Music History

The Parish Church of St John the Evangelist was established in 1872 and a church designed to accommodate 100 people designed by Edmund Blackett. The Rectory was completed in 1893 and the parish established in September 1893. At this time the Parish extended as far north as Cowan. From 1901 Hornsby and Wahroonga became a separate parish and Lindfield, Killara, Roseville, Turramurra, Pymble and St Ives followed in the period to 1920. Gordon is the mother church, a de facto cathedral of the North Shore.

Parish archives show that music has always been important to St John’s. The Parish Gazette from 24 March 1915 records the words of the first Rector, Fr Raymond King:

On Easter day the service at the 11am Celebration of the Holy Communion at St John’s, Gordon, and St Swithun’s, Pymble, will be choral. That is to say the Creed, Sursum Corda, Sanctus, Lord’s Prayer, and Gloria in Excelsis, together with two short anthems will be sung to musical settings. On the greatest festival of the year it seems only fitting that the Lord’s Own Service should, if possible, be rendered with all the added dignity and beauty which music, the handmaid to religion, brings, and that hymns such as the Sanctus and Gloria in Excelsis should be sung rather than read. All the arguments for music at Mattins and Evensong might be adduced with even more appropriateness for the Service of the Holy Communion.


The Parish Choir has been a constant since then. The Parish History records:

Easter has been the time for cantatas and “God so Loved the World” and “The Cross of Christ” were performed by a choir on many occasions during the 1970s and special renditions on other occasions.   The Parish Review of February 1997 recorded: “During the whole of the Christmas Season, the choir, ably led by Mr and Mrs Anderson, added dignity and devotion to our worship.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, choirs from nearby parishes and schools performed at St John’s, sometimes with the Parish Choir. The St John’s Choir also sang at other churches and joined with other choirs. Another feature of the 1980s was the St John’s Junior Choir, and other boys’ and girls’ choirs from Sydney and New Zealand also sang at St John’s at this time. In 1997 the 125th anniversary of the church was celebrated with a series of choral concerts and the Choir reunion on 19 October. Graham and Enid Anderson, directing the music, made a significant impact on the life of the parish in this era, and we are grateful.

The period from 2008 has also seen a blossoming of musical activities. Combined choir concerts have featured in 2008 and 2009, and Stainer’s Crucifixion has become a yearly fixture. Large combined choirs have also featured in worship such as the annual Passion Service on Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday). The use of instruments other than organ in worship has also been a development with trumpets, strings, period viols for Baroque music, as well as slightly larger instrumental ensembles. From 2008 an annual “Songs of Praise” hymn festival has been very popular. In 2009 The Cathedral Singers were welcomed as a Choir-in-Residence. Other choirs such as the Jacobean Singers, Voces Sacrae, The King’s School Choir and Ravenswood Junior School Choir have also led worship in this period. Evensong was re-established in 2009 as a monthly feature and is always a fully choral service and sees increasing congregations and popularity. Also in 2009 St John’s became the Australian Guild Church for the Guild of Church Musicians in Australia, and hosts their annual Festival Service and awards presentations. In 2009 the St John’s Music Association was formed to further the music of the parish and to secure its future. The late 2000s has also seen an increase in the number of choirs at St John’s. This provides for anyone who wishes to sing, whether they have much or no choral or musical experience. The depth of activity has been enhanced with a breadth appropriate to a parish setting, and offers opportunities for community through music where such activities are decreasing elsewhere.

The essential tool of an Anglican music programme is the organ. No mention is made of an organ in the old Blackett Church in the parish histories, and it can be assumed that, like so many other small churches, a reed organ was used. The Blackett church was extended in 1899, but still proved too small for the growing number or worshippers. The second Rector, Fr Arnold Conolly, set about building the first stage of the new church in 1924. It was designed with enough space in the chancel and sanctuary to accommodate choir, organ and a decent standard of liturgy.

The parish history records in about 1930:

The Choir was a feature of the worship and would do fair to any modern church in number and performance.   Despite the debt on the building a fine church organ was acquired.

This was the 1928 Rendall organ and it was recorded in about 1933 that it ‘proved to be temperamental. Its performance varied with the weather.’ This was a stock instrument, and not specifically built for St John’s. Rendall was essentially an amateur organ builder, and while he imported some good pipework from the UK, the mechanisms proved to be problematic, and none of his instruments survive in wholly original condition. The St John’s organ was to be completed by December 1928, but when it was still not playing by 1930, Leggo was brought in to complete it. He made some changes. As the church was completed in sections (1935, 1967), the organ was extended (1956 Noad, 1972 Welby). Other work was done to the continually problematic instrument in 1979, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988. Maintenance work was done on the bellows in 2005, and after water damage from the box gutter near the tower in 1994, 1997, 1999, 2004, and almost yearly 2008-2012.  A special series of recitals were performed after the dedication of the new console in 1988.

While there was an amateur-built organ in the western gallery at St John’s from about 1992 to 2001, this instrument was never intended as a replacement for the Rendall organ. The recital series of 1993, however, featured music for two organs. As the Rendall organ mechanism continues to fail, and the long debates of 1982 as to its future never resulted in major work, the St John’s Music Association acquired the Hill organ in February 2012 which could do duty when the main organ fails and while the major work is done to secure the future of a main organ. While any small instrument will be inadequate for the building, this instrument is of such quality that it will suffice for a short time. In the meantime it has become far more useful than anticipated, being used weekly for accompaniments of choirs and soloists and for small services in the Lady Chapel.

Music continues, thus, to be an important feature of St John’s Gordon. We hope you too can join us in community and worship through music. Contact the Director of Music for further details.