Clement McWilliam

Church organist and composer


Clement Charles McWilliam, church organist, composer, choirmaster and teacher: born London 19 January 1934; married 1969 Jane Stokes (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1974); died Winchester 13 July 2007.

Clement McWilliam was an influential and delightfully unconventional church and cathedral organist, choirmaster, composer and teacher. His greatest distinction as a musician lay in two areas which are hard to track. The first was as a teacher and encourager of the young. McWilliam had a deep and unpatronising insight into the minds of children, at the same time insisting on the highest standards and profession aspirations.

There are many Anglican church musicians today who felt his influence, as well as others who became musicians of a different kind (opera singers, instrumentalists and composers). He also had many students who did not become professional musicians but came to a lifelong love of music through his example. Among his most prominent pupils are the English composer, organist, conductor and psychoanalyst Francis Grier, and the Scottish composer and teacher Rory Boyle.

McWilliam's other elusive achievement was as an improvising organist. While very few of his improvisations were ever recorded, anyone who heard them will remember their ingenious streams of musical invention, often uplifting, sometimes witty and irreverent, occasionally startlingly modern.

Although by its very nature such music is now gone for ever, it was heard by many, whether those thousands who attended services at which McWilliam was playing or those lucky young people who had the chance to stand beside him in the organ loft as he launched into flight. Music of this kind may seem ephemeral, but at its best (as practised by McWilliam and others) it is a high part of the Anglican musical tradition. McWilliam was also fine performer of the standard organ repertoire, especially memorable in Bach and Buxtehude.

McWilliam was a sporadic but significant church composer, contributing fine services, anthems, hymns and psalms whenever (as he put it with a self-mocking twinkle in his eye) "the muse descended". A number of these are currently in the church repertoire, most notably his Responses, which are beautifully inventive within the extreme limitations of that part of the Evensong liturgy. He was fond of pointing out that, when composing the Gloria sections of a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, he would take special care to allot the liveliest music to the phrase "and the Holy Ghost", as he was irritated by the way other composers would insist on going quiet and meditational at that point. He claimed he did this by imagining that he was also setting the words "the Giver of Life".

Clement McWilliam was born in 1934 in Sydenham, London, the youngest of three brothers. He spoke of his mother, who wrote hymns and poetry, as the source of his own artistic inclinations. Between 1943 and 1947 he attended the Pilgrims' School, Winchester, where he was a chorister in Winchester Cathedral under the organist Harold Rhodes. After Charterhouse, which he attended on a classics scholarship, he entered the Royal College of Music, where his successful career (interrupted by National Service) culminated in 1955 with the Parratt and Haigh Prizes for his organ playing. These honours were followed by a Bachelor of Music from Trinity College, Dublin (1957), an FRCO and the Limpus Prize from the Royal College of Organists, and the Worshipful Company of Musicians' Silver Medal (1958).

He began his career in 1956 as organist of St John the Evangelist in East Dulwich. In 1959 he became Assistant Music Master at Berkhamsted School, at the same time beginning a six-year period assisting Sir William Harris and later the famous Dr Sidney Campbell.

In 1959, for the period of one year, McWilliam played the organ in the Royal Chapel, Windsor Great Park. At the same time he became Director of Music at St George's School, Windsor Castle (later becoming Head of Mathematics as well). He also played the organ at the Chapel Royal in the Tower of London, and on the pioneering ITV series A Date with Music.

In 1967 McWilliam became Director of Music at his Alma Mater, the Pilgrims' School, and Sub-Organist in his beloved Winchester Cathedral. The organist at the time was (the splendidly named) Alwyn Surplice, about whom McWilliam could be extremely funny but whom he much admired. When Surplice retired in 1971, McWilliam had hoped to replace him, but instead the post went to Martin Neary. The two men could not have been more different, and neither made any secret of their frustration with the other. Disappointed, McWilliam moved to teach at Hawtrey's School in Wiltshire. But he intensely missed Winchester and when the time came he moved back there, becoming a Brother at the Hospital of St Cross, and doing stalwart work in the library of Winchester Cathedral Choir.

Clement McWilliam was a surprisingly anarchic man, with a chuckling laugh, an unusual gift for comic disruption and no time for grandeur or pretension. Stories abound of his irrepressibly boyish behaviour, which was hilarious to friends and pupils, but often annoying to musical superiors and functionaries of the Anglican Church. One former colleague from his St George's Chapel days remembers McWilliam introducing him (circa 1961) to the delights of Indian cuisine. Returning merrily to Windsor Castle from the town down below with a supply of uneaten butter chapattis, Clement proceeded to post them through the letterboxes of various priestly and official characters who lived in the Cloisters.

Such behaviour may have contributed to the disappointment of McWilliam's later career, a disappointment which hurt him deeply but which he hid as best he could. At the same time, his fundamental high spirits, vividly reflected in his music, his playing and his teaching, were, as all his friends knew, deeply connected to his old-fashioned and strongly felt religious beliefs. For this musician, music was a way of worship and a way of life.

Gerard McBurney

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
News
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Sport
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
voices We're advocating a popular capitalism that works for all, not a crony corporatism for just the few
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
health Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries are at risk of tinnitus
News
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower