The Guide


As organist and choirmaster at St. Luke’s Church in the Chelsea section of London, John Ireland was known for nurturing the talent of singers and instrumentalists who came up through the ranks. He was also known for being a fierce disciplinarian who was not above shouting expletives at erring choristers during practices.

No wonder a boy in one of Ireland’s choirs was a bundle of nerves when the unthinkable happened. Sometime around 1912, Charles Markes was to sing a solo in a work by Mendelssohn, the fervent boy soprano plea “Oh God, hear my cry!”

When the big moment came, he opened his mouth but nothing came out. Just as he was supposed to sing, his voice had broken.

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Ireland would occasionally pretend to lose his temper to make a point, but this time his wrath was real. He swept back the curtain that concealed the organist from the congregation. He wanted to know who was responsible for ruining the piece.

The boy retreated to the choir loft, weeping and afraid that he would be thrown out of the choir. Ireland embraced him and whispered, “Don’t worry, Charlie. It’s something that happens to all of us. Come to church just the same, come up and sit with me.”

After the boy had served as a page-turner for a time, Ireland put his talent as a pianist to work and had him trained to play the organ.

Charles’ debut as an organist also required additional understanding. Without warning, Ireland told the boy, “You’re going to play the next Amen.” The novice was so intent upon the two chords of his first public performance that he lost track of the service. At a pause in a long prayer he let forth with a loud and premature Amen

Ireland yanked the boy’s hands off the keys, declaring, “You’ll get me the sack!”

But John Ireland was secure in his job, and so was the apprentice organist, who stayed at St. Luke’s for many years.