Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters

Annual Report on the Year 2007

The first important thing to say this year is that, just as in 2006, the membership has been well served, and the President supported by the committee. Most of its members have either taken entire charge of at least one event during the year or have played another key role such as being Secretary, Treasurer or, for example reviewing the Constitution. All these things take up a considerable amount of time and skill and we are in their debt. Again as last year, there have been two strands to what we have tried to do in our Programme-first of all our regular monthly events and secondly other activities that might be called ‘outreach’, for want of a better word.

February, when we held our first meeting after the AGM brought both these elements together. In the afternoon, we had a talk by Very Rev Dr Hugh Kennedy, Administrator of St Peter’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, about a number of aspects relating to music in the Roman Catholic Church generally. Then that evening, many USOC members attended the Sung Mass service in St Peter’s with the St George’s choir singing Palestrina and your President having the honour of reading the Epistle.

That series, launched in January, was planned in conjunction with USOC and we provided the contacts in a number of choirs to help ensure that all months apart from July and August were covered. The incoming President, Philip Stopford, played a key role in conducting three different choirs on separate occasions.

In May, many of us had the pleasure of attending the blessing of the organ by Bishop Walsh and with Martin Baker from Westminster Cathedral playing stunning improvisations, through the good offices of our member Colm Carey, Belfast City Organist. I cannot leave the subject of St Peter’s Cathedral without firstly congratulating our member Nigel McClintock on being appointed to the newly expanded Director of Music’s position there-no better person. Secondly, I know you will all join me in sending best wishes to Dr Hugh Kennedy for a restoration to health and strength after most unfortunately suffering a heart attack in November.

Turning back to our normal programme, Philip Stopford led our March meeting which was designed to help organists improve their improvisation skills at a more basic level though, as in St Peter’s using a Kenneth Jones organ, this time in Dundrod Presbyterian church. April saw us heading off for the day to a far flung part of Ulster, Co Monaghan for a fascinating day arranged very carefully by Dick Walker. A large number of our members took part in that trip so it seems to be the type of event that people enjoy.

In May, our annual three day trip was to Oxford, with a visit to Shakespeare’s church in Stratford-upon-Avon on the way back to Birmingham airport. We had about 40 people on that trip which took in choral services at Christ Church, New College and Magdalen as well as the opportunity to hear and play a huge variety of organs at seven other Colleges and two churches. A feature of these trips is the chance to catch up with members based outside N Ireland and this year we had no fewer than six people in that category joining us for all or part of the time.

June was an excellent ‘Day in Derry’ organized by Ian Mills, and this was our Elgar and Buxtehude anniversaries event. The highlight was the playing of the entire Elgar Sonata played by international concert organist, David Briggs.

On the last Sunday in June, we marked the death in April after a long and painful illness of one of our most distinguished past Presidents, Christopher Gordon-Wells MBE. A large number of members, along with many people who had travelled from Great Britain attended a Thanksgiving service in St George’s PC, Belfast. Life member Professor Desmond Hunter played the organ before and after the service. A fitting obituary written by Dr Michael Callender was published in many periodicals including the Church Times and Organists’ Review.

After the summer break we repeated the experiment of last year in extending an invitation to hundreds of organists who are not members to come to a choir training workshop, this year with Professor Paul Spicer, one of Britain’s leading choir trainers. This session was held in Methodist College and attracted exactly 100 people. Committee member Stephen Timpany was a key player that day in that he supplied members of his own Banbridge choir for Paul to work with.

Only two months later Stephen was again to the fore as he organised everything to do with our liaison with Holywood Music Festival which led to USOC being sponsors of an inaugural organ class, stemming from an idea from Dr Harry Grindle. This was disappointing in terms of numbers of candidates and audience, but not quality of playing. We were fortunate to have Peter Barley, Director of Music at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin both to adjudicate and also give a very fine short recital in Holywood Methodist church. The organ there, as so often during the year had been tuned just a day or two before by David McElderry and it is important that we acknowledge this contribution from David-one that has been given time and time again.

In between those two events, we returned to St George’s P C in Belfast for our annual Members’ Recital. We heard wonderful choral music sung by the parish choir and accompanied by their own organists, Richard Campbell and Liam Crangle, along with phenomenal organ playing by Charles Harrison and Nigel McClintock. £500 was raised for Christian Aid that evening in order to help with famine relief efforts in Africa.

That covers the various normal activities we arranged. I have already mentioned our involvement with the Sung Mass series in St Peter’s Cathedral. The second initiative with which we were involved was an attempt to forge closer relationships with the various church bodies themselves rather than just the individual members. Ivan Millen and I met Dr Donald Watts, the Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in June. Out of that later came an invitation to meet members of one of their committees which we will be doing on 22 January. We hope to explore ways in which we will be able to help each other in future and that could be the start of an exciting new development. We are also exploring ways of liaising with the Methodist church and the Church of Ireland.

As you can judge from these comments, at this stage we cannot say what will come out of these developments, but you can see that we are trying to be outward looking and ensure that as many church musicians as possible know what we have to offer. That, I hope you will agree, is a great deal. As last year, I have often found myself being surprised at the number of our members who never attend a single event, despite the huge variety that we put on. However, we are grateful for everyone’s subscriptions and their moral support!

I do know from what others say that we in USOC consistently have one of the most interesting annual programmes of any association affiliated to the Incorporated Association of Organists. I hope we have maintained our high standards in 2007 and look forward to doing the same this year.

In mentioning the IAO, it is important that I acknowledge their decision to award us funding of £300 in respect of the Paul Spicer event as it was designed to help us try to attract new members. This payment should appear in next year’s accounts. Also, I represented USOC at three IAO meetings during 2007 and a number of our members attended the annual IAO Congress in August, this year held in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas.

Finally, I repeat my thanks to all office bearers and committee members for their sterling contributions during the year and would also like to thank our webmaster, Alistair McCartney for keeping our website up to date and adding to it from time to time with such things as photographs from our Oxford trip.

Thank you to all members who provided help in various ways, either by playing at or hosting various events and, above all, by simply providing support by attending on one or more occasions in 2007.

James Little
31 December 2007