Dr. John Sanders OBE, MA, D.Mus, FRCO, ARCM, HonRSCM, was a celebrated organist and composer. He died from pneumonia on Tuesday 23rd December 2003 while recovering in Hereford Hospital after undergoing a hip operation.
For nearly 100 years the music of Gloucester Cathedral was influenced by three men; Sir Herbert Brewer, Dr.Herbert Sumsion, and Dr. John Sanders. The Three Choirs Festival was one of the main focuses of Dr. Sander’s talents, and his Evensong Responses, his Canticles – especially the Jubilate – and his Reproaches for Good Friday are now part of the repertoire of Cathedrals throughout the country, and also of the Three Choirs Festival.
Dr. Sanders was born at Woodford in Essex in 1933. His love of music began as a pupil at Felstead School, where he learned to play the organ. In his mid-teens he spent three years at the Royal College of Music, where he was taught by Dr. John Dykes-Bower, the organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral. John Sanders then went on to read music as Organ Scholar of Gonville and Caius College, at Cambridge University.
John Sanders gained his ARCM in 1952, the FRCO in 1955, his Mus.B(Cantab) in 1956, and his MA in 1958. It was in 1958 that he became Assistant Organist of Gloucester Cathedral and Director of Music of the King’s School, Gloucester. It was at this time that he took over the leadership of the St. Cecilia singers, with whom he retained a close relationship right up to his death.
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In 1964 John became Organist and Master of the Choristers of Chester Cathedral, where he revived the Chester Music Festival and was appointed Artistic Director of the Chester Festival. It was at this time that he met his wife, Janet.
In 1967 John left Chester to succeed Dr. Herbert Sumsion at Gloucester Cathedral. In addition to his work at the Cathedral he became conductor of he Gloucester Symphony Orchestra and the Gloucester Choral Society in 1967. He was appointed Director of Music at Cheltenham Ladies’ College in 1968. In 1977 he had the honour of conducting the 250th Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester. John was made a freeman of the City of London in 1986.In 1990 John received the Lambeth Doctorate of Music D.Mus(Cantuar), and in 1991 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music. He was made an OBE in 1994. John composed many items of music for the Cathedral choir and for the Choral Society, much of which has been recorded. He appeared regularly on Radio and Television.
When he retired from Gloucester in 1994 he was made Organist Emeritus of the Cathedral to mark his 27 years of service to the Cathedral, during which he conducted nine Three Choirs Festivals. He retired to live at Upton Bishop, near Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire, where he played for the Services at his local Parish Church on a rota basis. His hobbies when he was working were gastronomy and travelling.
John joined the Gloucestershire Organists’ Association when he returned to Gloucester in 1967 and was elected Vice-President of the Association at the AGM in 1972. He became President in 1974 and still held that position right up to his death.
Dr. Roy Massey, retired organist of Hereford Cathedral, is quoted as saying that John was highly thought of, and was so well liked. His influence on the music at Gloucester was immense. He had the ability to get on so well with people, and he had very clear ideas of what it was that he wanted to achieve.
John taught many girls at the Cheltenham Ladies’ College, among whom were the opera singer Penelope Walker and Radio 3 Producer Fiona Shelmerdine.
Soprano Lucy Bowen, the wife of Geraint Bowen, the organist of Hereford Cathedral, paid tribute to John in the Gloucestershire Echo: “John was a well-loved man who will be sadly missed”.
John is survived by his wife Janet, and by his children Jonathan and Anna, and by his grandchildren Celia, Talia, Silas, Jamie and Jude.
The funeral was a private service for family only, but a Service of Thanksgiving was held in a packed Gloucester Cathedral on Saturday 28th February 2004.