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Sitting on a Pin

By Barry Rose

A Musical Memoir

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978-1-399906678 [A39]

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Born in 1934, Barry Rose originally set out on a career in insurance, but at the age of 24 he suddenly quit the world of commerce, and became a mature student at the Royal Academy of Music. Whilst there, and still without any musical qualifications, he was appointed as the first Organist and Master of the Choristers of the new Guildford Cathedral, founding and directing a choir which made several award-winning recordings for EMI (including Platinum, Gold and Silver discs).

In 1974 he was invited to move to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where he took over the training the world-famous choir, directing them at many great State Occasions, including The Queen’s Silver Jubilee and the 1981 wedding of The Prince of Wales. His recordings with the Cathedral choir range from Mozart and Handel with Dame Kiri te Kanawa to a gold-disc recording of the pop-song My Way and the original soundtrack of The Snowman.

From St. Paul’s Barry moved on to run the choral music at The King’s School, Canterbury, but was lured back into Cathedral music at St. Albans Abbey and Cathedral in 1988 – where he stayed until Christmas 1997. With the St. Albans choir he toured the USA no less than five times, as well as making recordings and broadcasts.

Barry was also the BBC’s Music Adviser to the Head of Religious Broadcasting – a post he was to hold from 1971-1990, broadcasting regularly as conductor, organist, pianist, and even writing and presenting a series of church music programmes on BBC2.

With his brother-in-law he also founded and produced recordings for GUILD RECORDS, as well as acting as recording producer for other choirs on different record labels.

A regular visitor to the USA since 1974, he has been visiting director of several high-profile choirs on the East Coast, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and many European countries.

Married, with three grown-up children, he and his wife Elizabeth (to whom the book is dedicated) now live in rural Somerset, where he still makes music and enjoys his hobby of collecting and restoring vintage fountain pens.


No one who has had the privilege of working with Barry can deny that his story is truly remarkable. A unique blend of talent, determination and commitment enabled him to forge a career in church music that encompassed not only three cathedral appointments but also decades of work for the BBC, enabling his influence to spread far and wide. I should know; I was his ‘apprentice’ when it came to learning the art of helping ‘quires and places where they sing’ give of their best when broadcasting Choral Evensong, as well as working with him in many Daily Service broadcasts. I highly recommend his personal account of a journey that he already lasted six decades…

Stephen Shipley, Honorary Canon of Derby Cathedral and former Producer of Worship Programmes, BBC Religion and Ethics


Barry is a very good friend who has been a total inspiration to me and to others of my generation. His musicianship, sensitivity to words and skill as a choir trainer are second to none. This fascinating book, written in Barry’s inimitable style, is the story of a remarkable career and a remarkable man.

Malcolm Archer, Former Organist and Director of Music at Bristol Cathedral, Wells Cathedral, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Winchester College


Barry Rose is widely regarded as the finest trainer of boys’ voices in his generation. I had the privilege of observing – and sometimes collaborating – with him both a Guildford and St. Paul’s Cathedrals; it was fascinating experience. Despite seldom offering praise, he infused his boys with a self-belief which enabled them to sing with wonderful energy and expressiveness. This fascinating book, written with an engaging lack of pomposity and refreshing candour, tells the story of a career rich in both triumphs and in challenges. It also reminds us that the quality of our cathedral musicians is sometimes higher than that of the Deans and Chapters they serve, and outstanding liturgical music is not always valued as it should be by the clergy. For all those who value Cathedral Music, here is a story that shines an important light on the dedication required to achieve the highest musical standards.

Hilary Davan Wetton, Principal Conductor, City of London Choir; Associate Conductor, London Mozart Players; and Artistic Director, Military Wives Choirs


When working as a singer for Barry at St. Albans Abbey, the goal was always to tell a story through music, regardless of technical prowess… because we can all tell stories. Unlocking the palate of colours to illustrate the story is Barry’s unique gift. Trusting that fact actually made you a better singer. Not everyone understood that!

Canon Michael McCarthy, Director of Music, Washington National Cathedral, USA



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