Development & Alumni Relations Office 

Dr Harry Grindle, MBE, D Mus., PhD, MA, Mus.B., FRCO (CHM), FTCL, LRAM, ARCM, ARSCM
(October 1935 – July 2013) 

Born in the seaside town of Bangor, Co Down in October 1935, William Henry (Harry) Grindle was the eldest of four children to Harry Edward and Agnes Jane Grindle.  Together with his younger brother, David, and sisters, Margaret and Norma, he was educated at the Trinity Public Elementary School in Bangor. He then attended Regent House Grammar School in Newtownards, during which time he studied piano under the tutelage of Frank Parsons and later Bertram L. Jones.  

Throughout his childhood he helped his father in the family grocery shop after school and at weekends, where he recalled that business was “brisk”, and was often sent out on deliveries around the town on his bicycle.

He joined the choir of the ancient abbey church in Bangor at the age of seven, where his father was a member of the Select Vestry and his mother superintendent of the Junior Sunday School. Under the direction of Joseph Douglas, organist of Bangor Abbey at that time, Harry encountered a wide repertoire of music which instilled in him at an early age a love for Anglican Church music and liturgy. He later became Head Chorister.

In 1950 he commenced organ lessons with Huston Graham, the then organist of Bangor Abbey, before taking further lessons from the eminent organist of Bangor Parish Church, Dr EH Emery.  In 1953 he took up his first post as a church musician as church organist of Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee, followed by an organist post at Willowfield Parish Church, Belfast. He gave his debut organ recital at an Ulster Society of Organists and Choirmaster event at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, in 1956.

Having been awarded overall first place in French in Northern Ireland in the senior certificate ‘A’ level, he went on to read French Language and Literature at the Queen’s University of Belfast and the University of Strasbourg.  

While at Queen’s he maintained an active involvement in the musical activities of the university under Professor Philip Cranmer and, after graduation, moved to London to take up a teaching post where he also continued to pursue his musical studies.  He undertook courses in organ-playing with Flor Peeters in Belgium and orchestral conducting at the Igor Markevitch International Summer School in Monte Carlo and with Sir Adrian Boult in Kent.

Upon returning to Northern Ireland from London in 1962, Harry was appointed organist at Bangor Parish Church, before being appointed as Organist and Master of the Choristers at St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, in 1964 – succeeding Captain CJ Brennan, who had retired after 60 years at the Cathedral.

He inherited a large choir of over 50 boys, ladies and gentlemen – some of whom were paid singers – and quickly initiated a recruitment campaign to ensure a strong treble line by regularly visiting local primary and preparatory schools with illustrated brochures about the choir and the training offered.  This strategy proved successful, with the boys being invited in 1965 to sing in two performances of Britten’s War Requiem – the first performances of the work following its premiere at Coventry Cathedral.

He also established a Young Men’s Choir, which sang at the 10.00am Matins service on the first Sunday of each month: allowing past choristers to maintain their links with the Cathedral and ensuring the continued renewal of the “singing stock”, with many of the young men choosing to return to the Cathedral Choir as adult singers.

Refusing to be daunted by the severe challenges of The Troubles, then at their height, Harry rescheduled the weekly full choir rehearsal to begin earlier, with the trebles coming straight to the Cathedral from school and the adults from their places of work.  Following a soup and sandwich meal, a shorter rehearsal ensured that the choir members returned home to safety before violence erupted after dark.

A celebrated choirmaster in the Cathedral’s history, Harry became renowned for the acquisition and maintenance of the highest possible standards in choral music – striving towards clarity of tone and diction, particularly in the singing of the Psalms, in which he often revised the pointing of words to ensure the optimum delivery of the text.

After a number of years of the Cathedral Choir not being heard in the prestigious BBC Radio 3 Choral Evensong series, the BBC invited the choir to sing a service live in March 1967, after which listeners expressed their delight at hearing every syllable, especially in the Psalms.

The success of this broadcast ensured regular invitations to summer residencies at English cathedrals, including St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey – a legacy which continued for some years after Harry’s departure from the Cathedral in 1975, when he was appointed to a senior lectureship in Music at Stranmillis College of Education. 

During his time at Stranmillis, Harry graduated with a first class Mus.B. from Trinity College, Dublin, a Master’s degree from the Queen’s University of Belfast, and a PhD, also from Trinity.

In March 1986 Harry established the renowned Priory Singers, through whom he continued his pursuit of excellence in choral music.  Under Harry’s direction the choir undertook a number of residencies at several English cathedrals, including Hereford, Gloucester, Lincoln and Chichester.  The Priory Singers’ first CD – a selection of hymns – was recorded in 1993, followed by acclaimed recordings of Psalms, Christmas music and a further volume of hymns, all of which featured a selection of chants, descants and other original compositions by Harry himself.  

He served as Music Editor of Sing & Pray, a hymnbook issued in 2009 for use in both Sunday Schools and Primary Schools.  Some of the numerous new hymn tunes and arrangements which Harry provided for this volume have found their way into other collections, including one compiled by the Roman Catholic Church in Latvia.  His hymn tune Stranmillis¸ a prize-winner in the St Paul’s Cathedral Millenium Hymn Competition, was subsequently selected for inclusion in the latest edition of the St Paul’s Cathedral Hymnal.  He is the author of a book on Irish Cathedral Music which is widely regarded as a definitive work on the subject.

In 1977 Harry became the first Irish musician to be elected to an Associateship of the Royal School of Church Music “in recognition of his distinguished services to the music of the Church”.

In 2005 he was awarded a Lambeth degree, a Doctorate in Music, by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.  In 2008 he was among those chosen to receive the Royal Maundy from Her Majesty The Queen in Armagh Cathedral and was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours 2009 in recognition of services to music. His busy and varied career has been the subject of a film documentary shown on Ulster Television.

Harry is survived by his wife, Heather, to whom he was married for 45 years; his daughters, Hannah and Rachel; sons-in-law Paul and Ewan; grandchildren Rory, Scott, Ruth and Grace; sisters Norma and Margaret, and brother-in-law Fred.

Harry’s Christian faith informed everything he strove to achieve.  There are many who owe him a huge debt of gratitude for the positive influences which he was able to exert upon their lives.  Harry always led by example and demonstrated the highest standards in every part of his life. His legacy continues to be evident among many practising musicians in Ireland and beyond.   

“And what does the Lord require of thee?  To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”  Micah 6, v8

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