UK organist who declined a US fortune to protect his faith

UK organist who declined a US fortune to protect his faith


norman lebrecht

July 25, 2021

The death has been made known of the conductor and organist Martin Schellenberg, latterly director of music at parishes in Dorset. He was 62.

A former organ tutor at Oxford University, Schellenberg enjoyed a peripatetic career with many media appearances, until he was recruited by a wealthy American congregation.

Stephen Allen writes: ‘He was head-hunted for a top Cathedral position in the USA – with a commensurate stupendous rise in pay and international prestige – but when he was finally asked to give up Anglicanism to become an official Catholic he politely declined.’



  • Gary Freer says:

    Mercifully that isn’t required the other way round – viz James O’Donnell ( and William Byrd)

  • V Lind says:

    I’d like to know which Cathedral made that offer. The Catholic Church is entitled to recruit top talent — the Anglicans do; I know a fellow who got a long gig at St. John the Divine in the US, possibly the most prestigious Anglican spot in the States — but throwing around the sort of money they appeared to have offered flies in the face of their mission (let alone paying their legal fees).

    And if they are going to chase a non-Catholic on the grounds of talent, they ought not to be demanding that he convert as well. As long as he is prepared to play Catholic hymns, that’s all that should matter.

    I’m afraid I can only think of one or two Catholic Cathedrals in the US where that sort of ego is in play, though God alone knows what goes on in that benighted country.

    • Don Ciccio says:

      St. John the Divine is Episcopal, not Anglican.

      • Kate says:

        I think the Episcopal church in the US is a part of the worldwide Anglican communion? And what you are referring to is one of the “continuing Anglican” (“traditional” ) churches, which confusingly is not in communion with the Church of England/international Anglican churches.

  • Bratsche3524 says:

    As a less-pious person, I would have lept at the opportunity. What a rare strength of character and conviction of personal belief..Rest in peace Mr. Schellenberg.

  • Bill says:

    Though a US position may well have offered much greater pay than one in the UK, it is most doubtful that it would merit being described as a fortune!

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    It is very difficult to believe that Mr Schellenberg was offered a contractual conversion to Catholicism. It does not exist.

  • Una says:

    This is an atrocious misrepresentation of Catholicism; that he be required to change denomination. That is not Catholic policy whatsoever and the rules do not change, from one country to the next. Westminster Cathedral was run by Anglicans for years, invited in by Cardinal Hume, by Anglicans, namely Stephen Cleobury and David Hill. Leeds Cathedral has a fine organist, originally United Reformed, David Pipe. Catholicism and Anglicanism are not too different faiths. They are two Christian denominations with one common baptism and, in America, hard to tell the difference.

    • Saxon says:

      Um…Catholic doctrine (officially) does not recognize that Anglicans are fully Christian since they do not recognize their baptisms as valid; their priests as properly consecrated; or their Eucharist/Communion as a validly conducted. They may, of course, be perfectly happy for someone to play the music in their services.

      God only knows what position the Anglican church takes these days…

  • Andrew says:

    It would be more believable if a more thorough and more wholesome explanation was forthcoming…..

  • Alasdair MacNeill says:

    I would love that all religion be banished worldwide. That would put an end to war and famine. I am a devout atheist who played organ in churches for years, no questions asked, no answers proffered.

    • Bill says:

      Really? Hitler conquered most of Europe on religious grounds? The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on religious grounds? Saddam sacked Kuwait on religious grounds, not because he wanted the oil fields? With insights like these, you should have been a historian!

    • Bone says:

      The end of religion would put and end to war & famine?
      I gotta say….prolly not.

  • Alasdair MacNeill says:

    Many people asking how this man passed away so young!

  • John Gascoigne-Bates says:

    I once had the privilege of briefly being tutored in singing by Mr Schellenberg. However, his real brilliance was at the organ console; one of the the very best organists I’ve ever heard play.