The Essex Organists’ Association was formed as the Chelmsford and District Organists’ Association shortly before the Second World War, but it disbanded during the war and all pre-war records have been lost.
It was re-formed on 10th June 1950 when Stanley Vann, then organist at Chelmsford Cathedral, invited all local organists and all those interested in the instrument to a meeting in the Chapter House. A copy of this invitation is in the Association’s archives. Dr.Edgar Brice was elected President and Leslie Gannon was elected Secretary.
The first meeting, a Lecture by the President, was held on 1st July 1950. Other events in the first year included:
- Visits to organs in Braintree and Dunmow
- A recital by the President followed by the annual dinner
- A composite recital by members in St. John’s Church, Chelmsford
- A visit to College Chapels in Cambridge
Subsequently the President’s Recital became the Celebrity Recital. Leading Organists of the time were invited to play with the twin aims of putting the Association ‘on the map’ locally, filling Chelmsford Cathedral with a paying audience which would not only cover the performer’s fee, but also gave a boost to Association Funds. David Sanger, Stephen Cleobury, Margaret Phillips and Sir George Thalben-Ball were among those who gave memorable recitals.
In 1951 Miss E M Keall and Mr Kenneth Bence (organist for over 55 years at the Primitive Methodist’s Chapel at Hall Street, Chelmsford) took over as joint Secretaries under the Presidency of Mr S J Burrell. The following year Mr Bence became President and Miss Gwen Phillips became joint Secretary with Miss Keall.
Records show the Presidents over the years as follows:
1950 – Dr Edgar Brice
1954 – Mr S J Burrell
1956 – Mr Kenneth Bence
1972 – Mr Eric Royle
1974 – Miss Marjorie Nunn
1976 – Mr Marcus Knight
1978 – Mr David Latham
1980 – Mr Michael Little
1982 – Dr Graham Elliott
1984 – Mr John Moore-Bridger
1986 – Dr Gillian Ward-Russell
2016 – Mr Richard Brasier
2018 – Mr. Philip Prior
Records show the Secretaries over the years as follows:
1950 – Mr Leslie Gannon
1951 – Miss E M Keall and Mr Kenneth Bence
1954 – Miss E M Keall and Miss Gwen Phillips
1966 – Miss Grace Earnshaw
1976 – Mr Michael Little
1980 – Mr Robert Little
1984 – Miss Josephine Skingley
1987 – Mr Ron Woods
1992 – Mr Steve Knight
2003 – Mr Andrew Sturt
2004 – Mr Michael Little
2016 – Mr Jonathan Eyre
2017 – Mr Stephen King
The size and activity of the Association in the first few decades after its re-formation was quite limited, but the installation of its President Dr. Gillian Ward-Russell saw the commencement of a period of growth, both in membership and activity. A look at the page showing the current Programme will give an idea of the wide range of events now held, catering for players of all abilities and ages, and aiming to help all of them to develop their abilities to the full.
During the past decade, with the President also a Regional Liaison Officer for the Incorporated Association of Organists (see their website here) and Vice-President Marcus Knight serving as Advertising Manager for ‘Organists’ Review’, the C.D.O.A. came to national prominence as a flourishing and exemplary Association. Dame Gillian Weir, John Scott, Peter Crompton and James O’Donnell have all been speakers at Annual Dinners.
The 50th Anniversary of the Association was celebrated on Monday 19th June 2000 with an Anniversary Service. A copy of the Order of Service is in the Association Archives. It shows that 12 members took individual parts playing the organ for voluntaries and hymns, reading the lessons and conducting the Choir, which was also made up entirely of members and directed by Philip Prior, Vice Chairman at that time. Among the congregation was Kenneth Bence – the last meeting that he was able to attend, and the only person that had been present at the re-formation of the Association 50 years earlier. Stanley Vann was unable to attend this celebration of the success of the Association that he had re-formed, but his composition “Fetes” was among the music played.
The Association was renamed as the Essex Organists’ Association in 2009, and in 2016, Richard Brasier was elected as Gillian Ward Russell’s successor, following her 30 years service as President. Under Richard’s leadership, the Association is growing into a modern and diverse organization, through the extensive redevelopment of the website, the launch of a fund for organists named after the late Christopher Kingsley, and a wider range of events, many of which are aimed towards encouraging organists of all ages and abilities to improve their playing skills, and to further their knowledge of the ‘King of Instruments’.
Click here for Gillian Ward Russell’s article about the late John Moore-Bridger, who was President of the EOA from 1984 -1986
We have begun to put together a chronology of all the events we can find relating to the Chelmsford & Distict Association and then Essex (from 2010). We still have many gaps and would be grateful for copies of any paperwork relating to the Association from 1950 onwards, including old event details, newsletters, photos, recordings and committee minutes that you may have access to, either to donate on a permanent basis or to provide copies of as requested to fill gaps in our history. If you have any material to donate or to offer copies of then please do email Fiona on firstname.lastname@example.org who will be glad to advise on and arrange receipt of your contributions or copies of them.