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Music at Services at the Cathedral of St.Machar for September 2020

Choral Music

We usually have a thriving choir, which includes Choral Scholars, singing at the Sunday morning Service, with an extensive repertoire, ranging from medieval plainchant to pieces which have been written in the twenty first century.

Alas, because of the restrictions of the Covid 19 pandemic, we are not permitted to have any singing in our Churches at the moment. So the place where the Anthem usually comes in the Service, will be replaced by organ music, and the same will be the case after the Sermon. I have taken the opportunity in the next few morning Service to explore settings of various German Chorales; for the first week, The Lord’s Prayer, the second week the Creed.  The music before and after the Service will also be linked to the same themes.  Until we are allowed some singers, I hope these choices of music be of help to contemplation of these two vital texts.

While we are not allowed to sing together during this extraordinary time, the choir meets weekly via Zoom, and if there are any potential new members, please don’t hesitate to

contact the Music Director (rogerbevanwilliams@g.mail.com)


The Organ

The present organ is not the first one there has been in the Cathedral. Because of the lack of evidence, it is difficult to be certain what sort of instrument there might have been before the Reformation. But if St. Machar’s was as many other similar buildings, both in Scotland and elsewhere, there would have been an organ most probably of some considerable size, fixed to the building. According to the distinguished historian Leslie Macfarlane, we learn of two organ books in the Inventory of 1436 – which lends further credence to the presence of an organ in pre-Reformation times.  At the turn of the sixteenth century, during the time when William Elphinstone was Bishop, it seems likely that such an organ would have been a large instrument, sited possibly in the Choir or in one of the Transepts.  Given that Bishop Elphinstone had come to Aberdeen after living in both Paris and Louvain, it seems very probable that the instrument would have been as splendid as the Bishop’s enlarged foundation of Vicars Choral. This organ would most probably have been built on medieval Blockwerk principles, with loud and magnificent sounds, and would have been played on Sundays and major feast days.

The organ in use today is a splendid example of a romantic instrument built by ‘Father’ Willis.  It has three manuals and pedals and was originally built in 1891 with a third manual added in 1898. The organ was at first sited in front of the east window, but was moved to its present position in 1928, at which time some tonal additions were made. In 1973 there was a rebuild, with some further tonal modifications, carried out by the firm of Noel Mander of London.  The three ranks of Willis pipes that were at that time taken off and kept in storage, were brought back onto the Choir organ in July 2018, with assistance from the Bach Choir. This most recent work has restored some of the quieter sounds that the organ originally possessed.  The organ has a rich resonance and a variety of tonal sound that was characteristic of this most celebrated of Victorian organ builders.

In recent times, since the first Organist, Sydney Townsend, was appointed in 1891, there have been only nine Organists, including some very eminent figures. These include George C. Dawson (1893-1916), Arthur Pirie (1916-1920), Marshall Gilchrist (1920-1938), John B. Dalby (1938-54), David Murray (1954-81), and James Lobban (1981-2006), after which Mike Thomson held the post until 2016.

Organ Music for the Services in September will be by baroque composers, Buxtehude and the twentieth century Belgian organist and composer, Flor Peeters.

Director of Music and Organist - Dr. Roger B.Williams, M.B.E.

(September 2020)