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.

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. He spent many hours transcribing music by hand (much from the Vatican Library), often whilst hearing confession! Driscoll also adapted music from other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran etc) by superimposing Latin texts.

The young George Malcolm, a pupil at Wimbledon College next door, attended some choir rehearsals at Farm Street, mostly taken by Fernand Laloux (the music teacher at Wimbledon College but Driscoll’s assistant and successor at Farm Street). Just before his death, George Malcolm told me how Fr Driscoll and Laloux’s technique of training the boys ‘in the continental manner’ was a huge influence on him; it is certainly partly responsible for the ‘Westminster sound’ that Malcolm achieved so brilliantly during his period at Westminster, continued by Colin Mawby and his successors.

Born in Belgium, Laloux wrote liturgical music of all kinds in a highly individual style, with piquant harmonies and lush vocal writing. 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. By this time, he had to have a leg amputated, but continued to play the organ and drive a car with a wooden substitute! I have met many former pupils during and after my tenure at the school who all speak of Laloux in affectionate, if not always respectful terms. He wrote a very fine Mass of Saint Ignatius for the boys of the College. This, and the well-known Tantum Ergo, is often performed both here and elsewhere.

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 (whose father was also organist for a time) and the late 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, simultaneously choirmaster at Farm Street – often delegating to Laloux. Nicholas Danby (1963-65) and Martyn Parry (1981-1995) both left the Sacred Heart to take the post of director of music there.

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 the Family Mass group with instrumentalists and Cantors, often with children from the Sacred Heart Primary School choir. Much of the music is home-grown, especially the Psalm settings. The 5.00 mass music group uses music from the contemporary worship-song repertoire, as well as traditional styles. We are fortunate to be able to offer styles of worship in music to suit all tastes and traditions.

We hope you will find these pages 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.

Sunday Masses with music:

10.00: Sung Family mass led by the Steinway piano, children’s choir, instrumentalists and cantor Rachel Marshall.

12.00: Mass with full choir: settings of the ordinary of the mass and motets; plainsong propers at Latin Mass on the first Sunday of each month.

5.00: Mass led by the 5.00 music group (contemporary liturgical music).

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