Peter Gould - Derby Cathedral’s Master of Music

PUBLISHED: 09:00 22 August 2014

Peter playing Derby Cathedral organ

Peter playing Derby Cathedral organ

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There are 277 church organs in the Derby diocese and before Peter Gould retires as Derby Cathedral’s Master of the Music he’s aiming to play every one of them

Peter in Derby CathedralPeter in Derby Cathedral

There are 277 church organs in the Derby diocese and before Peter Gould retires as Derby Cathedral’s Master of the Music he’s aiming to play every one of them.

The 62-year-old ends a 32-year association with the cathedral at the end of 2014 and is on a two-year pilgrimage around the county raising money for good causes in the process.

Peter says: ‘I just had this mad idea of going around all the churches in Derbyshire. It was something that just appealed to me. I couldn’t do that while I was still teaching so I retired from that and started going around the diocese playing the organs.

‘There are very few churches who don’t have an instrument at all, although one or two are in a poor state. There are also some real gems.

Looking back - when Peter first came to the Cathedral 32 years ago  Photo: W H AttenboroughLooking back - when Peter first came to the Cathedral 32 years ago Photo: W H Attenborough

‘Each organ is unique. Some don’t have pedals at all, some have a shortened pedal board. Some have one keyboard, some two, some three – we have four here at the cathedral.

‘You can play certain pieces on almost any organ but I take a whole bag full of stuff with me and then decide what I am going to play when I get there.

‘Quite often the resident organist is there which can be a bit embarrassing but most take it very well. One or two say “Are you free next Sunday?” or “Do you want a job?”’

Peter did the whole of the north of the county last year and is working his way through the south part of Derbyshire this year.

Peter and Dorothy on Anna's wedding dayPeter and Dorothy on Anna's wedding day

‘I tend to do between six and ten churches each day I go out. I play each organ for 12 to 15 minutes. I maybe start with a bit of Bach, then do some English music written in the 20th century. I encourage people to turn up and listen. At the end I take a collection and divide the money between the cathedral organ restoration fund and a local fund for which the dean decides the recipients. So far I have raised more than £3,000.

‘I’m also trying to promote the organ as a musical instrument. Quite often church organists have been bludgeoned into it at a moment’s notice as they possibly play the piano and there is an urgent need. They then often find they are still doing it 30 years later. I hear that story so many times.’

Peter’s own musical journey started as a chorister in his father’s church in Portsmouth.

He says: ‘My father was not a professional musician but an amateur organist and I joined his boys’ choir when I was seven years old. That’s when I started to dabble with the organ but I picked up all kinds of bad habits. I had piano and cello lessons but, when I went to music college in London, I started lessons and my teacher thought I should put in for a diploma straight away. After that the organ became the first study, the piano the second study and the cello was relegated. I came out of the Academy as an organist.’

While still a student, Peter became choirmaster of a church in Putney and became interested in training the choir. He moved to Wakefield to undertake teacher training and became an organ scholar at Bradford Cathedral.

He eventually combined a job as assistant organist at Wakefield Cathedral with a teaching post near Huddersfield.

Eight years later he moved to Derby for a new job, three days a week teaching and the rest of the time at the cathedral. That was in 1983 and since then Peter has become a fixture at Derby Cathedral and has been involved in many high profile events – such as the two visits by The Queen.

He says: ‘The last time she came was to deliver the Maundy Money five years ago. I was directing the choir for most of the time but I made sure I was playing at the beginning of the service to say I had played for The Queen. I was invited to the reception, I shook her hand and we spoke briefly. Her visits were special moments.

‘The former Archbishop of Canterbury also came once and sang in the choir. He was quite a singer actually. The choir has sung several times live on Radio 3. We have been abroad a lot, Italy, France. I shall miss all of it.’

Peter’s wife Dorothy is also musical and teaches the violin. ‘I met her here at the cathedral,’ he says. ‘She sang in the choir and we married ten months later. She’s very supportive of what I do and will often come and turn pages for me.’

Peter’s daughter Anna is a professional singer. ‘The girls’ choir started because of her,’ he says. ‘We only had a boys’ choir. It seemed unfair that only boys were getting the chance to sing this gorgeous music and at such a high standard. She came back on Good Friday and sang the solos in the St John Passion. We are very proud of her.’

With all these memories it will be a big wrench to leave the cathedral but Peter believes it is the right time. ‘I will have been here 32 years by the time I finish and I think it is time they had some fresh blood. The choir is in a good state – I wouldn’t want to leave it at a time it might be running down, which is how I found it. I also have a chance to go examining around the world and I want to do that before I get too old to be insured!’

His last event at the cathedral will be the Feast of Epiphany. ‘I didn’t want to finish on Christmas Day as that would be too sad,’ he says.

After retiring Peter is leaving Derby to return to the South coast. But he’s not retiring as a musician. He says: ‘I still want to play ... wherever they need an extra organist.’


After three decades as Master of the Music, Derby Cathedral’s organ has a special place in Peter Gould’s heart.

‘Playing the organ here is fantastic,’ he says. ‘The acoustics of the building are incredible. I took the choir to York Minster, which is a lovely building, but the stalls are far apart and it is a huge building to fill, whereas here is a lovely place to sing; except on Christmas Eve when it is so full of people the sound is sucked up. But generally speaking it’s a great place to make music in and that encourages the choir to make a great sound.’

However, Peter admits that the organ ‘needs things doing to it’.

‘There’s a lot of extension work,’ he says. ‘Pipes are borrowed from other pipes. Therefore the sound is not as full as it should be. Some of the pipework goes back to the 1800s although it was substantially rebuilt in the 1940s and in 1992 it was cleaned. But now things have started not to work again. You don’t pull the stops out like you normally would. You touch them and they light up. It’s an old system and the bulbs have all gone. We have raided Hull City Hall and churches from London but there aren’t any left now. We would like to keep this system as it’s unique to Derby.

‘The sound boards are also not in the best of states, the leather is perishing and it is all getting a little tired.’

The first quote to do all the work came in at £400,000. Peter says: ‘It’s a costly machine but then it hasn’t been touched for 22 years and still gives sterling service. One of the sad things about retiring is that I won’t be here to see that through. But it will nice to come back when it is all finished.’


Peter Gould started the annual organ recital series at Derby Cathedral nearly 30 years ago. He says: ‘We have such a fantastic instrument here and I wanted to get people from around the country to come and play it.’ 2014 will be the last series before Peter retires and he believes it will be one of the best. ‘I try to vary it with cathedral organists, concert organists and different people each year. You can see the organists play here; at many places we are stuck in a gallery and you can’t see a thing.’

Each organist choses their own programme although there is often a common theme (the thread this year is CPE Bach – on the 300th anniversary of his birth). On this year’s series Peter says: ‘Nigel Ogden has his own show on Radio 2 and is very famous. Robert Quinney used to be the organist at Westminster Abbey and played at the Royal Wedding – some say he’s the best English Bach performer we have. On 30th July it is a bit of a jamboree – me, my assistant and three lads who were in the choir who have their own cathedrals. John Scott from New York opened the new Festival Hall organ in London earlier this year.’

July 16: Robert Quinney

July 23: Simon Hogan

July 30: Peter Gould/Ben Bloor/Sachin Gunga/Chris Johns/Tom Corfield

Aug 6: John Scott

Aug 13: John Hosking

August 20: Tom Corfield

August 27: Peter Gould

Tickets are £7 (£8 for John Scott). A season ticket is £45. Go to

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