Notes of history

healeyHealey Willan

Parish organists of the past will be celebrated this month as the May Music Festival returns to St Mary’s Church. Plus, there’ll be a variety of performers, all with a local connection, says festival director Alison Wells

Following the inaugural festival last year, we are very pleased to present this year’s event, which has a feast of music and performers, all with a local connection.

As you’ll see on the poster, we start with a saxophone quintet led by Melanie Henry, an Aldersbrook resident whom I first encountered when we were both professors at Trinity Laban Conservatoire. Melanie is bringing a quartet of brilliant young players from Trinity Laban, including another Aldersbrook resident, and they promise a highly entertaining evening of a wide range of music with Melanie herself playing and compering.

The organ day, which proved very popular last year, will feature a talk about organists past and present of the Parish of Wanstead. There have been a few well-known composers, for example, Healey Willan (1880–1968), who was Director of Music from 1900 until 1903 and who later emigrated to Canada in 1911. He was an expert on plainsong and we are aiming to have a few of his organ pieces played in the concert.  

Also well known was Montagu Phillips (1885–1969), who succeeded Healey Willan, although he was better known for his popular songs rather than his organ works. However, we’re hoping to include some of his compositions.

Parishioner Davis Watson has also been digging around in the archives to find out more about the previous Directors of Music and has found interesting characters there, including some ancestors of present-day parishioners. Davis and Michael Tivey, one of our team of organists, will be giving a talk about them – and they promise a few organist-related jokes! This will be followed by a recital of organ music by members of the parish team and other local organists or those connected with the parish.  

And the Bank Holiday Monday will see the extraordinary spectacle of All Rest, a site-specific composition by local composer Simone Spagnolo, setting words by the writer Serena Braida. The audience will join a chorus of ghosts as they take you around the churchyard to meet some of its inhabitants. Featuring six solo singers and instruments, this is a world premiere coming to Wanstead. Be sure not to miss it.

Tickets for all events are available from Wansteadium using the QR code on the poster and there will also be tickets available on the door. Please note, tickets for All Rest will be limited to 40, so book up early for that one. Why not buy a season ticket for all three events and save a little on the price? We’re really looking forward to welcoming you all to our beautiful church of St Mary’s.

For more information and to book tickets, visit wnstd.com/may24