The contribution to music made by Jeffrey Williams, the Organist and Master of the Choristers at Romsey Abbey, was recognised earlier this month when he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. This comes just before Jeffrey’s retirement from his post after a twenty-two year association with the music at the abbey. He will be hanging up his cassock for the last time on Sunday 4 January. The first service at which Jeffrey played was the Nine Lessons and Carols in December 1981 as Assistant Organist, a post he held for eight years before succeeding Anthony Burns-Cox as Organist in 1990.
During his time in charge of the music at Romsey, Jeffrey has maintained the centuries old tradition of a choir of men and boys and has built it up into one of the largest and most successful voluntary, all-male Parish Church choirs in the region. Under his direction, the Abbey Choir has sung at most of the major English Cathedral, including three visits to Westminster Abbey. The choir has also undertaken two concert tours to Holland and has appeared on Meridian Television and BBC Radio Three. In addition to the very full programme of services at the abbey, the choir has made recordings the most recent being in 2001 and has given regular concerts. Last year’s Music for a Royal Pageant, a joint concert with the band of the Army Air Corps, was one of the highlights of the town’s celebrations of the Royal Jubilee.
Over the years, the choir has also been called upon to lead the worship at many important Civic Occasions. Jeffrey was responsible for directing the music at the Memorial Services for the late Leonora Knatchbull, daughter of Lord and Lady Romsey; and, more recently, for that of the late Michael and Nicola Colvin, the local Member of Parliament and his wife.
A significant achievement of Jeffrey’s time at the abbey is a project that took eight years to bring to completion: the successful and widely praised restoration of the Abbey’s famous 1858 Walker Organ. When he took over in 1990, Jeffrey found the organ in a perilous state, a previous attempt to address the problems in the early 1980s having been unsuccessful. After a major fund raising campaign to raise 250,000, he worked as consultant for the project in conjunction with the organ builders, J W Walker & Sons, who rebuilt the instrument in 1996, returning it to full working order. The final stage of this imaginative project was completed in 1999 with the addition of the new nave organ. As a result of Jeffrey’s vision and efforts, Romsey Abbey boasts an almost unique situation with two very fine instruments, one that few other churches can match.
Jeffrey will continue to live and work in Romsey; he is the Director of Music at Embley Park School, and he and his family will remain members of the abbey congregation. “I have no immediate plans to take up another church post or choir but I will wait and see what comes along,” said Jeffrey. “However, I do intend to devote more time to my work for Trinity College as a Music Examiner and I am looking forward to going to New Zealand for the summer examination tour in July and August next year.
“I shall miss my work at the abbey very much indeed and it will feel very strange not be out in front of the choir on Sundays. However, I have had a wonderful twenty two years at Romsey Abbey, working in a place that is very special and I hope, perhaps, to still help out with the playing from time to time.”