Priory Singers’ Memorial Evensong for Harry Grindle

Friday November 7th 2014

The late Harry Grindle will be remembered at Evensong in St Anne's Cathedral on November 16.

The late Harry Grindle will be remembered at Evensong in St Anne’s Cathedral on November 16.

The late Harry Grindle, a former Musical Director at St Anne’s, will be remembered at a special Memorial Evensong in the Cathedral on November 16.

Evensong will be sung by the Priory Singers, the group Harry established in 1986. The preacher will be Bishop Edward Darling, and the service will feature music Harry wrote and music that he loved.

Harry died in July 2013 aged 77. He was an eminent choral musician and choirmaster and in the 1970s he secured the choir of St Anne’s a place in the Top 10 British cathedral choirs.

The service is the Priory Singers’ tribute to Harry. Director Robert Thompson said it would be a fitting way to acknowledge his immense contribution to church music.

“The Priory Singers have a special ethos in that the choir is made up of a close-knit group of friends who come together to make music. Many members of the choir have been involved since Harry first established the ensemble, which Harry often referred to as the Priory ‘family.’

“This service is our tribute to the founder of the choir, from whom we all, individually and as a group, learned so much and whose legacy permeates everything we continue to strive to achieve.”

Bishop Darling said November had long been regarded as a month of remembering. “With a profound sense of pride, we very appropriately add to the lists of remembrances this special memorial service for the life, work and witness of a man who meant so much to us all,” he said.

“I feel greatly honoured to be specially identified with this act of worship in St Anne’s.”

The Priory Singers.

The Priory Singers.

Dr William Henry Grindle was born in Bangor and educated at a local primary school and later at Regent House School in Newtownards. At seven he joined the choir of Bangor Abbey and became head chorister.

In 1950 he started organ lessons with Huston Graham, then organist of Bangor Abbey, and in 1953 took up his first post as a church musician as organist of Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee.

He read French at Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Strasbourg before moving to London to take up a teaching post. He studied organ-playing with Flor Peeters in Belgium, and orchestral conducting with Sir Adrian Boult in Kent.

On his return to Northern Ireland in 1962, he was appointed organist of Bangor Parish Church and two years later he became Organist and Master of the Choristers at St Anne’s in Belfast, succeeding Capt CJ Brennan, who had retired after 60 years at the cathedral.

He inherited a large choir of more than 50 men and women – some of whom were paid singers – including a treble line of around 20 boy choristers. He maintained a strong roster of talented trebles by regularly visiting local schools with illustrated brochures about the choir and the excellent training offered.

This strategy proved successful in 1965, when the boys were invited to sing in two performances of Britten’s War Requiem — the first following its premiere at Coventry Cathedral.

In the 1970s, with the Troubles at their height, Harry rescheduled the weekly full choir rehearsal to begin earlier, with the trebles coming straight to the cathedral from school and the adults from their places of work. Following a meal, a shorter rehearsal meant the choir members returned home to safety before violence erupted after dark. This ensured that the high standard of music at both Sunday services was never compromised.

After an absence of a number of years the cathedral choir was heard live in the BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong series in March 1967. The success of this broadcast ensured regular invitations to summer residencies at English places of worship, including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

Harry left St Anne’s in 1975, when he was appointed to a senior music lectureship at Stranmillis College of Education and was eventually Head of the Music Department.

In 1986 Harry established the Priory Singers. He served as music editor of Sing & Pray, a hymn book issued in 2009 for use in both Sunday and primary schools. His hymn tune Stranmillis, a prize-winner in the St Paul’s Cathedral millennium hymn competition, was subsequently included in the latest edition of the St Paul’s Cathedral Hymnal. His book on Irish cathedral music is widely regarded as a definitive work on the subject.

In 1977 Harry became the first Irish musician to be elected to an Associateship of the Royal School of Church Music. In 2005 he was awarded a Lambeth degree, a Doctorate in Music, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and three years later was among those chosen to receive the Royal Maundy from the Queen in Armagh Cathedral.

He was appointed MBE in 2009 for services to music.

His busy and varied career was the subject of a film documentary shown on Ulster Television. Harry is survived by his wife Heather and daughters Hannah and Rachel.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, said: “All are welcome to this memorial Evensong as we pay tribute to a man who contributed so significantly to the musical life of the Church of Ireland, St Anne’s Cathedral, this City of Belfast and further afield.

“The Church will always require musicians. They are at the heart of much of what we offer to God in worship as choirs and instrumental music are vehicles of our praise. A few individuals, in any age and place, assume a musical role by which they effectively become the mentors and directors of others, and whose influence is wider and deeper than they may know. Harry was one of that select few who have led and still lead the way by their expertise, example and utterly single-minded commitment.”

The Memorial Evensong is at 3.30pm on Sunday November 16 and is open to all. Clergy are welcome to robe for the service.

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