Organs give school double reason to celebrate

Posted: 8th February 2022



























A school chapel reverberated to the sounds of two organs in a double celebration of heritage and generosity.

World-renowned organists enchanted a packed audience with a 90-minute repertoire of classical music in Barnard Castle School’s chapel.

Director of Music at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Anna Lapwood and organist at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, William Fox played the 100-year-old Henry ‘Father’ Willis organ and also a brand new Johannus LiVE 3P digital practice instrument donated by the family of Old Barnardian John Renney, who boarded at Barney in the 1930s.

The new organ is the first of its kind in the United Kingdom and can switch from a ‘French’ to a ‘German’ organ using recorded sound from the original instruments.

Within a day of the new instrument being delivered students began signing up for lessons, the audience was told by director of music Richard Dawson.

Mr Renney died in September 2020 and the concert was attended by family including his sons David and Paul, daughter Joyce De La Guerra and their cousins Anne Clarke, Jill Harris, Christine Hill and Rosie Clive-Smith, who all contributed to the cost of the digital organ.

David said: “My father was from Sunderland and boarded at the school. He got a great deal from being at Barney and the opportunity to play the organ which he loved. It was always his principal recreation and he played semi-professionally – he was a local government lawyer by profession –  reaching a high standard, joining the Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists.

“He was a church organist until his mid-80s. It was a lovely concert and I was so pleased that it ended with Elgar which was one of his favourite composers. He was always talking about his time at Barnard Castle School so we thought it would be lovely to give current pupils the opportunity to do what he did when he was there.”

Joyce added: “We loved tonight’s programme. We are very keen to support young people and we were delighted to hear that so many signed up so quickly to play the new organ.”

Mr Dawson said: “The organ is a wonderful instrument and learning to play it unlocks so many musical skills. We are thrilled with the new digital organ, for which we are incredibly grateful, and feel that it is a coup to secure the services of two world class organists to play it and our historic chapel instrument.”

The organists also staged a workshop for students sharing their musical knowledge and skills with the would-be players.

Anna said: “We have had a delightful day at school seeing the joy young people get from playing the organ. Will and I have been friends since we were organ scholars but don’t get the chance to play together very often nowadays. It is rather nice to sit shoulder to shoulder as we play our first duet.”

The chapel organ was originally assembled in 1860 by the celebrated builder Henry Willis, a 26 stop, three manual and pedal instrument, with an ornate case said to have been shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

It was built for the home of Willis’ chief patron Sir James Tyler, of Hertford, who died in 1890 when the organ then became a stop gap for the local church. It was then stored at Hertford Castle until 1911 when it was bought by Darlington coal-mining manager, music teacher and organist Frederick Jennings.

Too large to fit in his house, he had a new home built to accommodate the instrument at which time it was also enlarged by 11 stops. When he died his son Arthur, an Old Barnardian, sold it to the school.

Categories: Barnard Castle School School News