Parish Music

A Short Musical History

Choral and organ music have featured prominently in the life of Saint Peter’s from the earliest years of the parish. Throughout the late 19th century, choirs of men, women, boys and girls in various formations, were busy singing Mass settings from Marbecke [in the Stainer arrangement, popular at the time] to Joseph Barnby with a long list of composers featured for the anthems and settings of Choral Evensong - always a feature of Saint Peter’s music. The choral tradition was developed to a high standard during the tenure of Alfred Lilly in the 1890’s. He oversaw the introduction of some music of the ’Tudors’, remarkable for a parish church anywhere in the late 19th century! This coincided with the arrival of Father B.M. King, vicar from 1892-1911. Father King, firmly rooted in the English Oxford Movement, encouraged the use of music in a liturgical style which developed a particular ’Saint Peter’s’ flavour of dignified ’High Church’ worship coupled with a distinguished preaching tradition which has continued to the present day.

The choir in the 1890’s.

Photo: Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago.

Throughout the early years of the 20th century the name of Miss Bessie Favell is inescapable in the musical history of the parish. She was an extremely fine musician who could ’play anything at sight’. She was so respected as an performer and teacher that a stained glass window dedicated to her memory is positioned in the church facing the organist - a reminder to contemporary musicians of the musical legacy of earlier days! In 1906 a fire in the church resulted in the old organ being destroyed. This was replaced with a small chamber pipe organ of one manual by the foremost 19th century NZ organ builder, Henry Jenkins (1836-1924) and sited rather awkwardly in the chancel. This required a great deal of realigned seating for the large choir of the time.

However, Miss Favell produced remarkable results from the instrument and it continued to perform well through the 50 years of her tenure as organist. On her death in 1941, a bequest received from her estate enabled a restoration by Christchurch organ builder Edward Alden (1885-1961) to be undertaken in 1944. The addition of extra stops was a great advantage but not so the now extraordinarily heavy manual action.

The Choir in 1952

The instrument became notorious among local organists for its ’bone-crushing’ characteristics. The arrival of Father Roger Taylor as Vicar of St Peter’s (1952-1962) brought to the parish a superbly well-trained musician who believed that ’excellent music, ritual and colour were important expressions of the faith’. Church music flourished during his tenure, Father Taylor often conducting the various choirs and playing the organ.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s a variety of choral groups from parish choir to Saint Peter’s Schola provided fine support to the liturgy. They were encouraged in their endeavours by Father Carl Somers-Edgar, vicar 1985-2011. Father Carl had been a chorister in the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, Dunedin. He would on occasion preach, celebrate and play hymns for the indisposed organist! During the late 1990’s the arrival of Professor John Montieth and his wife Vivienne provided Saint Peter’s with a remarkable duo of talented organists. They ensured the musical traditions of Saint Peter’s continued, particularly during the extensive restoration of the interior of the church in 2005. It was at this time that David Hoskins, who had been assisting with the music for some years, oversaw the removal of the old pipe organ and the installation of a large, resourceful three manual Johannus digital organ from the Netherlands. When the Montieth’s moved to Australia, David became Director of Music. He presides over a busy schedule of playing for services and recitals, engaging and training singers, introducing a wide range of liturgical music and developing a music programme for Saint Peter’s ensuring the fine tradition is both preserved and nurtured.

While Saint Peter’s provides a continuing high standard of music in terms of its liturgy and the range of concerts performed throughout each year, it is important to realise that this is only possible through the generosity and goodwill of those in the present and the hard work and remarkable skills of those who have served the parish in years past.

Ladies of the Choir model their new gowns in 1949       Ladies and girls of the Choir model their new gowns in 1949       Choir and Clergy in 1950       The Choir in 1966       David Hoskins conducts a group of singers shortly after his appointment      
Select any thumbnail for a description and larger image of these snaps of our musical past.

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