Director of Music
Starting in October 2021, the post of Director of Music is being shared by Lawrence Tao and Alex Tester. Lawrence and Alex both teach Music at St Edward’s School, Oxford.
Lawrence was Wallis Organ Scholar at St John’s College, Durham whilst an undergraduate, and subsequently Organ Scholar at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne. After returning from Australia he was appointed Organist at Gresham’s School in Holt, Norfolk, where he undertook his teacher training. During this time he also taught piano and organ and was Assistant Director of Music of Sheringham and Cromer Choral Society. In 2017 Lawrence was appointed Head of Academic Music at St Edward’s School, and since 2019 he has been Assistant Head Academic, teaching Music, Maths and Theory of Knowledge. At St Edward’s, Lawrence directs the Chamber Choir, the premier vocal ensemble at the school, who perform a wide range of repertoire including his own compositions and arrangements, some of which have also been performed by the choir at St Mary and St John. As a recitalist, Lawrence has performed on many of the finest organs, including Durham, Canterbury, Ely and Hereford Cathedrals, Westminster Abbey, and St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney.
Alex was the second ever Organ Scholar at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, having spent time as organist and choirmaster at churches in Leytonstone and Woodford. Having started his teaching career at Uppingham School, where he again took the post of Organist of the market town’s parish church, he arrived in Oxford in 2009, becoming Director of Music of St Edward’s School. There, he has gradually extended his portfolio of cultural responsibility, linking music with drama, dance and art at the school and becoming Director of Music and the Arts in 2019.
He enjoys conducting various choral groups and ensembles, including the school’s St Edward’s Singers and has conducted in major venues, in Cambridge, Oxford and London. In his spare time, his love of theatre has led him to musically direct shows in provincial theatres, including Oxford Playhouse and the Soho Theatre, London.
Before 1950, a series of smaller organs were housed above the north or south chancel, with choir stalls below, all since removed.
The present organ of 38 stops and three manuals is a fine instrument, well-suited to the large volume of the building. Its origins (ca. 1850) were as the instrument for Oxford’s St Michael-at-the-Northgate, but rebuilt with three manuals by Norman and Beard (1914), and brought to St Mary and St John in 1940.
It was entirely overhauled at the cost of some £200,000 in 2010, and is in excellent working order, housed in a gallery above the west end.
The organ is listed (Index number: N11100) in the National Pipe Organ Register. See here for the organ specifications.
At present there is a very dedicated group of singers in the choir, who rehearse at 9.45am on Sundays before the 10.30am Eucharist, singing a wide range of repertoire in four-part SATB harmony. They also sing at other feast days and solemnities throughout the year. The choir sings either from the organ loft in the West gallery or from around the Blüthner grand piano in the North aisle. The Directors of Music are always delighted to hear from anyone who would like to join the choir, either regularly or occasionally; there are no auditions – please do speak to either of them if you are interested.
Service music is sung congregationally, with the Thorne Mass of St Thomas setting used at the Sunday Eucharist throughout the year and the Merbecke setting in Advent and Lent, as are Psalms to Anglican chant. We are a hymn-loving parish and have recently invested in a full new set of the 2013 edition of Ancient & Modern.
Music at St Albans
There has always been a strong tradition of music at St Albans. In recent years Susanna Gimson started taking a role in the musical life of St Albans as a keen amateur pianist (AB Grade 8, Distinction.) The Parish of Cowley St John kindly offered her financial support to undertake organ lessons under the instruction of Dr Katie Pardee and in 2017 she achieved AB organ Grade 7 (with distinction). Since then she has been directing the music at St Albans ably assisted by Alex Tester.
The small but committed choir meets weekly at 9am for a pre-service rehearsal of the communion anthem. We sing a very wide repertoire from Byrd and Purcell through to Rutter and Chilcott. During the monthly Jubilate services we very often sing Taize chants. Susanna has always been very keen to involve members of the congregation in the music making of the church – especially for them to have a chance to perform a Concluding Voluntary. We have regular contributions from the cello, the clarinet, the french horn, recorders and the piano (including duets).