Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters

U.S.O.C. Newsletter - March 2003

Saturday March 8th - IMPROVING THE SOUND OF YOUR CHOIR - St. Columba's Belfast, 3.00pm Expert advice from singer and teacher Ghislaine Morgan. A chance to learn in a practical session with an acknowledged expert in the field. Ghislaine Morgan is well-known as a choral clinician and her visits to the Charles Wood Summer School have been very popular.

St. Columba's Church is in King's Road, Knock, East Belfast. Approaching from the city centre, take the Newtownards Road through Ballyhackamore and turn right at the traffic lights onto the Knock Road. Turn right at the next lights (at Knock Presbyterian Church) into King's Road and the church will come up on the left.

April 12th - NEW MUSIC FOR THE AVERAGE ORGANIST (Malone Presbyterian Church, Belfast)
June - ULSTER ORGANS based on Dromore, Co. Down
September 13th - COMPOSERS' CENTENARIES (Armagh CofI Cathedral) With organist Theo Saunders
October 5th - MEMBERS' CONCERT (Down Cathedral)
November 15th - REFLECTIONS OF AN OCTOGENARIAN ORGANIST (Queen's Parade Methodist Church, Bangor) With William Adair

Since the last bulletin, things seem to have taken a turn for the better and it now looks almost certain that I shall get a permanent resident's visa for Canada and be able to settle permanently as Organist & Choir Director at St. John's Cathedral, Newfoundland. By the time you read this, I shall be enjoying the snow, the BCP(Canada) and the Casavant. I shall be back after Easter, but hopefully only for a few weeks to sell up and sort out any outstanding business - I'm not doing anything drastic until I have that visa in my hand!

In the meantime, Alasdair MacLaughlin has agreed to act as Secretary and all communications should be addressed to him (details at the foot of this page). In addition, Philip Walden has agreed to assist as Treasurer. Assuming that my own plans come to fruition, the Committee will ask the approval of the Society for the new arrangements in due course.
I would like to thank members for their encouragement and good wishes, especially over the past year. I have learned a lot and made many friends through my membership of the Society and I hope to keep in contact in the future.

Members are reminded that the Subscription for 2003 was due in January. The levels are:

Full Member 20 / Student Member 12 / Overseas Member 7

Any additional donations to the Arthur Beggs Travel Fund will , of course, be welcomed! If anyone has any doubts or queries, the Treasurer would welcome a phone call.

Castlereagh Presbyterian Church
This church is looking for someone to take up the position held by our late member Stanley Woods. The organ is a 2 manual Evans & Barr containing material by August Gern. The Revd. Graham writes: 'We are looking for someone to lead and develop the praise. We have morning and evening worship and a choir practice on a Thursday evening. The choir is energetic and enthusiastic. We would envisage an organ rebuild in the next few years.
Further details are available from myself:
21 Garland Hill Castlereagh Belfast BT8 6YL 028 90792898.'

Dromore Cathedral, Co. Down
Alasdair MacLaughlin, vacating this position on his move to St. Thomas', Belfast, gives the following details: 'Fine old Conacher organ, 2 manual 1870 - in original condition - everything works! Robed choir, keen, 15 strong, all sections represented. Weekly Choir Practice, two Sunday services 11.30am and 6.00pm. Nice people, active congregation. Details from the Very Revd. Stephen Lowry, 028 9269 2275.

St. Mark's Church, Ballysillan, Belfast
A charming Victorian church with a 2m organ by the Irish Organ Company. Small choir, two services on a Sunday. For further details, contact the Revd. Paul Redfern, St. Mark's Rectory, 119 Ligoniel Road, Belfast BT14 8DN (028 9071 3151).

There is an open invitation from ROSEMARY PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH to attend a weekend of reflection, song inspiration and challenge, on 27th - 30th March 2003, to be conducted by Rev John Bell
Of the Church of Scotland.
Details available from Mrs Liz Eakin, Rosemary Church Office, 19 Circular Road, Belfast BT15 5HD, or email: liz@rosemarypc.fsnet.co.uk

On March 21st 2003, The Favoriti Consort will be making a visit to Belfast Cathedral.
The Favoriti Consort is a London-based professional vocal ensemble, consisting of some of the finest young singers in the UK.
The group was formed in early 2002 by David Martin (former Chorister at Belfast Cathedral) and Graeme
McCullough (former Chorister at St George's, Belfast).
All of the singers have a vast amount of experience in the solo and choral fields, regularly performing and
touring with some of the world's leading ensembles such as The Sixteen, The Tallis Scholars, The Gabrieli Consort and Chapelle du Roi, as well as choirs such as Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral.
The Consort will perform a sequence of music for the season of Lent, which will include a setting of The Lamentations by Brumel and the glorious motet Ne Irascaris Domine by William Byrd, plus movements from Byrd's Four Part Mass and O Nata Lux by Tallis.
Tickets are available price: 10.00 each.Further information at www.favoriti-co.uk

VISIT to St ALBANS -- 3rd - 5th May 2003
A party of 24 persons have now booked to go on this interesting visit - it is with regret that no more bookings can now be taken because of a lack of space in the hotel. Members of the Party who have booked - they will know who they are - should take note that it will only be possible to accommodate the wishes of a small number of those who expressed a preference for single rooms. The reasons have to do with the pressure on hotel space. The organisers will do their best to allocate congenial and appropriate sharers - any subsequent negotiations will have to be your own responsibility!!
Arrangements are going well, but details are not yet finalised. When they are, we shall be in contact with all the travellers.

Members who attended the AGM in January 2003 will recollect that the question of the name of the Society should be reviewed in the light of the more inclusive needs of the 21st Century. This matter was raised by a member and attracted some discussion on that occasion.
The President wishes to convey his thanks to all those who have taken the trouble to contact him with their ideas on this matter. He has undertaken to reflect on these ideas, have them discussed in the Committee, and subsequently, more widely amongst the membership.

A number of members have noted that they have not received their copies of recent Bulletins. We are reviewing membership lists at present, so if you have any changes we need to know about, please let us know. Our lists contain names, addresses, telephone numbers , email addresses, as well as degrees and info about availability for standing in weekdays and/or Sundays. We are aware for example that the email addresses of some members have changed recently.

March 2003

WHITHER CHURCH MUSIC? - A digest of addresses delivered at a meeting of the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters on February 8th 2003 at St Molua's Parish Church, Stormont.


The current buzzword in worship is INFORMAILTY, accompanied by a demand for music which is immediately attractive and undemanding. Confronted by this trend, three reactions are common:

  1. To fight for our traditions and standards;
  2. To go with the tide;
  3. To give up.

The first of these reactions, while understandable, is unconvincing because there never has been a set tradition in church music: it has always been changing, usually in response to popular culture. In any event, the demand for high standards can (and should) equally apply to every kind of worship group or gospel singer.

To go with the tide (the easy option) could mean that informal worship, while appropriate on particular occasions, could become the norm.

To give up represents a waste of musical talent.

Our response should be based not on musical grounds but on scripture: the Old Testament model (see Chronicles 1, ch 15) was of church music accompanied in the Temple by a highly professional group of instrumentalists, and in the synagogues of simpler, unaccompanied singing with the psalms as its core. In the New Testament St Paul exhorts the faithful to sing "psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (note the order) without instrumental accompaniment and always "from the heart".


  1. We must first acknowledge that the church is changing and that we, as its servants, cannot expect to stay the same. Instead, we should welcome the opportunities which change can offer and take responsibility for them.
  2. Organists should now see themselves as Directors of Music with responsibility for all the musical activities of the church. The emergence of vocal and instrumental groups represents a rediscovery of the village band tradition.
  3. All churches should encourage their young pianists to learn the organ and pay for their tuition: without it there will not be any organists in the future.
  4. Boys should be encouraged to join the choir, not as an alternative to the sopranos but as a welcome addition, and as potential tenors and basses.
  5. Some styles of music (eg rock music) are not conducive to worship and should be avoided.
  6. Ultimately what matters is not so much the choice of music as the spirit in which it is offered.


A personal admission: the musical part of worship is the most deeply disappointing and frustrating part of ministry. Despite much time spent on choosing hymns this aspect of the service receives more criticism and comment than anything else. (!)


  1. We are living through a period of rapid change and must find a balance between change and continuity; the older we get the more resistant to change we tend to become; and this can result in a bias towards continuity. Beware!
  2. Many Christian young adults find traditional worship stiff and formal and are moving to fellowships where there is greater creativity and a sense of community.
  3. People of all ages enjoy good singing and congregational singing is a powerful and moving experience to be encouraged.
  4. Some anthems which ought to be sung at the choir practice as an act of worship for the choir should not be inflicted upon the congregation!
  5. Some choirs are not good enough to sing four-part anthems and should not attempt to do so.
  6. Most church choirs are not good enough to sing well unconducted - but continue to do so!
  7. The choir cannot teach the congregation a new hymn when the congregation is faced with four parts and an organist using two hands and two feet. One hand and one voice!
  8. We are living through a revolution in creativity, some of it good, some of it appalling; some of it worship, some of it self-indulgent and manipulative with an unhealthy emphasis on "me and how I feel". Nonetheless, worship should reflect the downside of human experience - loss, disappointment and doubt.
  9. One American writer (Ian Bradley) claims that many people now derive much of their spirituality and philosophy of life from popular musicals which fulfil something of the function of the medieval morality plays. Over the years musicals have tackled big spiritual themes such as the power of forgiveness and redemptive love (Les Miserables) and ecological balance and sacred kinship (The Lion King).
  10. Agility or strict beat? Messiaen said: "strict beat belongs to the military march which is unreal". His music, he claimed, belongs to birdsong which he likens to the branches of a tree or the waves of the sea, all of which are uneven.


  1. To be involved in the ordering of public worship is an immense privilege.
  2. Church music has always been changing but the pace of change is now much faster than in earlier times and this makes it difficult to keep up.
  3. Declining numbers in most Christian denominations have put public worship in general, and music in particular, under the magnifying glass.
  4. Smaller congregations usually mean smaller choirs and this places restrictions on what can be accomplished musically.
  5. "Only the best is good enough for God" - this ideal when applied to our hymns forces us to conclude that neither the words nor the music of some of them are of the highest standard.
  6. A problem arises, however, when some such hymns are liked and are meaningful to congregations; sometimes the solution can be to sing the hymn really well with all the attention to detail one would devote to better material.
  7. In trying to make public worship more flexible the church has pushed the parameters much too far and the discipline in worship and depth of spirituality which allows people to worship properly has in many places gone.
  8. In many cases our misguided efforts to attract numbers back into the pews have left us with guitars and drum kits, and music badly rehearsed and poorly played.
  9. More of those in authority should take a greater interest in the music of the church: to do so it is not necessary to be musical, just to be wise.


None of the three contributors to this seminar claimed possession of a crystal ball good enough to predict with any degree of certainty the future of church music, and perhaps this was wise.

All three, however, emphasized the inevitability of change so for organists of today and tomorrow perhaps the most important qualities required (other than purely musical ones) will be adaptability and the ability to cope with innovation.

Touched on by one of the three speakers, another quality which seems to me to be essential in any church organist is sensitivity to the needs and the wishes of the congregation for whom music is being provided. And since the musical tastes of the people who comprise almost any congregation will vary considerably this is no easy task. To serve the interests of just one section of a congregation is not good enough!

The Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters would wish to record here our gratitude to all three of the contributors to this seminar, and also our thanks to the Revd David Humphries and the Church of Saint Molua for hosting the Meeting.


February 2003

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