Organ world mourns a fiery leader

Organ world mourns a fiery leader


norman lebrecht

December 26, 2020

Catherine Ennis died on Christmas Eve after a long illness. She was organist and director of music at the church of St Lawrence Jewry in the City of London for 35 years, but it often seemed she was everywhere.

President of Royal College of Organists, professor at the Royal College of Music, the force behind new organs in four central London churches, Cathy was a veritable hurricane of organ activity.

She is the third major organist London has lost in this terrible year, after Jennifer Bate and Jane Parker-Smith.

Rest their souls.


  • Wasfi Kani says:

    I was at sixth form college with Catherine; followed her to Oxford. She shone, she held my hand and she always smiled. I looked up to her. I am very sad.

  • Roy Palmer says:

    I do much enjoyed her lunchtime recitals on Tuesdays at St Lawrence Jewry and her dazzling Festival Hall recital last year. She was a delightful lady and will be very much missed.

  • Stefan Bown says:

    Privileged to have been asked by Cathy to play the Méditation from Thaïs at her wedding (violin) in Marylebone parish church soon after the Rieger organ she commissioned with the RAM was completed in 1987. As a result of her teaching me the piece I have played it on numerous special occasions since. I have to confirm that she did not quite get to play the organ at her own wedding!

    • John Higham says:

      Thank you Stefan. Our liking for the piece resulted from seeing Thais at the Opera Comique in Paris. The opening chorus of tenors was so ropey that we nearly walked out. I’m glad we didn’t. Best, John (Higham)

      • Rosemary Henn-Macrae (née Mason) says:

        We were so sorry to hear the news of Cathy’s death and send our condolences. I was a contemporary of hers at St Hugh’s College. I applied for the organ scholarship at the same time as Cathy and no question that she was rightfully appointed as she was in a completely different league to me! And clearly went on to greater things with such a massive contribution to playing and promoting the organ. We saw her again when we came to the recital she gave for alumni of St Hugh’s at St Lawrence Jewry a few years back, a wonderful evening of playing and catching up.

      • David Beresford says:

        Just to send my condolences I only met her twice, firstly with her Mum and Dad at my mothers wen she was a few months old and a few years ago at a family funeral’ David Beresford

  • Simon Dearsley says:

    I met Catherine when I was a trog at the age of 16 at Dartington Summer school. She and her red hair swept into the office, everyone stopped working: John Amis warmly embraced her, Judith Jackson, Jeremy Barker, they all were thrilled to see her. She looked at me, and said who are you, then looked at John and said Trogs are really getting younger! John told her I was an aspiring organist and she immediately became interested and asked questions and in an hour gave me the advice that allowed me to map out my future as an organist. I was one of her son’s tutors at Shrewsbury, and gently nudged another son to enjoy being a music scholar: he almost managed it. She invited me to give a recital at St Lawrence, which I loved. We coaxed and boxed as organ teachers at Shrewsbury. When Catherine and John’s son left they celebrated by taking my wife and I to the Ivy. What a glorious evening. She came to Stowe and gave a world-class recital until the organ literally blew up. She lent over the loft and announced to the audience dinner was at dearsley’s place, all welcome. She was a force of nature, and I think transformed so many students into passionate musicians dedicated to being excellent organists. I cannot believe she is gone from this world, it seems a darker future without her driving force clearing the way for new and fantastic ideas. My deepest condolences to her very beloved and glorious family.

  • Crispin Southgate says:

    Very sorry to hear this sad news. Lively, lovely and so talented, we were privileged to enjoy her company and follow her baton at Oxford and thrilled to her playing at our wedding in 1979. Our condolences to the family.

  • Peter Elson says:

    I was introduced to Catherine by our mutual friend Susan Powell to give me advice on setting up the Liverpool Blue Coat School Organ Scholarship. As a former journalist, this was a new world for me and Catherine was so helpful. She invited me and co-conspirator Prof Peter Toyne (ex-co chair of YOST) to meet her at St Lawrence Jewry, where she was so welcoming and also gave us a mini-recital. I’m so sorry that she never made it to Liverpool as planned to see what we’ve managed to achieve, in no small way due to her encouragement. My condolences to her family.

  • Chris Bowers-Broadbent says:

    I’m so sad. Cathy was such a glorious lady, always smiling and brilliant. Irreplaceable.

  • James West says:

    Such sad news
    I started lessons with Catherine when everyone else seemed to be on holiday but this was a lucky break as whilst her cheerfulness, encouragement etc are well documented Catherine was a class-act as a teacher – she went into details that would have passed me by: her fingerings always worked; she even learned a piece on which I was working solely so that she could teach me more
    It’s a privilege to have been taught by her and to have known her

  • Nick Sherwood says:

    I well remember her earlier brave battle to have deserving organists respected as much as any other musicians – something which has sometimes been undermined by people who are building their UK careers being advised to hide their backgrounds as organists!
    An inspirational person, and a great encouragement to us all. She will be very much missed…

  • Nick Sherwood says:

    A way to remember her – and her father Seamus (a famous Uilleann piper) would be to play John Gardner’s “Five Dances for Organ” in a recital. Such musical fun…just like Cathy.

  • John Morris says:

    Most of it’s already been said. I first got to know Catherine in 1999 when I joined ‘The London Organ Concerts Guide’ team. Her passion for organ music (and other forms) was infectious as was her sense of humour. When I discovered that she had six children in the household she quipped “Yes – when they are all at home, I transmorph from Catherine Ennis to Catering Ennis!”.

  • Gordon Cox says:

    Just to say that I found Catherine to be a wonderful teacher, and an inspirational person who communicated with warmth and a generosity of spirit.

  • Patrick.Healy says:

    i knew catherne when she played the organ in the Servite Church Fulham Road. many years ago. R.I.P.

  • David Pentecost says:

    I learned about Catherine’s death whilst I was doing a little research for my Wikipedia page a few weeks ago. I could not believe what I was seeing on my computer screen – all those press reports about her. I was so shocked, and I am still shocked – she was so young.

    I first met her in 1987, when we were rehearsing for a Coward Chance concert at St Lawrence Jewry Church. I played two Chopin works on the piano, before she accompanied the Coward Chance choir in Fauré’s Requiem. I acted as page-turner for her, so I had a close-up view of organ playing for the first time in my life.

    I was keen to try to play the organ, and I asked Catherine if she would teach me. To my delight and amazement, she readily agreed. I had weekly lessons from her at St. Lawrence Church, for a number of months, and I arranged to practice on a church organ near my home in Bedfordshire. It was such a delight for me to see the smile on her face, when each week, she remarked that I had learned what she had taught me the previous week. We spent quite a long time on Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. She was so kind. My lessons with her enabled me to become an occasional organist at St Barnabas’ Church in Linslade.

    During one lesson at St Lawrence Church, she asked me if I would escort her to the Royal Festival Hall, where she had arranged to practice for one of her lunchtime concerts there. I was thrilled to do so, and when she took a break from her practice, she set up some stops for me, and told me to enjoy myself on the organ. What a privilege that was for me – an experience which I shall never forget!

    I now treasure her last CD, recorded on the Orford organ, which I ordered a couple of weeks ago, and which arrived here in Cyprus very recently.

    My sincere condolences to her family and friends. I shall never forget her.

    David Pentecost,
    Limassol, 14th February 2021