Throughout its history, music and singing has played an important role in the life of St Molua’s. In the early days we were fortunate in securing the services of Brian Hunter as our first Organist. Brian was also a fine singer with a particular gift for choral work. As well as establishing an adult choir to lead the worship, he started training classes for boy singers. For a number of years, the church paid for two boys to go to choir courses in Armagh and Enniskillen. In 1975 two boys were invited to sing in Canterbury cathedral with the choir of St James’s Church, Trowbridge.
The choir presented a service of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas 1960, a tradition which has continued ever since. Brian Hunter left St Molua’s in December 1969 to take up a similar post in Holywood Parish Church, County Down. His place was taken by Victor McKirgan who stayed until the end of 1971. However, this was not before he had introduced the choir to competitive singing for the first time, entering it in Carrickfergus Musical Festival where it achieved a very creditable second place. The following year the choir won a cup at Holywood Musical Festival. More competition success followed under Mr McKirgan’s successor Jim Drennan, formerly organist of St Donard’s Church, Bloomfield, and an excellent artist as well as musician and teacher. He continued to build the musical reputation of the choir.
A new outlet for its talents presented with the first radio broadcast service from St Molua’s when Morning Prayer went on the air in June 1974. Soon afterwards the choir joined with others in a television broadcast of the BBC’s “Songs of Praise” in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. Other broadcasts, both from St Molua’s and as guests in other churches, followed. The climax perhaps being the Christmas morning national broadcast by Independent Television in 1983. Further radio broadcasts and recordings from St Molua’s continued on a fairly regular basis.
While services are congregational in nature, the choir has always been encouraged to make a special contribution to the worship through anthems and other means at their disposal. Over the years, their repertoire has been wide-ranging, including the early music of people like Tallis and Byrd, through Purcell and Greene, Victorians such as Goss and Stainer, as well as Irishmen including Stanford and Wood. Works sung at recitals have included Pergolesi’s “Magnificat”, Vivaldi’s “Gloria”, “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Faure, “Zadok the Priest” by Handel, and Parry’s “I was Glad.”
Following Jim Drennan’s retirement after 33 years loyal service in 2005, Robert Thompson took up appointment as Organist and Choir Director at St Molua’s in January 2006. Robert came to us with a good deal of experience in church music, having held posts at St Patrick’s Ballymena, St Peter’s Belfast and at Donegore in County Antrim. Previously, Robert had been Director of Music at Wallace High School, where his work in the music department is well known. Brian Hunter returned to St Molua’s in February 2014 before retiring in January 2018 when he was succeeded, in September that year, by Audrey Gillian.
As a teenager Audrey joined the choir in her home church, Cregagh Presbyterian. There, organist James Woods encouraged her to use her piano playing skills to play organ and she deputised during his holiday periods. Having completed her musical studies at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music, Audrey studied organ with Garry Rodway in Fisherwick Presbyterian and Dr Desmond Hunter on the Mulholland Organ in the Ulster Hall.
Early in her career she sang with the Balligan Consort and was the organ scholar in St Andrews Balligan. Audrey has a lifetime of experience in church music both as a singer and accompanist and has a vast knowledge and love of sacred choral music. She is passionate about using her musical gifts to lead worship.
The acoustic properties of the church building are magnificent for both choral and organ works and have been much in demand by other choirs such as the Priory Singers and Melisma who have used the building for rehearsals and recitals.
A selection of recordings of hymns, chants and anthems which St Molua’s Choir has sung over the years are available to listen to, or download, on the Choir Playlist page.
The organ was built by Charles A. Smethurst of Manchester, England for St Molua’s in 1962. It includes part of the organ from St Matthias’ church, Dublin. This was one of the first of many Smethurst organs in the Belfast area. The action is electro-magnetic, the detached draw-stop console situated behind the south side of the quire, and the organ itself located on a platform above the north quire.
The acoustics of the church are admirably suited to organ and choir alike, and the modest-sized instrument sounds impressive throughout the building. The inaugural recital was given by Noel Rawsthorne, organist of Liverpool Cathedral, on Wednesday 7th November 1962.
Two manuals, CC to A, 58 notes
Pedal, CCC to F, 30 notes.
Violin Diapason 8′
Stopped Diapason 8′
Celeste 8′ (ten. C)
Nazard 2 2/3
Contra Oboe 16′
Double Diapason 16′
Large Diapason 8′
Small Diapason 8′
Twelfth 2 2/3
Open Wood 16′
Quint 10 2/3
Bass Flute 8′
St Molua’s Church
Parish of Stormont
645 Upper Newtownards Road
Belfast BT4 3LR
Tel: 028 9041 9171
Parish Office open: Wednesday from 10.00am to 12 noon
Church open: Wednesday from 10.00am to 12 noon and for services.
Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC102374