History of the Music at our Church

Hampstead Parish Church has enjoyed an enviable reputation for the quality of its service music since Martindale Sidwell was appointed here in 1946. In the 200 years before his arrival, its musical history was typical of many Anglican parish churches: service music was slow to become established, but as the surrounding town grew in affluence and the building was enlarged and extended, it became increasingly important to the worship of the growing community.

In 1946 Martindale Sidwell was appointed organist and choirmaster, and over nearly 50 years established a high professional standard of music in Hampstead. When he was appointed, the existing musical tradition - along with so much else during the War - had evaporated. He set himself to rebuild it, and in so doing established standards well beyond pre-war times. He built up a choir of men and boys which was widely acknowledged to compare favourably with most of the Cathedral choirs - "one of the finest in the country", said Andrew Green in his Independent obituary - and sang a wide range of service music drawn from the Anglican repertoire. In the 1950s they broadcast and recorded with Klemperer, performed regularly not only in Hampstead but also the Royal Festival Hall and the Wigmore Hall, and also toured in Europe.

Shortly after his arrival Martindale had revived the Hampstead Choral Society, and later his London Bach Orchestra of baroque instrumentalists accompanied the Choral Society's regular concerts - notably annual performances of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in the Festival Hall. His special love was the music of Bach and he was at the forefront of the baroque revival.

Martindale was one of the outstanding choirmasters of his generation (Martindale Sidwell website) , and his reputation attracted promising young musicians to Hampstead: James Bowman, Paul Esswood, Andrew Davis, Barry Rose, John Morehen, Malcolm Archer, Sebastian Forbes, Paul Brough, Geraint Bowen, Laurence Cummings, and many others. His musical legacy is commemorated in Hampstead by the annual Martindale Sidwell Recital, given by a member of the choir.

By the time of Sidwell's retirement, difficulty in recruiting boys and the high cost of professional singers had substantially altered the composition of the Hampstead choir. When Simon Lawford was appointed Director of Music in1993 the boy trebles had already been replaced by women and the choir reduced to eight singers. It nevertheless remained a fully-professional ensemble, maintaining high musical standards across a broad repertoire. After only a year in post, however, Lawford was recruited by St George's Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia.

In 1994, Lee Ward became organist and Director of Music at Hampstead. Despite his youthfulness - he was only in his early twenties on appointment - his lively direction and good humour earned him the loyalty and respect of the choir, several of whom sang for him for many years. He was also well supported by a succession of talented assistant organists (including Alex Mason, Joseph Nolan, Oliver Waterer and Ryan Wigglesworth).

During Lee's eighteen years in Hampstead the congregation continued to hear a wide range of service music, particularly from the 19th-century repertoire. The cost of sustaining high professional standards was always a concern, and a close working relationship developed between the church's musicians and the Friends of the Music to establish an annual programme of fund-raising events. These offered singers work in addition to the services, and included the Martindale Sidwell Recital and a "Come & Sing" Requiem, as well as many recitals and evenings in private houses.

Lee also directed two CD recordings of the choir.

At the instigation of the Revd Philip Buckler (Vicar 1987-99), a new Junior Choir was set up in 1996, drawing on girls as well as boys from the Parish. It was an immediate success, and later, under the enthusiastic direction of David Moore, the number of choristers grew to twenty, all supported by individual singing lessons (funded by the Barney Rodgers Fund of the Hampstead Church Music Trust) and all following RSCM training schemes.

The Friends of the Music commissioned a Jubilate setting from Grayston Ives in 2004 to mark Lee's first ten years: he conducted its first performance on 16 May (with the composer's daughter in the choir). Lee is now Director of Music at Liverpool Cathedral.

James Sherlock succeeded Lee Ward in 2012. During his time at Hampstead a substantial legacy from the estate of Charmian England was received by the Hampstead Church Music Trust. This transformative gift now ensured funding for the continuation of professional choral service music in the Parish Church (Miss England had faithfully attended Choral Evensong for many years) and also made possible a return to large choral works. James directed singers from the choir in baroque-style performances of Bach Passions at Eastertide as well as sacred choral works for the Hampstead Arts Festival each November: his fine musicianship drew audiences from a wider area to these performances. James arrived as a pianist and organist; perhaps it was this exhilarating taste of directing which prompted him to leave Hampstead to study conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.

2017 - present
Peter Foggitt came to Hampstead as Director of Music in 2017. He continues to maintain high standards of choral performance in an exceptionally wide repertoire of service music. He is ably supported by Geoffrey Webber as Organist, and Aidan Coburn as Director of the Junior Choir.