The Abbey Singers
Carlisle, UK

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Andrew Seivewright,
            Our founder



My predecessor as Master of the Music at Carlisle Cathedral died peacefully at his home near Keswick on December 10th aged 84. At his funeral eleven days later, a long-standing friend delivered a personal tribute, much of which forms the basis of this obituary.

Rather than listing Andrew Seivewright’s numerous achievements throughout his long, distinguished and fulfilling musical career, the tribute began with the man himself. This was significant because Andrew’s creative energies flowed directly from a charming and generous personality. All who came into contact with him invariably found his company stimulating. A man of great intellect he was always the true gentleman, with an acute sense of humour. He possessed the ability to make one feel good but was never patronising. Many will testify to his mastery of the art of gentle persuasion which was used with great success in his dealings with others, be they choristers, clergy or musicians both professional and amateur.

The son of a clergyman Andrew was born into a large family in the Vale of Belvoir, Leicestershire. On leaving school he went to King's College Cambridge to read Classics, but when studies were interrupted by the onset of war he joined the RAF and spent the next four years training as a Navigator in Canada. Here he was able to broaden his horizons whilst enjoying the camaraderie of his fellow officers, one of whom was Richard Burton. When he returned to Cambridge he decided to change direction and read Music under the tutelage of Patrick Hadley, Boris Ord and Robin Orr. Upon graduation he obtained a teaching position in Yorkshire which allowed him to continue his organ studies under the watchful eye of Francis Jackson at York Minster.

When in 1960 Dr. Jackson was asked to advise the Dean & Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral on the appointment of a successor to Dr. F. W. Wadely, the decision to recommend his youthful and energetic pupil was not entirely unexpected. One of Andrew’s first tasks (for which Francis Jackson acted as consultant) was a radical overhaul of the four manual Father Willis/Harrison organ. Another important project he set himself was the compilation of a new chant book (still in daily use). Nora undertook the painstaking task of transcribing her husband’s none too legible hand using a typewriter with musical characters. Pre-eminent among the several chants which flowed from his pen is a hauntingly beautiful setting of Psalm 121, composed for the establishment of the County of Cumbria in 1974.

For over thirty years Andrew fought hard to maintain standards with no choir school - the tradition of daily choral worship he had inherited (the choir school had closed in 1935). One of his proudest moments as Master of the Music was the opportunity to direct the music for Distribution of the Royal Maundy in 1978. To complement his work with the Cathedral Choir, Andrew founded the Abbey Singers with whom he toured extensively in Europe and North America and which featured in many local TV broadcasts. He also established Music in the Cathedral, an annual series of subscription concerts with a distinct bias towards contemporary music. Tippett, Maxwell Davies and Tavener made personal appearances with their music, as well as such ensembles as the London Sinfonietta and the choirs of King's and St John's Cambridge. On top of all this he still found time to compose, and a work of which he was particularly proud was The Passion (1987), a substantial piece for soloists, chorus and orchestra with an original libretto by Rex Chapman, then a Residentiary Canon. Members of the Cathedral Choir from this period recall learning it a few pages at a time as the previous night’s work (he would regularly compose until 3 am) was hurriedly duplicated on a spirit copier.

Andrew was a born communicator and ran hugely popular evening classes under the aegis of the Universities of Newcastle and Glasgow - these continued well into his retirement. He was also a regular broadcaster and often spoke to introduce concerts at the Sands Centre and Keswick Theatre. An illustrated talk he gave two years ago to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Vaughan Williams was highly typical of his lecturing style, combining analytical insight with wit and humour.

In retirement he was busier than ever, taking on the post of organist of St. Kentigern’s Church in Crosthwaite for three years before moving to Grasmere Parish Church where he played every Sunday until a few weeks before his death. In 2006 he recorded a CD of organ music by Robin Milford on the three manual instrument in Grasmere, and composed a set of Evening Canticles based on Milford themes. He identified strongly with the region in which he lived and worked for fifty years, and left an indelible mark on its culture. In recognition of Carlisle Castle’s 900th anniversary he was commissioned to write a Celebration Overture which was performed in the castle grounds by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. William Wordsworth’s 150th anniversary inspired the choral cantata Clouds of Glory, and he collaborated with the Lakeland poet Denny Gaudin to produce the Derwentfold Collection of hymns and anthems.

Visits to his beloved New England became more frequent after leaving Carlisle, and in 2000 he was granted a Churchill Fellowship for the composition of a new cantata, The Mayflower Pilgrims, which he wrote whilst staying on Cape Cod. He felt a particular affinity with American culture, and it has been said that there is more than a hint of George Gershwin in his compositional style. Yet whilst he will be long remembered for the freshness and originality of his music, the warmth which his personality bestowed on those around him will prove no less enduring a legacy.

He is survived by his wife Nora, and two twin sons Nicholas and Peter.

Jeremy Suter, with grateful thanks to Dr. William Paterson.


A memorial service for Andrew was held at Carlisle Cathedral on Sunday, 27 March 2010 at 3.00pm. The music was shared between the Cathedral choir and Abbey Singers.

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