An Organist's Journey

Dr Iain B. Galbraith is a former President of the Glasgow Society of Organists and the Church Service Society. In a five part series written for "The Accord" he shares stories of the places and people that have influenced him in his career.


If a thousand years are as a watch in the night, then the past fifty years have passed just as rapidly, as I look back on a long musical journey. How fast the years fly away. All journeys have a starting point. This particular journey began for me in early boyhood, when I first became aware of the sound of the fine Harrison organ in Bonhill Old Church in the Vale of the Leven.

From the family pew high in the gallery I looked down upon the choir stalls where Isa w my father, three aunts and three uncles all singing in the choir. I also saw the console of the organ with its two keyboards, its pedalboard and its very fine organist Andrew M Kinloch who had been a student of John Pullein, organist of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow. All this made a deep impression upon me in a church of quiet dignity, filled with fine music. Even then I knew that someday I wanted to be like Andrew M Kinloch and play an organ that sounded like the Harrison organ and had several keyboards.

This powerful influence produced an immediate effect which alarmed my parents. One Sunday afternoon they came upon me suddenly when I was attempting to play the piano in the front room with a large dishtowel hanging from my shoulders. Thinking that their young son had indeed taken a strange turn, they asked in an apprehensive way what this meant. They were told that I was now Mr Kinloch.  Mr Kinloch wore the purple and mauve hood of Trinity College of Music. Not knowing what a hood signified and thinking that such apparel was necessary for fine keyboard performances I had obtained the services of a dishtowel. Not long after this defining event, I became a piano pupil of Mr Kinloch and for the next twelve years I was soundly taught by this most musical man.

In the summer of 1958 a vacancy arose in Millburn Church, Renton for organist and choirmaster and Mr Kinloch advised me to apply for this vacancy.  Again my parents were apprehensive. I was but fourteen years of age and this they considered too young an age for such responsibility. But Mr Kinloch's wisdom prevailed and I became part of a leet of three chosen to play at a morning service during the month of August.  The successful candidate was to be chosen by congregational vote (Millburn had been a Free Church and had egalitarian ideas) and to my astonishment I was the successful candidate.  This was perhaps a sympathy vote for a fourteen year old.

Millburn Church was a fine example of French Gothic built in the immediate aftermath of the Disruption of 1843. George Meikle Kemp was said to have been the architect and the spire of Millburn was certainly very similar to Kemp's Scott Monument in Edinburgh. (This provenance has never been properly established and J T Rochead of Glasgow is the more likely architect of Millburn.) Internally Millburn was of an inverted cruciform shape with fine plaster vaulted ceilings and an impressive pulpit still possessing its original corona sounding board. There was a series of burial vaults below the church and many clandestine visits did I arrange to these for my classmates in 3A of Vale of Leven Academy, and we crept around in the darkness shining torches like something out of a Hammer Horror film. Thus I became very popular.

The organ was a large two manual harmonium showing signs of wear and tear in 1958, and inhabited by woodworm. But it had been manufactured in Stuttgart and on its good days was an instrument of considerable sweetness of tone which I much enjoyed playing.

The choir numbered over twenty and the members were intensely loyal. Seldom was a Thursday evening practice missed, some of the men coming direct to choir practice from shift work in the local factories and showing signs of hard labour. This loyalty I have never forgotten.

For forty five pounds per annum I played at two services each Sunday and conducted Thursday practices for ten months of the year. This seemed untold wealth in 1958 but visions of flashing pound notes in front of my peer group quickly vanished when my mother who was a very wise woman appropriated most of this salary to augment household finances which were never large. Thus I also learned the value of thrift. I also played at every congregational 'bun-fight' that was going - Women's Guilds, Concerts, Drama Group productions, Men's Forum, Burns Suppers, Youth Fellowship, Singalongs.

This was an excellent foundation on which to build an organist's skills. Occasionally this young organist's dignity was impaired. A black eye received as a result of a school fight of necessity was paraded on the Sunday.  "Did ye dent a door, Son?" asked the men of the choir when I appeared before them. Much laughter followed when I informed them that the other pugilist had received a squashed nose and both of us were the recipients of a good belting from the Rector (whose father had once been minister of Millburn Church).

I became a communicant member during my time in Millburn under the excellent ministry of Alan B Forrest, then in his first charge. Together we made many mistakes as we learned our different crafts, and we are still in touch and good friends after fifty years. This was an excellent first appointment for a young organist who could cycle to church in five minutes along irregular wooded footpaths. The journey had indeed begun.

An Organist’s Journey - 2 - A Large Place

He brought me forth also into a large place (II Samuel 22.20)

Millburn Church and its homely, friendly folk proved to be an excellent apprenticeship for a young, beginning organist, and there I learned many useful things and accomplished difficult tasks. Try accompanying Stainer's Crucifixion or several Messiah choruses and arias on a large harmonium! The result of this latter accomplishment was the development of large calf muscles which - unlike Katisha's left elbow - remain hidden from view! But it was time to move on. Harmoniums possess no pedalboards, and it was necessary now to seek an appointment in a church where there was a pipe organ with a full RCO pedalboard.

Thus in the autumn of 1963 I became organist and choirmaster of St David's, Knightswood, appointed from a short leet of four. There was no shortage of organists in those days. By this time I was a student at RSAMD in Glasgow and undertaking advanced studies within the graduate course in Musical Education. It was a very different RSAMD in 1963, in the Athenaeum building in Buchanan Street, presided over by the patrician figure of Dr Henry Havergal (related to Francis Ridley Havergal and grandson of a bishop) and staffed by some brilliant and sometimes eccentric people. There was an almost Edwardian atmosphere and an intimate sense of belonging. The major influences upon me - and they remain so to this day - were John Gordon Cameron (late of St Mary's Cathedral, Glasgow, and the last of C. V. Stanford's students at Cambridge in the early 1920s) for composition and organ lessons; Herrick Bunney (St Giles, Edinburgh) for musicianship; Raymond O'Connell (Australian by birth and a splendid concert pianist) for first study keyboard; and Kenneth Barritt (Vice-Principal of RSAMD) for conducting. How fortunate I was as a student to have such excellent teachers!

It was their influence and teaching that enabled me to secure such a post at St David's at the age of nineteen, and from within a large list of applicants - as I later discovered.

St David's was large in every way. It was the parish church for all of South Knightswood. It had a congregation not far short of two thousand. It had a very large Kirk Session (all male in those days). There were large and thriving youth organisations and a huge Sunday School. The church building itself was a large rustic brick edifice with concrete arches, built in 1938 as part of Church Extension policies (Gardiner & Mclean were the architects) and possessing a cool and elegant interior, cruciform in shape and with a deep chancel, where the two-manual Norman & Beard organ was situated, and where the choir of over thirty members sat facing each other in cathedral choir stall fashion.

The church had seating for 700, and was usually well filled on Sunday mornings, with some 200 returning for evening worship, and generally full choir stalls a t both services. At communion services the church was packed to capacity, the large Kirk Session singing at full voice in the chancel, the choir displaced to front transept pews, the organ – even organo pleno - almost submerged beneath this immensely powerful sound of massed voices. This was a vibrant and exciting time, where an excellent choir, containing splendid soloists in all four parts, sang large anthems and full choral services (including most of Messiah), and where organ recitals took place on a regular basis.

The minister of St David's in those days was the formidable and intellectual Dr James Grant- Suttie Stewart Thomson - or JGSS as he was called behind his back, but never to his face! Dr Thomson was a man of many parts - scholar, expositor, author, preacher and teacher, evangelist and missionary.

He was related to the East Lothian Grant-Suttie baronets, and had unconsciously about him a faintly aristocratic air. He was also autocratic in a benevolent way, and not much happened in St David's that was not within his sights or under his control.

He was an outstanding preacher, and his sermons were never far short of thirty minutes, and at evening services extended to forty to forty five minutes. Students from the WEC and BTI colleges in Glasgow were often in attendance at evening worship, sent to St David's by their tutors, some of whom had themselves been taught by the great man when he was a lecturer at Edinburgh's New College.

His Edinburgh doctoral thesis was entitled The Anthropomology of the Koran, and on Tuesday evenings in St David's Lesser Hall he personally conducted an adult Bible School from which emerged many candidates for the Church of Scotland ministry during his own twelve year span of ministry at St David's.

All great people have weaknesses, and so did Dr Thomson. His weakness was a poor memory, and he once forgot all about a wedding! I had to play for well over an hour until the excitable Ian Forbes, minister of Knightswood St Margaret's, was located and bundled into his robes and hustled on to the wedding scene, where a highly nervous bride and groom were waiting, almost at the point of hysteria.  This hit the evening papers and caused a commotion. But some organists occasionally have mental lapses, and not long after this sensational wedding that almost never was the organist of St David's also forgot a wedding.

On this auspicious occasion a female choir member, digging in her adjacent garden, was covered by a spare gown and hastily ushered into church to take my place at the console.

This sin of omission also hit the evening papers, much to the delight of my colleagues - and my embarrassment. "Ah well, Iain," remarked Dr Thomson when I faced him in his vestry on the Sunday, "the score is now one all!"

St David's was a church in the evangelical tradition, and one aspect of this was that no opening organ voluntary was required at evening worship. There was instead a warming-up process called Community Hymn Singing, when Redemptionist hymns were sung.

These sessions were conducted, often by a series of unlikely persons (there were exceptions) who knew little about music and even less about conducting - arms flailing like windmills as they stood there in front of the chancel, often working themselves into a high state of excitement. This was my least favourite time in St David's, especially when some gratuitous advice concerning note values ("a dotted minim needs three beats!") was thrown in for good measure. But there were ways of dealing with this form of disruption - oh yes, there were ways of dealing with this! It would be wise not to mention these.

The five years as organist of this large church and parish were thronging years indeed, vibrant and full of varied activities and fine opportunities. It was a time of making some of life's great friendships, continuing to this day, and a time when I learned much of worth and value - musically and spiritually. With some regret I left St David's for an appointment nearer home.

There was a difference this time. I had now graduated from RSAMD, obtained an LRAM (in School Music) and qualified as a secondary teacher. Thus I now wore a hood - and not a dish towel!

An Organist’s Journey – 3

Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea… (Genesis 49.13)

A poetic title for this penultimate part of the journey, but not a strictly accurate one. A firth and a sea loch both feature strongly.  Helensburgh, on the shores of the Firth of Clyde, was the scene of my next appointment when I left St David's Knightswood - Helensburgh, the familiar resort town with its four Church of Scotland charges: Park Church, where the scholarly Dr George Logan was then minister; St Columba, with L. A. Ritchie as its minister; Old and St Andrew's with John Henry Dutch as minister; and St Bride's, where the incumbent was the seasoned and experienced R. S. Cairns.

It was to this last church that I was appointed in the spring of 1967, at the then princely salary of £300 per annum (a far cry from Millburn's £45 per annum in 1958!).  St Bride's appeared before my eyes as a field of clover. But, sadly, that is what it certainly was not.

St Bride's was a beautiful building. The architect was John Macleod, the 19th century Burgh Architect of Dumbarton, and he designed a church in Early English Gothic, with an elegant spire and a lofty galleried interior. The chancel was paved with white Italian marble, flowing down into the nave in a series of shallow steps; the baptismal font was carved with shepherds and lambs; there was fine stained glass by Viola Paterson and Gordon Webster; the vaulted ceiling was painted in blue and gold; and in the west gallery there was an excellent two-manual organ by Lewis of Brixton - as I write I can still hear faintly its soft, lovely, singing string stops.

St Bride's was also the parish church for St Bride's Girls' School, and each Sunday morning green crocodiles of girls in uniform came snaking a long Helensburgh's rectangular grid-plan streets to occupy many pews, their regular rows of bowler hats a strange sight when viewed from the gallery.  The choir benefited greatly from this connection, for usually ten young sopranos with high soaring voices joined us, and made a great difference to the choir's repertoire of anthems.

Sometimes I discovered strange drawings scrawled across the music copies - nothing really changes much in certain aspects of education; but I will not elaborate further!

The headmistress of St Bride's at that time was the formidable and implacable Miss Rachael Drever Smith, whose word was law and whose presence caused even the Helensburgh ministers to become subordinate clauses! No one - neither minister nor organist argued with the headmistress of St Bride's Girls' School!  The school's annual service took place in St Bride's Church every third Sunday of June, at 3.00pm I was ordered to play at this service and to attend a rehearsal - a full dress one! – at 2.00pm prompt on the preceding Friday, arrangements having been made (without prior consultation with me) to release me from Bearsden Academy, where I was then part of the music staff. That afternoon I learned one of life's great lessons.

As I ascended the gallery stairs I heard the parish clock strike twice. But where, I wondered, was the school? Not a sound could I hear; there was a vast silence over all the land.  As I opened the gallery doors I received a considerable shock. The church was solidly packed downstairs with silent pupils, and a mute choir of girls sat meekly waiting in the stalls. Over all this chastened assembly presided the powerful, watchful figure of the headmistress herself, standing like a brooding statue on the chancel steps; beside her, but two steps lower, was the school captain, awaiting a word of command. "Good afternoon, Mr Galbraith," boomed the headmistress, "what an excellent timekeeper you are. Excellent. Excellent. Let us now begin."

In a state of alarm I took my place at the console, and begin we did, at one minute past two. That rehearsal - music, readings and addresses - ran like a smooth, well oiled piece of clockwork, ending at 3.30pm prompt, when the silent school was dismissed and ordered to return to barracks, and I was graciously thanked for my services as organist. And the great lesson I learned that awe-inspiring day? Why, this: It is non-sense that women are the weaker sex. That is a myth. It is often the other way round!

Robert Stirling Cairns had been translated from Langside Old Church in Glasgow to St Bride's, in succession to Denny Grieve, who had moved to Glasgow - to Belmont & Hillhead Church! Cairns was a marvellous professional, and one of the best preachers I have ever heard.

In his younger days he had been nicknamed Ecclesiastes (the Preacher), and in the 1930s queues had formed to hear him in Dunfermline's Gillespie Memorial Church.  In 1967 he was at the height of his homiletic powers.  He took no manuscript into the pulpit, only a postcard with some headings - although his sermons had been fully written out beforehand. St Bride's services were in the high church liturgical tradition: the minister moved from prayer desk to lectern, pulpit and then post-sermon to communion table, and there were sung responses to prayers. For an organist this was a beautiful order of service, and one I much appreciated - meeting it again when I came to Kelvinside Hillhead. Mr Cairns was very kind and helpful to me.

At that time I had entered into training for the Readership, and this pleased him very much. He took a personal interest in my studies, and I received great help and advice from him - often over coffee in the manse after evening service; much did I learn from this fine minister, and memories of him are still alive in my mind.

St Bride's had positive aspects and strong features - a lovely sanctuary, an excellent minister, a fine organ, considerable wealth (the organist's salary and all choir music were paid for from the interest accruing from the Arnold Fleming Bequest, for example), a good choir, and well-filled pews. So why have I said it was not a field of clover?

The answer is that this was a church unhappy within itself. The reason for this lay within the social divisions of Helensburgh, still strongly marked in the 1960s - upper and lower Helensburgh, and east and west Helensburgh – social divisions caused by wealth and geography. St Bride's was still a wealthy west end parish church, and it possessed a congregation divided in this way.

At one time there had been both a Woman's Guild and a Ladies' Guild in St Bride's, the former meeting of an evening and the latter in the afternoon. Who decided which guild was to be attended? Wealth and residential address were the criteria! In 1967 that was purely a historical memory, but the ghosts of the past still haunted St Bride's, making its people not really at home with one another. R. S. Cairns was well aware of this uneasy situation and he never felt truly comfortable with it.

All this came to a head when John Henry Dutch had a vision of one strong, united church in Helensburgh - a vision shared by Mr Cairns. But vision and reality are two different things. The endeavour to unite those two churches created quarrelling and resentment, for St Bride's would close and move to the Old & St Andrew's building.  What congregation wants to surrender its beloved building? This vision was doomed to failure.

So the status quo remained, but with dreadful differences. John Henry Dutch dwindled rapidly into serious ill health and died; not long afterwards R. S. Cairns suffered a heart attack on Easter Eve and died that same evening - his sermon notes were found in his bible, and the title was "Evidences for the Resurrection".

His successor had a short and unsuccessful tenure. Soon St Bride's closed; the building became redundant and its people dispersed among the other Helensburgh churches.  Ich abod! The glory has departed. That lovely building was demolished, and the Templeton Library arose in its place.

During this unsettled period it became obvious that my own time in St Bride's would be short. Thus it was that in 1971 I left the spacious shores of the Firth of Clyde for the narrow beauty of the Gareloch, and became organist of the lovely old parish of Rhu.

An Organist’s Journey - 4

Rhu - Pictures from a Scottish Parish

(Yea - the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places - Psalm 16, v6)

Rhu is an old parish but not an ancient one. It was formed in 1648 by the Commissioners for the Plantation of Kirks from portions of the two flanking medieval parishes of Cardross and Rosneath - an early form of church extension "for the ease of worship of the people".

Rhu was an extensive parish whose boundaries included all the eastern shore of the Gareloch, the Lands of Millig (later to become Helensburgh) and Glen Fruin which was then a populous place of many farms and cottages. The name Rhu derives from Gaelic - Rhuda - a point of land formed long ago by deposits from an ancient glacial moraine whose shingle finger still stretches into the Gareloch pointing across to Rosneath and forming the deep and treacherous Rhu Narrows across which a ferry once plied before the advent of steamer traffic in the nineteenth century. Rhu Point was part of an old pilgrim way for travellers making for Iona and the western seaboard. The former spelling was Row and this can still be seen carved in the stone facade of A. N. Paterson's art nouveau East Clyde Street School in Helensburgh - School Board of the parish of Row.

This was a parish of great natural beauty until ravaged by unsightly shipbreaking industries and the later sinister presence of Polaris and Trident bringing a bristling nuclear armoury and the florid caravans of the peace campers as a vociferous counterpoint.

It was to this parish that I came in the winter of 1970 and it was obvious that there was an awareness of heritage and tradition.

There was a settled and well-defined community with a sense of identity. This was obvious in the long list of ministers dating from 1648 to the present time; in the gravestones in the kirkyard with emblems of past occupations (wool shears and shepherds' crooks), radiances and winged skulls.  There was a substantial monument to the steamboat pioneer Henry Bell and a large table tomb to the eighteenth century minister Robert Anderson.  This sense of tradition was also apparent in some of the parish documents e.g. the Parish Poor Register with its sad entries – shoes for foundlings; payments to destitute widows; coffins for the burial of paupers.

The patrons of the parish were the Campbell Dukes of Argyll, powerful landowners whose lands included all the Rosneath peninsula and all the parish lands of Row. Their two vast mansions at Ardencaple and at Rosneath looked across the waters of the Gareloch at each other. When the mansion at Rosneath was burned to the ground in 1800 the sixth duke watched this catastrophe from the safety of Ardencaple and said piously, 'I thank my God that I have another house to dwell in." He was indeed fortunate!

In the nineteenth century Rhu had been a mansion house parish when seventeen mansions stretched along the eastern shore of the Gareloch all with their estates, servants and retainers. It was now a commuter parish with a varied social structure mirrored in the Kirk Session whose members included farmers, naval officers, professors, doctors, gardeners, janitors and plumbers.

The parish church was the third church of the parish and situated on rising ground above the village green. It was built in 1851 to designs by William Spence, a pupil of the celebrated John Bryce.

Spence provided a handsome essay in Victorian Gothic Revival architecture - a large cruciform building whose elegant octagonal tower is capped by a coronet of pinnacles and contains a peal of five bells (the climb up a series of almost vertical ladders was no trouble to a young organist and the view from the upper landing was well worth the climb). The interior possesses a plaster vaulted ceiling in tierceron patterns, and some splendid furnishings - an oak pulpit and choir stalls carved in linen fold pattern; an oak communion table having a finely carved reproduction of Da Vinci's Last Supper; a white marble angel font, and an interesting assembly of stained glass by Keir of Glasgow, William Wilson, Louis Davis and by Emma Shipton whose later window of 1985 is a colourful abstract pattern of zigzag shapes representing Community pierced by the Cross (the anonymous donor was unhappy with this window and requested its immediate removal! This request was gently declined.)

The organ was installed in 1880 (after a congregational vote - 234 for and 24 against). This was the munificent gift of Matthew Andrew Muir of Ardenvohr, a large Victorian mansion opposite the church. The instrument had a fine pedigree - Foster and Andrews of Hull in 1880, and a third manual added in 1903 by William Hill, organ builder to the House of Saxe Coburg Gotha.  This aristocratic organ was a joy and pleasure to play, with its beautiful flute stops, its powerful reeds and its splendid full chorus of sound. There was a fine choir of 27 members facing each other in the choir stalls in cathedral fashion. A feature of the choir at this time was the presence of Polaris submarine commanders who were keen churchmen and deeply devoted to choral music. These officers possessed genuine Neptune voices (very deep) and when they were going on extended holidays (their term for classified patrol duties below the waves) they took with them all the forward anthems for the months ahead.

These anthems were perfect in performance on their return home from holidays. This was much appreciated by their choirmaster.

The ministers of this parish formed a varied and interesting sequence e.g. the Allans, father and son. When John Allan junior was presented to the parish in 1761 by the patron, John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, he inquired concerning the church's property (possessions) . He was informed that there was a basin for baptism, some towels, a bible and some pewterware for Communion Seasons (an annual event in those days), and that was all. The bare earth was the floor of the church and the congregation either stood throughout the long services or brought wooden stools with them (called the creepies!). Changed days indeed.

Rhu's most famous minister was John McLeod Campbell presented to the parish by George William Campbell, Duke of Argyll in 1825.  This was the twilight of Scottish Calvinism with its double decree of faith and works. Mcleod Campbell, the aristocratic grandson of the Mcleod of Raasay, found a people not made happy by their religion - a people constantly exhorted to examine themselves for evidence of spiritual fruits (intra nos) instead of looking away beyond themselves (extra nos) to the finished work of Christ.

Campbell's preaching during his Rhu ministry was based not on the tenets of the Westminster Confession of Faith whose long didactic shadow lay over all the land but upon exposition of scripture based upon his own deep studies.  Thus he departed from the accepted norms of the time and he became a powerful exegete, preaching to packed churches his message that assurance was of the essence of faith and that God's love was universal and for all who would accept it in Christ.  For this he was condemned as heretic and deposed from his parish in the summer of 1831 after an all-night sitting of the General Assembly in Edinburgh.

There are scholars today who count Mcleod Campbell as Scotland's foremost theologian - his classic work is called The Nature of the Atonement - and he is remembered in the parish church by Louis Davis's lovely arts and crafts window to his memory with its lonely figure of the sower and its text from the psalms - He that goeth forth and weepeth bearing precious seed shall doubtless come again with rejoicing bringing his sheaves with him.

The minister with whom I shared almost twenty years in this parish was Douglas Stirling, son of missionary parents, and born in India. A quiet and reserved man, he possessed great integrity and deep convictions. His was a steady, imaginative ministry with excellent innovative ideas introduced quietly and preaching that was often challenging and thought provoking. There was dignity but never display in worship and these were for me highly rewarding years where there was an abundance of fine music accompanying worship, and a large and appreciative congregation. The lines had indeed fallen to me in pleasant places and only when the invitation came from Kelvinside Hillhead Parish Church did I think of leaving this lovely parish with its heritage and tradition, to become organist of a very beautiful city church with its splendid Willis organ.

An Organist’s Journey - 5

Praise Him with stringed instruments and organs (Ps 150, v4)

It was not easy to leave Rhu after a long tenure of almost twenty years. I had observed the vacancy notice for Kelvinside Hillhead in the Herald and thought nothing more about it. It was only after promptings by my predecessor, Bill Roach, that I expressed an interest in this vacancy - and, as they say, the rest is history.

I began my duties on the first Sunday of January 1990 - a cold, bleak, foggy day. I sat in the empty organ gallery (there was no choir at that time) with symptoms of flu upon me, teeth chattering like castanets because of the cold in this vast, unfamiliar building, wondering what had possessed me to change the warmth and security of Rhu for this strange unknown region.

What influenced me to come to Kelvinside Hillhead? Basically there was a challenge awaiting and work to be done. A choir had to be re-established and built up again; a magnificent but ailing Willis organ had to be nurtured and maintained in a different way from the methods of the official Willis tuner (and this caused considerable difficulty) and music was waiting to be developed in various ways in a glorious building with its near perfect acoustic.

Thus a tenure of twenty years began. First a decade of happy, constructive, purposeful association with Valerie Watson whose powerful ministry was then gathering impetus, and together we worked to establish new traditions and patterns of worship. Then followed seven years under the ministry of Jennifer Mccrae, another gifted liturgist and fine colleague, so that for seventeen years I enjoyed the support and friendship of two ministers who never once interfered in any matters musical, offering only encouragement and support and how grateful I am for this.

The concluding years of my tenure were shared with Archie Robertson as locum minister and a different experience began for me with Archie's spirited choruses and distinctive approach to worship. The services were now taking place in the hall and a fine community spirit developed under Archie's leadership. Thank you, Archie, for reviving memories of music in St David's, Knightswood, years ago, and for many refreshing services when the Bechstein grand piano came into its own.

What were the highlights for me during my twenty years as organist there?

First there was the weekly thrill of walking into this magnificent building on a Sunday before the arrival of choir and congregation and to sit silently for some minutes in the beauty of holiness.  Second, the privilege of leading the music Sunday by Sunday through the various seasons of the Christian year.

Third, the immense pleasure of working with such a loyal and diligent choir whom I miss very much (Sheila, my wife, is choir leader in Alexandria Parish Church). Fourth, the series of special recitals held usually on Sunday afternoons when various musicians made music of high quality. Fifth, the series of joint choral services with other local choirs, these services enriching our own weekly repertoire. Sixth, the lovely series of Advent services of lessons and carols when we were joined by East Dunbartonshire Wind Band under George Kelly's inspiring baton. Seventh, and not least the love affair with the glorious but temperamental Willis, still in service thanks to the splendid professional care and attention of James McKenzie, organ builder of Glasgow .

All this combines to form a substantial aggregate which will never be forgotten.

Twenty years is a long time.  I was forty six when I came to Hillhead at first; sans spectacles and with more hair than now.  When an unexpected vacancy for organist in Alexandria Parish Church presented itself, it was time to go - a practical move (the church is five minutes from my home - a boon, especially in winter), but not without considerable regret and with many memories. It was good to know that my successor was Willie Murray. Willie is a fine organist and a good man and he will serve Hillhead well.

I continue my organist's journey among 'my ain folk' in the valley where the Leven flows. The next stage in my Organist's Journey is writing itself and who knows what revelations will unfold in future editions of 'The Accord'.


During his time as organist at Kelvinside Hillhead Parish Church and teacher at Douglas Academy, Iain wrote a number of short anthems for choir. These can be found on the New Music pages.

Glasgow Society of Organists
Church Service Society