Our Association’s activities this year could, with a little imagination, be compared with the Ancient & Modern hymnbook: ancient in that we visited the last resting place of William Byrd, who died in 1623, and modern, in that our youngest Organ Festival organist was Aidan Atkinson, aged just eleven. Certainly, with our new Festival Patron and recitalist, Margaret Phillips, and Dr David Flood, together with seven wonderful contestants, the Organ Festival in May must surely be remembered as the highlight of the year.
However, this should not detract from our other meetings, as they have all been enjoyable in their different ways. Our January meeting at Bearsted was held in the icy depths of winter but, to borrow a Bunyan line from our hymnbook, “No goblin nor foul fiend could daunt our spirit”, with some thirty-five members enjoying a full afternoon.
Hythe, Otford, Stone, Brentwood and Chelmsford were also very successful meetings, leaving a lasting impression. In addition to the organs there is much which, subsequently, remains deeply thought provoking. During our visit in April to Dartford’s Stone House Hospital Chapel, did many notice the memorial to Ivor Gurney in the chancel? The plaque remembers the composer and poet who died at the Hospital in 1937. Gurney was born at Gloucester in 1890 becoming a pupil of Sir Herbert Brewer, organist of Gloucester Cathedral, before gaining a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, where one of his contemporaries was Herbert Howells. His tutor, Sir Charles Stanford, said of him, “that of all his pupils — Vaughan Williams, Ireland, Bliss and dozens more, Gurney was potentially the biggest of them all”. Gurney was, unusually, a poet as well as a composer, setting many of his poems to music. But in 1915 he volunteered and, following his initial training, was sent to Flanders in 1916. He mercifully survived the war returning to the Royal College for a time, but remained mentally troubled and restless as he tried to earn a living as an organist and musician. A second volume of his poems War’s Embers was published, but by 1922 his mental health had deteriorated to a point where he was committed to a private mental asylum in Gloucester. In December that year he was transferred to the City of London Mental Hospital, Dartford where, at times, he continued to compose and write. His work was carefully saved and catalogued by his close friend Marion Scott, until finally he died from tuberculosis aged forty-seven. It has not been officially documented, but as an organist, he must surely have played the 1912 Norman & Beard organ we heard in the chapel. One can in no way detract from the gallantry of the countless men sacrificed in the 1914/1918 war, but one must surely question the morality that condemned Gurney’s genius to be squandered on the battlefields of Flanders.
Returning to the more parochial, we welcome our new President, Kevin Grafton, who will guide our activities for the next two years and must also thank Roger Gentry for his most generous work during his two-year term of office. Sadly we have three obituaries: Reg Adams, Robert Cripps and Tom Stocksley. They all played a very full part in our Association over the years and will be greatly missed.
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