Swansong for Knapton organist Shirley
10:34 19 November 2012
Archant Norfolk 2012
A church organist has reluctantly retired after 60 years of tinkling the ivories at venues throughout north Norfolk.
Shirley Johnson, 77, was taught to play music by her aunt Rene Warner when she was five years old and played church organ for the first time at Mundesley Chapel when she was 17.
She has played at churches in Trunch, North Walsham, Dereham, Long Stratton and Norwich and has been the organist at Knapton Methodist Chapel for more than 30 years.
Her teacher Mrs Warner, who is now in her 80s, still played the organ in Trunch until very recently.
Mrs Johnson, who has her own piano and organ at home, said she would love to keep playing as long as her aunt but her arthritis means she can no longer sit through an hour long service without pain.
She said: “I enjoy playing. I don’t like giving it up but sitting on the stool has started to get uncomfortable. I wouldn’t be stopping at all if I didn’t have to.”
She said some of her happiest memories were playing to a large congregation in Mundesley as a teenager. “The whole place was absolutely packed on Sundays. The Boys Brigade from Norwich used to camp at Trimingham and would parade down to Mundesley y Chapel. I would be sitting there on the organ stool and there would be all these people, even standing in the choir stalls, singing. It was beautiful.”
Religious buildings weren’t the only place Mrs Johnson - a tea-total methodist - was asked to play. Whilst working as a secretary during the construction of the Bacton gas terminal, the mum of three was encouraged to play piano in a pub in Trimingham by her male co-workers.
She said: “They wanted somebody to play for them in the pub. Pints of beer were lining up for me on top of the piano but of course I don’t drink. I left my husband at home with the children and he wasn’t too impressed.”
Mrs Johnson’s replacement in Knapton will be 88-year-old John Furmage, who has already been playing on alternate weeks. Mrs Johnson said very few young people knew how or wanted to play pipe organ now and many churches regularly used CDs in place of live music.
The great grandmother was presented with a certificate and flowers following her last Sunday service in Knapton, which was attended by members of her family.