At the end of August, I found myself back on the organ bench at Coventry Cathedral. I was there to play for the Sunday services (Eucharist and Evensong) in my usual role as accompanist to Quorum MK directed by Chris Williams.
I was previously at Coventry with Quorum on Saturday 29 July 2017, with the choir again under the direction of Chris Williams. For a couple of years Chris then went to do other things involving Renaissance music but I was absolutely delighted to see him back at the helm for this year’s visit to Coventry.
I decided to make this a British affair in terms of music so took a folder full of organ music by William Walton. Specifically Crown Imperial for the voluntary after Eucharist. Obviously since this service we have had the very sad occasion of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. However at the time I was (in my head) marking her jubilee (albeit a month or so later).
Rehearsing Before the Service
Arriving at 08.30 I took a bit of time to reacquaint myself with the organ. Encouraged by Chris to ‘Give it some Welly” I made a short video of one of the eucharist hymns. This was mostly to help with JAM Duo as I am often asked if I can play a hymn for a church wedding – so where better to prove I can just about play a hymn than a cathedral.
It wouldn’t have been appropriate to record during the service (indeed as I was recording this video I read the instruction – only quiet rehearsal permitted in the mornings before Eucharist -oops!). So, there is no singing but it at least some evidence of a vague ability to play a hymn on the organ even if there was a slight hiatus when my iPad decided to change page in the wrong direction. But I only had one chance to record this – ok so it’s not perfect but sometimes it’s good to show things as they actually happened rather than faking perfection with many takes!!
The Organ at Coventry Cathedral
When the Cathedral burned in 1940, the fine ‘Father’ Willis organ of 1886 (identical to that in Truro Cathedral) was totally destroyed. A new cathedral presented the opportunity for a brand new organ to match it. Messrs Harrison & Harrison were appointed in 1952 and a provisional specification was drawn up.
It took a long time to reach agreement on the styling of the Coventry instrument and the eventual scheme agreed in 1959 – the work of Dr. Sidney Campbell (organist of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle) in conjunction with Cuthbert Harrison – was, intentionally, a compromise between the two extremes which resulted in what must surely be one of Harrison and Harrison’s greatest instruments.
The organ is, therefore, something of a compromise, but in a busy cathedral where many demands are placed upon it – recitals, daily services, major events with capacity congregation – it fulfils its role admirably and there are many who hold it in high regard.
The organ was overhauled and upgraded to include solid-state technology in 1986/87.
Jules will be playing the organ again for Quorum at Durham Cathedral later this year.