Music at the Sacred Heart

The church of the Sacred Heart has a long tradition of musical excellence. Under the enigmatic Fr John Driscoll SJ (1865-1940), appointed choirmaster in 1904, the choir of boys and men (complete with choir school) gained a national reputation and sang in the first liturgical performance of the Vaughan Williams G minor Mass in Westminster Cathedral under Sir Richard Terry. The young George Malcolm, a pupil at Wimbledon College next door, used to attend Driscoll’s rehearsals and said that Driscoll’s way of training the boys ‘in the continental manner’ was a great influence on him; one would like to think that the Sacred Heart is in part responsible for the ‘Westminster sound’!

Father Driscoll

Fr John Driscoll SJ: No choirboy would dare to sing out of tune!!



Driscoll originally had the choir in the Sanctuary, as the original organ (by Bishop) was on the north wall of the choir (click here for the specification and see the archive photograph above with the pipework clearly visible on the left hand side). Indeed, one can still see in that wall the original door to the organ loft which now leads nowhere! But he persuaded the parish priest, Fr Kerr, to raise funds for a magnificent new organ in a west end gallery where he would place the choir. This instrument, with a large specification drawn up by Driscoll’s organist, Dr Henry Wardale, and built by JW Walker and Sons, was inaugurated in 1912, and remains one of the finest parish church organs in London (click here for details). Driscoll then had all he needed to create a musical tradition that received national acclaim.

Another interesting character who was organist at the Sacred Heart and Farm Street is Fernand Laloux. A Belgian who lost a leg in WW2, Laloux also wrote much music with a highly individual style for both churches. He was, for fifty years or so, first singing teacher then Director of Music atWimbledon College and for the two years before his death in 1970, Director of Music at the Sacred Heart. As Driscoll’s organist in the ’30’s, he must have had a formidable technique to play some of the accompaniments that Driscoll provided – many of them orchestral reductions (Driscoll adapted music from diverse sources and superimposed Latin texts on them).

The choir and choir school disbanded in 1939 and Fr Driscoll died in 1940. In 1945, the choir was restarted as a voluntary mixed group, and it remains that to this day. Subsequent directors of music have included Nicholas Danby and Colin Mawby. There has always been a strong connection with the Jesuit church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street, Mayfair. Fr Driscoll was from 1928, choirmaster atFarm Street in addition to the Sacred Heart. Nicholas Danby (1963-65) and Martyn Parry (1981-1995) both left the Sacred Heart to take the post of director of music at Farm Street.

The current director of music is Robert Rathbone and the organist and assistant director of music is David Gammie.

In addition to the choir that sings at the weekly Latin Mass, there is a family mass children’s choir and the 5.00 mass music group. The repertoire of these groups spans all styles of liturgical music, from plainchant to contemporary. We are lucky to be able to offer styles of worship in music to suit all tastes and traditions.

These music pages will gradually grow to include a detailed history of music at the Sacred Heart. We hope you will find them useful and informative, but most of all, we hope that you will be encouraged  to join us for mass one Sunday, and perhaps many more in the future.

Masses with music:

Saturday vigil mass: 6.30 (hymns every two weeks only)


9.45: Sung Family mass led by the children’s choir, orchestra and cantors Katy Lees and Rachel Marshall

11.15: Latin mass with full choir: settings of the ordinary of the mass and motets

12.45: Mass with hymns

5.00: Mass led by the 5.00 music group (contemporary liturgical music). Practices on Fridays 8-10pm and Sundays 4-4.30pm.

The choir rehearses on Wednesday evenings 7.30-9.30pm and at 10am on Sundays prior to mass. New members are welcome. Contact