Director of Music
Appointed in January 2020, Hannah is the Organist and Director of Music at St Mary & St John Church, working also as a freelance organist and piano teacher. Originally from Cardiff, she is a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, studying Choral Conducting with Patrick Russill and Organ with Anne Marsden Thomas.
Prior to enrolling at the Academy, Hannah read Music at Hertford College, Oxford, where she was Organ Scholar. As Organ Scholar, she played the organ for chapel services and was responsible for rehearsing and conducting the choir. She directed several successful concerts – including performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Sunrise Mass for double choir and string orchestra, and Arvo Pärt’s Trillion – and led tours to Lithuania and Hungary, conducting concerts in Vilnius Cathedral and St Stephen’s Basilica. During her time at Oxford, Hannah was President of the Hertford College Music Society, the largest and most active collegiate music society in the University, and was the Assistant Conductor and Organist of the Oxford University Chorus during the spring of 2018. A keen bassoonist, Hannah also played with numerous excellent ensembles in Oxford, including the Ripieno Players and Addinsell Sinfonia, and toured the East Coast of the USA with the Oxford University Wind Orchestra in 2017.
Since leaving Hertford, Hannah has established her own chamber choir, Antiphon. Following the success of their first concert in December 2019, A Christmas Celebration, they gave their first major performance in February 2020, In Terra Pax: A Celebration of Peace, which included Handel’s Te Deum & Jubilate for the Peace of Utrecht and the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne. Hannah also spent a year as Graduate Music Assistant at St Edward’s School in Oxford, teaching classroom music lessons and assisting with the direction of school ensembles. Alongside this, she took on the role of Musical Director for the Oxford University Opera Society’s Spring showcase of Opera Scenes, in which she conducted music from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Bizet’s Carmen.
Following the completion of her studies at the Academy, Hannah is hoping to pursue a varied career involving church music, chamber music and opera.
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.
During the heyday of attendance numbers, ca. 1900-70, the church had a large robed choir, and from that period dates an enviable music library of four-part ‘cathedral’ repertoire.
At present there is a very dedicated, but small, core of singers (4-6, often just short of SATB) who meet before the 10.45 service to rehearse hymns, psalms, and an anthem (usually taken from the Oxford Anthem Book).
The choir presently sings from the west gallery around the organ console, with occasional forays to the north aisle at a grand piano (Bluthner).
Service music is sung congregationally (at present Murray, with Merbecke in Advent and Lent), as are Psalms (Anglican chant). We are a hymn-loving parish, and have recently invested in a full new set of the 2013 edition of Ancient & Modern (words-only for pew copies; full music for choir).
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 (DoM at St Edwards School, Oxford).
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).