PAST ORGANISTS AND MASTERS OF CHORISTERS
William Ware, 1776 - 1825
The first organist in Saint Anne’s Parish Church
He occupied the position for 49 years and was well known in the town’s musical and educational circles. Dr Michael Thomson, who had been brought from England to be in charge of the music at Hillsborough, came down from time to time to assist Ware By 1801, celebrated soloists were coming to sing oratorio. Ware had an assistant, much better known than he was, in Edward Bunting whose “General Collection of Ancient Irish Music arranged for the Pianoforte” was the beginning of all more modern studies of Irish folk music.
It had been planned that the organ, by John Snetzler, would be ready for the opening service of the church on 27th October 1776 but Snetzler was in great demand and did not complete his work for another five years. At a time when brilliancy of tone was much sought after, Snetzler’s organs were noted for their dignity and mellowness of quality. He excelled in fluework and is said to have introduced the dulciana and double diapason stops. He had already built a fine organ for the Earl of Hillsborough’s new church in 1772/3. The receipt, dated May 1773, showed that for “a new organ with 3 setts of keys” there was paid a sum of £400. It is supposed that the cathedral organ didn’t cost more than that. The excellence of the Hillsborough organ no doubt helped secure the contract with Saint Anne’s and subsequent orders locally, including one for the First Congregation, Rosemary Street. Snetzler’s reputation was at its peak. His Saint Anne’s organ came to life, according to a contemporary report, on Saint John’s Day, 24th June 1781 “in the presence of a large congregation which included several Masonic Lodges”. The sermon was preached by the Vicar, Reverend William Bristow, on behalf of the Poorhouse, later known as the Charitable Institution.
Ware was succeeded by John Willis
John Willis, 1825 to 1847.
John Willis was Organist of Saint Anne’s Parish Church from 1825 to 1847. He was the second to hold the post, taking over from William Ware. Willis had been a choirboy at Armagh Cathedral and was an organist at the age of twelve in Dungannon Church. He carried on a music shop in High Street in partnership with a Signor Guerini, a violinist, and was one of the “leaders” or conductors of the Anacreontic Society. This was a concert-giving society formed in London in 1776, taking its name from the Greek lyric poet Anacreon (5th c BC) whose surviving work is chiefly in praise of love, wine and revelry. Stimulated by the traditions of his own early training Willis made several attempts to carry on a boys’ choir. However, the everlasting difficulty of securing a succession of new boys to replace those going off was too much for him and the effort was abandoned. During his tenure an overhaul of the organ was undertaken by a Mr C Hull, from Dublin. Willis resigned in 1847 and was succeeded by J T May.
James Thompson May, 1847 - 1862.
May had come from Edinburgh to Belfast a few years before as a teacher of violin and piano. Like his predecessor, John Willis, he was connected with the Anacreontic Society. He continued as organist until 1862 when he departed for Australia and was succeeded by one of his pupils, H A Wood. A photograph of him in 1861 with his all-male choir of seven (an alto, three tenors, a baritone, a bass and one other adult) is in the Cathedral archives.
Henry A Wood, 1863 - 1873.
Isaac Waugh Nicholl, 1874 - 1903
Isaac Nicholl’s previous appointment had lasted only a month when he came to Saint Anne’s. He had just taken over in charge of the music at Saint Peter’s when the call came that he was required at Saint Anne’s - immediately! With the training of the boys at nearby Saint George’s on his cv, his appointment here, on the resignation of Henry A Wood in 1874, was not a surprise. There were no boys in Saint Anne’s choir at that period but he had studied as a treble and became the first to train boys for Saint George’s at the time Frank Smythe was organist there. It was from a Mr Searl that Isaac Nicholl got the secret of producing the light head-voice downwards and eliminating the chest voice to produce a pure flute-like quality
Until 1869, when the Irish Church became disestablished and partially disendowed, the Saint Anne’s choir had been seen as belonging to the staff of the Church and quite apart from the congregation. It is thought that, until then, the choir had been paid and robed. Faced with this it fell to Mr Nicholl to recruit amateur singers from the congregation and under his guidance the musical side of Saint Anne’s flourished. Early encouragement came from William S Baird, a bass who had recently left the choir, who gave help and advice from time to time. His choir consisted of 13 paid and 17 voluntary singers. There were three Sunday Services, two of them choral.
Isaac Nichol was a pharmaceutical chemist. He lived at “Denehurst”, Adelaide Park, off the Lisburn Road. In 1881, he opened his pharmacy at 29 (until 1939, 25) High Street, next to Wilson’s Court, in the city. The business was formed into a private limited company in 1918, Mr Nicholl being the first chairman. He was succeeded in the firm by his son, Mr J Trevor Nicholl, LPSI. In 1931 a fine new front made it one of the city’s most attractive shops, compounding prescriptions and selling medical requisites, perfumes, toiletry and photographic services. The shop prospered until 1967 after which it became the House of Lights.
Back in Saint Anne’s the organ was of unique interest. It was one of the famed Snetzlers at which every distinguished organist visiting Belfast was glad to spend an afternoon. Aficionados knew that it was originally tuned in G and, in remote keys, the chords were out of tune. At a renovation during Mr Nicholl’s term, possibly in September 1886, it was retuned on the equal temperament system and some wind pressures were altered.
On the reopening of the church after six-weeks of renovations in 1886, the first Service commemorated the 110th Anniversary of the church’s Consecration. At both morning and evening Services the Church was crowded and, for the first time in Saint Anne’s, the Psalms for the day (50 to 55) were chanted (to Aldrich, Higgins, Robinson, Gregorian, etc). The Services were Woodward in E flat and Goss in A, the choir being “slightly augmented for the occasion”.
By April 1894, the Bishop (Welland) had announced a scheme to have the church altered to meet the requirements of a pro-Cathedral and at the same time a new vicar (Canon O’Hara) was appointed. Things were moving. The same year saw Mr Nicholl introducing Choral Evensong in preparation for the change of status.
In 1886 it was agreed that £14 a year should be placed under the control of Mr Nicholl to pay for the services of a good tenor voice. To put this in context, the second Curate’s salary was £150 and a proposal had been made to raise the sexton’s salary to £50 but this was reduced to £48 which was thought would be sufficient. The bell ringer got £15. In November, the choir was performing at a Choir Festival in the Ulster Hall. However, the choir was having difficulty in keeping up with three Services every Sunday and, in 1897, Mr Nicholl recommended dropping the 3.30 Service. As a result, Mr Moss, the Assistant Organist and one of the ladies’ voices could be dispensed with, thus effecting a saving of £40 a year. The offertory from a Monday night Harvest Thanksgiving went towards the choir’s expenses. The “transfer market” was also in operation. Mr Smart, the tenor, had got a better offer from another church and Saint Anne’s was obliged to raise his salary to £20 so as to keep him.
With the decision in 1898 to erect the Cathedral, fund raising started and purse strings were tightened. The Church lost its second Curate while the choir and organist, with an outlay of £165, lost a number of paid choir members. Robert Pollock, who now had no bell to ring and little or no weekday duty, had his £15 salary reduced to £6.
This was a momentous period and the upheaval of the transition from church to cathedral would have tested the resilience of Mr Nicholl and the choir. So it was fortunate that the music for the Service for Laying the First Stone of the Cathedral Church on 6th September 1899 was not very demanding – just two hymns, the Te Deum being read.
By now, Canon O’Hara, Vicar of Belfast, had become Dean and was still looking forward. In 1903 he announced that a trained boys’ choir was an absolute necessity. To ensure this, he thought a Cathedral School would be needed and, through the kindness of Canon Riddall, had secured the schools in Shaftesbury Square connected to Magdalene Church. He had seen how similar schools had worked in Dublin and thought that a grant to help run it might be had from the Incorporated Society.
Another problem for Mr Nicholl to work around was the organ, or lack of it. It had first to be removed, then stored before being repaired and fitted up in its new building. Messrs Evans and Barr (Organ Builders) estimated the cost of all this would be £76. They also quoted for improvements at £44, £58 + £9 and £107. Mr Nicholl and a member of the Board, the Rev James Carey, considered the prices to be moderate but Carey thought that more would be needed to make the organ effective in the new building. At an estimated cost of £24, Carey successfully argued that hydraulic power would dispense with the services of an organ blower. The Board then left the business of the organ in the hands of the Dean, Rev Carey and Mr Nicholl.
Within a few weeks however, Mr Nicholl’s ill health caused him to resign. On 1st February 1904 a resolution was unanimously agreed “that the Board of Saint Anne’s Cathedral have heard with the deepest regret that Mr Nicholl finds it necessary to resign the post of Organist which he has held for thirty years with so much credit to himself and pleasure to those who listened to him. They recall to mind the deep interest that he always took in the music of Saint Anne’s, the sympathetic beauty of his instrumentation and the skill and tact with which he trained and developed the powers of his choir. They desire to place on record their sense not only of his great ability as an organist but also of his high personal worth and character. They rejoice to think that Mr Nicholl’s connection with Saint Anne’s is not to be severed, and they earnestly hope that the rest which he is compelled to take will perfectly restore him to health”. Their wishes were to come true, for he served for several years thereafter on the Board until he died in 1925. His work with the music was long remembered. An article in the Belfast Telegraph as late as March 1923 records that he espoused the works and technique of the great organ composers and players and “held very strong views upon the decadence in organ style among some of the young players” of his day.
The Pillar of Music, designed by Charles Nicholson and carved by Morris Harding in 1927 was the gift of Mr Nicholl’s widow and children in his memory. It was dedicated on 24th November 1927. The preacher was Mr. Sidney Nicholson (later Sir Sidney), the Organist of Westminster Abbey and Founding Director of the Royal School of Church Music and brother of the Cathedral Architect Sir Charles Nicholson.
Charles J Brennan,OBE, MA, BMus, FRCO, LRAM, 1904 - 1964
The first organist of St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
From an old Galway family of musicians, most of whom immigrated to USA with the exception of Brennan and his father, he was born at Gosport, Hampshire in October, 1876. Some early childhood was spent in Cork but when he was six or seven he returned to England. A chorister since he was eight years old, he was appointed organist in a Bedfordshire Parish church when he was 15. At 18 he gained his ARCO diploma and secured his FRCO in 1897.
That same year, he again crossed the Irish Sea to become organist and choirmaster in Strabane Parish Church, at £40 per annum. During the next four years, he made a name for himself in the northwest by training five choirs in the Strabane neighbourhood. He moved to Belfast in 1901 to take up his appointment as organist in Elmwood Presbyterian Church. His seasonal recitals were greatly appreciated by the city’s music lovers.
When, in January 1904, the Cathedral Board received a letter of resignation from Isaac Nicholl (qv), a sub-committee was set up to arrange for a successor. It consisted of Dean Robinson, Rev James A Carey and the two Churchwardens. As it happened, no formal meetings of the committee were held but, within a fortnight, from the numerous candidates, the names of the two most suitable were submitted for consideration. They were Brennan and Chaundery (from Kidderminster). The Board went for Brennan and agreed that his salary should be £100. With only three months to go before the consecration, Brennan had little time to waste!
In September 1908 he applied, with seven others, for the position of Belfast City Organist vacated by Dr W G Price who had immigrated to Melbourne. He was given the job after the Council in Committee, including Lord Shaftesbury, voted in his favour, by 29 votes to 19 against his main rival, Mr Ellingford. This gave him control of the organ and Saturday night and other concerts conducted under municipal auspices. Those arrangements had previously been made by the Chief Clerk.
The Cathedral choir was not Brennan’s only musical involvement. Others included the Ulster Male Voice Choir, the Queen’s Island Operatic Society and Belfast City Operatic Society. The latter existed before the Great War and such was the strength of its performance of `La Boheme’ that it was granted permission to perform `Madam Butterfly’. This did not materialise but it was the first amateur society in the world to be accorded the privilege. Another venture thwarted by the war was his Professional Musicians’ Orchestra, made up mostly of players in theatre orchestras.
With the Great War in mind, Brennan joined the Officer Training Corps at Queen’s University, Belfast. This made his call-up almost inevitable and, in September 1917, he received notice from the War Office that he was to go to Aldershot for a short period. The Cathedral had anticipated this and had already engaged Jack McKeown to take over. The increase in McKeown’s salary was paid for out of Brennan’s salary, at Brennan’s request. When, in early 1918, the then Captain Brennan was posted to the war zone in France, he and McKeown decided to combine their salaries and each take half, £80 per annum. During his tour of duty with the Royal Irish Fusiliers in France and Belgium, he organised musical diversions for his fellow soldiers.
He was a president of the Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmasters – he was elected a member in 1918 at its foundation and notified of his election while in France. In an address to the Society in 2003, Billy Adair mentioned that Brennan had also been the Organist of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Ireland, Conductor of the Ulster Operatic Society, Lecturer in Music at Queen’s University before a Chair was created there, an adjudicator at Music Festivals, an External Examiner and President of the Society of Professional Musicians.
Providing an insight into Brennan’s character, Billy Adair continued: “The Captain always looked the part – small, rotund, neat and dapper. In summer, always with his yellow chamois gloves, in winter with a heavy great coat and immaculate grey spats. He didn’t encourage jokers, but had his own particular sense of caustic humour which the following stories illustrate. The first occurred at a Wednesday evening practice in the Cathedral. C J’s method of practice was to have everything unaccompanied, but if the work had a set accompaniment he would go through it again with the organ. They had just sung the big Stanford Anthem, ‘The Lord of Might’ and were about to repeat it with organ when the Dean walked in – Dean Kerr, later Bishop of Down. The choir were doing nothing, so he began talking to the ladies, who presumably were making some Communion Linens. He discussed this little motif and that little motif and by this time the Captain had dog-eared every page of the anthem and was ready to begin. But the Dean went on. Quite exasperated, C J bounced off the organ stool: ‘Mr Dean, am I supposed to be conducting a choir practice, or are you conducting an embroidery class?’ Without even looking round, the Dean disappeared.
“Then a new Dean arrived – Dean Elliott from Down Cathedral. He quietly introduced a couple of hymns at the early Communions on Easter Day and on Christmas Day, and the Captain didn’t like it. He referred to these innovations as ‘the Dean and his countrified ideas’. It was approaching Christmastide, the BBC was broadcasting the Carol Service for the first time, and the preparations were under way. The Vicar Choral, John Nolan, came to the Captain with a message from the Dean, signifying that he was unhappy with a boy reading the first lesson – the Genesis one. ‘And why not, John?’ asked the Captain. ‘He thinks it inappropriate for a boy to read this particular lesson, sir.’ (He meant about Adam and Eve prancing around the Garden of Eden in their birthday suits). ‘John’, said the Captain, ‘ tell the Dean from me, that I am quite prepared to sit Sunday by Sunday listening to his platitudes from the pulpit, but when he asks me to put them into practice, I draw the line.’ The boy read the lesson!
“The final story concerns the Ulster Male Voice Choir, which met for practice on Monday evenings in Great Victoria Street Presbyterian Church Hall – a sort of ‘singing for pleasure’ exercise. This particular evening had been taken up entirely with two works by Elgar. Elgar wasn’t exactly popular with the choir and his music even less so; consequently, at the end of the practice one man had the courage to voice his opinion. ‘Sir’, said he, ‘we have spent the entire evening on stuff that you like, now before we go, could we sing something we like?’ The Captain straightened himself, ‘And what do you like Jimmy?’ ‘What about Oft in the Stilly night, sir?’ ‘Right, stand up and we’ll have Oft in the Stilly night’. This was more like the music the choir liked, and the first verse went really well. Then came the second verse; ‘When I remember all the friends so linked together, I’ve seen around me fall like leaves in wintry weather, I feel like one who treads alone’. But, they broke the phrase and sang: ‘I feel like one (breath) who treads alone.’ C J stopped them abruptly. ‘You feel like one? I feel like one myself’, and off he went home.
“When the BBC was setting up in Belfast, a high-powered deputation from London called on him and offered him the post of Head of Music, BBC Northern Ireland. Naturally he was interested, providing he would be free on Sundays for the Cathedral. This they could not guarantee, so he declined the post. They returned next day hoping to persuade him, but no, for him it was Cathedral and BBC, not the other way around. They were here to make an appointment, so he advised them to go to Holywood and interview Godfrey Brown, Conductor of the Philharmonic Society”.
Opinions differ on whether or not Brennan’s decision (equally perhaps the Cathedral’s decision) to continue for so long as organist was good or bad. Certainly some of the voices were past their best. A suburban choirmaster was asked why in his choir he carried elderly voices. The reply was, “Remember, these people are members of the church first and members of the choir second”. Maybe Brennan thought that way too!
Charles John Brennan took his degree of Mus Bac at Durham University and was granted an honorary M.A. by Queen’s University and was honoured with an O.B.E. He retired from the Cathedral in 1964 after 60 years there and died in May 1972 at the age of 95.
Harry Grindle 1964 - 1976
Dr Harry Grindle was born in Bangor, County Down where he was chorister at the ancient abbey church. He was appointed to his first church organist post while still at school. He read French Language and Literature at The Queen's University of Belfast and the University of Strasbourg and continued his musical studies while teaching in London. Dr Grindle returned to Northern Ireland in 1962, serving as organist at Bangor Parish Church until his appointment as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Belfast Cathedral two years later. Despite the infamous 'Troubles', which were at their height in the early 1970s seriously affecting all aspects of life in the province, high musical standards were maintained in the cathedral. The cathedral choir contributed regularly to the BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong series of broadcasts and its first commercial recording was released in 1973. It was invited to sing at St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in the same year and at Westminster Cathedral in 1975. Dr Grindle was subsequently appointed to a lectureship at Stranmillis College of Education, becoming in due course Head of the Music Department. He has always been active in the promotion of church music and he has a long association in various capacities with the work of the Armagh Church Choir Union.
He is the author of a book on Irish Cathedral Music which is widely regarded as the definitive publication on the subject. He is the editor of a hymn-book for children and has a large number of liturgical compositions to his credit. His hymn-tune, Stranmillis, a prize-winner in the St Paul's Cathedral Millennium Hymn Competition, was selected for inclusion in the latest edition of the St Paul's Cathedral Hymnal. In 1977 Dr Grindle became the first Irish musician to be elected to an Associateship of the Royal School of Church Music in recognition of his 'distinguished services to the music of the Church' and in June 2005 the degree of Doctor of Music was conferred on him by the Archbishop of Canterbury. His busy and varied career has been the subject of a film documentary shown on Ulster Television.
Jonathan Gregory. 1976 - 1984
Jonathan Gregory studied at the Royal Academy and at Clare College, Cambridge, before his appointment as Organist and Master of Choristers in Belfast. He studied the organ with Gillian Weir and Martindale Sidwell. He is presently Organist and Director of Music at Leicester Cathedral. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and was Organ Scholar at Clare College Cambridge. He recruits and trains the choristers from many different schools in the Leicester area, including Leicester Grammar School. There are two teams of boy and girl choristers; ATB parts are sung by choral scholars from Leicester and De Montfort Universities together with voluntary songmen. The choir has sung in many venues, in cathedrals and in cities as far afield as Strasbourg, Liverpool, Rhode Island USA and Tokyo under Jonathan's direction.
Andrew Padmore M.A. D.Mus. FTCL. FLCM. LRAM. ARCM ARCO(CHM) 1984 - 1988
Andrew Padmore who served as Organist & Master of Choristers at Cork and Belfast Cathedrals is a popular conductor with choirs and orchestras internationally and is a leading figure in the choral world. He works with diverse forces ranging from small chamber choirs at the BBC to the largest symphony orchestras and choirs like the famous "Huddersfield Choral Society". His work is highly praised by critics, audiences and by the performers with whom he works.
He is the resident conductor and artistic director of the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir and Yorkshire Chamber Choir. In his time with this choir it has more than trebled in size, invariably performs to capacity audiences and is described by the critics as “a leading musical force in Yorkshire” and in the German press at an International Choral Festival as “the highlight of the Festival”. He is also music director of Harrogate Choral Society.
David Drinkell , 1988 - 2002
David Drinkell was born in Colchester, Essex in 1955 and was first appointed organist of a local church at the age of twelve. After graduating from the University of Bristol in 1978, he took a post-graduate Certificate in Education at Cambridge before moving to Orkney, where he was Master of the Music at St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. He also taught music in local schools. In 1988 he married Elspeth, a member of his choir, and became Organist and Master of the Choristers at St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.
Since the beginning of 2003 he has been Organist and Choir Director at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, St. John’s, Newfoundland, the oldest Anglican foundation in North America. David is an Associate of the Royal College of Music, Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and he holds the Archbishop’s Diploma in Church Music.
As a recitalist, or choral director, he has appeared in most parts of the British Isles as well as Paris, Norway, Canada and New York. Memorable recitals include the Great Irish Cathedral Organ Marathon in 1992, which involved giving a recital in each of the thirty-one cathedrals of the Church of Ireland in the course of a week. In 1993, he was one of eight Essex-born cathedral organists to take part in the Essex Man Organ Gala at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Brian Hunter, 2002 - 2003
Past Chorister and Choir member, Brian Hunter acted as Director of Music. Brian has served as organist and choirmaster of Bangor and Holywood Parishes. He was also director of Renaissance, a well known choir with an enviable record of television and other broadcasts. During this period HM Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited the cathedral for a service of thanksgiving marking Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. This service was broadcast live throughout the United Kingdom.
Philip Stopford, 2003 - 2010
Philip Stopford (b1977) was appointed Director of Music in January 2003. He began his musical career as a Chorister at Westminster Abbey. He won a musical scholarship to Bedford School, where he also held the post of Organ Scholar in the sixth form. Following a year as Organ Scholar at Truro Cathedral, Philip won a place at Keble College, Oxford, where he read Music and was Organ Scholar. He was responsible for recruiting and training the College Chapel Choir which was regarded as one of the best mixed choirs in Oxford at the time. The Choir made the CD "Lux Mundi" and a volume of Evening Canticles in a Priory Records Series.
In 1999, Philip moved to Canterbury Cathedral to be Organ Scholar before securing his first full time post as Assistant Organist at Chester Cathedral in 2000. In Chester, he was responsible for the Cathedral Voluntary Choir.
In January 2003, Philip was appointed Director of Music at Belfast Cathedral. The Cathedral Choir has been resident in Chester, Liverpool, Wells, Truro, Cork, Waterford and Dublin Cathedrals. He has made three CDs with the Choir, Mysterium (Music for Advent and Christmas), a CD of Hymns, and Celtic Inspirations, all recorded by Priory Records.
Edward Bunting 1784 - 1843
From an article headed “OLD ST.ANNE’S ORGAN” by Rathcol in a 1909 Belfast Telegraph
In 1784 the organist [William Ware] went to London and a lad of 10 or 11 years old, named Edward Bunting, who afterwards became famous for collecting and recording Irish melodies, took Ware’s place at the organ. Bunting was born in Armagh in 1773 of an English father and a mother with Tyrone antecedents. He probably owed his appearance and eating capacity to his father, a Derbyshire engineer in charge of a Dungannon colliery and his taste for liquor and music to his mother’s side. The father died while Edward was still a child. The boy sang in Armagh’s protestant Cathedral then went for two years to study with an older brother, Anthony, an organist in Drogheda.
He came to Belfast to be substitute organist to Mr Ware and gave so much satisfaction to both organist and people that he was articled to Ware for a period to deputise at the organ and to teach Ware’s pupils throughout the district. Being a mere small boy, some of the grown up lady pupils would occasionally rebel against his somewhat impatient tuition. And one day a certain Miss Stewart, of Welmot, in County Down, got up and well boxed his ears. Even this salutary experience does not seem to have improved his temper in later years, when he is described as clever and handsome, a hard drinker and dissipater, wayward, hot-tempered and idle.
It was only in 1782 that Bunting came into his kingdom. After that he was no longer “idle” at any rate. That year saw the historic assemblage of Irish harpers in Belfast. The festival organisers went one step further than in previous similar events. They commissioned Bunting to note down the music, cautioning him not to alter a single note. What he heard is said to have awakened in him a powerful interest in Irish music. In fact, that interest became his life work and he immediately made journeys throughout Ireland in pursuit of unpublished tunes. In 1796 he published his first collection of 66 airs. In 1809, Clementi of London published a second edition with 77 new airs, some of which he unsuccessfully added words to. He made friends of the Broadwood’s who offered him a piano of his choice. He was in Paris in 1815 and later in Belgium where he learned much at the splendid organs in the bigger churches. In 1806, he opened the organ of the Second Congregation in Belfast. It was the work of a Mr White, an “ingenious mechanic” of London, and had pedals.
Edward Bunting married a Miss Chapman in 1819 and moved to Dublin where he played the organ in Saint Stephen’s. His third collection of airs, dedicated to the youthful Queen Victoria, was published in 1840. He continued his association with Saint Anne’s by assisting Ware’s successor, John Willis. He died in December 1843 and not a single newspaper published any reference to the life or death of this remarkable character.
Joseph H MacBratney, 1913 - 1917
Joseph MacBratney, the eldest son John MacBratney, had a busy musical life combining the disciplines of pianist, conductor, choirmaster and organist. He was Deputy Conductor of the Belfast Philharmonic Society, Conductor of the Londonderry Philharmonic Society, the Clarence Place Choral Union, the Ulster Male Choir and Organist and Choirmaster at various churches. These included Derriaghy Church, Lisburn Cathedral and three Belfast churches - Saint Stephen’s, Carlisle Memorial Methodist and Saint Mark’s, Dundela. For a time, he was Music Master at Mount Oregon Boarding School, Whitehead.
He was acknowledged as one of the province’s most accomplished solo pianists and was sought after as an accompanist - he accompanied Dame Clara Butt in the Ulster Hall. He gave chamber music recitals with George Vincent to appreciative Belfast audiences.
He also served in Saint Anne’s Cathedral as Brennan’s Assistant Organist. He was well thought of – the proposal to engage him was seconded by Brennan’s predecessor, Isaac Nicholl. His appointment began on 1st October 1913 at an annual salary of £20. For this he would play at the Sunday Evening Services and perform other duties that the Dean might decide. In April 1917, he resigned. He was succeeded by Jack McKeown as Assistant Organist at Saint Anne’s.
Joseph MacBratney was forced through illness to retire from work a year before he died, on 21st May 1938, at his home, 68 University Street, Belfast.
Jack McKeown, 1917 – 1929 and 1942 - 1954
Jack McKeown, ARCO, was appointed Assistant Organist in 1917 just after the resignation of Joseph MacBratney. The timing of Mr McKeown’s appointment was critical as the Organist, Mr Brennan, was expecting to be called to duty in World War I. Someone was required who could immediately assume total responsibility for three Sunday Services. In early 1918 Captain Brennan was posted to the war zone in France and he and Jack McKeown decided to combine their salaries and each take half. When Captain Brennan returned Mr McKeown resumed as assistant organist and continued as such until 1929 when he took up the post of Organist and Choirmaster in St James’s, Antrim Road.
During the blitzing of Belfast by the Luftwaffe on Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, several churches were destroyed including St Silas’s and St James’s at either end of the Cliftonville Road. This brought about the return of Jack McKeown to the Cathedral. When the Cathedral’s advertisement for an assistant organist appeared in 1942 Mr McKeown’s response came as a complete surprise and there was no hesitation in coming to a decision. And so, by coincidence, in both World Wars the Cathedral’s music was in the hands of Messrs Brennan and McKeown.
Mr McKeown fell ill in 1954 and Mr John A Young was appointed honorary sub-organist and deputised, taking the Evening Services and their rehearsals. Mr McKeown retired in May 1955 and died on 20th July aged 70. A Memorial Service was held in the Cathedral on the Sunday evening following the funeral. The rector of St James’s the Revd Graham Craig, a former vicar-choral, joined the Cathedral clergy and intoned the Sentences from the Burial Office. Captain Brennan was at the organ and the Evening Choir was augmented by members of the main choir. The boys, sitting in the ‘state’ seats, joined in the Service and the lessons were read by George Bustard, churchwarden and past-chorister, representing the Evening Choir. Dean Elliott in his address mentioned Jack McKeown’s contribution to the musical life of the city, his gifts as an accompanist, his having been honorary secretary of the Ulster Society of Organists and his prominence in Freemasonry where he was Grand Organist of the Masonic Province of Antrim. Mr McKeown’s successor as Assistant Organist was Mr Huston Graham, one of his organ pupils.
Samuel Croft, 1936-39
Huston Graham took the boys' practice each Tuesday; covered all the duties of such a deputy when CJ Brennan was on holiday; and took the Evening Choir (rehearsals on Tuesday nights and 7 pm Services on Sundays). The Evening Choir's robes were purple - ladies in gowns and Canterbury caps, men in cassocks and surplices. This service was called 'The People's Service'.
An architect by profession, Huston Graham was a fabulous organist - his repertoire was wide and exciting. Ian Hunter comments, “I'll never forget him playing 'Clarion de Westminster' by Vierne and other pieces only playable by organists with advanced techniques. His ability to play orchestral transcriptions was astonishing - Bach's 'St Matthew Passion', Mendelssohn's 'Hymn of Praise' and Brahms' 'Requiem' and other "big" works which the choir sang annually on Passion Sunday and at Harvest. He was an outstanding organ accompanist. I remember his as, apparently, having a relaxed attitude to everything and a great sense of humour with lots of patience. Huston Graham was my first organ teacher on the recommendation of CJB and I spent many Sunday 7pm services in the organ loft, happily turning pages and watching him play, thus learning from him, particularly the art of accompanying psalms.”
He composed carols and other pieces which both the Evening and Cathedral Choirs sang. His father sang bass in the Cathedral Choir. He collapsed after a Wednesday night practice and was taken to the Board Room where he died.
With the appointment of Harry Grindle as organist in September 1964, the scope of the cathedral's music programme was gradually extended to include public performances and more regular broadcasts (notably in the prestigious BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong series). As a busy architect, whose professional duties took him throughout the country as well as abroad, Huston Graham in due course found himself unable to be available as much as was now necessary at the Cathedral. In 1968, after a very happy collaboration of 4 years with his former pupil, with typical generosity he offered to forego his modest salary to allow an assistant to be appointed, while he continued to take responsibility (voluntarily) for the Sunday evening service and the training of the so-called "Evening" choir. Howard Fee( who went on to become Professor of Anaesthetics at the Queen's University) was the first appointee to this new post.
Huston's home was in Massey Avenue, near Stormont, in Belfast.
Christopher Boodle, 1977 - 83
Christopher Boodle was born in Gloucester in 1952 and received his musical education at New College, Oxford, under David Lumsden, and the Royal College of Music in London. During his student years he gained the A.R.C.M. and F.R.C.O. diplomas, in addition to receiving first prize in the Incorporated Association of Organists Competition in 1974. For six years he lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, combining the post of Assistant Cathedral organist with teaching and conducting a choral society. In 1983 he moved back to England where he is active on a self-employed basis. Christopher Boodle's main activities now consist of solo organ-playing and composing. With regard to the former, performing venues have included festivals at Ross-on-Wye, Guiting Power, and The Three Choirs Festival; engagements abroad have included the Uster Festival in Switzerland, and a Recital Tour of the USA. Compositions include four symphonies, much organ music, a Passiontide Oratorio, a dramatic Cantata "Death of a Martyr" and a "Mass for the End of Time", plus many chamber and church works. Christopher Boodle is now an Associate member of the Performing Rights Society, and Chairman of the Stroud Festival.
Christopher has had produced various CD's of his music, including: "Fanfare For The Millennium" (played by Paul Hale at Southwell Minster), "Christe Salve" (sung by the Choir of Ross on Wye Parish Church), and an entire CD of his Organ music played by Neil Weston at Spencerville Seventh Day Adventist Church, Maryland, USA.