Born: November 23, 1933 - Wanstead, Essex, England -
Died: December 23, 2003 - Hereford, England
The English organist, conductor, choir trainer and composer, John Sanders, attended the Felsted School on a music scholarship, and it was there he had his first organ lessons. In 1950 he began two years study at the Royal College of Music leading to his ARCM diploma. Here he was taught by Sir John Dykes Bower, the then organist at St Paul's Cathedral. This was followed by a Bachelor of Music degree at the University of Cambridge where Sanders was an organ scholar at Gonville and Caius College and was influenced by Patrick Hadley. During this time he also gained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists.
National Service in the Royal Artillery followed his graduation, but even here John Sanders found opportunities for orchestral conducting. On the completion of his National Service in 1958 he took up the appointment of Assistant Organist at Gloucester, a post which also included being Director of Music at The King's School, Gloucester. Here he met the third major musical influence on his life, Herbert Sumsion. In 1963 he moved north, to Chester Cathedral, to take charge of the choir there. Whilst in Chester he met his wife, Janet; and had his first experience of running a music festival, the Chester Festival.
1967 saw the retirement of Sumsion, and John Sanders returned to Gloucester as Organist, taking on as well the conductorships of the Gloucestershire Symphony Orchestra and Gloucester Choral Society. The following year saw him follow in Sumsion's footsteps once more, becoming Director of Music at Cheltenham Ladies' College.
As with the organists at Hereford and Worcester Cathedrals, the position at Gloucester brings the high profile role of directing the Three Choirs Festival. The now annual Festival is hosted by each cathedral in turn, the local Organist directing the festival each year. John Sanders time at Gloucester saw him direct 9 Festivals, including that in 1977 which was marked the 250th Festival (the history of the Festival can however be traced to 1715), as well as the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II. From 1975, the direction of the Festival was helped by the fact that for almost 20 years the directors remained the same, with Sanders establishing a close working relationship with Roy Massey at Hereford and Donald Hunt at Worcester.
John Sanders became a Freeman of the City of London in 1986. In 1990 he served as President of the Cathedral Organists' Association, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, awarded him the Lambeth degree of Doctor of Music. In 1991 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music.
John Sanders retired from Gloucester in 1994 and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours list that year. Following his retirement, Gloucester Cathedral granted him the title of Organist Emeritus. Retirement gave Sanders more time to pursue composition (although he continued his work at Cheltenham until 1997). He also moved away from Gloucester - to Upton Bishop, near Ross-on-Wye - where he continued to play the organ in the local parish church. Late in 2003 the Guild of Church Musicians marked his contribution to church music in a special service at Westminster Cathedral. He was recovering from a hip operation in Hereford Hospital when he died of pneumonia on December 23, 2003.
Choral - Liturgical:
Preces and responses
Festival Te Deum (1962)
Te Deum (1985)
Jubilate Deo (1986)
Two Prayers (1988)
A Canticle of Joy (1991)
The Reproaches (1993)
St Mark Passion (1993)
Choral - Other:
Gloucester Visions cantata (1995)
Urbs Beata, cantata for brass, double choir & soloists (2001, Three Choirs commission)