
Which is when the fun began. Fuelled by stipulations from the Second Vatican Council about congregational participation in the sung liturgy, church choirs decided that their place was no longer on a gallery but in full view of the faithful. The then parish priest in Moerdijk therefore wanted the new organ to be placed near the front of the church, not on a structure above the west door and long, fruitless discussions followed with Lambert Erné, a persuasive speaker. The parish priest refused to pay for the gallery to be built: if come it must, he maintained, the rampenfonds was responsible. So when the director of Marcussen visited the church in 1964 he was visibly shocked to find that there was no sign of a gallery for their organ to stand on! But Marcussen, unable to keep the completed organ at its works, still shipped it to Moerdijk where it was stored in a chapel in the church. At the same time Roman Catholic organ-builders objected to orders for organs for Catholic churches being placed with Protestant builders but the powers that be turned a deaf ear to these arguments. The rampenfonds maintained that it had already financed the building of the instrument and should not be expected to pay for the gallery as well, but in the end it did to prevent the situation from becoming an unmitigated cause célèbre. On the 14th of November, 1965 the organ was officially inaugurated, in a recital by Lambert Erné himself and was considered an unqualified success.
Unfortunately the plans for the development of Moerdijk 50 years ago have come to nothing and its Catholic church will soon be demolished. At the beginning of last October a recital was given there, the start of an initiative to raise funds to ensure the future of this unique organ. There are plans to provide it with a new home in the same parish, in Klundert, where the St. Joannis Baptistkerk has superb acoustics and already possesses a gallery, without an organ.
In 2007 a subsidy of 100,000 Euros for the preservation and digitalization of Lambert Erné’s personal archive, comprising some 30,000 documents at his unexpected death in 1971, was awarded to Utrect’s University Library; this project will be of inestimable value to historians.
Simon Lindley – Bromley
Richard Foreman – Sevenoaks
Roger Marvin – Littlestone
Prof. Donald Preece - Ditton
It is the end of an era, perhaps an epoch, as Gary Tollerfield is standing down as our resident cover photographer after some thirty-five years. Initially, his organ pictures graced our loose leaf Secretary’s reports and then, for the past fifteen years, our printed Journal. Arundel Cathedral has the privilege to feature on his last cover, together with his expert analysis and description in the Journal. With the passing years and added health problems, his trusty Hasselblad camera and equipment has become seemingly heavier and more cumbersome to carry and set up, although the dark room processing and printing, at which he remains an expert with its dodging and shading, must remain a pleasure.
His monochrome organ case photographs have been particularly distinctive and he has been called upon to photograph many prestigious organs: when Paul Hale required a photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral’s new console for his Organists’ Review article, it was Gary he asked to undertake the work.
Moreover, it is Gary’s extensive knowledge of organ case history that has separated him from the casual organ photographer, fully understanding the development in case design and construction over the centuries; his talk, illustrated by over 150 Hasselblad slides, at St Mary’s Church, Platt in November 2009 was a revelation. Gary says he may still be able to supply comment and analysis for our Journal on future covers, allowing us the pleasure of his extensive knowledge, cover pictures we hope worthy of his erudition.
Gary has been a photographer who pursues the highest standards, especially in his architectural work, and follows in the footsteps of such pioneers as Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre, with his careful camera positioning and exposure readings to ensure the perfect picture; waiting often for the natural light to finally present itself, hunched over his camera and tripod with the unreserved patience of the perfectionist.
Gary joined our Association when he first moved to Kent in 1963, when membership included Dr Gerald Knight, Mr Bennett and George Jessup. He remembers Committee meetings at Mr Warriner’s house at Boughton Monchelsea, with tea and cakes. He was the first to bravely suggest that the KCOA might venture beyond the bounds of the county, which was deemed out of order at the time. Eventually, however, he arranged our first outings to Oxford, Cambridge and St Paul’s Cathedral in the 1980s.
Gary has served as our President twice and remained our Secretary for a full twelve years, guiding our Association through changing times, providing unfailing enthusiasm and dedication. He also founded our Journal with duplicated sheet printing, gathering reports and news items, always presented with one of his photographic delights on the cover.
He has been Organist and Director of Music at St Mary’s Church, Platt for over forty years, and has served on the Rochester Diocesan Church Music Committee for over twenty-five years. Undoubtedly, organs, the church and its music have brought Gary a tremendous fulfilment and enjoyment, and through his pictures, have allowed us to share in his interests. We owe him an incalculable debt of gratitude and hope he will be able to enjoy his interests for many more years to come.
Photo C Jilks
Dr Kenneth Somer and his wife Grace, joined our Association in 1995 when Kenneth retired from his single handed general medical practice in Littlebourne, near Canterbury. Released, after twenty-five years, from the requirement of being “on call” they were able to enjoy the unaccustomed freedom to widen horizons and take a greater interest in activities previously denied.
The Wall Street bubble had yet to burst when Kenneth was born on 3rd September 1929 in Brockley, South East London. His parents, originally from Worcestershire and Edinburgh, had met while studying at Edinburgh; his father training as a vet and his mother a doctor. Their work brought them to London, setting up home in a fine late Victorian house in Wickham Road, Brockley, although the family moved out to Bromley, Kent, in 1936, which was fortunate, as their old house was flattened by a land mine during the war.
In late 1939 Kenneth was evacuated, along with his school in Dulwich, to Cranbrook, Kent. On 3rd September, his tenth birthday, he remembers hearing Mr Neville Chamberlin’s declaration of War, gathered round a portable radio, powered by a Leyden jar battery. Nevertheless, by January 1940, London had not experienced the bombardment suffered by other European countries and Kenneth, together with his sister, returned to Bromley to a very cold winter, he recalls.
Kenneth’s parents were musical, his father a singer and his mother played the piano. Kenneth’s early musical interests tended towards the popular with Ivor Novello, Noël Coward and the bands of Henry Hall and Carroll Gibbons. The inimitable Sandy Macpherson at the cinema organ, performed as a BBC stop gap during air raid disrupted programmes, always caught Kenneth’s ear.
In 1943 he started at Tonbridge School and interest in classical music was greatly fostered by Dr Allan Bunney, the Director of Music. The chapel organ was then the fine Binns instrument, which was regrettably destroyed in the fire of 1988, although its Marccussen replacement is much admired and used for recordings. Kenneth began to appreciate a wide variety of organ and choral music enjoying recitals and concerts; one in particular, he recalls, was by Noel Newton-Wood, a pianist who died tragically young.
After National Service in the RAF, Kenneth started his three years pre-clinical study at Kings College, London. The chapel of Kings College provided matins and a stirring organ voluntary to send him joyfully off to the lecture theatre. There was also an active Choral Society fuelled by all the different faculties, performing captivating works such as Blest Pair of Sirens by Parry; King Arthur by Purcell; and Masses by Mozart and Haydn, together with more modern works, all directed by Rev. Harry Last, the Chapel Organist and Tutor to the Theological Faculty in voice production.
With interest in organs truly aroused, Kenneth attended the opening concert, in May 1949, of the 3-manual Walker organ at St Lawrence Church, Bourton-on-the-Water, given by George Thalben-Ball. In June 1950 he attended a Bach Bicentenary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, given by Marcel Dupré and later Helmut Walcha at the Royal Festival Hall. He also remembers, with admiration, Jeanne Demessieux at All Soul’s Langham Place where, looking down from the gallery, he marvelled at how high heels could strike the pedals so accurately. During a postgraduate course in Edinburgh in 1959 there was the opportunity to hear Herrick Bunney, the University Organist, and organist of St Giles Cathedral, and Fernando Germani at the McEwan Hall.
Grace Somer was born in Folkestone on 25th October 1931, where her parents had a furniture and antiques business. She developed an early interest in singing and music from the Salvation Army and subsequently became a member of the Canterbury Choral Society under Dr Allan Wicks; in later years she joined the Whitstable Choral Society.
Grace survived the war-time bombardment of Folkestone going on to train as a nurse at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, followed by midwifery training. After a spell at St George’s Hospital, then at Hyde Park Corner, she returned to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital as a Sister in the Medical Wards, which is where Kenneth and Grace first met, as Kenneth had been appointed House Physician.
When they were off duty they toured local villages on their bicycles and, consequently, knowing the area well, Kenneth was most grateful to be appointed to a retirement vacancy in the area in 1970; a general practice Kenneth maintained for the next quarter of a century. Grace pursued further studies at Battersea Polytechnic, qualifying as a Sister Tutor, before teaching at the School of Nursing, Canterbury.
Grace and Kenneth married in 1967 at St Mary Bredin Church “skipping” down the aisle to Bach’s Fugue á la Gigue played by our Past President, Gordon Chapman. As well as her singing, Grace is a keen artist and gardener, but still found time to bring up their four children; all now fully grown and married adding three charming granddaughters to the family.
Also, since retiring, there have been Baltic and Mediterranean cruises as well as coach and train excursions to various European Countries. They are both members of the very active local Conservation Society, which includes monthly walks, pub lunches and occasional talks on rural matters. There are church activities, where Grace’s baking is much appreciated. Occasionally Grace and Kenneth venture to London for an art exhibition, or a lecture at the Society of Apothecaries Hall in Blackfriars. Visiting their family also takes them to the counties of Shropshire and Worcestershire.
Of course, organs are of great interest and they consider themselves organ “groupies” rather than performers, although Kenneth does enjoy playing a small chamber organ by Martin Renshaw at home. Over the past fifteen years they have visited churches and heard organs that, without our Association, they would never otherwise have heard, and they are most grateful for all those who organise such interesting meetings. Also, a particular highlight for them is the annual visit of Nigel Ogden to St Mary’s Church, Wingham where our member, Roger Greensted, maintains the organ and, in particular, the yearly recital series played at Canterbury Cathedral.
With age, driving has become less attractive, particularly at night on unfamiliar roads, so they do not now get to as many of the Association’s meetings as they would like, but we are always pleased to see them when journeys are possible. Perhaps organs are to Kenneth a little like medicine, being interested in how they work and produce their various tones. In simpler times, Kenneth says medicine back in the 1950s could be studied from old 1940s textbooks, the only real change being the introduction of penicillin, but today, with genetics and other wonders, change has been substantial. Perhaps a little like organs with their tracker and pneumatic actions giving way to digital transmissions and sequencer piston settings, but thankfully still producing their rich melodious sounds from real organ pipes.
Dr Kenneth and Grace Somer
Front cover Gary Tollerfield
Others: As marked
Sub Editors: Brian Moore & David Brock
"THE KENT COUNTY ORGANISTS' ASSOCIATION welcomes new members with an
interest in the organ and its music. Also those who enjoy visiting churches
with an appreciation of architecture and heritage. Membership of the Association
is not based on the ability to play; we welcome equally those who enjoy
listening, as well as those who enjoy playing".