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Sir William McKie

born: 1901
died: 1984
country: United Kingdom

Sir William McKie (1901–1984) was born in Melbourne. He graduated from the Royal College of Music and was organ scholar at Worcester College Oxford, where his name is recorded on the console doors of the Nicholson organ in the College Chapel. His first appointment was as director of music at Clifton College in Bristol between 1926 and 1930 when he returned to Melbourne to become city organist. He returned to England in 1938 to become Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College Oxford, and in 1941 became organist and Master of the Music at Westminster Abbey. McKie stayed at the Abbey until 1963 and during these years directed the music for the royal wedding in 1947 and the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953; he was knighted in the same year. He is buried in the West Cloister at Westminster Abbey. The life of Sir William McKie was celebrated in a book by Howard Hollis entitled The Best of Both Worlds. One story which does not seem to have made the pages of this publication is a public altercation in the 1930s between McKie (as city organist at Melbourne) and Horace Weber (organist of the Capitol Theatre almost opposite the Town Hall). McKie wrote a scathing newspaper article about cinema organs and how they ‘were nothing more than hurdy-gurdy, merry-go-round organs’. Weber was so infuriated that he invited McKie to see for himself that the Mighty Wurlitzer was capable of playing any kind of music and had a greater stylistic range. McKie accepted the challenge. During their musical encounter Weber apparently said: ‘Now my dear friend, I will do something you can’t do’ and played the latest popular hit in every possible tempo, a feat McKie was unable to better. McKie later graciously wrote a public apology for his remarks after hearing the virtuoso Weber play Bach, Widor and Wagner on the organ at the Capitol.

from notes by William McVicker © 2005


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