Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters

Honorary Secretary's Report on the Year 1995

By the world at large 1995 may be remembered as the year in which bombs ceased to blast Bosnia, Bethlehem and Belfast. For some, more vivid recollections may be of the brutal devastation of Grozny in Chechnya, the much publicised and extraordinary trial of O.J. Simpson in Los Angeles, or the increasingly indelicate improprieties of the British monarchical establishment. For members of the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters 1995 will be especially memorable perhaps for an action-packed weekend in Worcester, or a June afternoon when the vaults of Down Cathedral re-echoed to the strains of music in a celtic mode. Let me, in any case, remind you briefly of what the Society did achieve during the year just passed.

In February a visit was made to the Church of the Holy Cross, Ardoyne, where David Drinkell and Nigel McClintock presented a programme of organ music by Sigrfid Karg-Elert. For those who had, imagined this meant no more than Nun Danket this was an enlightening session and indeed a useful one in that most of the music played demanded no more than average competence from the player. The visit revealed also the high quality of some at least of the organs built by Evans and Barr over seventy years ago; the three-manual installed at Ardoyne in a west gallery in 1926 makes a splendid sound, enhanced by the lively acoustics of this spacious and lovely church.

In March the emphasis switched from organ to voice when a Choral Colloquy was conducted at the Parish Church of Saint John, Helen's Bay. Four members of the Society - Michael Callender, John Crothers, Ian Hunter and Michael McCracken - demonstrated their individual approach to some simple anthems using an ad hoc choir. This was an interesting affair though in hindsight too much was probably attempted in the available time. During the afternoon Stephen Shaw gave a short recital on the small, two-manual organ he had installed in the Church in 1990.

In April further evidence of the excellence of Evans and Barr's early work was discovered when members of the Society travelled to the Roman Catholic Church at Moneyglass, County Antrim. Here another three-manual, very similar in specification to the installation at Ardoyne, though in poorer condition and sited also in a west gallery, gave a good account of itself in the resourceful hands of David Drinkell. This organ is probably unique in the province in that its wind is supplied by huge lever-operated feeder bellows which in themselves make an imposing sight. From Moneyglass the party drove to Duneane Presbyterian Church to hear a two-manual mechanical action organ played by Nigel McClintock. Installed originally as a single-manual by Wells Kennedy in 1986, it had been more recently enlarged. Its 680 pipes, housed in a most attractive case, produce an unequivocally clear, bright sound although at least one listener did regret the absence of a string or reed among its ten ranks!

For the thirty-five fortunate participants, the highlight of the Society's 1995 season will almost certainly have been their weekend trip to Worcester. In addition to the three great cathedrals at Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester, seven other churches were visited, among them Tewkesbury Abbey, Ludlow Parish Church and Leominster Abbey. At the Church of St Michael and All Angels in Tenbury it was a particular pleasure to be joined by member Jonathan Gregory (now organist of Leicester Cathedral) who played the Church's splendid four-manual Harrison. Other especially memorable events of an exciting weekend were a wonderful demonstration by Dr Roy Massey of the organ at Hereford Cathedral, and a quite stunning improvisation by David Briggs at Gloucester Cathedral.

The Annual Members Concert in 1995 took the form of a celebration of Celtic Mysticism at Down Cathedral in June, when the programme included a new anthem by Philip Hammond, commissioned by the Society, new organ music composed and played by John Boal, Donald Davison and Timothy Allen, two songs by Sean O'Rioda based on Irish texts, and a recently published choral arrangement of St Patrick's Breastplate by Archibold Potter sung by the Priory Singers directed by Harry Grindle. This concert was a most encouraging and gratifying demonstration of the high level of musical creativity which clearly exists within the Society. It was, fortunately, recorded and is available on cassette.

The Society's Annual Dinner was consumed with customary relish at Galgorm Manor, near Ballymena, in September; an excellent meal in agreeable surroundings enjoyed by just over fifty members and friends. On this occasion the guest of honour was John Scott, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, and the following Saturday afternoon he presented an absorbing lecture/recital of English organ music at Belfast Cathedral including works by Henry Smart, Herbert Howells, Percy Whitlock, William Alcock, C.H.H. Parry and John Ireland. Both organ and organist were in perfect accord with the generally romantic nature of the music played and Mr Scott's well-planned programme revealed the variety and distinctive quality of this sometimes undervalued segment of the organ repertoire. A well attended and most enjoyable meeting.

In October an afternoon was spent visiting Magheralin Parish Church and Lisburn Cathedral. At the former one of the Society's youngest members - Christopher Gray - played the two-manual organ installed originally by Forster and Andrews and recently restored by Stephen Shaw. This is a pleasant little instrument of unassertive character in a very lovely parish church played with skill and obvious zeal by a promising student. At Lisburn the much larger two manual hybrid rebuilt most recently by Wells Kennedy was played by one of the Society's more senior members, Michael Richards. As a cathedral this is hardly the province's most beautiful, but the organ looks well and makes a fine sound. Afternoon tea was provided by ladies of the choir.

Just over a year ago the Society paid its tribute to Palestrina on the four-hundredth anniversary of his death. In 1995 the three-hundredth anniversary of the death of Henry Purcell was celebrated in November by an afternoon of music in Armagh City. It began with Choral Evensong at St John's Parish Church, Lisnadill, where most of the music including the anthem "I Was Glad" was by Purcell, sung by a choir assembled for the occasion and conducted by Neale Agnew. Later in the afternoon, at the Primate's Chapel, an ensemble consisting of three recorders, bass viol and harpsichord, presented a programme of the composer's instrumental music and the celebrations concluded with a reception and evening meal at the city's Royal School.

During the year membership of the Society increased slightly from 161 to 167, but with great regret I must also record the death of Robert McKinley of Ballymena, a keen supporter of the Society for many years and an enthusiastic participant in several of the Society's overseas weekend trips. The Presbyterian Churches of Ballymena and Magherafelt and the Parish churches of Ballymena and Randalstown were among those he served as organist. On a happier note it is pleasant to report that member Ian Mackrell gained a BA(Hons) degree during the year from Queen's University and was appointed organ scholar at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, while junior member Graeme McCullough, awarded the Associate Diploma of the Royal College of Organists in 1994, has since been accepted as organ scholar at Exeter College, Oxford. Nineteen-ninety-five was also the year in which the Society for the first time commissioned a decorative china plate bearing the USOC logo and now available for purchase by members.

In closing this report I should wish to record our gratitude to those imaginative and industrious members of committee who planned and implemented the society's 1995 programme, to those who played, sang or spoke at our meetings, and to the churches which kindly hosted them. Special thanks yet again to Ian Hunter and his Gryphon envelope-fillers in Bangor for typing and despatching the monthly circulars with meticulous care. Most of all, however, I should wish to thank our outgoing President Dr Barbara Callender. As the first lady to hold that office, and without a doubt much the best dressed President the Society has ever had, she has for the past two years carried out her duties with quite remarkable distinction. Her careful, painstaking attention to every aspect of the Society's affairs and the gracious manner in which she has conducted its meetings have contributed much to the undoubted success the Society has enjoyed during her term of office, and her generosity in hosting innumerable meetings of committee at her home has been greatly appreciated by its members. It will not be an easy act to follow!

All in all then, I think that it can be reliably reported that the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters is alive and well and still flourishing. Long may it continue to do so.

Rodney Bambrick
Honorary Secretary

January 1996

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