Sarah Warnes started her work as Organist and Choir-mistress on 6th April 2004. The agreement between her and St James’s Church was for one year in the first instance. In the last couple of weeks we have said farewell to her in this capacity after more than 17 years. I can hardly say how much sadness this brings to me personally after all this time, yet I fully understand her reasons for going. If ever anyone has worked beyond the call of duty and the job description, it is Sarah. Much of the time spent in extra practices including choir and band, the devising of programmes for special services and the hunt for the right music for a specific occasion as well as attending countless Music Committee meetings, has been her own. Not that this has always been done without a grumble or two resulting from the only too human foibles of choristers and, sometimes even, church officials! But, at the heart of all this, was Sarah the professional musician, striving for her own best playing on the organ and bringing choristers, particularly but not only youngsters, to the best that they could achieve. Countless numbers of them achieved awards, right up to the prestigious Dean’s Award, in the Royal School of Church Music’s choristers scheme.
There were many wonderful services at all times of the year but the Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas was always the highlight. The extended choir, often numbering more than 30, was a huge challenge to train and Sarah had been known to ask the odd musically challenged member to refrain from attempting difficult passages or even not to sing certain pieces at all! Experiments with a candlelight procession with real candles just managed to avoid burning the church down or setting fire to a long-haired chorister or two.
Then there were the hugely hospitable choir practices at Sarah’s home “Keldwick”, always serious musical occasions but great fun and always followed by a BBQ, cooked outside in any weather by husband Richard and anyone else who could be roped in. Richard’s presence in the background has been a great strength as well, not just in the excellent service sheet for the Nine Lessons, but also as a constant support, often seen popping up in church with his camera on special occasions.
This is just a personal recollection of some of the many things that have made my time working with Sarah such good fun and it has been a great pleasure to be in the company of such a talented musician. I (and Janet) wish her and Richard every happiness in their new home and hope that she won’t lose contact with all of us at St James’s.