An Organist Remembers
Memories of a life in cathedral music
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Roy Massey is one of the most influential organists and choir trainers of the past 50 years. In this fascinating memoir, Roy takes us from his beginnings as a treble in Birmingham, to his time as Warden of the RSCM at Addington Palace, Director of Music at Birmingham Cathedral, then at Hereford for over twenty-five years, where he directed the Three Choirs Festival many times. In his retirement, Roy has been no less busy, serving a term as President of the Royal College of Organists and as a much sought-after organ recitalist.
Roy's memoirs are engaging and fascinating, and the reader will enjoy the story as well as the many characters that have influenced Roy's career along the way.
These reminiscences are the story of a small boy who at a very early age discovered an enthusiasm for the church organ. He much admired the sound it made and wanted to play it for himself. A few years later he developed a similar passion for training a church choir, loved the music it sang and slowly began to appreciate the noble language of the Anglican liturgy wherein the music was performed. These enthusiasms remained with him for the rest of his life and are the reason for this little memoir.
He recalls finding the words of services very strange when he first joined the choir of St Martin’s, Birmingham, aged seven. He found the psalms quite difficult to read and chanting them even more bewildering at first, but he loved hymns and their tunes right from the start and soon discovered favourites among the anthems he sang, especially if they were composed by Haydn, Handel or Mendelssohn. He felt pride when walking in the great procession of men and boys as they entered the stalls in front of a large congregation – except when some senior had purloined the stud off his Eton collar and he had to make do with the last-minute substitution of an elastic band.
This Anglican world, together with the additional lure of the concert platform, became his life’s work. Eventually the language of the Book of Common Prayer, particularly the words of the psalms, became embedded in his sub-conscious, as did the elegant harmonies of the English Hymnal, which lead his fingers whenever he improvised. His early years playing in the Anglo-Catholic branch of the English Church give him a feel for colourful liturgy and a sure knowledge of the Faith, and his close relationship with the Royal School of Church Music gave him a strong sense of doing things decently and in order when selecting music for the Church’s year and special occasions. Recital work gave him access to some of the finest organs in the country and the thrill of sitting at a large four-manual console never left him.
Above all, church music and the recital circuit caused him to meet some wonderful people both clerical and lay who have enriched his world by their kindness, encouragement and example. Some appear by name in the following pages but there are many others whom he remembers with similar gratitude and appreciation for the help and inspiration they gave him on his journey.
It was the marvellous old Harrison of 1906 in St Martin in the Bull Ring which sparked his early love affair with the organ. Had his introduction to church music been the curate playing Shine Jesus, shine on his guitar, he doubts whether his subsequent career would have gone in quite the direction it did!
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