Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters

Honorary Secretary's Report on the Year 2002

The Annual General Meeting of the Society took place at First Presbyterian Church, Holywood, on Saturday 19th January, by invitation of our member Charles Maginnes. Tribute was paid to the work of the retiring President, David McElderry. In the election of a new President, it was realised that the Society was also losing a Secretary. Rodney Bambrick had carried out this task for nearly thirty years and, while his elevation (after much persuasion) was richly deserved, it was realised that his successor would have to live up to a very distinguished precedent. In asking for members' continuing support, the new President highlighted three areas where he hoped members would be particularly diligent. Firstly, support of the monthly meetings. The programme aimed to contain something for everyone. Secondly, recruitment. The Society exists for all who are interested in the organ and/or choral music, yet many have either not heard of us or think they are not qualified to join. New members are always welcome. Thirdly, members were urged to make their wishes known, so that the Society's work might reflect the tastes of the majority..

On Saturday 9th February, the Society met at St. Molua's Church, Stormont, Belfast, when Stephen Hamill gave a fascinating talk about developments in electronic organs. His company, Phoenix Organs, has a number of important installations to its credit, and Stephen's demonstration of the massive four-manual instrument specially set up in St. Molua's for the occasion was a masterly showing both of his skills as an organist and as a designer and builder.

Members will be aware that our President was responsible for the preservation (in Bangor Academy) of the Compton organ from the Tonic Cinema. In the afternoon of March 23rd, the talented young organist Simon Gledhill demonstrated the organ, providing a fascinating insight into the theatre organ style. Following a meal at the Stables Restaurant in Groomsport, Simon gave a public recital which included the accompaniment of a silent film, perfectly demonstrating the organ in its intended role.

On April 13th, an evening meeting at Kilmore, Co. Armagh, was preceded by a sumptuous repast at the home of our member, Earl Moffitt, at Salter's Grange. Members could be forgiven for regarding this as ample justification for turning out, but it was the prelude to an excellent recital of choral and organ music given by the Lowry Singers, conducted by Earl Moffitt, with Philip Elliott of Hillsborough Parish Church at the fine Hill organ, recently restored by the Wells-Kennedy Partnership.

Participants in the May week-end visit to Birmingham sampled the delights of many fine instruments. If it is permissible to single out one visit from many on the programme devised and arranged by Michael Callender, the Society should feel privileged to be one of the first parties to visit the magnificent new Klais organ in Symphony Hall, Birmingham. The party was also delighted to meet up with our member Jonathan Gregory at Leicester Cathedral, where he is Master of the Music.

For some years, the Society has promoted the Spring into Summer Concerts, into which a terrific amount of work has been put on our behalf by James Little. Unfortunately, the first of these concerts in 2002 was not well supported and only a small number of members were among the audience who heard a splendid recital by Charles Harrison (Organ) and Paul Young (Trumpet) at St. George's Church, Belfast on May 18th. A rather better turn-out was achieved on June 22nd at St. Peter's Church, Belfast, where Peter Barley from St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, played the organ (his first recital in the Province) and the Methodist College Madrigal Group sang under the direction of Ruth McCartney. Both organically and chorally, this was an evening to be long remembered.

After a summer break, the Society's activities resumed with a bang on September 21st when Dr. John Bertalot gave an illustrated talk on his life as a church musician. John's effervescent personality and his instinct for getting at the basic essentials with regard to choir-training have made him one of the most sought-after choral clinicians in the world and this session was greatly valued and enjoyed by all present. Thanks should also go to Barbara Callender for arranging the lunch which preceded this event.

On October 19th, the Society met at St. Mary's Church, Crumlin Road, Belfast to hear a wide range of Music for Choirs of Limited Resources introduced by William Adair, aided by Michael Tregenna and Geoffrey McConnell, and sung by a "scratch" choir which would cause most members to break the Tenth Commandment. Ranging from plainsong to the present day and from unison to four parts, the music heard showed that even the most modest choir could build up a repertoire of good music without resorting to the out-dated sixties-style jingles and dubious theology which is so popular these days.

Possibly the Society's most ambitious project came to fruition in the Belfast Community Organ Day on November 23rd. Spear-headed by James Little, this was not only a credit to the Society but a major success in the musical life of the Province. Our thanks are due to James his work, particularly in securing the interest of the City Council, who underwrote the cost of engaging a leading international organist in the person of David Briggs, allowed free use of the Ulster Hall and handled all publicity for the occasion. The morning session was a workshop at Knock Methodist Church, during which David Briggs' humour and perception was of great benefit both to the players and the large gathering of observers. In the afternoon, Michael Tregenna and Rachel Adams arranged an Open Console session, with ten organs throughout the City available to visitors. Finally, the evening recital by David Briggs in the Ulster Hall drew a large audience who were enthralled by his masterly handling of the Mulholland Grand Organ. Especial thanks are due to the Ulster Hall manager, Pat Falls, who entered into the project with enthusiasm and, among many kindnesses, arranged for large video screens to give the audience close-up views of the player. An innovation was the competition, kindly arranged through the Belfast School of Music, to provide themes for the extemporisation which formed the second half of the recital. Thanks to Dr. Joe McKee's encouragement, there was a good response from schools. David Briggs intends to encourage similar competitions in other venues throughout the world.

There have been more changes of console throughout the Province in the past year than is normal. In particular, the Society wishes the new Organists of the Church of Ireland Cathedrals at Armagh, Belfast and Derry every happiness in their positions. We also offer Charles Harrison heartiest congratulations on his appointment to Lincoln Cathedral, regretting his departure from among us and thanking him for his work, not only for the Society but for music in the Province.

During the year, two members passed away. We extend our sympathy to the families of George Gibson and Stanley Woods and remember with gratitude their friendship and contribution to Church Music.

Finally, a word of thanks to all those who contributed in whatever way to the Society's activities during the year, to the committee for planning another innovative and well-varied programme, to the hosts of our meetings, to those who played, sang or lectured, to Alasdair MacLaughlin for carefully husbanding the Society's material assets, to Alistair McCartney for maintaining the Society's website, and not least to the faithful members whose loyal support keeps the Society alive.

Honorary Secretary
January 2003

Archive Page Home Page