There was an early flourishing of music in the church in Aberdeen with an organ, a ‘sang schule’ and a master of music. After the Reformation and the removal of the organ in 1574, there was a brief flourishing of singing and music in the church before they went into decline.
The present West Kirk has only existed since 1755. It was in that year that a choir, which had been formed in the shire, came to give a demonstration in St Nicholas. However, the Kirk Session strongly disapproved of the performance and forbade “in all time coming” the introduction of new tunes! That decision, however, did not apply to the East Kirk congregation who, in 1823 produced their own hymnbook, with the music written for four-part singing. Times changed and just sixteen years later in 1839, the West Kirk had produced its own hymn book. There were still no organs in either sanctuary.
It was not until the 1870s that the congregations started to seriously think about having an organ. In 1878, a survey of the West Kirk congregation indicated that a majority were in favour of the introduction of an organ. As a result, they approached Henry Willis, one of the leading British organ builders, to make suggestions. His offer to build a two-manual instrument for £670 was accepted. It was opened on Easter day, 1880. The original instrument was smaller than the present one and is shown in the first photograph. The console was built into the organ case and it used a ‘tracker action’ (this will be explained in the next blog). A series of modifications were made and then it was rebuilt and enlarged by the same firm in 1927, now using an electric mechanism and having the console moved to the side of the gallery. The pipes are at the back of the Civic Gallery (at the east of the sanctuary), with the console just to the south. The present console is shown in the second photograph. It is a lovely instrument with a very clear tone. Throughout the 20th century singing was an important part of the worship with a large choir performing major choral works on a regular basis.