MUSIC AT ST JAMES’ CHURCH, WEST HAMPSTEAD, LONDON NW6
The role of music in our worship life
St James’ stands in the ‘inclusive catholic’ tradition in the Church of England. That means that, alongside a commitment to worshipping in a way that uses the full resources of words, movement, incense, and engagement with one another, we see music as a vital part of our life. “Whoever sings, prays twice”, as Martin Luther says, and that has been at the heart of St James’ since our foundation. Sometimes that is about leading congregational singing in inspiring and creative ways, for example with words for hymns at our main Sunday Mass drawn from fresh and unexpected sources though often sung to familiar tunes; sometimes it is about drawing on the riches of our tradition to enhance our worship with music that ‘takes us out of ourselves’ and makes us experience God in ways that we may not have previously known – for example through a Byrd Mass on Ash Wednesday, or an Iona chant at the Patronal festival.
This section of our web site introduces you to some of the people who make that happen and some of the things they do.
Philip Godfrey (pictured above) has lived in West Hampstead for almost 30 years, and has been organist at St James’ for most of that time. A former organ scholar at Pembroke College, Cambridge, he is a music teacher and composer, and an Associate of the Royal College of Organists (ARCO). More details at www.philipgodfrey.co.uk
We have a small choir for major holy days during the year – besides others, these include Ash Wednesday, Easter Day, the Patronal Festival celebration service, All Souls’ Sunday (on which we have for several years had a tradition of singing Fauré’s Requiem liturgically), Remembrance Sunday, Christmas, etc. These choral services used to be monthly, but in recent years we have moved to more of a focus on major feasts of the Church. We have also recently been participating in the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music, a festival which celebrates the lively and ongoing practice of composing music for the church’s liturgy. The choir is a mix of professional and voluntary singers who perform to a consistently high standard.
On most Sundays the congregational singing is led by a cantor. The cantor assists the singing by the congregation, leads a responsorial psalm (we value the Hebrew Scripture and see this as important), and sings a thematically chosen motet during communion. This job is currently shared mainly between Tom Rainbow and Edwin Pitt Mansfield. Tom is a highly experienced tenor and choral director, who lives in nearby Kilburn; Edwin is a baritone, singing teacher, examiner and conductor, based in Watford.
The organ was built in 1888 by Forster & Andrews. In 1996 a swell pedal was added, plus a few additional stops. The organ specification is:
Like many organs of its time, it is showing signs of age though with minor repairs should continue to give good service despite the need for major refurbishment in the medium to longer term.
About five years ago we acquired a small grand piano from Hampstead Pianos of Abbey Road, which we often use during services, particularly to accompany the cantor in the communion motet, and/or the congregation when numbers are lower than we would wish. We are fortunate that our excellent organist is also a highly accomplished pianist who plays with style and verve.
St James’ is also home to Open Table, a welcoming worshipping community for LGBTQIA+ people and friends. Music at OpenTable communion services tends to be more informal, and often unaccompanied, drawing on the traditions of the wider church. This is an important part of our life at St James’, joining us to the wider world church and often allowing members of the congregation to sing unaccompanied, ‘finding our own voice’.