Music at St Mary's
St Mary's is renowned for its wonderful acoustics and ability to lend an incredible atmosphere to any kind of concert. It is a favourite among indie music fans, who flock to the church each year for the acclaimed Sea Change festival, and is always a hit with the musicians too. Recent appearances have included Gruff Rhys, Anna Phoebe, Squid and Stephen Fretwell. The church is also used regularly for recitals and concerts and all manner of musical genres can be heard within its ancient walls.
To download a listing of all upcoming concerts, click here. If you would like to join our regular email list for Music at St Mary's please email Julian Hall.
St Mary's Choir
St Mary's Church has a long tradition of choral music. The choir's wide repertoire is exercised particularly when they are required to sing at a variety of special services, including weddings, memorial services, civic services and pet services.
Occasionally we hold services which involve the whole Totnes Team, and on these occasions the St Mary’s Choir joins with those from the other churches to create a united musical offering.
We also have an enthusiastic junior choir, which meets each Friday at 5pm for rehearsals and sings with the main choir on the fourth Sunday of the month at a Family Eucharist.
The Willis Organ at St Mary's, left, and the organ at St John's, above, built in 1983 by William Drake of Buckfastleigh
The basis of the current instrument in St Mary's is a pipe organ which was built by Father Henry Willis for the Great Exhibition in 1851 and installed by him in Totnes in 1861. It has since had subsequent restorations and modifications.
Starting life as a two manual with pedal instrument, it now comprises three manuals and pedals with 33 speaking stops. It was initially installed in the west gallery of the church, but in 1889 was moved into the St Leonard’s Chapel (on the north side of the Chancel) and a choir organ was added. In 1922, Willis added the swell aeoline stop. In 1959 the organ was taken back to its original position in the west gallery.
By 1986 the mixture of pneumatic and mechanical action and the soundboards were in such poor state that a complete restoration was needed. Following an appeal for £25,000, the action was made entirely mechanical and the two sesquialteras were returned to their original positions (the pipework having ‘travelled about’ the organ case over the years). A Quint mixture was added to the great. All other voicing was returned as closely as possible to its original state, and a Harmonic Piccolo copied from from an original stop at St John’s, Taunton, which is about three years younger.
A specification of the organ can be found in the National Pipe Organ Register.
Laurence Elvin, writing in the April 1938 edition of Musical Opinion, says: “The instrument is of great interest, representing as it does the work of Father Willis at the early part of his career.”