50 years on and still planning to pull out the stops

Donald Haigh has played the organ at St Mary's Church, Elland, for the last 50 years.  Picture by Bruce Rollinson
Donald Haigh has played the organ at St Mary's Church, Elland, for the last 50 years. Picture by Bruce Rollinson
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Donald Haigh has played the organ week in, week out, at his local church for the last 50 years.

It is a role that 76-year-old Mr Haigh has loved and he is still planning to carry on playing at his local church despite notching up half-a-century of continuous service.

Congregation members are used to hearing Mr Haigh play at St Mary the Virgin, Elland, near Halifax, and a recent power cut emphasised just how valuable his contribution is as the Sunday service had to go ahead without music.

The church warden and treasurer, Peter Uttley, said: “We rely on him very much because without music, without an organ player, it’s not the same.

“We did have a Sunday a couple of months ago where we had a power cut and although we got through it without music, it was not the same.

“We are very lucky because church organists are getting to be a dying breed and we are very, very fortunate that he is still continuing.”

Playing the organ is very much a family tradition, with Mr Haigh originally taking over the role from his father Ernest, who had previously played the church organ for twenty four years.

“I do love it. Its been a very big part of my life,” Mr Haigh said of playing the church organ.

Mr Haigh reached his milestone on February 4 and a service to mark the occasion is taking place in church on Saturday at 3pm.

The date will also mark the launch of the church council’s Organ Appeal Fund which aims to raise cash to enable works to be carried out on the organ to ensure it remains in good working order.

The organ at St Mary’s was originally built between 1872 and 1893 by Alexander Young of Manchester and subsequently rebuilt by Binns, Fitton and Haley of Leeds in 1949.

Tom Moore, organist and director of music at Wakefield Cathedral said the organ was a fine example of its period and style.

He said restorative work to its electrical circuits together with additional console controls would ensure the organ continued to provide enjoyment to all who hear it.

Mr Haigh has been a member of the church for 70 years, first singing in the choir, before taking over as organist from his father.

Connections with the church to this day remain very much a family affair.

His wife, Joyce, is choir mistress at the church and his elder daughter, Rebecca, has sung in the choir for over 40 years.

Continuing the family tradition Mr Haigh’s younger daughter, Margaret, sang in the choir for 14 years before she married and moved away, while Lucy, his granddaughter has been a choir member for four years.

Fr David Burrows, the rector of Elland and Rural Dean, said: “Donald’s dedication and musical ability over the years has provided strong musical support to our weekly services at St Mary’s.

“The contribution that he makes, together with Joyce, his wife, who has looked after the choir for many years, has been very much appreciated by congregations past and present.

“They have been so important in continuing the classic Anglican choral tradition at St Mary’s.”

Mr Haigh, who lives in Elland, revealed that he originally started playing the piano and then graduated to playing the organ.

“I was 26 when I took over as organist at St Mary’s and I was probably playing five or six years before that,” Mr Haigh said.

“There’s been a lot of changes in music over the last 50 years.

“I am pretty traditional as far as church music is concerned and I am very fortunate that our rector is pretty similar,” Mr Haigh added.

Mr Haigh, who worked in the engineering industry before retiring, has for many years organised yearly organ recitals at the church featuring well-known local organists.

He has also for many years served on the Royal School of Church Music committee for the Diocese of Wakefield.

He plays each Sunday morning for the main service and also helps out at other local churches when their organists are not available.

In his career he has played the organ at a number of cathedrals, including Wakefield and Hereford and at many other churches throughout the country.

“Every organ is different so you have to get used to the differences. It’s quite an experience,” Mr Haigh said.

He said he enjoyed playing the instrument because “it’s all 
that power at your fingertips, 
it’s a great feeling playing the organ”.

Anybody wishing to make a donation to the church’s Organ Appeal Fund should call 01422 374437.