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Book reviews >

A Country Cathedral Organist Looks Back 1939-1978

Serendipity £12.95 (1-84394-168-6)

 The food of a lifetime, as well as of love: Helen Burrows enjoys some lively reminiscences of years spent in the organ loft

  THIS fascinating and absorbing autobiography offers a personal and anecdotal retrospective on the many characters who have populated the world of church music since the 1950s. Beginning with a brief family history, the author chronicles his personal and family life from his birth, through his education, and into the early years of his career as a cathedral organist.

Few of Gedge’s family, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances are missing from the pages, as Gedge traces his education through his time as a chorister at Southwark Cathedral and St Olave’s School, and his student years, to his appointments at St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, Selby Abbey, and Brecon Cathedral. Anecdotes abound, from those about the temperamental Sydney Cambell, a superb musician and perfectionist, who was prone to throwing hymn-books, to ones about the redoubtable Dr C. H. Moody, CBE, FRCO, who successfully objected to the proposed installation of Epstein’s statue Ecce Homo in Selby Abbey.

At the Royal Academy of Music, Gedge met his wife, Hazel Davies, and began a musical partnership that continues to this day. Both were students of C. H. Trevor, known to organ students as editor of the series The Progressive Organist.

Many a parish and cathedral organist will identify with the frustrations at lack of funding, support, and appreciation which are described here. The narrative is unassuming and honest; extremely funny at times; thoughtful; and even forceful on occasion. However, the overriding impression is one of conviction, hard work, commitment, and an enduring partnership.

With his wife, David Gedge’s life’s work has been raising musical standards so as to enhance the liturgy, first at Selby Abbey and then at Brecon Cathedral, where he has now been Director of Music for nearly 40 years. The narrative ends in 1978. I hope an account of the next 30 years is still to come.

Dr Burrows is Director of Music at St George’s RAF Chapel, Biggin Hill, and at Combe Bank School. She is also Examinations Secretary for the Guild of Church Musicians.

The book can be had from David Gedge at Garth Cottage, 29 Pendre, Brecon LD3 9EA (01874 622442) for £12.95 plus £2.50 p. &p.

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