Popular organist and choirmaster retires after clocking up an extraordinary 40 years at St Dionysius Church in Harborough

David Johnson is the longest-serving organist in the church’s proud 800-year history

By Red Williams
Monday, 17th January 2022, 4:23 pm
Barbara and David Johnson with Rev Barry Hill and members of the Dionysius Church Choir.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER
Barbara and David Johnson with Rev Barry Hill and members of the Dionysius Church Choir. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Popular organist and choirmaster David Johnson has retired after clocking up an extraordinary 40 years at St Dionysius Church in Market Harborough.

David played the organ for the last time at the medieval Anglican church on the town’s High Street at its 6pm service yesterday evening (January 16).

The devout church stalwart was joined by the choir, clergy and Dean of Leicester Cathedral at the landmark event.

Rev Barry Hill presents gifts to Barbara and David Johnson after the service. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

David is the longest-serving organist in the church’s proud 800-year history.

He has played an “astonishing” starring role in over 20,000 pieces of music since he started out back in 1981 – and also taught as a history lecturer at Leicester University.

Former Harborough Mail editor and choir member Gordon Birch saluted his tireless close friend – who was also musical director of Market Harborough Choral Society for 19 years - during the service.

“This is the third time in almost as many months that I have stood up and delivered a tribute to our organist and choirmaster.

Barbara and David Johnson with (far right) The Very Revd David Monteith, Dean of Leicester with the Senior Girls and Songmen of Leicester Cathedral Choir, joined by Dionysius Church Choir. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“I feel that by now I could go on Mastermind, my specialist subject being ‘The Musical Achievements of David Thomas Johnson between 1981 and 2022’,” joked Gordon.

David launched his memorable musical reign at St Dionysius in 1981 after being recruited by the then vicar, Canon Norman Crowe.

“The choir at that time was large and thriving and very much used to old traditions.

“So when new-broom Johnson came in and introduced different chants for psalms or a newly harmonised version of a hymn, he came up against stiff opposition.

Organist David Johnson with his family (from left) Martin Whiteman, Grady Whiteman, Erica Whiteman and wife Barbara. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“But David pressed on and before long established himself and his own style,” said Gordon.

He said that David was transformed after meeting his new sweetheart Barbara, who became his wife as well as a leading Liberal Democrat Harborough district councillor.

“Her sense of fun and friendly manner was quite clearly what David needed.

“He relaxed, he started to take an interest in choristers’ lives, he began to introduce different styles of music and he even occasionally congratulated us on our singing!

“That was definitely something new,” laughed Gordon.

“David and Barbara are a perfect team and although today we are marking David’s retirement and thanking him for all he has done we also owe tremendous thanks to Barbara.

“One of the choir’s most enjoyable services was David and Barbara’s wedding in 2001 here in this church.

“It was such a happy occasion and we did all feel like one big family.

“As he hangs up his cassock, unscrews his music stand and locks up the organ for one last time, we thank him for his loyalty and dedication and we wish him and Barbara a very happy retirement,” said Gordon. “And, at last, you can have a lie-in on Sunday mornings!”

The Rev Barry Hill, the church’s team rector in Market Harborough, paid his own tribute as he told the Harborough Mail: "We give thanks for David’s ministry for over 40 years as choirmaster and organist at St Di’s.

“As the longest-serving organist in St Di’s history, David has played for, practised and led others in worship in over 20,000 pieces of music - at services, weddings, funerals, baptisms, concerts, civic occasions and much more.

“This is an astonishing feat.

“But even more it is an act of faithful service, spurred on by God’s faithfulness to us.”

David has served six vicars, several curates and worked alongside countless choir members and parishioners – playing millions of notes and chords across over four decades.