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Feather's Miscellany: The Hymn-Makers

John Waddington-Feather, whose words appear every week in Open Writing, tells of his 30-year hymn writing partnership with David Grundy.

What began as an act of friendship between two teachers has developed into a thirty year long partnership between a writer and a composer.

In the 1970s, David Grundy, a young music teacher at a school in Shrewsbury, asked a colleague, John Waddington-Feather, who taught English, if he was would set some of the Psalms as Christian hymns. The reason? David’s son, Christopher, a pupil of John, had contracted cancer and David wanted something to do to ease the stress. The result was John wrote a series of hymns and David set them to music. It was the beginning of a strong, working relationship which has lasted to this day and still continues.

Since those distant days of the 1970s, their careers have developed and moved in very different directions. David became Head of Music in a Sixth Form College and conducted the Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra and Choral Society. He also became well known as an organist and gave recitals in Britain, Europe and America. Though he continued teaching, John became ordained as an Anglican NSM (unpaid) priest and ministered in the evenings for forty years as a voluntary chaplain in Shrewsbury Prison and elsewhere. He also worked in Sudan as a teacher at Khartoum University in 1984 – 5, a very volatile period of his life, when he lived through a dreadful famine and a revolution!

And all the while David and John collaborated writing more hymns. To date they have brought out three collections published by Feather Books of Shrewsbury: “Seasons and Occasions, Books 1 & 2” and “Hymns from the Classics” which have proved very popular and are used by schools and churches throughout Britain and the States. Their popularity is due in no small measure to the publicity given them by the Christian Copyright Licensing International and, of course, Feather Books.

More recently David and John have written some innovative pieces based on the major festivals in the Church; Advent/Christmas, Passiontide/Easter, and Pentecost/Trinity. These are a combination of organ preludes followed by a sequence of spoken narratives and choral hymns. “Judas” was first performed in 2009 by a group of talented readers and musicians at Ben Rhydding Methodist Church, Ilkley, as their Passion Sunday service, and was an instant success. The same group will be launching, “Isaiah” in Advent 2009 and, hopefully, “Magdalene” at Easter 2010.


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