News of the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was released by Buckingham Palace at 12 noon on April 8th. Later that afternoon, quite unexpectedly, I had a phone-call from James Vivian, the Director of Music at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, asking for my help with the music for the Duke’s funeral. For 23 years, from 1985 to 2008, I had been Assistant Organist at the chapel, playing for the majority of services, including the many attended by the Royal family. For many of those years I was also the choir’s librarian. In that latter role I looked after the music from which the choir sang, and made and printed new editions for many services.
As a part of Mattins and Evensong there are Responses in which the priest and choir alternate. One such set is by William Smith of Durham, and it is written for a five-part choir consisting of treble, two altos, tenor and bass voices. At the funeral service there are also Responses, but no-one has set them to music, so in my time at Windsor I adapted the Smith Responses to use the text of the funeral Responses. James Vivian’s phone-call was to ask if I could hastily make a further adaptation to take into account the Covid requirements as they affected the choir – at the time of the funeral only 4 singers could be used in the chapel. This meant reducing the original William Smith music from five voices to four. This is not as simple a task as it may appear to a lay-person! Of course, I accepted James’s challenge, and set to work straight-away.
The treble and bass parts remained exactly as Smith wrote them, but the three inner parts, 2 altos and tenor, had to be paired down, but keeping the basic harmonies as the composer intended. It was a most interesting exercise, and took a number of hours and quite a few attempts before I felt happy with the result. I was able to send the finished work through to James by e-mail on the Saturday evening, and was more than a little relieved to receive his approval the next day.
To add to the honour of being asked to play this small part in the ceremonies on April 17th, I was further gratified to find that my name would appear in the service booklet as the adaptor of the Responses, and so I made it into all the media outlets that either printed the service in full, or put it up online. Just to add icing to the cake, a week or two later, the eminent British composer, John Rutter, mentioned my work in an essay about the music of the service and the musicians who so brilliantly performed it, describing the adaptation as ‘skilfully’ done.