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Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter October 31st, 2020

Hello to all members on a weekend when we are concentrating more on All Saints and All Souls than on Halloween! 


1. The recent discussion on Zoom (October 17th) replaced a meeting.  There are notes taken by Peter Ramell and these will be sent out to members by Peter very soon.

2. Your Committee has a good programme for 2021 and we sincerely hope that much of it will go ahead.  We’ll let you have full details long before the end of the year.  To start with, the first two meetings are fixed for January 11th and February 20th.  

Monday, January 11th  –  Stephen Disley’s organ recital at Southwark Cathedral at 1.15p.m.  We are invited to arrive earlier, to try the organ.  Afterwards, meet at The Mudlark (next door) for a drink.   

February 20th  –  Composite Recital at Penge Congregational Church at 2.30p.m.

Neither of these events can be guaranteed, but at the moment we must be optimistic!


We recently sent congratulations to Robert Bowles and Pieter Shaw, two SSLSO members who have passed the CRCO exam of the Royal College of Organists.  Pieter explains more about the exam:

“The CRCO exam is aimed at amateur organists or as a ‘transition’ qualification to the ARCO diploma. As with all of the college’s exams the standard is high and the candidate is expected to show a good grasp of musicianship, not just playing organ repertoire well.

“The CRCO diploma comprises of two parts: the theoretical paperwork made up aural tests, some 4 part chorale harmonisation, 2 part counterpoint, analysis and a history topic relating to an aspect of organ music, or composer. The specific details are all clearly stated in the syllabus.

The playing part is made up of three pieces chosen from various lists rather comparable to associated board exams in that respect. The pieces are in many respects quite accessible being around grade 5 nudging on grade 6 standard.

In addition to the pieces there are the musicianship tests. All candidates have to attempt a piece of sight reading. This is usually a short piece of organ music from the romantic period with possibly a change of manual or operation of the swell box required. There are no stop changes required at this level.

The next test is playing a hymn plus a short extension of extemporised music. The exam syllabus gives a list of 10 possible hymns from the New English Hymnal. The candidate is expected to provide a play over, first and last verses and a chosen middle verse and then extemporise of a theme from the hymn for around 30 seconds.

The candidate can choose the third and final test from either transposition or realisation of a figured bass.

“Probably the best way to view the attainment of these diplomas is to see them as a process of development from the first steps of preparation through to actually taking the exam itself. The college provides a wealth of support for those on the exam pathway and there’s loads of material available to help along the way. These exams should be seen as a learning process to develop and improve both organ playing skills as well as practical musicianship in the broadest sense. 

The exams themselves can seem daunting but they are worth working towards. Learning new skills can actually be quite fun even if sometimes rather challenging.

Finally it’s worth mentioning that all the RCO diplomas are now modular. This means that you can ‘bank’ the sections where you are successful and retake those where you don’t quite make the grade. There’s no shame here, many candidates have to retake one or more sections of the diploma. The college recognises that and gives the candidate 4 years to gain a pass in all sections!

“Many organists have a slightly jaundiced view of RCO diplomas. They are undoubtedly intended to be challenging but they are also attainable. There really has to be a commitment to consistent (probably) daily practise over time and probably more important of all, get yourself an organ teacher to support you through the journey.”


As recitals are beginning again, do let Richard Pilliner hear from you of anything which he can help to publicise.  Please email him directly or via

Arthur Wills RIP

Arthur Wills died this week, aged 94.  He was famously Director of Music at Ely Cathedral for many years.

Threat to Freedom Pass

Thanks to the Bromley & Croydon Association for this, which they received from Judith Howard: I’m sure you will have heard on the News that the govt. is trying to force Tfl into withdrawing our senior travel concessions in London.  Bearing in mind the average age of organists these days, I guess this is of concern to many of us!  I’m so worried about the threat to our free travel, that I have started a petition on, “Save the Freedom Pass for London Pensioners”.  The link is

Celebrity Recital:

This is from Reg Boulton of the Bexley Society, with news of a recital by one of our own members:  “Greetings all! I trust everyone is keeping well.  I know our association appears to be doing nothing, but rest assured that we’re trying to get various things moving.  For the moment, I can tell you that our celebrity recital is back on. Norman Harper at St John’s, Sidcup, on Saturday 27.3.21 at 7.30pm.  I shan’t issue a flyer just yet, as the one I’d prepared mentioned food and wine being involved, but, as things stand at least at the present, refreshments won’t be an option. Things may change by then – we’ll see.  And there will be support for this from the Bromley & Croydon and Southwark & S London associations, so it may well be that we have to put a limit on numbers and issue tickets beforehand. Again, we’ll wait and see.  So, for the moment, please put the date in your diaries.”

More from the Bromley Association:

“Greetings Everyone!  I received this information yesterday evening regarding an Organ Recital by Thomas Trotter at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 20 November at 2.30 p.m.  This is to be the first of a series of trial live events at the Hall before their ‘socially distanced’ reopening.  Seats are limited and have just gone on public sale this morning at £10 each.”

Organ Recital – live trial event with Thomas Trotter

Friday 20 November 2020

Be among the first to head back to the Royal Albert Hall as we open our doors this November for our first socially-distanced ‘trial run’ ahead of our Christmas season.

There will be a very limited number of seats available for this show.

Thomas Trotter’s organ recital will feature popular repertoire from J.S. Bach’s to Eric Coates and Edward Elgar played by the renowned organist on the Hall’s majestic 9,999-pipe Henry Willis organ.

Tickets £10

Evensong from King’s College, London

Sue O’Neill in my Church Choir sent me this message: “This YouTube of Evensong at King’s London popped up in my Facebook.  They have five female singers in the choir. The anthem, by Mendelssohn, is lovely.”  Do enjoy it in these days when Evensong is less easy to attend. Link here.

Recitals with lots of organs, including Dulwich

See below the poster which Marilyn Harper has sent me.  Yes, note the word “Dulwich” and the time to listen out!   Remember that it will go live at 3pm Mexican time on 15 November, so we’ll be listening at 9.00pm UK time.

Next newsletter will be on November 28th; do get in touch about anything which you think relevant and helpful.

All good wishes, John

Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter September 27th, 2020

The Committee met (sort of) last Sunday and we have two meetings planned for the New Year, subject of course to Covid-19:

Saturday, February 20th. at 2.30p.m:

Composite organ recital at Penge Congregational Church, 172 high Street, SE20 7QS. You are invited to play a piece; we are limited to thirty people on the premises. I’ll come back with more on this at a later stage.

Monday, March 15th. at 7.30p.m:

Annual General Meeting at St. John’s Church, East Dulwich Road, SE22 9AT. Alasdair Friend (St. George’s, Beckenham) will demonstrate the organ.

Next meeting of SSLSO on Zoom:

This will be a discussion on choral aspects of our work, on Saturday, October 17th. at 7.30p.m. Members will be sent a link nearer the time; individuals from adjoining local societies can ask for the link and will be welcome to join in. It would be helpful to hear from you on relevant topics, such as recruiting, coping with no choir and then the return of choirs, repertoire, music when there’s only a cantor and so on. If you’d like to speak on choral topic, please let me know.


I recommend that you hear “Black Classical Music: the Forgotten History” on BBC4 television at 8p.m, with Suzy Klein and Lenny Henry. As well as Scott Joplin, you’ll hear music by Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) and Florence Price (1887-1953), who wrote some terrific and very individual orchestral music. Our first thought in this topic will no doubt be Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), who lived in Croydon during his woefully short life.

Links to enjoy:

1. Well, I said “enjoy”, but I wonder what you’ll make of this?

2. Here’s some G&S; they always liked to make their words relevant, after all.

3. A lively performance of the overture to Rossini’s opera “William Tell”.

4. John Cage’s extremely long organ piece included the first chord change after seven years recently. It ends, allegedly, in the year 2640; Here is a link to the music (if you have enough time to spare), and here are comments from local organists:

a. I’d hate to be the page turner for that one….

b. Pretentious nonsense!

c. I think I have found my piece for Penge.

d. I think it would be worse conducting it than turning pages!

5. You may have your scientific thought on this.

6. Three pieces of music recorded locally for us:

a. Vivaldi – Largo from Sonata in Bb major.

b. Scott Joplin – The Entertainer.

c. Vivaldi – Largo from Sonata in E minor, RV 40.

7. And more from Steven Devine on the harpsichord.

Finally: how to celebrate Christmas this year with your friends (as told to me, a vegetarian); take this with a pinch of salt and LAUGH:

Funerals can have an attendance of thirty, weddings fifteen now and Baptisms just six, so…..for Christmas, shoot the chicken and invite thirty friends round for the funeral!

Next newsletter on October 31st; good wishes, in the meantime,

All good wishes, John

Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter August 29th, 2020

There is slow and continuing (if not suddenly announced) progress for church musicians. The recent SSLSO Zoom session gave members a chance to discuss how they were managing to move on and Peter Ramell’s helpful notes are attached here. Individual SSLSO members report their progress: Ian Boddington says that services will return to his church in Sutton in November; John Mitchell says: “At Warlingham we’re trying to construct some kind of ‘new normal’ which, currently relies on replacing the hymns with hymn-tune preludes (mostly improvised – though I was able to use Bach’s ‘Ein Feste Burg’ last week where “a safe stronghold” was one of the hymns on the list). And using soloists doubling as cantors. (we’d normally do this during August anyway when the choir is officially on holiday). But based on the government’s latest advice we’re planning to re-start choir in September.” John has offered this link to last Sunday’s service.

I’ll be pleased to hear your own experience of starting back at church; although organ playing was possible from July 5th, in the end the starting date is the decision of various local people who have to see what is safe for their circumstances.

The organisation “Making Music” announced last night: ‘Clarification has arrived from the DCMS, and in England there are now “no set limits on the numbers who can be involved in planned non-professional activity taking place outside and/or in a COVID-secure venue.”’

Other news:

  1. Sadly I must report the deaths of two organists who will be known to some of you:

Graham Powell, our former Chair, says: “I have just got home after practicing to hear that Michael Barlow died recently. I’d known him since I started practicing at Limpsfield in 1997, since when we often teamed up for choral evensongs at Limspfield, Westerham, Kemsing and many churches around the Home Counties and beyond. Music was his life and he was very highly thought of at Westerham. Fond memories of our last Evensong together at All Saints, Marlow last year. Michael often brought singers along to Amici Cantantes Evensongs and was very supportive. He’ll be sadly missed.

Christopher Town of the Bromley Association says: “I am extremely sorry to bring you the very sad news that Christian Strover – our former President and longest serving Member – died yesterday (23rd.). Martyn Christian Tinne Strover, MA, BLitt, FRCO (CHM), was born in Colchester, Essex in 1932 and was a Music Scholar at Bryanston School before becoming Organ Scholar at Hertford College, Oxford.He has been Organist at Christ Church Beckenham since 1956 and a Member of our Association throughout that time. Until 1997 he was the distinguished Director of Music at Emanuel School Wandsworth and has been closely involved with the Beckenham Festival for many years. A fine composer and arranger, he is known throughout the world for “Water of Life” for which he wrote both words and music. He also adapted a teaching of St Paul to create “Parents, don’t exasperate your children”! A man of many talents, Christian was also a skilled craftsman and furniture maker.”

Another message to me points out that Christian died on his birthday (as did my mother in 2016!).

  • On a cheerier note, our young member Ben Abraham has achieved 132 out of 150 for ABRSM Grade 8 Piano. Congratulations to him!
  • Well done to Richard Pilliner for producing that recent mailshot (see more below); Richard would love to hear from you if you have organ recitals to announce (when they get going – a few have) or just a few words about the church organ which you most enjoy playing, with a short description (and maybe a photo or two).
  • Peter Smith has been as occupied as ever in composing organ music. This is the link to his compositions and the Six Preludes are his latest offering: click here.
  • Our member Ian Clifford recorded the bells of St. George’s, Beckenham recently and I included this last time. It’s worth another listen, especially as Ian managed to get the recording on to Radio 3 on Martin Handley’s Sunday programme during August. Hear the bells again!
  •  Ian has also sent me this: “(Here) is a Youtube clip of a lady called Loreto Aramendi playing the St. Sulpice organ in Paris, but what makes it quite amusing is that she has no less than three stop pullers, one of whom is Daniel Roth who apparently is the organist at St Sulpice. The organ looks to be quite a monster but to my viewing they don’t seem very organised! It is France though, and she does play it superbly.”  See it here.
  • There is a promising future for this young man.
  • Harpsichordist Steven Devine and his partner, the singer Kate Semmence have produced another topical song: Covid Conundrum and Steven has recorded several pieces, of which this is one. If you are interested to find out more about Steven’s music, do use this link to e-mail him.
  • Thanks to the Kent County Association and Ian Verran of the Bromley group for making this news available: Mander’s and Browne’s:

“The following post has just appeared on Browne’s Facebook page: F H Browne & Sons ltd is delighted to announce that it has acquired the trading name and intellectual property rights of Mander Organs Ltd. From 1st October 2020, F H Browne (Organ Builders) Ltd will trade under the name Mander Organs for all current and future contracts. Both companies are based in South East England, and three of the current FHB employees (including myself) are former employees of Mander Organs, so there are immediate synergies. We are delighted to have made this transition and look forward to working with our present and future customers both in the UK and Internationally.

Stephen Bayley (Managing Director).”

  1.  Ian Verran also offers these alternative words to a well known hymn.
  2.  We’ll have another Zoom session on October, on Saturday 17th. at 7.30p.m, with a choral emphasis (but no doubt other matters too).

Another newsletter in four weeks; do be in touch if you have news or comments.

All good wishes, John

Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter July 30th, 2020

Another month nearly behind us!  Since last time, I have played for Sunday services for the last three weeks, so we are turning a corner; I hope that the playing organists amongst you are making progress?  It would be good to hear how various churches are doing.

Do see our website: for various information.  Sam, who maintains our website now, says: “If anyone wishes to contribute to the website – articles, useful links, lockdown recordings, in fact any relevant information of any kind – please send to  Recordings may be sent via a service such as which can deal with the large file sizes.”

You’ll know that our meetings until the end of the year are cancelled, but we have two chances to meet on Zoom: Saturday, August 15th at 2.30p.m and Saturday, October 17th at 7.30p.m.  Details on the August meeting are below and the October one will (in part, at least) have a discussion on choral aspects of being an organist.  In the light of the planned closure of the current choir at Sheffield Cathedral and the professional choirs at two churches in Central London, there will be a lot to discuss…..quite apart from the ban on congregational singing (as opposed to having a cantor) in public worship currently.

Miscellaneous news, some serious and some not:

1. Peter Smith saw some shocking news about Manders, the organ builders: famous-organ-builder-goes-bust

2. I hope that you have responded to Richard Pilliner’s e-mail about your best loved pipe (or even non-pipe) organ.  If you have any recitals coming up (it’s going to happen soon!), do let Richard know, as he is planning to send out a “Recital Round Up” once that we have things to tell.

3. In that connection, please note that the intended organ recitals from September, October and November at Christ’s Chapel in Dulwich Village are cancelled until further notice.  When they restart, Marilyn Harper will let us know.

4. Ashley Valentine was involved in a project and wrote a brief operatic aria, which you can enjoy here; as well as the music, the filming is impressive.

5. The Hymn Society decide to have a “Hymn for the Day” during July; it had cancelled the annual conference and found this way to use the skills of many of its members.  All through the month, a new item has been added daily.  They have set a high bar with their offerings.

6. Peter Smith’s organ piece (sent last time) was based on the tune “Slane”, used for “Lord of all hopefulness”.

7. “Curiosity killed the cat” was first used by Ben Jonson (in answer to the question in the last newsletter).

8. Andrew Chadney sent this to various people, including someone in my church choir.  Something for the vestry notice board, perhaps?

9. Not very jolly, but this it’s informative.

10. This year’s graduation ceremonies (to say nothing of school end of year events) have been largely abandoned or postponed, but here is a moving way to deal with it from one college.

11. For your information, the BBC Proms are archive recordings until late August when, using reduced forces, live concerts will take place for two weeks.

12. A variation on a well-known theme: apparently it was written by the punk rocker Ian Dury:

Our Driver
Who art in Hendon
Holloway be Thy name
Thy Kingston come
Thy Wimbledon
In Erith as it is in Hendon
Give us this day our Berkhamstead
And forgive us our Westminsters
As we forgive those who Westminster against us
Lead us not into Temple Station
And deliver us for Ealing
For Thine is the Kingston, the Purley and the Crawley
For Iver and Iver.
Crouch End


SATURDAY, AUGUST 15th at 2.30p.m,  Zoom Meeting


Peter Smith will speak about the churches in Merton and Wimbledon which we had hoped to be seeing in September.  Join us for a discussion on Zoom; members will receive the link for this earlier in the same week. Suggested topics (others can be offered; please let me know in advance, on

Have you had access to an organ (or piano) during the lockdown?
Have you had time to revise / relearn or even start new repertoire?
Has your church restarted Sunday services?
Are you using the organ..and for what (voluntaries, improvising)?
Have you had a cantor?

All good wishes, John

Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter June 2nd, 2020

Welcome to a roundup of information and links, which is a way of keeping in touch with members, not only while Life is Weird, but something to do in any case, to keep us together.


1. I have attached the quiz form the last newsletter, with the answers (here).  This was just for fun, to keep you on your toes; some will have found it easy and others will have had to research.

2. Remember that the Royal School of Church Music and the Royal College of Organists have been providing regular e-mails not only to members and affiliated groups, but to anyone who wants to have frequent contact with, e.g. daily and weekly hymns and services, tuition online and so on.

3. Our own website (at has plenty to read: views, facts, past and future meetings  –  and you can hear sixty organ pieces played by our members.   Another word of thanks to Martin Callingham for looking after the website for several years now; the baton (or whatever) has been passed to Sam Gover, or will be within the next few days.

4. BBC Radio 3 has had to rethink its schedule recently, with loads of cancelled concerts.  Two positive things now: the last two weeks of the Prom Concerts will take place (i.e. early September) with reduced forces performing and, I imagine, with no live audience.  Also, from yesterday (Monday, June 1st.), live lunchtime concerts (1p.m. for an hour) are being broadcast from the Wigmore Hall in Mondays to Fridays during June.

June and July meetings:

1. Saturday, June 6th was to have seen our outing to Thaxted and Saffron Walden in North Essex, which both sound like a dream to visit just now!  We certainly aim to try again to include events which have been postponed and your Committee will meet (virtually) later this month to consider what can be done.   In place of the trip to Essex, we had a discussion on Zoom at on Saturday, led by Norman Harper and hosted by Ashley Valentine.  Please see a note of the event here.

2. The meeting on July 4th, with Richard Pilliner, has been postponed and we’ll let you know about this and other planned events as time goes by.

Links to sundry pieces of music:

1. I received this from Reg Boulton from the Bexley Association:

2. From Charlie Warren, former SSLSO members and a one-time student of mine:  some observations, followed by a performance of two Brahms Chorale Preludes: Op.122, No.2 here, and here.  Then Op.122, No.3 here and here.

3. An interesting take on Ravel follows here.

You are welcome to offer your own links and thoughts and I’ll send another letter out in a few weeks.  If you want to record a piece of music and send it to me, do!

Best wishes, John

Southwark and South London Society of Organists newsletter May 12th, 2020

Good to be in touch!  Thanks to members and to the organisation of our Committee, I now have the privilege to chair SSLSO, with the particular support of Richard Pilliner (Vice-Chair), Andrew Chadney (Secretary) and Peter Ramell (Treasurer).  Peter is also Membership Secretary.  The Committee will have its next meeting by Zoom on June 28th.  Let me know if you’d like anything brought to our attention.  The Committee is hugely talented and we did have great plans for the rest of the year, so hopefully some will be able to take place!

I’ll now be sending out a newsletter every month, possibly more often.  (Occasionally colleagues will send it out.)  It will contain a mix of news and information, plus other things which may crop up, such as links, some less serious than others.  Andrew and Peter will send out messages relevant to their roles and Richard will send out a “recital round up”, once that that the phrase has a meaning once more.  Newsletters will go out to a representative of three other local societies and they will keep us on their missives.  You are invited to send items to any of us, for inclusion in our e-mails.  I’d prefer links to attachments, please.

Do please visit our website:  Our thanks have already been recorded to Martin Callingham for maintaining the site and he is rightly stepping back after a long time.   You can see articles by members Marilyn Harper and David Wakefield, plus recordings of sixty organ pieces.  The home page lists plans for the rest of 2020.  The Royal College of Organists and the Royal School of Church Music are sending weekly e-mails, to which non-members can have free access at present.  I recommend that you look at these, as there is much on offer, not only musical advice and “webinars” on offer, but the RCO is providing news about access to organs in churches during the current pandemic.

I have attached a quiz; nobody has to do it and there are no prizes; it’s just for fun, especially while many people have extra time available!  The answers will go out in the next newsletter, in three or four weeks’ time.

The next three meetings:

Andrew has been in touch about May 23rd, so do respond if you are interested;

for June 6th. there is a proposed outing to North Essex, which Norman Harper is still checking out, so we’ll come back o that;

on July 4th. Richard Pilliner will do a session for us either in Penge or by Zoom, so that’s something else to let you know about.

From the newsletter of the Bexley and District Association:

From the Parish of Friern Barnet’s Dictionary of Musical Terms:

  • Anon – composer of many 16th. century anthems, sometimes wrongly attributes to Tallis, Byrd, etc.
  • Bridal March – Signature tune to Horse of the Year Show.
  • Chant – old English spelling of “can’t”, which is what the choir say when asked to do it.
  • Descant – one of two nuisances in church, the other being pigeons.  A descant is a disagreement between choir and congregation about how the music goes.
  • Great organ – British version of “fine instrument” known in America as “swell organ”.
  • Ground Bass – what you might call a “basso profundo” after being run over by a steam roller.
  • Handel’s Largo – 18th. century great German taste for the great British thirst
  • Handel’s “Messiah” – lesser known Prelude to the “Hallelujah” chorus.

(There is more…..)

And, as SW4 is part of our patch, here is one solution to the limerick which Bexley members were invited to complete:

There once was an organist from Clapham
Whose choir thinks she’s a bit of a madam.
The sops she berated,
The tenors she slated.
As they often sang flat in the anthem.

(From Lydia Gray)

Some links to see:

You are welcome to respond or to generally keep in touch.

With good wishes,


John Webber