Stephen R. Beet writes:
WITH the death of Theo Saunders, the people of Armagh and the world of cathedral and church music have lost a great friend, loved and respected by all who came into contact with him, but especially by those who knew him well. Theo was a humble man, and his gifts as a composer, accompanist, and teacher should not be underestimated. Works were even composed in his honour, not least a piece by Antony Baldwin, Mr Theo Saunders: His Trumpet Tune.
Theo was a fine organist, pianist, and accompanist, and many lesser musicians have pushed themselves forward into higher positions; but he saw his work very much as a spiritual journey: modesty and “truth in the inward parts” were always uppermost in his mind when planning services and concerts, at which everything was done “decently and in order”.
Born in Hereford in 1957, Theodore Patrick Saunders was the son of a clergyman, and was steeped from the beginning in the Tractarian tradition of the Book of Common Prayer. Educated at King’s College, Taunton, he went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where his teachers included Timothy Harrison, Walter Hillsman, and Simon Preston.
He was appointed Director of Music at Exeter Cathedral School, followed by posts at Ryde Junior School, on the Isle of Wight, St David’s Cathedral, Cardiff, and St John’s College, Cardiff. He became Head of Music at Stoneygate School, Leicester, which he combined with the post of Director of Music at St James the Greater, Leicester.
He was a member of numerous societies and a Trustee of the East Midlands’ Choir Trust, dedicated to the support of traditional men’s and boys’ choirs in the area. His appointment, in 2002, as Organist and Choirmaster of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, fulfilled his boyhood ambition to be a cathedral organist.
He served the cathedral faithfully, and was well known throughout the Province, deputising at several churches and teaching widely. A highlight of his time in Armagh was the occasion of the Royal Maundy service in 2008, when it was widely felt that the boys of St Patrick’s were more than equal to their Chapel Royal comrades.
Theo was the only in-post cathedral organist in the UK and Republic of Ireland to be a member of the Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir, and he also actively encouraged parish-church choirs. He saw the introduction of girls in many cathedrals as a threat to an age-old tradition dating back to biblical times.
Many successful musicians today owe much to Theo’s kindly and sensitive teaching and encouragement. Despite having to relinquish the cathedral post last year because of ill health, he continued to teach privately until just before his death on 12 January.
Theo Saunders will be greatly missed by all who knew him. A great light has been extinguished in Armagh, and the void will be keenly felt, but his influence will live on in the hearts of those whom he touched.