Notebook

Harry Mount: Pipe up for organists

Churches are turning to backing tracks, though most have perfectly good organs (Getty)

There was a chilling moment in the Easter sermon in my north London church on Sunday. “The collection this Easter will partly be spent on family-friendly changes to the church,” said the priest.

My heart froze. In the modern church lexicon, “family-friendly” can only mean one thing: ripping out the pews. Indeed, on further investigation, that is exactly what is going to happen; if only to a few pews at the back of the church, which will duly be torn out.

Most forms of church modernisation are, in fact, euphemisms for ruthlessness. In my church, the guitar-strumming priest has largely done the charming organist out of a job. He allowed her to play along to only one of the three hymns – the only good, familiar one that Easter Day, in fact, Thine Be the Glory – while he banged out impenetrable, happy-clappy dirges that no one in the congregation knew the words to.

A new report has just revealed that the Church of England faces a shortage of new organists, with fewer than four per cent of churches having an organist under 30. Churches are turning to backing tracks, despite 96 per cent of them having perfectly good organs.

The report did not refer to the wilful ignorance and egomania of modern priests who prefer the sound of their own guitars to the ancient, enchanting strains produced by the superior musician sitting at the organ.

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Drue Heinz, who died on Good Friday at the great age of 103, was an exceptional philanthropist in the arts and books world.

The widow of Jack Heinz – grandson of the Heinz who first bottled “57 varieties of pickle” – she sprinkled her millions on the greatest of deserving causes. The London Library, the Hawthornden Prize, the National Portrait Gallery… they all benefited from the Heinz largesse.

Writers and journalists, too, were showered with generosity, including, I must confess, me. Only a few weeks ago, she gave me lunch at Mark’s Club in Mayfair and was buzzing with literary news.

She was quite aware, too, how venal us bookish types are. She must have noticed how greedily I tucked into the delicious Chablis and smoked salmon she was buying me as we talked about books and magazines.

Most very rich people become obsessed with money; with holding on to it, and keeping an eagle eye out for those who might take it off them.

Drue was the other way round. Blessed with a fortune, she was determined to give lots of it away. Having lots of money liberated her from being obsessed with it; and allowed her to concentrate on a much more worthwhile obsession – reading.

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How long does it take you to do the boring chore that’s been hanging over you for a while? Sending that thank-you letter; filing your tax return; picking the errant sock off the floor…

I now divide people up into different, timed categories: one-seconders; 10-seconders etc. A one-seconder picks up the sock in a second; a two-weeker waits for his bedroom to pile up with dirty laundry before he does a desultory sweep.
Some domestic tasks are actually enjoyable. I’m a nought-seconder when it comes to putting the detergent in the dishwasher and turning it on – it gives me a strange sort of soul-cleansing pleasure. But I’m a 10-monther when it comes to upgrading my phone or buying new trousers – they both involve dreaded trips to the shops.

I enjoy applying the principle to famous people. Quentin Crisp was a never-ever when it came to dusting – “After the first four years, the dirt doesn’t get any worse,” as he used to say. Gordon Brown was a disastrous six-monther when it came to calling elections. Donald Trump is a nought-seconder when it comes to immediate decisions.

I’m a two-seconder on most boring things. That’s one second when I think, “Oh, I can’t face packing my bag”; and another second when I think, “I might as well do it now.”

Better, really, to be a nought-seconder or a never-ever about everything. Anything else is time wasted.

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I’ve just been to Florence. My hotel, on the fashionable Via de’ Tornabuoni, had a delightful roof terrace.

An Italian friend of mine, who lives just outside Florence, joined me for a Negroni on the roof. As the evening sun magically caught the facade of Santa Maria Novella and the cornice of Palazzo Strozzi, and lit up a thousand red-tiled roofs, he said, in all seriousness, “Why does anyone bother coming to Florence?”

Amazing how used we get to our surroundings.

Harry Mount is editor of The Oldie