Hymnal hero! 12-year-old chorister steps in to provide Sunday service piano accompaniment at St Mary’s Church in Hitchin

James Watson, 12, at the St Mary's organ.

James Watson, 12, at the St Mary's organ. - Credit: Archant

When circumstances left Hitchin’s main church lacking an organist minutes before its Sunday service, a 12-year-old chorister stepped in and accompanied the hymns and liturgy from the piano.

St Mary’s singer James Watson had no preparation and was playing most of the music for the first time, reading from the page.

“I was a little nervous at first as I didn’t know all the music, but I just got through it,” said James, who is learning the organ and intends to pursue a musical career.

With the regular organist Alan Childs away fulfilling his commitments as a music examiner, a substitute had been arranged, but at short notice it was found another stand-in was needed due to unavoidable circumstances.

Amid the confusion it was noted that James was present as a member of the choir – and he made his way to the piano mere minutes before the opening hymn.


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The service proceeded without any problem as James provided musical cues during the liturgy and the accompaniments for three more hymns – and when Canon Michael Roden mentioned James’ name during the notices at the end there was spontaneous applause.

“So often in the Bible you have stories of young boys or girls stepping forward in circumstances like this to save the day,” said the vicar.

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“For example, in the story of the loaves and the fishes, it is a young boy who brings the five loaves and two fish to feed everyone.

“Here we have a boy of only 12 who has stepped in when none of us knew what to do. It is certainly a day we will always remember.”

James’ impromptu performance coincides with the church’s receipt of a five-figure bequest to fund the training of organists like himself.

Dorothy Wells, who died a year ago, left a fund to be shared between the Dorothy Wells Organ Foundation at St Mary’s and a similar strings programme.

For more contact Alan Childs at a.j.childs@btinternet.com.

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