Ulster Society of
Organists and Choirmasters

Est. 1918.

In Memoriam – David Drinkell

by | Wednesday, 30th October 2019

David Drinkell BA FRCO [CHM] ADCM ARCM

An Essex man, David Drinkell was educated at Colchester Royal Grammar School and studied organ with Rodney Tomkins at Walsingham. He was an undergraduate at Bristol University where he was Organist of the ancient parish church of St Mary’s Henbury and was a pupil of Garth Benson.
David became Organist of St Magnus Cathedral Kirkwall, home of the famous St Magnus Festival. There he met Elspeth, one of the adult members of the Cathedral Choir, who became his wife and to whom the Society now extends its deepest sympathy.

From the Orkneys, David came to Belfast Cathedral as Organist & Master of the Choristers in 1988. He was an enthusiastic member and Committee member of USOC and took a great interest in instruments large and small throughout Ulster. He set himself the task of playing in every Anglican Cathedral in Ireland, of which there are a great many, including at least one with a Hammond organ and a single octave of pedals!

Gentle and laid back in everyday life it was remarkable how he would sit down at a console and dominate the instrument as a powerful communicator with his wonderful improvisations. He specially learned the demanding Prélude et Fugue sur le nom D’Alain by Duruflé and gave a magnificent performance at a USOC meeting entitled “The French Connection”.

In Belfast he was a popular teacher and his organ pupils included Richard Campbell, Nigel McClintock and Peter Thompson.

David had an encyclopaedic knowledge of instruments throughout the British Isles. From his numerous posts on Organ Matters and the Noel Mander site, it is obvious that even after many years he could recall not just of the date and the organ builders of an instrument but details of the action, the acoustics, the church architecture and the tonal qualities of individual stops!

David Drinkell was President of USOC 1996-1998 and later Honorary Secretary. Through his very extensive network of contacts he was able to invite Martin Baker, then Assistant at Westminster Abbey, and Malcolm Archer, then Organist of Bristol Cathedral, as guests of the Society. Alasdair MacLaughlin’s book recalls the variety of topics covered in David’s time as President, reflecting his extensive musical interests – Boys’ Voices, Girls’ Voices, Improvisation, Critical Listening, a competition to compose an Anthem and a composite recital including works from Bach to Sousa! Despite being a top performer himself he always took seriously players old and young from throughout the ability range.

A Prayer Book enthusiast, David appreciated not just the enduring beauty of the language but its devotional power. On the 450th anniversary of the Prayer Book, David was invited by the Dean to preach the sermon at the Sunday Eucharist – a distinction not shared with many other organists!

After Belfast, David was Organist of St John’ Cathedral Newfoundland and then Christ Church Cathedral Fredericton, New Brunswick, and in both cathedrals he played a weekly organ recital.

A lasting memory of David relates to an Easter Even service in St Anne’s. As sheets came down from pulpit and lectern, with light gradually increasing and the choir slowly ascending the chancel steps, David played an absolutely magnificent improvisation in glorious affirmation of the resurrection.
The trumpets will have sounded for him on the other side.

Dr Michael Callender

Ulster Society for
Organists and Choirmasters

Est. 1918.