Nick Gale
1975 - 2015

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Christened Nicholas James Anderson, Nick Gale was born on 30 April 1975 in Wallasey, Liverpool. He took the surname Gale from his stepfather Philip Gale at the age of four when his name was changed by Deed Poll.

Nick Gale’s early education was in Caerphilly and his early organ studies were with Dr Michael Smith at Llandaff Cathedral. Aged sixteen, Gale was asked to play at the funeral of his friend Patrick Harrington’s mother at Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire, where the community noticed his playing. An offer of a scholarship followed, and he spent his sixth form years at Belmont Abbey School.

It was at Belmont that he came under the influence of the Abbot, Dom Alan Rees OSB from whom he had organ lessons and received religious instruction. This led to Gale’s conversion and his admittance to the Roman Catholic Church at Belmont by Fr Thomas Regan. Rees’ suicide in 2005 was a major blow to Gale - as indeed it was to so many others. Belmont provided many new horizons, and, after much nudging from Rees, Gale went on to Oxford and an organ scholarship upon completion of his A Levels.

At Lady Margaret Hall Gale continued his organ studies with Dr John Wellingham. Upon graduating in 1996 he entered the teaching profession and spent his early years between 1996 and 1999 as Assistant Director or Music and Director of Chapel Music at Ratcliffe College in Leicestershire. He held subsequent appointments at Notre Dame School in Lingfield and then Wimbledon High School for Girls, where he was Assistant Director of Music.

However, Gale’s most substantial appointment was as head of Academic Music Studies at the London Oratory School. With his experience and knowledge of liturgical music from Belmont and his traditional view of teaching music, he was the foremost candidate for the position, and held the post for seven years, from 2002 to 2009.

In 2006, the retirement of John McIntosh led to a change in leadership at the Oratory School, a change viewed unfavourably by various members of staff. Counting himself among the discontent, Gale left in July 2009, first taking up a post at Sunningdale School and then at a preparatory school in Sloane Square.

From July 2013 he worked as a freelance educator and musician. Despite the fulfilling nature of his distinguished career in both school teaching and cathedral music making, his friends and family noted that he seemed happiest in these last two years of his life; two years during which he was free of institutional authority.

In February 2000, shortly after moving south from Ratcliffe, Nick Gale was appointed Director of Music at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark – the archdiocesan cathedral of the Southern Province, located opposite the Imperial War Museum. The music at St George’s had fallen into disrepair, and Gale’s appointment by the Dean, Canon James Cronin, was inspired. Following the departure of his predecessor, Gale had presented himself to Canon Cronin at the end of mass one day and said, “I hear you are looking for a new Director of Music”. The cathedral seized the opportunity to appoint Gale, who with his energy, enthusiasm, and background, became one of the youngest cathedral organists in the country, aged just twenty-five.

Gale’s vision for his new musical establishment was one that embodied all that was best in the traditional Catholic Church, in particular regarding the use and performance of plainsong in the liturgy. With the 10.00am ‘Family Mass’ serving the needs of the more progressive worshippers, Gale set about transforming the music at the weekly 11.30am Solemn Mass. Metrical hymns were reduced in quantity, the plainchant propers were re-introduced, and each Sunday would see a motet with a Latin text and a mass setting chosen from the best of the Catholic repertoire. With eighteen boys and nine lay clerks Gale had a broad canvas, and the repertoire included all the large mass settings of Langlais, Vierne, and Widor, as well as more intimate works such as Byrd’s Masses for four and five voices.

His first job was to re-establish the boys’ choir, which he accomplished by encouraging local Southwark primary schools to send pupils for audition, and by recruiting boys from the Oratory School following his appointment there. So successful was he that the establishment of a girls’ choir soon followed, and after only three years the choir had reached the attention of the BBC. This resulted in two live broadcasts of the BBC1 Midnight mass, in 2004 and 2011. In addition, the choir broadcast the Radio 4 Midnight Mass in 2005 and Morning Worship in 2007. The choir also began to tour in the summer holidays, including several trips to Germany, France, and Italy. Of particular note was a trip to the monastery at Solesmes in France where the cathedral lay clerks spent an extended weekend studying the performance of plainchant with Dom Daniel Saulnier. At this time Saulnier was the Catholic Church’s ‘keeper’ of the plainchant tradition combining his role at Solesmes with the position of Head of Chant Studies at the Pontifical Institute of Liturgical Music in Rome. A notable result of this study weekend was that four months later, two of the three Anglican lay clerks in the choir converted to Roman Catholicism, a result that moved Gale greatly indeed.

Nick Gale’s love of the liturgy and plainchant began at Belmont Abbey, and his private studies at Solesmes and work at St George’s led to him becoming an authority on the Chant in his own right. He was in great demand as a teacher and course leader of choral workshops up and down the UK, Ireland, and including as far afield as St Lucia in the Caribbean. As a member of the Chapter of the Academy of St Cecilia he was instrumental in organising the Gregorian Chant International Symposium in London 2006, which included lectures and demonstrations from luminaries such as Naji Hakim, Dom Daniel Saulnier and Professor Nick Sandon. Sitting in on Gale’s chant workshop at the Academy of St Cecilia’s workshop in July 2011, Jeremy Summerly later said that Gale was “on fire” with his passion and enthusiasm for teaching the chant to the workshop participants.

The Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict issued on 7 July 2007 was a great joy to Gale because it provided for the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, and he was instrumental in organising several such occasions at St George’s Cathedral. Whilst being a firm traditionalist Gale was, however, no Luddite. He would quote Pope Paul VI “Liturgy is like a strong tree whose beauty is derived from the continuous renewal of its leaves, but whose strength comes from the old trunk, with solid roots in the ground”, but he also commissioned many new works for the liturgy, including from the two distinguished composers who served as Organists under Gale’s directorship at St George’s, Nicholas O’Neill and Norman Harper.

Never a great administrator, the song room at St Georges often provided evidence of previous weeks’ music lists in ‘archaeological’ layers around the room. As a substitute for rigorous organisation Nick Gale provided inspiration and vision in his musical programming and choral direction. He was instinctively good at gathering talent around him and harnessing that talent to produce a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

He was a bon viveur, enjoying food, wine, and continental beers. He was an expert cook and the memories of dinner parties at Imperial Wharf will remain with those privileged enough to have sat at his dinner table. Beef Wellington was a particular speciality – he always used a whole fillet, which he purchased from his favourite butcher in Barons Court. Where most figures might ‘fill out’ with such pleasures, Gale remained trim as a result of his fitness regime at the local gym.

Gale had a huge sense of fun and as a raconteur he was always ready to quote from popular TV and radio culture, particularly those that could be delivered in a strong northern accent. For the amusement of himself and those around him he created a parallel world in which his colleagues and friends were all re-christened with nicknames that re-characterised them in a way that was both perceptive and farcical.

Gale was an avid traveller, often making use of school holidays to go abroad. Foreign travel was a serious business and Gale often preferred to avoid distractions by travelling alone. However, he was always in constant touch with his many hundreds of friends on social media who would follow the progress of his travels around Europe, particularly his beloved Germany (he was also a German speaker) that he always referred to as the ‘Fatherland’.

Much of Gale’s travel was on his beloved motorbike, which he preferred to public transport; first “Hilda the Honda” and latterly a lipstick-red Suzuki. He was a familiar figure in his leathers arriving at the cathedral for choir practice and the Sunday services, and he usually had a second helmet should a passenger require a lift. Riding pillion always seemed a safe experience, but it was the vulnerability of the motorbike in juxtaposition with other traffic that resulted in his tragic demise.

At 10.00am on Tuesday 10 March, whilst on his way to play at the West London Crematorium on the motorbike, Nicholas Gale came into collision with a lorry at the junction of Kensington High Street and Holland Road outside the Bristol Cars showroom. The lorry did not stop. The newspaper reports stated that a passer by had stayed with Gale and said prayers for the 30 minutes that the ambulance took to arrive.

Nicholas Gale is survived by his mother Christine and his half sister Catherine; on the paternal side by his father Stuart Anderson, his half sister Clare and two half brothers Richard and Martin.

Nick Gale 30 April 1975 – 10 March 2015 RIP

Alistair Dixon, April 2015