One of a kind
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD... Psalm 150.6
I heard the other day that Tom Duncan had died. Tom was the organist at Holy Trinity Church in St Andrews. A "marmite" character with whom I did not expect to have an easy time. I didn't have an easy time, I had a wonderful time with him. He taught me everything I know about classical church music, which isn't much but it is considerably more than I knew before!
Tom had to overcome significant obstacles: self taught on account of his impoverished background; lacking a couple of fingers on one hand meaning he often had to swap hands to reach all the notes; and not being on speaking terms with his minister, my predecessor, for several decades. Yet he persisted. He designed organs as well as playing them, was a leading figure in the revival of Renaissance music in St Andrews and conducted choirs. The choir he ran at Holy Trinity rivalled that of the University.
As I reflected on the years I knew and worked with Tom, the following came to me (with translation following):
A Thòmais ’ic Dhonnchaidh,
b’ e neach sònraichte a bh’ annad.
Coltach rinn uile, bha coireachan agad:
dh’fhaodadh tu a bhith crosta,
a’ toirt breith mì-fhoighidneach.
Ach nas pailte bha d’fheartan.
Cridhe làn fialaidheachd a bh’ agad.
Chuir sinn seachad iomadh oidhche
a’ deasbad cuspair air choreigin
san t-seòmar sgrùdaidh agad;
le drama, no dhà, no trì - an trianaid
mar a chanadh tu e – fhad ’s
a dhòrtadh tu an ceathramh.
Chumadh tu do dheoch nas fheàrr na mise,
oir fhuair thu làmh-an-uachdar.
Sin mo leisgeul co-dhiù!
Cha b’ e Calbhanach a bh’ annad,
na b’ fhaisg air Erasmus, theirinn:
do lèirsinn farsaing, do mhiann àrd,
do chreideamh domhainn, pearsanta.
Abair òirdheirc do cheòl.
coitheanalan gu còisirean.
Lìon thu eaglaisean le co-sheirm binn.
Eadhon bhriog thu am ministear seo
gu bhith canadh mar shagart;
a h-uile càil gu glòir Dhè.
Cha dhìo-chuimhnich mi gu bràth, thusa
a’ mìneachadh do chloinn sean is òg,
mar gach ionnsramaid san 150mh Salm
a chuirte an cèill tron òrgan
a thog thu agus a sheinneadh tu
leis an leithid de fhaireachdainnean.
Turas math leat, a charaid, nis gu bheil
thu a’ seinn sa chòisir nèamhaidh
a’ dèanamh ceòl a mhaireas gu sìorraidh.
you were one of a kind.
Like all of us, you had your faults:
you could be irritable,
But your qualities were more plentiful.
You had a generous heart.
Many a night we spent
debating some topic or other
in your study;
with a dram, or two, or three – the trinity
you would call it – while
pouring out the fourth.
You held your drink better than me,
so you had the upper hand.
That is my excuse anyway!
You were not a Calvinist,
closer to Erasmus, I would say:
your vision broad, your aspiration high,
your faith deep and personal.
And your music was sublime.
congregations into choirs.
You filled churches with soaring praise.
You even made this minister
chant like a priest;
all to the glory of God.
I shall never forget the time when you
explained to kids young and old,
how each instrument in the 150th Psalm
finds expression on the organ
which you built and which you played
with such passion.
Go well, my friend, now that
you are singing in the heavenly choir,
making music that will last for ever.