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An Organist Remembers: Memories of a life in cathedral music by Roy Massey

31 December 2021

Ronald Corp reviews memoirs of a life spent in cathedral music

ROY MASSEY has had a brilliant career as one of our most significant organists and choir trainers, and it is inevitable that his book about his life includes a roll call of organists and other musicians whom he has encountered over his long career.

The book is a delight to read as it gently takes us through his early years at churches in Birmingham, through his time with the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), his appointment as organist of Birmingham Cathedral, his 27 years at Hereford and finally as a Fellow at St Michael’s, Tenbury, and subsequent retirement.

Massey paints a very full picture of the places where he has worked in during his life, and gives affectionate portraits of priests and lay people, pulling no punches when telling us about the characters he is critical of.

As a schoolboy, he was identified as having a good treble voice, and he began singing in local church choirs. In his introduction to the book, Massey explains that he was entranced by the music that he was asked to sing, finding the psalms tricky, but enjoying music by Handel, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. He was also captivated by the organ, and, through several serendipitous incidents, and the help and encouragement of David Willcocks, he was soon making a name for himself.

Massey began to be involved in residential courses at the RSCM. Its director, Dr Gerald Knight, invited him to work at its HQ in those days, Addington Palace, where Massey became Warden in 1964, combining his duties with those of organist at Croydon Parish Church. This marked a change from Birmingham life, and the duties were onerous, but Massey managed to keep up his organ-playing. There is a chapter dedicated to various RSCM courses, including trips to America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

It seems to have happened regularly in Massey’s career that the phone has rung and he has been offered a job. At Addington Palace, a call came telling him of the retirement of the organist at Birmingham Cathedral. Massey was appointed organist there in 1968. The choir was in a poor state, but Massey turned things around.

He did this again in Hereford six years later, gaining respect for his work with the choir. Hereford involved overseeing the events of the Three Choirs Festival, and Massey is proud of the works that he commissioned during his time as conductor of concerts there, including the Requiem by Geoffrey Burgon.

The penultimate chapter lists various organ recitals that Massey carried out, and it is clear that retirement has not meant an end to his career. The book includes many photos, including one of Massey next to the gargoyle made in his likeness, which you can see in the Lady chapel at Hereford Cathedral.

The Revd Ronald Corp, an assistant priest at St Alban’s, Holborn, in London, is a composer and conductor.


An Organist Remembers: Memories of a life in cathedral music
Roy Massey
RSCM £18.95
Church Times Bookshop £17.05

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