During that time he has played the organ, conducted the choir and had to rise to the challenge of combining both roles at key moments in the life of the Cathedral and Diocese of Hallam. Those moments have included the elevation of the church to Cathedral status in 1980, the Installations of three Bishops and the funeral of one – Gerald Moverley, in 1996.
They also include the Rededication of the Cathedral in 2012, following extensive renovation, services of thanksgiving for the Installation of two Catholic Lord Mayors – Frank Prince in 1986 and Roger Davison in 2005 – a Master Cutler – Tony Pedder in 2013 – and a Lord Lieutenant.
Hugh provided the musical direction when St Marie’s was the venue for the BBC’s ‘Songs of Praise’ programme and once delayed his own departure for a family holiday in France when the BBC asked to broadcast Midnight Mass from St Marie’s on Christmas Eve.
He also recruited and conducted the choir when St Marie’s staged a highly successful performance of Vaughan Williams’ musical nativity play, ‘The First Nowell’ as part of a Christmas pageant, organised by the late Sylvia Marsden. Within the Diocese, Hugh has contributed to the development of the Diocesan Choir and the BBC Radio Sheffield Choir’s Christmas Carol Services, produced by John Grady.
But the pinnacle of his contribution to religious music for Hugh has been the composition of his Festival Mass and collaboration with St Marie’s choir member Lynne Todd. The Festival Mass has had a long gestation. “I started composing the Mass in 1992, but, when the new texts for the Missal were introduced, I had to make changes, particularly to the Gloria, the Sanctus and the Memorial Acclamations,” says Hugh. “I had to create new tunes, melodies and texts.”
The Mass was submitted to the Bishops’ Conference in 2015 and, after some minor amendments, could now be approved for copywriting wider publication and distribution. However, as far as the Hallam Diocese is concerned, Hugh is making a gift of the Mass so that it can be used freely throughout the area. Hugh’s work with Lynne Todd has resulted in the creation of new arrangements for a number of the psalms.
Hugh Finnigan’s association with St Marie’s began in 1975 when parish priest, Mgr Stephen Sullivan – who was also chair of governors at St Paul’s – later to become All Saints’ – School, where Hugh was teaching – asked him to “put the feelers out” for an organist for St Marie’s. “As he left, Mgr Sullivan turned to me with that twinkle in his eye that he always had, and added: ‘I’ll give you a couple of days to think about it,'” commented Hugh.
The die was cast and that October, Hugh became St Marie’s organist. Now in his 73rd year, Hugh’s decision to retire after Easter Sunday has been prompted in part by the toll taken by his enthusiastic participation in amateur sport over the years. Meanwhile, a double hip replacement hasn’t made sitting on the hard organ stool of St Marie’s recently rebuilt, historic Lewis organ for an hour and a half any more comfortable.
Looking to the future, Hugh said, “My retirement will allow me to spend more time with my wife, Maureen, and my family.”
A Career Made for Music-Making
His father, also called Hugh, sang in the amateur operatic society based at the former St Vincent’s Church in Solly Street, while his mother, Kathleen, played the piano. If there was a performance and no baby-sitter, Hugh Junior would be deposited in the front row of the balcony to enjoy the show.
Meanwhile, Uncle Frank, Hugh’s father’s brother, played the organ at St Joseph’s, Howard Hill – now Sheffield Buddhist Centre.
In later years, that would mean four members of the same family – including Hugh – could lay claim to playing for Christmas midnight Mass at four different churches in Sheffield.
Hugh started piano lessons aged seven and also sang as a boy soprano. As a teenager, he would have liked to learn to play the organ, but the family only had enough for one set of lessons and, since he was already an accomplished pianist, Hugh continued to focus on that.
Even so, Uncle Frank was able to show him the basics of playing the organ at St Joseph’s and take him to St Vincent’s to explain the differences between the two instruments. “St Vincent’s parish priest let me lock myself in the church on a Sunday afternoon so that I could teach myself to play,” says Hugh.
While Hugh’s singing was mainly in the choirs of St Joseph’s Junior and De La Salle schools, he did make it to the stage of the Lyceum when the Carl Rosa Opera Company brought their production of Carmen to the city, playing one of the urchins that mimic the soldiers in the second act. “I got paid 6s 8d (33 pence in today’s money) for each performance,” Hugh recalls.
After De La Salle, he trained to be a teacher at the De La Salle Training College in Middleton, Manchester. “I was told I had to learn to play a second instrument at college and it couldn’t be another keyboard instrument. I chose the trombone, but they didn’t have one. After that, I chose the trumpet, but they didn’t have one of those, then the cello and they didn’t have one of those either!” says Hugh. “I was given the choice between the violin and the viola. I chose the viola, although I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I had to buy the viola and it costs £16 at a time when my grant for a term was only £40 – still I sold it for £30 when I finished my course.”
Hugh returned to Sheffield to teach at St Peter’s senior school and, within a year, was offered a post at De La Salle. Seven years on and with De La Salle due to merge with St Paul’s to form a new comprehensive, he applied to join the staff of the new Catholic School being built on Granville Road – later to become All Saints – where he became Head of Music and continued to work until he retired.
In the intervening years, Hugh built up the school’s orchestra, wind band, an award-winning choir that toured Germany, Poland, France and Belgium and its reputation for performing musicals.
Football and cricket continued to occupy Hugh’s spare time – so much so that his first date with his future wife, Maureen – a fellow singer with Sheffield Light Opera Company, conducted by Hugh’s uncle Frank – was at a cricket match.
“I spent most of the time batting and fielding. My mother ended up looking after Maureen and the only time we had together was a couple of turns around the boundary, but, fortunately Maureen loved cricket and could score a match too!” he recalls.
Despite his work as a teacher, his after school music activities, sports and commitment to St Marie’s, Hugh found time to be the pianist for the Tommy Tuft Trio – after being introduced to them by Uncle Frank who had his own dance trio.
He also spent 21 years as pianist and then musical director of the Splinters Theatre Group, the junior section of Woodseats Operatic Society – now the Woodseats Musical Theatre Company, where he also fulfilled both roles for several years.
But, out of all his achievements, among the dearest to Hugh’s heart will be having contributed towards the success of All Saints’ pupils who have gone on to make their mark in the world of music.
Clergy pay tribute to Hugh Finnigan’s dedication to St Marie’s
Bishop Ralph said, “Hugh has been a tireless servant over the last forty four years. He has contributed richly to the liturgical life of the Cathedral and Diocese, both as Cathedral organist and conductor of the choir. He will be missed! However, it is good to know that he will not be becoming a stranger to the Cathedral.”
Fr Chris added, “I arrived in Sheffield as a student from Poland in 1979. When the university terms came to an end and the chaplaincy closed I would stay on in Sheffield and attend the 11am Mass – as it was then – at St Marie’s. I remember seeing Hugh playing the organ and directing the choir. Little did I think back then that I would one day become the Cathedral Dean and work with him.
“Hugh has been a visible and valuable part of the parish of St Marie and he has contributed his skills to the working of the parish and to its liturgy. Since the Diocese of Hallam was formed in 1980, and St Marie’s became a Cathedral, Hugh has used his musical gifts in its numerous liturgical celebrations.
“I am immensely grateful to Hugh for all the time and effort he has put into his ministry over the last 44 years. An invaluable contribution to St Marie’s parish and the Diocese of Hallam.”