St Mary’s Music

By Sean Day Lewis

It was early September this year, the 23rd Sunday in ordinary time, otherwise Education Sunday.   For those of us fortunate to attend Mass at St Mary’s, Axminster, it was also a very special morning.   The attached junior school of St Mary’s has had its ups and downs since 1862 but just now there is no doubt that it is the best primary in our parish and beyond, thanks in large part to its present quietly spoken head, Mrs Elaine Mannix, who addressed us at the end of Mass. 

Some of us who could do with better ears may have missed some of her words but we heard enough to confirm that she is a jewel; a teacher who acts with her Catholic faith to serve every child with a complete and rounded introduction to 21st century life.  Apart from anything else, she respects the importance of the arts at a time when so many of those in charge of English schools are feeling bound to save money by cutting down on such provision.   St Mary’s is now as strong as it has ever been with music under Rachel Burrough,

There could hardly have been stronger proof of this than that provided by our organist for the day, a former pupil at St Mary’s now embarking on her schooling at the Woodroffe in Lyme Regis.  An apprentice of master organist Richard Godfrey, along with a fellow ex St Mary’s learner, 12-year-old Oriel made sure we could all hear her every well placed note.  The Gloria was perfect, there were neat and for me too short before and after voluntaries and each hymn was brought to a splendidly full throated final verse.    I am no singer but I was inspired to bawl louder than usual, before going home to enjoy a couple of recent Bach CDs.  One called Bach to the Future was recorded with 19th century sound at the huge organ of Notre-Dame in Paris before it was silenced by the fire.  Then came a set of “Stay, ye Angels” cantatas with obligatto contributions from the beautiful baroque organ at Naumberg which impressed Johann Sebastian himself in 1724.

Pippa Brough playing St Marys Church Organ in Axminster

Our regular organist and choir mistress Pippa Brough had to be away that Education Sunday attending a family wedding but she would certainly have relished Oriel’s contribution and have been thoroughly delighted to go back to her choir and lend her alto voice.   Clearly what is most essential at Mass is the voice and authority of Father Anthony, or if he is away, the celebrations of his retired deputies, the Bishop from Lyme Regis and the Canon from Seaton.  But next most essential is Pippa, who deserves the retirement she would like aged 86, but continues in post with something I regard as heroism.  If there is anybody around inclined to take her for granted they should think again.  Her choir, reasonably well balanced these days, is grateful from soprano to bass and they, like us in the congregation just hope she is able to continue until some Oriel is willing and able to take over.

Born in Birmingham as Pippa Glanville, she was schooled in that city and did two years of social studies at the University and a vocational period at the Teacher Training College.   She liked hockey and lacrosse and learned piano.  She extended her musical education at concerts given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the days when they still played at the Town Hall.  Good enough, especially with the Saint-Saens “Organ Symphony”, but some time before the Simon Rattle glory period and the wonder new concert hall.  She began teaching at local primary schools where music was not necessarily given top priority but her musical side was found to be more than useful.  Her mother was a Catholic, and a pianist, and Pippa grew into the faith.  Then in 2002 she married solicitor Peter Brough before his work brought her to the south-west, Ilminster and then Axminster.  He became a partner with Scott Rowe.  A happy marriage brought along a daughter and two sons but  Ill health sadly ended with Mr Brough’s early death.  Pippa has long had to reconcile herself to widowhood and a cherished role as mother and grandmother. Pippa naturally wasted no time in her Devon life before joining St Mary’s.  As happens she found herself as a “temporary” organist at Mass for around six years before she was obliged to regard herself as a fixture.  She had to give up her first love, which was singing to make it possible for others to use their voices.   She has played since for quite a succession of priests, some more musical than others.  Over the years the choir and accompaniment have moved from front to back of the church, moves which follow what various Fathers thought most effective.  Only in recent times has Pippa and the church been gifted a suitable organ, as recommended by the then ailing Father Coppell and Richard Godfrey, given away by a happy-clappy C of E church in Sherborne.  Pippa, like every other serious organist, knows that Bach is the greatest of organ composers and never mind that he worked for the Lutheran church.  As shown by her, as well as Richard in recital, the present instrument is food enough for JSB.  Let us hope that at some future Mass we can hear Oriel let loose with a prelude and fugue or more.