The world is full of initials now, but the one above should be well-known to (at least, some) Scottish Episcopalians.

The Scottish Prayer Book Society endeavours to encourage the retention of the more traditional Scottish Book of Common Prayer, and the 1970 liturgy, as part of the worship of all churches. Evensong is part of that and to me is one of the most wonderful expressions of praise, joy, wonderment, peace, reverence etc in the church’s complete literature. No wonder we love to sing it.

If you want more information about the Society, or find a church where the settings mentioned are still used, click on the link below.


May I Precent?

 precentor's chair

Recently I visited again, a lovely little Church of Scotland in an idyllic part of Argyll, which has all the hallmarks of a conventional Highland Presbyterian Church.

It had a pefectly-preserved Precentor’s chair, just below the pulpit. The one shown above is from the Glasite Church in Dundee in use in the 1700’s.

The name Precentor goes back as far as the 4th Century and means literally ‘First Singer’. He, for it was always ‘he’, was an important official in a church, monastic community, or Cathedral where he sat opposite the Dean. Hence we have the two sides of the Choir, Decani (of the Dean) and Cantoria (of the Precentor).

In the days and places  such as the Scottish Presbyterian Churches, where there was no choir or organ, (at least before the end of the 1800s) there was still a wish to sing. The metrical psalms were highly-regarded and so were very important in the worship of the day. Paraphrases and hymns were just starting to be used (not without some local objections!) .

So someone who had an ear for a tune could be useful and might be appointed to start and lead the singing. It was at this time he might have been allowed a pitch-pipe, especially if his inherent pitch were not perfect.

So whilst we sometimes see and hear a Precenter in Songs of Praise from one of the islands, the Precenter’s chair is now a seat rarely occupied.

However…..I saw recently at a Roman Catholic funeral service, this very office being fulfilled by a very-competent singer, who was able to lead a rather-recalcitrant congregation along……..so maybe the hands of the clock have been turned back!

Gerald Finzi

Gerald Finzi

At our Ascension Day Service on Thursday evening, in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, we sang all the good old favourites, such as ‘Hail the Day…’ words by Charles Wesley, ‘The Head that once…..’ with Jeremiah Clarke’s tune St Magnus, and Saward’s ‘Christ Triumphant….’ to John Barnard’s  great tune  ‘Guiting Power’.  ALL GOOD STUFF !!

The music of the Liturgy was Haydn’s Kleine Orgelmesse…..very much a ‘no-nonsense’ setting which does exactly what it says on the tin.

For the anthem, the Cathedral Choir sang  ‘God is Gone Up’…..a title which is highly-suitable for such  an occasion. It was written by Gerald Finzi, the son of a father of Italian/ Jewish descent and mother of German/Jewish parentage.

He was born in London in 1901, into a well-off household and was able to be educated privately. He lost his father at 7 and during the First World War the family moved to Harrogate. In his early years he also lost three of his brothers…..which no doubt had an influence on his writing. He took the chance to study with Edward Bairstow who was close-by, at York Minster.

At the age of 21 he moved to Gloucestershire where he could compose in the lovely rural countryside. However, five years later he returned to London where he became acquainted with Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst and Sir Arthur Bliss. He married artist Joy Black in 1933 and moved to Wiltshire.

At the outbreak of war he moved to a farm in Hampshire, where he opened the house to German and Czech refugees, and he formed the amateur group the Newbury String Players. This allowed him to work on eighteenth century pieces, and several premieres by his contempories were given.

He was diagnosed in 1951 as having Hodgkin’s Disease but he continued with his work. In 1954 there was an all-Finzi concert in the Royal Festival Hall, and Sir John Barbirolli commissioned his Cello Concerto for the Cheltenham Festival of 1955. He died in 1956.

Whilst he is not a common name in the average listener’s vocabulary, and I don’t find ‘God is Gone up’ an easy piece to listen-to, I have to admit that perhaps his music does require a little more investigation.



Today, at the Cathedral, we used a tune so well-known to church-goers and non-church-goers alike, that it is one of the favourites used at Burial Services (you just have to lookat the most-thumbed page in Burial Service Sheets!). The words are a paraphrase of Psalm 23, and the name of the tune is Crimond.

Jessie Seymour Irvine was born in July 1836, the daughter of a Scottish clergyman who served in Peterhead, and then in the village of Crimond, in Aberdeenshire. Whilst studying the organ, she wrote a tune, which was harmonised by David Grant in 1872, when it appeared in the Northern Psalter. It was thought that the original tune was by Grant but in the 1929 Scottish Psalter, she was acknowledged as the composer.

It seems to be a perfect example of the Scottish Psalter compositions, and whilst to some it may smack of sentimentality but it does have that simplicity of tune which makes it easy to learn and remember, and difficult to forget….it truly passes the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’.

She died in 1887 and is buried in St Machar’s Cathedral, in Aberdeen…..and while she is mainly remembered for this tune alone….surely that is sufficient epitaph alone!

Felix Mendelssohn


We recently spent a weekend in Skye which has many interesting geological structures, and shows similarities to other islands off the north coast of Ireland and the west of Scotland, especially those of the Hebrides. When we think of Staffa we think of the Hebridean Overture by Felix Mendelssohn.

The picture above, which was painted in 1829 (by Thomas Duncan), during his trip to Scotland, has been loaned to the ‘Mendelssohn on Mull’ Festival. It will be on display in St John’s Oban Episcopal Cathedral during the opening concert on July 4th.

He was born in Hamburg 200 years ago, a German Jew, into an intellectual, well-to-do family and this no doubt allowed his precocious skill to develop.

His parents took the step of converting to the Lutheran Church, which would make them more socially-acceptable outside their ghettos, and they moved to Berlin where his parents took the added name of Bartholdy. It was here that he studied composition and piano playing. He was also very competent on the violin and was a good linguist.

Travelling to Paris, he studied the music of Mozart and J.S.Bach and started his prolific compositions. At the age of 12 he visited Goethe, with whom he continued to correspond. The overture to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ was composed at the age of 17! This was just before he went to study music at Berlin University. Following his studies he travelled all over Europe, including, Italy, France, England and of course Scotland where he was intrigued by the landscape. It was from the same type of scenery as we saw recently, that he derived the inspiration for Fingal’s Cave.

As far as vocal music was concerned St Paul and Elijah are probably the best known. Now if he only lived longer than his 38 years, he might have given us an interpretation of the Isle of Skye!

Royal School of Church Music


In these days when educational establishments want to be called universtities, colleges, academies, institutions, etc, there is still one modestly called a ‘school’. …..RSCM

rscm-nicholsonThe moving figure was Sir Sidney Nicholson. He was born in 1875, studied at Oxford, the Royal College of Music, and then Frankfurt-in-Main. By his late 20s he was holding positions at Carlisle Cathedral, and Manchester. He was then at Westminster Abbey from1918-1928.

By then he had decided to establish St. Nicholas College, and an associated School of English Church Music, to improve the quality of music in Churches. (Makes me wonder what was happening around the rest of the UK!) The SECM, was formed by Sir Sidney, on 6th December 1927 (the feast of St Nicolas, Patron of Choirboys and children) at a meeting in the Abbey. It had a number of associated choirs and churches all committed to high standards.

rscm-bullers-wood1From 1929 to the outbreak of war it operated from Bullers Wood in Chislehurst, Kent, and organised major choral festivals in the London area. By this time there were some 1300 affiliated churches home and abroad. Many students were called-up in 1945 but Sir Sydney continued travelling round teaching to Parish Churches and Dioceses, from Tenbury and Leamington Spa.

At the end of the war, it became the RSCM operating from the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral with the College of St Nicholas being re-established there. By 1952, there were over 3000 affiliated churches.

rscm-addington20palaceMost of us who have any connection with the RSCM, will know the picture of Addington Palace, Croydon where they moved to in 1954. It had been the home of the Archbishops of Canterbury, and was a wonderful setting.

 From 1996 to 2006 the headquarters were at Cleveden Lodge near Dorking, and is now established at Sarum College, in Salisbury.

 It is and has been, arguably the most  decisive influence on the quality of our religious praise over the last 80 years, and no doubt will continue to be so, and all because of Sir Sydney Nicholson.

The Wonderful Wesleys!


If I dropped the word ‘Wesley’ into a dinner-party conversation, there is a reasonable chance that someone would say ‘Methodist’. ….but maybe not much more. In fact within a relatively-small family there was a large amount of (largely-unknown) talent.

Many people know the phrase at the beginning of the Methodist Hymn Book

Rev John Wesley

Rev John Wesley

which says ‘Methodism was born in song’, and this was largely due to the brothers John and Charles, who were both Anglican Ministers  but decided  to set up a new church …and we now know this as Methodism.

The two brothers showed a considerable appreciation of music, as well as the emotional effect which music can have within worship. John (1703-1791) was a friend of Pepusch, who arranged the music for ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ .

Charles  (1707-1788) had two sons (Charles Jnr., and Samuel) who as children, gave musical concerts at their father’s home in Marylebone.

Charles .Jnr (1757-1834) could, before he was three, play on the harpsichord, any tune he heard, adding a correct bass. He was an organist at various London churches, and composed choral and organ works.  The promise of this child prodigy was never completely fulfilled.

His brother, Samuel (1766-1837) was also a gifted child. By eight he had composed an oratorio. He became the finest organ soloist of his day, and was a great extemporizer, composer of choral music, he was one of  the first to recognise and promote the music of J.S.Bach, and was a friend of Mendelssohn. In his late teens he temporarily joined the Roman Catholic Church, and at 21 he fell into a street excavation, and was incapacitated for some seven years.

Samuel had a son, Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876) who certainly continued the talent. He was a chorister of the Chapel Royal, and then organist of three London churches, where he showed his expertise in extemporization. Prime Minister Gladstone recommended that Queen Victoria give him a civil list pension of £100 per year. He is still well remembered by church musicians for his anthems, hymns, and services.

Another child of Samuel Wesley, was Eliza Wesley (1819-1895), who was 40 years a church organist and published correspondence from Bach to her father. Other  brothers included…R Glenn Wesley,who was an organist at the Cathedral of Methodism ; Rev Charley Wesley, sub-Dean of the Chapel Royal; Matthew Erasmus Wesley, who was treasurer of the Royal College of Organists; Rev Francis Gwynne Wesley who bequeathed a scholarship to the Royal College of Music for the study of Extemporizing; and Gertrude Wesley who was a soprano and harpist……when the Wesley line finished.


Tonic Solfa


It’s probably a couple of generations since tonic solfa was the predominant form for learning and singing music. Instead of using notes with ‘open’ or closed figures and different stems and tails, on lines or spaces, each sound is indicated by a syllable such as ‘Do, Re, Mi…..and the length of time is indicated by a dash on the page.

It is very simple and is well-explained in Wikipedia.

……..however, my main reason for mentioning it here is to tell about the recent request by e-mail which I had, following the posting on this blog about John Stainer. I conducted joint choirs in Crucifixion over 40 years ago, and some of the members used Solfa.  This I mentioned in the posting. Anyway, someone noticed this and asked if I could still locate these copies. To cut a long story short , I contacted the church, and spoke to an old choir member of mine . She confirmed that the copies are still available, and they are now on their way to South Africa to help an RSCM member to teach local choirs to sing!

Good old internet!

Ayr is Organised!


Archie Thom, the Organist and Choirmaster at Holy Trinity EpiscopalChurch in Ayr has passed the following information to me…..

This an advance notice to alert you to a very special event to take place in Holy Trinity Church, Ayr, on Saturday 28th February 2009 at 7.30pm.

The magnificent new organ in Holy Trinity (Allen Renaissance Quantum 345C, installed December 2008) will feature in a recital for the first time.

The recitalist will be Bengt Nilsson, organist of Gothenburg Cathedral, Sweden.

The diocese of Glasgow and Galloway is twinned with the Lutheran diocese of Gothenburg, and Holy Trinity Church choir have been to sing Choral Evensong in Gothenburg Cathedral. It is therefore a very significant event to welcome such a distinguished visitor to Ayr.

Please forward this email to anyone who may be interested. Any help with publicising the event will be very welcome.


Archie Thom

…………….This is a lovely building, and if anyone is thinking of going down for this, we may be able to arrange transport if there are enough drivers and cars.

Lessons and Carols

It was in 1880, that Rev Edward Benson of Truro, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced a format of a service to cover the whole Christmas-tide story. It utilised nine Lessons and nine Carols (for choir and/or congregation). Lessons are read by various members of the Church, ending-up with the senior member of the Clergy. Whilst the readings are generally unchanged, there is a flexibility in Hymns or Carols, and many modern ones have crept in over the years.

It can be very emotive, especially if it is lit only by candlelight, and the sound of the first verse of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ by a young voice can be something else! I still remember the tingle when my son stood alone for his solo, to be followed by the rest of the choir joining him in the choir stalls.

It is probably the one time of the year when the occasional visitor to a church could join in with most of the singing, so it is the chance for the Church to ‘show-off’ its beliefs, with a minimum of Liturgy, to the maximum number of people.

This year we joined with St Aidan’s at Clarkston in this marvellous event. We have been there before at a full  Service, and it was very satisfying to go back. To use a well-known phrase, it was a ‘packed programme’ and again the building was full. Rector Colin, and Julie the organist, had put together a wonderful selection of all the well-known carols.

Some of Angelus, St Aidan's Christmas 2008

Some of Angelus, St Aidan's Christmas 2008

There was a tinge of sadness as one of the great choir members of St Aidan’s had passed away recently at a goodly age. He was very enthusiastic about the 85th Anniversary of the Church, and was looking forward to this one. But it was not to be! Also one of our very popular members was absent due to serious ill-health, after having been at all our practices.

The carols were:-

  • Three lovely children sang the first verse of  ‘Once in royal David’s city’.
  • O Come all Ye Faithful
  • Silent Night
  • It came upon the midnight clear
  • Angels from the realms of glory
  • Joy to the World
  • Of the Father’s love begotten
  • O little town of Bethlehem
  • While shepherds watched their flocks by night
  • We three Kings
  • Hark the herald Angels

Audrey McKirdy sang  us ‘Mid Winter’ by Bob Chilcott, John Rutter’s ‘Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’, and his haunting ‘The Lord bless Thee’. Julie Legowski was again at the organ and accomplished as usual! And can I say that the combined choir excelled itself again!

Mince pies and mulled wine completed a lovely evening!….here’s to next year!