The following words were read at David
Sanger’s funeral by Rev Margaret Goddard, a member of the Church of
England Parish of Cockermouth Area Team.
The purpose of the thoughts that we’ve put together about David
is not to read out his CV or to celebrate his professional life;
it’s to give thanks for his life as we know him in Embleton and as
his family remember him when they were staying at the chapel.
When you talk to people about David, and his qualities, there are
several adjectives that you keep hearing: they are that he was
gentle, kind, humble, modest, unassuming.
In spite of him becoming one of the world’s most accomplished
organists, David remained very modest. His fame didn’t seem to have
affected him. Although, when he saw a picture of himself printed on
a tea towel in Sweden, he said, ‘That’s it, I’m officially famous,
I’m on a tea towel’. And his friends did know how excited he was
when, in 2008, he was made President of the Royal College of
Prior to David moving permanently into the Old Wesleyan Chapel he
used to camp out in the Sunday School room of the Chapel. At that
time his late parents were already living nearby. When David finally
left Catford in 1989 many friends came to say goodbye to him; some
of the gifts he was given at that time can still be seen around the
It was in 1987 that David was able to acquire the Bevington Organ
which is installed in the Chapel. The church in Bexleyheath where it
was in use was to be closed and so the organ ended up in Embleton.
When it arrived in the furniture van, in pieces of course, there
were many locals on hand to help with the unloading. The restoration
and re-erection of the organ in the Chapel gave David great
On their visits to the Chapel, David’s nieces Hannah and
Stephanie remember sleeping in the attic above the chapel listening
to organ practice late at night and early in the morning. Stephanie
particularly loved the quirky nature of David’s chapel, with its
attics and shower rooms in odd places.
David was willing to break the rule of a lifetime never to play
an electronic organ, when he played for Hannah and Paul’s wedding in
1998. And some of us here know that he broke his rule again in 2006,
when he played for the wedding of Ellen Boardman, a friend and
neighbour. That was in St. Cuthbert’s Church in Embleton; the organ
must have wondered what was happening to it.
Everything that David did had to be fitted in round his organ
music life. But he did still manage to pursue several hobbies. His
busy schedule might mean he would miss 3 or 4 weeks of the badminton
group, but that made him no less enthusiastic, and, in any case, he
liked to keep fit. David has been a part of that group more or less
since he came up here. The group sometimes had a meal together, some
of them hosted by David.
In the early days of him being in Embleton, David frequented the
old Blue Bell pub. At the end of the evening he would call in there
for a drink. That’s what he did on his first New Year he was at the
Chapel. On leaving the pub, at a respectable time for New Year, he
said, ‘You must all come and visit me in the Chapel some time’. So
fuelled with alcohol, some of his companions took him at his word.
And at 3 o’clock that same morning they knocked on the Chapel door.
David came down stairs, in his dressing gown, invited them all in,
made them coffee, and was the perfect host. He hadn’t, though,
expected his invitation be taken up so soon.
Since the closure of the Blue Bell David has socialised in the Wheatsheaf, sometimes eating there.
On one occasion David sent to some close friends a formal dinner
invitation for a special meal. He had the 3-course meal all very
carefully planned; when the guests arrived they saw notes dotted
around the kitchen giving times for when he should put the potatoes
on, and the parsnips on etc. But he had forgotten that you needed
hot oil to roast the parsnips. That all got sorted out though. At
the end of the evening he asked his guests to tell him honestly how
the meal had gone. They said it was really lovely, it was ‘spot on’.
‘Oh good’, he said, ‘my real guests are coming next week’. Again he
had been the perfect host.
David appreciated good food and wine – he particularly enjoyed
his meals at the Quince and Medlar in Cockermouth. David had a wide
spectrum of interests, and that, coupled with his sense of humour
and enjoyment of life, made him fun to be with and a thoroughly
Another of David’s interests was gardening. He deliberately kept
some of his garden as a conservation area. And in line with his
concern for the environment he had solar panels installed. When he
was first considering this he asked his immediate neighbours if they
would mind. Would it spoil their outlook in any way? David was
someone who didn’t want to cause anyone any inconvenience.
As well as recitals, David’s musical life involved teaching, the
writing of tutors, advising on the repair/building of organs, and
composition. On one occasion he accepted a commission to write a
piece of music for the installation of a bishop or archbishop.
Sitting on the top of Blencathra with his friends, eating their
packed lunches, and enjoying the scenery, David suddenly said,
‘That’s it, I’ve got the ending to it’.
David enjoyed walking. And it seems that it wasn’t separate from
his music. Hannah remembers following David on a walk up Lord’s Seat
on a snowy day in the early 1980s; as she walked in his footprints,
David sang Good King Wenceslas!
David was also willing to walk to help raise money. On one
occasion he began the 18-mile sponsored walk for the Volunteer Youth
Project. Another commitment meant he couldn’t do all of it, but he
determined to join in again for the end of it
David had an amazing life to keep on top of; there were tickets
and foreign currency, etc., as well as the music to plan. He was
very organised for that, having checklists; different ones depending
on where he was travelling to. In the next month or two that would
have been to France, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, U.S.A. and Jamaica,
not to mention eight cities in this country.
The technology of recent years must have been hugely beneficial
to him in the making of his arrangements. It also brought blessing
to him. David he has enjoyed video chats with Hannah’s 3-year-old
daughter Isabel, across the internet: she called him
Great-Uncle-David-on-the-computer! David had a real knack for
choosing presents for her.
David’s busy life didn’t stop him from being generous with his
time. He always had time for those who were interested in the organ,
and would play for them. He had a great willingness to share his
gifts and talent.
He has being doing that for at least the last 20 years through
the annual Christmas Carol Concert. This began with a group of carol
singers from St. Cuthbert’s Church knocking on his door. They were
invited in, in order to be accompanied by the organ. Then he
suggested that in future they might make an evening of it. And
that’s what has continued to happen. The evening has raised money
for the Church and for a charity of David’s choice. This last year
that was for those in Cockermouth whose homes had been flooded.
Singing carols to David’s accompaniment, and listening to him
performing Christmas music, has been a real delight for us who are
in the community.
We began this tribute to David by listing some of his qualities.
We’re going to bring it to a close in a similar way. ‘You never
heard David say a bad word about anyone.’ And, ‘there was no
occasion when you didn’t see him smiling’. David was someone whose
face lit up when you met him. And even though you didn’t know him
very well he made you feel that you were his friend. That’s a
special gift. As well as remembering him for his international
reputation on the organ, we will remember his for his personal