OBITUARY: Tributes to Dr Arthur Wills OBE, organist and choirmaster at Ely Cathedral for over 30 years

PUBLISHED: 14:25 17 November 2020 | UPDATED: 16:11 17 November 2020

Tributes have been paid to Dr Arthur Wills OBE, an organist and choirmaster at Ely Cathedral for over 30 years who died on October 30 - six weeks after his 94th birthday. Picture: KEITH HEPPLE

Tributes have been paid to Dr Arthur Wills OBE, an organist and choirmaster at Ely Cathedral for over 30 years who died on October 30 - six weeks after his 94th birthday. Picture: KEITH HEPPLE

Archant

Tributes have been paid to Dr Arthur Wills OBE, an organist and choirmaster at Ely Cathedral for over 30 years who died on October 30 - six weeks after his 94th birthday.

Colin Wills with his father, Dr Arthur Wills, a patron of Ely Choral Society, and the conductor Andrew Parnell. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELL.Colin Wills with his father, Dr Arthur Wills, a patron of Ely Choral Society, and the conductor Andrew Parnell. Picture: ROSEMARY WESTWELL.

Born in Coventry on 19 September 1926, he was educated locally and at the College of St Nicolas (RSCM), Canterbury.

After spells at St Alban’s Church, Leamington Spa and St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Warwick, he was appointed assistant organist and tenor layclerk at Ely Cathedral in 1949.

From 1953 to 1965 he was director of music at King’s School in Ely, and he held a professorship at the Royal Academy from 1964 to 1992.

Tribute on Twitter from 2016 by Ely Cathedral Choir Tribute on Twitter from 2016 by Ely Cathedral Choir "A happy 90th birthday to Dr. Arthur Wills! Here's the fabulous cake made for him by the Old Choristers..."

He obtained numerous qualifications and awards including a DMus degree from Durham University and Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists.

Arthur became organist and choirmaster at Ely in 1958, a position he held until retirement in 1990, the year in which he was appointed OBE.

He was presented with his doctoral gown as a 60th birthday gift from the cathedral and, as Arthur was a tall imposing man, the smallest boy in the choir had to climb a ladder to put it on him.

After his retirement he remained active for many years as a composer, performer and examiner for the associated board.

Arthur Wills was a towering figure in the world of church music in England and beyond. He was also an outstanding organist and composer, who taught and inspired countless musicians.

One of his early pupils was Mary Titterton. In 1953 they were married, and their happy union lasted for almost 62 years.

Just as Arthur cared for Mary when she became very ill, their children Rachel and Colin, together with Nathan and Veronica, showed the same degree of care and love for him in his final years.

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The music library at Ely overflows with Arthur’s immense output of choral works and a huge volume of very effective organ music.

Throughout his career Arthur toured extensively as a recitalist in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Hong Kong.

He broadcast on radio and appeared on television, as well as making many recordings, both as a soloist and with the Ely Choir. 

After his retirement Arthur was a generous and unstinting supporter of Ely Cathedral’s music, and a much loved member of the cathedral community.

He attended Sunday services until early this year, and regularly attended Cathedral Choristers’ Society events, where he enjoyed meeting former choristers who had sung in his choirs.

Paul Trepte, Arthur’s successor at Ely Cathedral, said: “Arthur was incredibly kind to Sally and me when we arrived in Ely.

“We will for ever be appreciative of the way he and his lovely wife, Mary, managed the “handover”.  

“He was always incredibly supportive and positive; he never ‘got in the way’ or made negative comments about the new regime after I succeeded him.

“In Ely he will surely remain something of an iconic figure whose legacy will live on in church and cathedral music for many years.”

Edmund Aldhouse, current director of music at Ely Cathedral, added: “Arthur Wills was a towering figure in English cathedral music, and far beyond, for much of the 20th century and to this day.

“As well as his daily work in Ely, he held a professorship for many years at the Royal Academy of Music. In both posts he taught and inspired countless musicians, young and adult, who went on to enrich this country’s musical life.

“Arthur was also a virtuoso organist and a composer of distinction, with an instantly recognisable musical language, and a talent for capturing the mystery and beauty of the written word in music.”

Arthur’s funeral will take place in Ely Cathedral on Monday November 23 at 2.30pm. Due to COVID-19 regulations attendance will be restricted, but the service will be live-streamed on the cathedral’s website.


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