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The Return of the Sound of Music

by Michael Ford last modified 11 Mar, 2020 05:49 PM

The congregation of Weymouth town centre church St Mary’s is welcoming back an old friend to Sunday services - the sound of music once again about to fill the historic building.

The church organ had been ailing for some time; however, on Tuesday, a delicate operation was finally completed to extend its useful life by several decades.

St Mary’s has a traditional approach to music and is very proud of its fine organ. Main organist Paul Selley, a retired vicar and former secondary music teacher, says:

“Pipe organs are rather like steam engines! They are large wonderful, living, breathing machines but very complex and expensive to run but when they run well they are superb and inspiring.”

Opened in 1817, St Mary’s got a “2-manual organ” installed in the west gallery in 1859. In the early 1950s, it was rebuilt and enlarged to a three manual, 40-stop instrument with a detached console in the sanctuary.

It was previously repaired in 1993 by expert Tony Bishop, who again handled the extensive replacement of leather this time. This is indeed a triumph, for there are shrinking opportunities to hear a church organ.

Apart from changes in fashion and the high cost of maintenance silencing many of functional pipe organs, there’s a grave shortage of competent organists. Of those still playing, a 2018 survey found the vast majority were over 70 and only 4% were under 30. Recordings now lead congregational singing in many parts of the country; there are some electronic organs, or the music is supplied by other instruments such as piano, guitar and even the accordion.

Weymouth Community Chaplain Neil Biles says the town is lucky that they still have a working organ:

“I didn’t like organ music when I was younger, considering it old hat. Since, coming to St Mary’s however, I have come to realise the power it provides to our worship.”

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