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A Diamond Ending for Mac

by glynch — last modified 07 Oct, 2015 04:47 PM

Wilts organist retires at his 60th Harvest Service

A Diamond Ending for Mac

Mac Bennett at his final service. Photo credit: Diane Vose/Wiltshire Times.

It was a diamond ending for Mac Bennett's long service as organist at St George's Church in Semington, just outside Melksham. His final service was his 60th harvest festival since being asked to play the organ 'temporarily' in 1955.

“I first got involved with Semington in 1947”, explains Mac, “when I was at the then Trowbridge Boys’ High School. I got friendly with a lad from Semington, who invited a few of us over for tea one Sunday. When we came over, all went well, until we met his mother. She said we could come to tea every Sunday as long as we went to Church afterwards.

“That’s how I started going to St George’s. Pretty soon I was roped into the choir, in the days when there were up to 20 of us in it.

“Then, in 1955, the organist retired. I’d never played the organ before, but had piano lessons as a lad, and learned to read music. So the vicar asked me to start playing temporarily. 40 years later, in 1995, they finally decided they’d better make me permanent!”

Mac is a fund of funny stories gathered over decades behind an organ console. “Once, long before mobile phones”, he retells, “we had a wedding where the bride was very late. Everyone was in St George’s bar the bride and her father. People were starting to wonder if the groom was going to be jilted at the altar!

“After 15 minutes, the vicar asked me to stop playing, and even I thought the lady had backed out, and he was about to announce it. In reality, all he wanted to do was tell people how to get the reception afterwards!

“Some of the villagers would gather outside the Church to have a look at wedding parties arriving, and that day my wife was among them. Back then, ladies wore big hats like spaceships to weddings, so they were very obvious.

“Up the street came a Rolls Royce with ribbons on – but there was no big hat to be seen! The chauffeur was on his own! 

“As it turned out the chauffeur had come from Bristol and the road he’d planned to take through a nearby village had been closed because there had been a murder! The police redirected him via Trowbridge and told him to follow the signs, but there were no signs for Semington in Trowbridge, so he got lost.

“Meanwhile, the bride’s Dad got fed up with waiting for the chauffeur, so he bundled his daughter into his own car, and the two cars passed on the road without realising. The poor chauffeur was so embarrassed! But all’s well that ends well.”

Mac’s funny stories don’t just relate to decades past – there are some of more recent vintage, and he isn’t afraid to tell a joke against himself.

“Around 4 months ago”, he recalls, “I was playing at a service and had just got back from taking Communion. I steadied myself to sit down on the organ seat and crunch it went! It collapsed underneath me!

“My feet landed on the pedals and made a heck of a noise while people were still receiving Communion. I was terribly embarrassed! I’d been sitting on the darn thing for 60 years, why did it have to pick that moment to go?

“Luckily, our Churchwarden managed to fix it easily.”

“I haven’t been back to church for the two Sundays since I retired – it has made a difference to my weekends not being committed every Sunday! I’m enjoying lie-ins and not having to get in early for the 9.15, but that will wear off and I do want to go to our evening services on the third Sunday of the month.

“Two ladies have taken over for me temporarily”, Mac concludes, “Whether that means they’ll be playing for another 60 years, we shall have to see!”

David Wildsmith, Churchwarden at St George's, added "Mac has provided sterling service for 60 years and has been ever present in rain or shine. Mac is as well known for his good humour as his musicianship and always kept us regaled with humorous tales of life as a church musician.

"We gave him a presentation at the harvest supper. We hope we'll still see him at church, and he's welcome to come and play the organ any time."

As Mac's t-shirt at his final service said, organists don't retire, they just scale down.

Our thanks to the Wiltshire Times for first bringing our attention to this lovely story.

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