John Dillistone International Organist
John, a familiar figure around the town, chose to live in Godmanchester
when he took up a teaching post as Head of Art at St.Peters Comprehensive
School in Huntingdon in 1967. Many people will recall that he was soon
writing music reviews for the Hunts Post that were illustrated by the
most delightful cartoons of the musicians. Drawing is one of his main
pursuits as he regards it as the basis of all art. But it was while he
was at St.Peters that the late Rev.Paul Bennett, the Head of Music
suggested that John, already an accomplished organist, took his professional
We liked Godmanchester because it has a strong sense of history, he went on. Then when I moved on to The Leys School in 1971 it was still convenient to live here.
Many people remember John as a driving force behind the campaign to save Plantagenet House in Earning Street. For six years its future was in doubt until architect Tony Sursham bought it with the insight to preserve its 17th Century character. He was able to restore it and bring it into a habitable state. John designed the plaque on the front commemorating the conclusion of the restoration in 1977, the year of the Queens Silver Jubilee and presented it to Tony. Together they had devised the inscription in old French, which Edmund Plantagenet would have spoken. It reads In God Trust To Friends Welcome.
John became organist at St..Marys in 1976.
When I came it was a vintage instrument that was very little changed from when it was built by Bryceson and Ellis in 1857, he says.
He oversaw the first complete restoration of the instrument carried out
by Norman Hall and Sons of Cambridge. John gave up his post at St.Marys
due to being away so much giving recitals as well as doing his full time
job but now helps out at Alconbury Church. He managed to run his two careers
in parallel enjoying the position as Head of Art for almost thirty years
but since retiring from the Leys his career as an international recitalist
has flourished. Responsible for the international recital series at All
Saints Huntingdon, he gives an annual recital there himself and practises
And St.Bavos Cathedral in Ghent was also a great honour. It has
five manuals (keyboards) the top two are 16th century and the other three
1937 when it was restored.
He tries to match the music with the venue. For a recital in Rochester
Cathedral in May he included two pieces by Percy Whitlock who was assistant
organist at Rochester.
He was an important twentieth century composer but sadly he died
in 1946 when he was only forty-three John says. I ended the
programme with music by Henry Smart, the Victorian composer. In October
I shall play it again at St.Pancras Parish Church where he was the organist.
Johns still keeping up his art career by teaching calligraphy,
which is one of his specialities, and interior design at Hills Road Sixth
Form College in Cambridge. Over the years his work has appeared on posters
and is now in demand for official charters and other documents. Hes
also illustrated a delightful childrens book The Knight and the
Candle Flame, by Jan Arriens, who lives near Cambridge, that relates the
tale of a knight returning from the Holy Land while trying to keep the
sacred flame alight.
Art and music are equally important to me, he says. We
live in a world that needs the arts more than ever and I have a great
urge to share them with others.
With his pictures enchanting the young generation and his first CD, the
Bay Area 1998, a recital tour of San Francisco, gripping the older ones,
hes certainly doing his best to reach all ages. But he doesnt
stop there. His future recitals include return invitations to Montpellier
Cathedral, in France and The Lüdwigskirche, Saarbrücken, in
Germany. Although hes truly an international organist he doesnt
rest on his laurels and can often be heard practising his notes in All
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