Obituary: Canon Alan Luff

22 May 2020

The Rt Revd Dr Richard Fenwick writes:

A DISTINGUISHED former Precentor of Westminster Abbey died on 16 April in Cardiff, where he and his wife, Enid, the Welsh composer, had spent the past 23 years in retirement. Alan Luff’s sharp mind, and the mischievous twinkle in his eye, belied his nearly 92 years. He was an astonishing man with many gifts: teacher, musician, administrator, and friend to so many. Above all, he was a fund of “horse” sense.

Alan Harold Frank Luff was from a Bristol LNER railway family, but, at school, his gifts sent him on a different path. He won a scholarship to Bristol Grammar School, and, after fine A levels, his parents urged him onwards to University College, Oxford. He read Greats, and earned a splendid degree; in his third year, he also rowed as stroke in the university boat.

Two years’ National Service followed, mostly at RAF Paderborn, in Germany. He loved the country — all the more because he met Enid, the daughter of the Free Church Chaplain. During these years, Alan also became fluent in German.

His vocation crystallised in the RAF, and, at on being demobbed, he trained at Westcott House, Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in Manchester Cathedral in 1956, and priest a year later. He loved Manchester, and, after curacies at Stretford and then Swinford, he joined the cathedral staff as Precentor in 1961.

While at Stretford, he and Enid married, she having completed her Modern Languages degree at Cambridge, and, in 1968, they moved to the parish of Dwygyfylchi (Penmaenmawr) in Bangor diocese. He was a caring pastor. While there, Enid took a B.Mus, and then an M.Mus in composition at Bangor. Enid’s first language is Welsh; and, as the Vicar of Dwygyfylchi, Alan had to speak Welsh. Typically, he learned it fluently.

In 1979, his abilities as a pastor, administrator, pianist, and fine baritone (he took his ARCM in 1977) won him the precentorship of Westminster Abbey, and it was his time here which defined the man we knew. This very busy job had to balance the needs of a young family with the fierce demands of music, administration, and the constant creation of liturgy at the highest level. Above all, he had to tiptoe around the sensitivities of the Abbey Chapter. However prestigious the job, technically, Alan was a Minor Canon, and so had to be constantly aware of the political pressures around him and the musical foundation.

Truly, his skill in creating a constant stream of high-profile services at the abbey was of a special order, and one of which some members of Chapter had little understanding. Alan had an excellent style all his own. Every move in a service was planned; each sentence in the rubrics was weighed finely; every word of the prayers and hymns was judged for the occasion. The one who did understand, however, was the distinguished and kindly Dean of Westminster, Edward Carpenter. “Uncle Eddie” was as good of heart as he was intellectually formidable. He was a constantly good influence on that great place — “the House of Kings”, as he called it — and he was a firm supporter of Alan’s fine work.

In 1992, Alan moved to a residentiary canonry at Birmingham Cathedral. It was a time they enjoyed; for Birmingham is a focal point for music and the arts. As in any job, there were still many challenges, but Alan was in his element. During his five years, he became Precentor and Senior Canon.

Together with everything else at this time, he was also the Warden of the Guild of Church Musicians, Executive Vice-President of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and a regular writer and lecturer on hymnology and liturgy. His books are several (one in Welsh), and his publications very many. Alan became increasingly honoured for his lectures and for his part in colloquia all over Britain, Continental Europe, and the US.

So, in 1996, he and Enid retired to the Cardiff suburb of Rhiwbina, and they took part in the life of Dewi Sant, the city-centre Welsh Church. Later, he joined the team of the parish of Whitchurch, though they mostly attended their local daughter church with its own fine musical tradition. Even so, Alan officiated in churches all around Cardiff.

It is a sad time for many who are saying farewell. But, after all his years of devoted service, he deserves to rest in the presence of the One he has gladly served so long. He died in a nursing home, and our hearts go out to Enid, their daughter, three sons, and grandchildren. Our prayers are with them as they remember somebody who not only served with such distinction at “the House of Kings”, but constantly pointed countless others to The King Himself.

Rest in peace, Alan.

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