Abbey organist celebrates twenty years of music

Jeffrey Williams, Organist and Master of the Choristers at Romsey Abbey, celebrated 20 years at the Abbey this Christmas.

Jeffrey, a Cornishman, first came to play at the Abbey in December 1981 for just one service, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, but ended up staying on, originally as Assistant, for eight years to the then Organist Anthony Burns-Cox and then as Organist from 1990.

During this period, the reputation of the Abbey Choir has continued to grow under Jeffrey’s leadership and it has received invitations to sing a most of the country’s leading Cathedrals, including three visits to Westminster Abbey.

In addition, the Choir has made two concert tours to Holland, the most recent being in May of last year, and has appeared on local television and national radio. This summer, the Abbey Choir released a new recording, on CD, entitled And to be the Glory, sales of which are going very well indeed.

“There have been many highlights over the last 20 years,” commented Mr Williams, “and the Choir has been asked to sing at some very important occasions in the Abbey, two of which have been the Funeral Service for Leonora Knatchbull, daughter of Lord and Lady Romsey, and, more recently, the Memorial Service for Michael Colvin, the town’s former MP and a staunch supporter of the choral tradition at the Abbey.

“However, some of the most special moments occur during the normal weekly services when an anthem or setting is lifted to new heights. These instances are never recorded for posterity, but are a great joy and inspiration to witness.”

One of Jeffrey’s most challenging tasks was the restoration of the Abbey’s 1858 Walker Organ in 1996 and the addition of the new nave organ in 1999, a project that took eight years from planning to completion and involved the raising of over 200,000.

“The Abbey organ is known throughout the organ world and is admired for the beauty of its sound,” said Jeffrey. “This year alone, organists and organ builders have come from Australia to see and play it. It is rare indeed to find an English Organ from this period of time that is so close to the intentions of its original builder.

“Most people appreciate the archaeological importance of Romsey Abbey,” he continued. “As I embark on my third decade at the Abbey, it is my hope that future generations of organists and worshippers will recognise that the Romsey Organ is just as important in terms of the history of English organ building. I look forward to many more years of music making at Romsey Abbey.”