Chairman’s Report – November 2019
April 9th this year saw us in St Mary’s Bridgwater yet again. This time for the Memorial Service for Brendan Chandler with an ad hoc choir who sang John Rutter’s “Gaelic Blessing”. Brendan had loyally served St Mary’s together with SOCA and the RSCM for a great many years. He is greatly missed.
Our programme of events during the year have included a discussion evening on Performance Anxiety led, and hosted, by Hilary Shaw. A visit to East Devon organs & Michael Farley’s workshop in Budleigh Salterton, taking in St Peter’s, Budleigh Salterton, Michael’s workshop at Colaton Raleigh, David Davies recital at Withcombe Raleigh Parish Church, Sidmouth Parish Church, and Ottery St Mary. And in July we enjoyed a “Play the Organ” event at St Mary’s Bridgwater. September saw a visit to Edington Priory with its recent 2manual Harrison & Harrison organ with Mark Venning talking about its design, followed by the remodelled church at Holy Trinity, Frome, with their top of the range 3manual Allen digital organ, and ending up at Hemington (dating from the 1340’s and now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust) with their delightful single manual and pedal organ rebuilt by Trevor Tipple.
Some of our members have individually enjoyed recitals in Wells Cathedral, Llandaff Cathedral, and Buckfast Abbey with its new Ruffatti organ.
The year has, at last, seen the launch of our “Somerset Organists Support Scheme” offering support for players and prospective players of all abilities and ages. This is worthy of far greater support and PR than it has so far achieved. The Scheme is the result of a lot of hard work from those who have set it up, and it could be a great asset to churches of all denominations if only we could get the support it deserves from the respective authorities.
A lot could be learned from our neighbouring associations as to managing to appeal to our prospective membership. We suffer from being essentially a rural association covering a very wide and, in much of our geography – sparsely populated, catchment area. Church congregations are diminishing fast, and with that, the financial abilities to maintain expensive items such as organs. It is no wonder that the clergy find a music group who provide their own instruments and time at no cost whatsoever to their churches to be an attractive proposition. If we are seen as awkward and unhelpful people with old fashioned ideas, unwilling to compromise, then I fear that organs and organists will continue to disappear from the worship scenario in many churches. This once happened on a national scale in the past, though for very different religion based political reasons, and organs and organists bounced back eventually. Our “Cathedral Tradition” is admired worldwide and is deserving of continuing preservation and support. But the wind of change is blowing strongly in our smaller churches and, if we are to survive, we must make compromises. We are all, including our clergy, servants to our churches. I’m reminded of the organist who stated that “I will not permit such rubbish to be sung in my church”. I had to remind him that it is not “my church”, and we are all here as “servants to OUR church”. I can envisage a time when the major churches, abbeys, and Cathedrals will have pipe organs accompanying proficient choirs, whilst the smaller parish churches will have essentially congregational music of whatever kind but, hopefully a mixed balance. The organ is still the most capable instrument for leading congregational singing with its sustained tone.
Our thanks are due to all our committee members for their time and support, but especially to Derek for coping with the massive amount of work required of our Secretary. Also to Doug for keeping our finances in good order, and to Miles for maintaining our website.
Exciting plans for 2020 are already in the pipeline and I recommend watching the website for future news and events. The success of SOCA is up to all of our membership, not just the committee. If ideas feed in from everyone as to possible events, maybe even ‘local’ events, then your committee can gauge what is likely to be successful. It is, after all, an association of all its parts. I am stepping down from the Chair now, and I really do wish SOCA the very best for its future.
23 November 2019