Wanted: a national organisation

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

I offer my congratulations to Dr Harvey Grace on his appointment as president of the Incorporated Association of Organists. Some years ago, under the pseudonym of ‘Autolycus’ he made wide circle of friends by his writings in Musical opinion 1. More recently his activities have been multiplied as editor of The musical times, and by numerous common sense articles that regularly appear in broadcasting journals. His grumble at the ridiculously small salaries that are paid to church organists is an old grievance, but no serious attempt has ever been made to put it right, the reason possibly being the many inequalities of salary amongst the clergy themselves.

How can organists ever hope for a proper adjustment of salary when cases are not uncommon of parishes with populations of under a thousand where the parsons’ salaries vary between £700 and £300? The clergy would like to adjust such inequalities themselves, but are helpless, so there is little hope of the organist ever having his grievance adjusted by the church authorities. The most sensible thing for organists to do is to get together and band themselves into a cooperative union as has been suggested by Harvey Grace. Such an organisation would be sure to command respect, and eventually be the means of influencing many badly needed reforms. After all the church is a vast trust, and though its influence is now less powerful, its status as a trust is as strong as ever, and can only be remedied by Act of Parliament.

A remarkable thing is that modern inventions and greater aggregations of people tend to the creation of trusts rather than to their destruction. A powerful modern trust is the BBC, which represents a growth of but twenty years. What it eventually may become can only be a matter for speculation. It does not need a great deal of intelligence to detect the influence operating in the selection of music in the programmes of the BBC and in the London and Manchester orchestras. The hand is apparent, because the programmes are so much alike and lean in the same direction.

What, then, is to be done to redress the balance of this influence? Will musicians be content to continue with their grumblings or have they sufficient interest or enthusiasm to form themselves into an association whose collective opinion would be stronger than the present influence? It is obvious that concerts are attended by audiences of persons who are interested in music. It is they who pay for it, but they have no choice whatever in the selection of the music they hear. Programmes are already framed for them, and it may be that the only factors which decide their attendance at any particular concert are those of ‘I like what I know’ or ‘I know what I like’: apart from this they go out of curiosity, or to learn something.

That these grumblings do not proceed from disappointed composers and artists was manifest at the organists’ meeting in Sheffield. Dr Grace ran over a list of grievances; but what he advocates for one phase of the musical life is applicable to the whole. His suggestion is that if musicians, music societies, music clubs and all those vitally interested in music would get together, they would form an organisation of half a million people whose collective opinion would outweigh any other influence.

  1. Grace (1874—1944) was editor of The musical times from 1918 until his death, succeeding William McNaught the Elder and being followed by William McNaught the Younger. He was a prolific writer and a composer of church music, as well as organist at Chichester Cathedral from 1931 to 1938. Readers of the Preface to Volume 1 of Havergal Brian on Music will have noted that I failed to take account of this passage when I claimed that the identity of ‘Autolycus’ was unknown. ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, October 1936, pp. 12–13