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James Grimwood – our new director of music

I am very glad to have followed God’s call to Marlow and I am grateful for this opportunity to introduce myself. I have just completed a year as Graduate Senior Organ Scholar at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and become an Associate of the Royal College of Organists (ARCO).

Before this, I read for a degree in Music at the College whilst holding an undergraduate organ scholarship. Alongside my studies, I was Director of Music at Fisher House (Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy), a conductor of the University of Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra and a pianist for the Cambridge University Opera Society. Outside Cambridge, I have played the organ on tours to France, Belgium and Italy and I have deputised as an organist at All Saints’ Cathedral, Mong Kok, St Stephen’s Chapel, Stanley and St John’s Cathedral, Central in Hong Kong, and All Saints’ Anglican Church, St Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church and St George’s British International School in Rome.

I have deepened my faith through missionary work, volunteering twice with the Anglican Church in Hong Kong. I spent seven weeks visiting cargo ships in the South China Sea with The Mission to Seafarers based at The Mariners’ Club in East Tsim Sha Tsui. I visited seafarers with the Chaplains and provided counsel to those who desired it. On Wednesdays, I visited ships in the container terminal in Kwai Chung with the Assistant Chaplain. The placement was challenging for me physically. Climbing ladders up to the ships was, at first, rather tricky, and some ladder types were much harder to climb than others, particularly in the pouring rain! Last summer, I was on placement at St John’s Cathedral, based at the daughter church of St Stephen’s Chapel, Stanley. This was a fantastic experience and I was glad to raise some money in an organ recital just before I left. I continue to pray for my friends in Hong Kong most especially at this time.

Before Cambridge, I held organ scholarships at Trinity Cathedral, Miami, FL and St Paul’s Within the Walls Episcopal Church, Rome. I essentially created the St Paul’s scholarship out of nothing, which was good fun, and I am glad to return occasionally to deputise in the summer. Whilst there, I conducted All Saints’ Anglican Church Choir for an Ecumenical Evensong at the Papal Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls. I was the organist for Ensemble ‘1678-1791’, a repetiteur for The New Chamber Singers, and deputised as Cantor at the Oratory of San Fancesco Saverio del Caravita. Aside from music, I assisted at the Methodist Ecumenical Office, revised the liturgy for the weekly Eucharist at the Anglican Centre, sat on Churches Together in Rome and was invited to attend Ecumenical Vespers, celebrated by Pope Francis. I was lucky enough, aged sixteen, to work as a brief-writer for the Archbishop of Canterbury and as an assistant to the Deputy Secretary for Public Affairs at Lambeth Palace.

And so, after all that travelling around, I am delighted to call Marlow home. What a beautiful town in such sensible surroundings! I have already enjoyed several hours by the River. Like many of us, I am sure, I have been following England’s mixed success at attempting to play cricket this summer. As I was listening to Sir Alastair Cook on Test Match Special, I could not refrain from considering his background and how it laid the foundation for his success. The former England captain is, at the time of writing, the fifth highest Test run scorer ever. Whilst his sporting achievements are well documented, perhaps less well-known are Cook’s musical abilities. According to ‘Chef’ himself, his success on the pitch was in part on account of his time as a chorister in St Paul’s Cathedral Choir. Cook still claims that singing at St Paul’s taught him concentration and discipline in his life: surely two vital qualities for patience at the crease.

I hope choristers at Marlow will look back at their time here with as much fondness as Sir Alastair and similarly see it as foundational for the rest of their lives. All Saints offers an excellent ‘best of both worlds’ scenario: the commitment is not nearly as high as it would be at a Cathedral but still hefty enough to allow for musical development to a high level, whilst providing time for other activities and family time.

There are many life-long musical benefits of choristership. My aim is to build confidence and with greater confidence comes an increased enjoyment in singing. I often find that older musicians who have been choristers as children are far more assured in their sight-reading than the average musician. Rehearsal time is finite; in my experience, I have found that choristers often learn the value of punctuality. Upon leaving the choir here, I hope a chorister’s musicianship will have developed significantly enough to allow for the enjoyment of further music-making for many years to come. Of course, former choristers can become a Director of Music …

Many choristers go on to careers in the classical world, but some venture completely outside of church music. Two fellow choristers from my time in Chichester Cathedral Choir have recently achieved TV fame: one as a finalist in The Voice UK and the other finishing fifth on Britain’s Got Talent. Singing in a choir or learning a musical instrument to an accomplished level takes great perseverance and resolve. It is easy to give up on a task too easily or lack focus.

I would argue that making music with your friends is a much more rewarding experience than watching all the episodes of All Gas and Gaiters: not because All Gas and Gaiters is bad or because considering the impact of dreaded church politics on daily life is not useful, but because it requires far more investment and effort to sing Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens well than conk out in front of a dated ecclesiastical comedy with a good pint or two of Rebellion!

It is fantastic to be here; thank you all very much indeed for such a warm welcome to Marlow. I am immensely grateful to Rhidian for his dedication and expert advice and to Dave for his encouragement. My colleagues have already spent a great amount of time with me and my induction has certainly surpassed my expectations.

Likewise, my thanks to John and Jane Gillbe who have been so generous in their hospitality. It has been good to meet some of you already; if you see me, do say hello and remind me of your name!

This article featured in the Autumn 2019 edition of The Bridge – the magazine for All Saints’ Church in Marlow. Pick up your free copy in church or download it here.

All Saints Marlow - The Bridge 2019