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Obituary: Martin Schellenberg – Christchurch Priory’s ‘inspirational’ choir master

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A MUSIC trust has been set up in memory of a popular former organist and master of the choir at Christchurch Priory after his sudden death at the age of 62.

The Martin Schellenberg Music Trust will honour Martin’s life and legacy through grants to support talented youngsters' musical education.

"It will be a fitting legacy," said his wife, Alex. "Martin’s pupils were nurtured by his wisdom, caring personality and musical inspiration, which has been overwhelmingly confirmed by the hundreds of cards, letters and messages I have received."

The Martin Schellenberg Music Trust will honour Martin’s life and legacy
The Martin Schellenberg Music Trust will honour Martin’s life and legacy

Martin instigated many successful events during his time at the priory from 1986 to 1995, ranging from Thursday lunchtime concerts to working with the BBC on national broadcasts.

He died while playing the organ at choir practice at St Mary’s Church, Beaminster. His life and work was honoured at a funeral service attended by over 200 people.

At the priory Martin played an organ concert with Carlo Curley, the famous American concert organist, and was behind the Three Organs Concert with Nigel Ogden from BBC Radio 2 and internationally renowned organist and composer Malcolm Archer.

Martin also forged links with several Christchurch schools, founded and directed the Christchurch Chamber Consort Choir and Orchestra, and at one time was director of the Bournemouth Rilstone Singers. He also ran courses for the Royal School of Church Music which took him all across the UK.

In April 1994, he directed the music for BBC Songs of Praise from the priory and was instrumental in setting up the restoration of the historic Nicholson pipe organ to celebrate the church’s 900th anniversary.

Music featured heavily in Martin’s life since he was born in Surrey to the sound of choral evensong.

As a toddler his mother would take him to Birmingham town hall for the Wednesday lunchtime organ recitals. He learned the piano at the age of four and the organ at seven.

By the time he was 13 he was training the choir at his local parish church of St Nicholas in Birmingham as well as being assistant organist. He learned to play the cello at Lordsword Grammer School, and went on to play with the Birmingham school orchestra.

He progressed to lead the cello section with the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and studied music at the Birmingham Conservatoire and the organ in Paris with the celebrated blind organist and composer, Jean Langlais.

Martin was assistant organist at Bristol cathedral 1980-86 before becoming organist and master of the choir at Christchurch Priory.

After his decade of success at Christchurch he led a busy life as a freelance accompanist, adjudicator, conductor, soloist and teacher, in the UK and abroad, and was an organ tutor at Oxford University.

He also was director of music for 16 years at Abberley Hall Prep School in Worcestershire and directed the Shrewsbury Choral Society.

Martin, Alex and their boxer dog Harry retired to Somerset where he soon became director of music and organist at St Mary’s Church, Beaminster, and accompanist to the South Somerset choral society.

Latterly he was also director of the Cantamus Choir in Bridport and during the pandemic recorded music for online services. Because of his love of cars, driving and adventures he also occasionally deliverevehicleses across the UK for a local car delivery company.

He leaves Alex, daughter Naomi, stepchildren Russell and Katie, eight grandchildren, as well as his brother and sisters, and parents.

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