Profile of John Harper

John Harper
RSCM Research Professor of Music and Liturgy
+44 (0)1248 490304
School of Music


John Harper is RSCM Research Professor of Music and Liturgy, and Director of the new International Centre for Sacred Music Studies (ICSMuS) at Bangor. He is also Emeritus Director of The Royal School of Church Music and a Visiting Scholar at Sarum College, Salisbury.

He was previously Director General, The Royal School of Music (1998-2007); Professor of Music and Head of the Music Department at Bangor (1991-8); Lecturer in the Faculty of Music at Oxford University and Organist, Informator Choristarum, Tutor and Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford (1981-90); and Lecturer in Music at Birmingham University (1976-81).

His teaching has been wide ranging (from the 10th to the 20th centuries), and has included historical, applied and practical courses, including opera studies at both Birmingham and Bangor. His earlier research was in early 17th-century ensemble music. However, music in the liturgy has always been a central concern. This has manifested itself in choral direction, choral composition, liturgical innovation, and historical research. His guide to Western liturgy (1991) is used worldwide.

While Professor of Music at Bangor he founded the Centre for Advanced Welsh Music Studies and the bilingual musicological journal, Hanes Cerddoriaeth Cymru/Welsh Music History, and he has a strong commitment to Welsh culture.

Current post

Director, International Centre for Sacred Music Studies


Oversight of the Certificate in Sacred Music Studies
Course director, MA Sacred Music Studies pathway
Supervisor, research in Sacred Music Studies


Research activity

This falls under the following principal and subsidiary headings:

Sacred Music and Liturgy: Historical studies

  • Liturgy
  • British Church Music, principally c. 1480-1650
  • The revival of liturgical practices in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries

Sacred Music and Liturgy: Contemporary music and liturgy

  • Liturgical services and collections
  • Compositions (principally liturgical)
  • Writings

16th- and early 17th-century Ensemble Music

  • editions
  • writings

Sacred Music and Liturgy:  Historical studies

(a) Liturgy

The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century: A Historical Introduction and Guide for Students and Musicians, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1991; Polish edition, Krakow, 1998, Japanese edition (abridged), Tokyo, Kyo Bun Kwan, 2000

(b) British Church Music, principally c. 1480-1680

The principal recent ‘outcome’ of this area of research is the two reconstructions of early 16th-century English organs (built under the auspices of the Early English Organ Project in 2001 and 2002, of which John Harper was chairman and research director, and continues as consultant). Seven unpublished research papers related to this project (delivered at Aberdeen, Newcastle, Oxford (3), Princeton and Bangor) form part of a forthcoming study of organs, choirs and liturgy in Britain c. 1480-1680 (Sacred Pipes and Voices).

‘The vicars choral in choir’, Vicars Choral of the English Cathedrals: Cantate Domino - History, Architecture and Archaeology, ed. Richard Hall and David Stocker, Oxford, Oxbow Books, 2005, pp 17-22

‘Echoes from the stones’ [a liturgical reading of Leominster Priory], The Early Church in Herefordshire, 2001, ed. Ann Malpas et al, Leominster, Leominster Historical Study Group, 2001, pp 77-88

‘Liturgy and music, 1300-1600’, Hereford Cathedral: a History, ed. Gerald Aylmer and John Tiller, London, Hambledon Press, 2000, pp 375-398

‘Music and Ceremonial, c. 1500-1560’, King’s College Chapel, Aberdeen, 1500-2000, ed. Jane Geddes, Leeds, Northern Universities’ Press, 2000, pp 28-34

‘The British church organ and the liturgy: a historical review, 1480-1690’, The Organ Yearbook xxviii, ed. Peter Williams, Laaber, Laaber-Verlag, 2000, pp 91-98

‘Philip ap Rhys and his organ music revisited’, Welsh Music History/Hanes Cerddoriaeth Cymru, ii (1997)

‘The origin of the historic organ at Stanford-on-Avon: Connections with Magdalen College, Oxford and the surviving Dallam case at Tewkesbury Abbey’, The Organ Yearbook, xxiii, ed. Peter Williams, Laaber, Laaber-Verlag, 1992-3, pp 37-69

‘The New Organ in Magdalen College, Oxford: i - The Historical Background, 1481-1985; ii - The Planning of the New Instrument’, The Musical Times, cxxvii (1986)

‘The Dallam Organ in Magdalen College, Oxford: A New Account of the Milton Organ’, Journal of the British Institute of Organ Studies, ix (1985)

(c) The revival of liturgical practices in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries

‘Liturgical and musical roots, and the plainsong hymnody’, Strengthen for Service: One hundred years of the English Hymnal, 1906-2006, ed. Alan Luff, Norwich, SCM-Canterbury Press, 2005,  pp 159-188

‘Shaping past and future: agenda in interpreting the past in the 19th century - the case of the organ and the Sutton brothers’ [unpublished research paper, delivered 25 February 2004, Centre for Nineteenth-Century Music Studies, University of Durham]

‘Gothic Revivals: Issues of Influence, Ethos and Idiom in Late Nineteenth-Century English Monasteries’, Nineteenth-Century British Music Studies 2, ed. Jeremy Dibble and Bennett Zon, Aldershot, Ashgate, 2002, pp 15-31

Sacred Music and Liturgy: Contemporary music and liturgy

(a) Liturgical services and collections

Psallam, Salisbury, RSCM Press, 2007

The Spirit of the Lord, Westhumble, RSCM Press, 2004

The Light of Life, Westhumble, RSCM Press, 2002

Music for Common Worship I-VI, vol 1 Music for Sunday Services,  vol 2 Music for the President, vol 3 A Basic Guide, vol 4 Common Worship Psalter, vol 5 Common Worship Psalter with chants, vol 6 Night Prayer (Compline) [modern language], vol 7 Night Prayer (Compline) [traditional language, for PMMS],Westhumble, RSCM Press, 2000-2005

The Litany of the Thorns, Westhumble, RSCM, 1999

Come, Lord, Come, Westhumble, RSCM, 1998

Hymns for Prayer and Praise: a hymnal for use in the celebration of daily prayer in churches and communities thoughout the year, Norwich, The Canterbury Press, 1996

(b) Compositions (principally liturgical)

In addition to musical compositions in the collections listed in (a) immediately above, here is a selection of compositions. They fall into two groups – those intended for choirs, and those intended for use with all present at worship.

Music for choirs:

Regina coeli, SATB and organ, written the launch of the 80th anniversary of the RSCM at the national gathering of RSCM Cathedral Singers, London, St Paul’s Cathedral, 9 April 2006; A song of redemption: Salve Regina, SATB double choir with solos and organ, written to mark the arrival of the RSCM in Salisbury, Salisbury Cathedral Choir, 5 October 2006; Take me as a disciple, SATB and organ, commissioned for the installation of Christopher Chivers as Canon Chancellor, Blackburn Cathedral, first performed by Blackburn Cathedral Choirs, 17 April 2005; Songs for an Octagon, four childrens’ choirs, string quartet, piano and cymbal, commissioned for the opening of the Octagon, Edgbaston High School, first performed by the Edgbaston High School choirs, 25 February 2005; Gloria and Sanctus, four choirs and organ, first performed 9 August 2002, Durham Cathedral, RSCM Millennium Youth Choir, RSCM Northern Cathedral Singers, RSCM Southern Cathedral Singers, RSCM International Summer School; Jubilate Deo, SATB and organ, commissioned by Bangor Cathedral for the national Jubilee Service for H M Queen, 16 June 2002, Bangor Cathedral Choir; Preces and Responses (American Prayer Book), SATB, first performed Washington National Cathedral, 4 July 2001, RSCM Advanced Trebles Course, and now in repertory at Washington National Cathedral; The Washington Service (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis), SATB and organ, first performance 4 July 2001, Washington National Cathedral, Washington DC; Westhumble, RSCM Press, 2002; In the city of the Lord, SATB, soli and organ, first performance 5 May 2001, Colyton Parish Church, Devon; Westhumble, RSCM Press, 2002; Triptych of the Trinity, for organ, IAO Millennium Organ Book, IAO, 2000; and recording, Paul Hale, 2000 [IAO commission]; Psalm 8, for three choirs, Westminster Abbey and Radio 4, 1999 [at request of Archbishop of Canterbury]; Laudate, three choirs, orchestra, organ, 1997, celebration of the coming together of University of Wales, Bangor, and Coleg Normal, Bangor; Hear, O thou shepherd of Israel, choir and organ, 1993, commissioned by Bangor Cathedral for enthronement of the new Bishop, Bangor Cathedral Choir; Two Canticles: Easter Anthems, A song of Christ’s glory, choir and organ, 1992, commissioned by Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; Nunc dimittis, three unaccompanied choirs, 1991, University Choirs, Bangor Cathedral; Magnificat, SSA and harp, 1991, Bangor Cathedral; An Advent Sequence, 1990, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; BBC Radio 3 broadcast; Gaudeamus, soprano and baritone, chorus and small orchestra, 1989, Magdalen College Choir, City of London Sinfonia, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford; Custodes hominum, choir and organ with solos, 1989, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; BBC Radio 3 broadcast; Antiphons, Psalms and Responses for Candlemas, unaccompanied choir, 1988, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; BBC Radio 3 broadcast; Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas, double male-voice choir with solos and divisions, organ, 1988, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; Ubi caritas et amor, unaccompanied choir with solos, divisions and speaker, 1988, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; BBC broadcast; recording Alpha Records (1990); Salve Regina, double choir with divisions and solos, 1986, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; Bristol and Winchester Cathedrals; BBC broadcast; recording Alpha Records (1990); Come, Holy Ghost, SATB, 1986, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; BBC television broadcast; published Kirklees Cathedral Music (1997); Antiphons, choir and organ, 1984, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; Music at Oxford, Summer Series 1984, in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford; The Lord’s Prayer (after Byrd), unaccompanied choir, 1983, Magdalen College Choir, Oxford; published Oxford University Press (1990);
Festival Cantata: A Diary of Quantock Spring, soloists, chorus and small orchestra, 1981, Minehead Choral Society, Golden Jubilee commission; Psalm 150, choir and organ, 1973, St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham; published Oxford University Press (1974); Chinese edition (1994); Lamps of Fire (unaccompanied male voices, 1969, rev.1971), Edington Music Festival

Music for all present:

Eucharist Prayers D and F, Common Worship: President’s Edition, London, Church House Publishing, 2000; Cymun y Cymry / The Welsh Eucharist, [fully bilingual, and additionally with two settings of each main movement], first performed in published version, 15 September 2004, Church in Wales Governing Body, University of Wales, Lampeter SATB, organ, with other options, Westhumble, RSCM Press, 2004; A Mass for All Seasons, unison voices and organ, 1992, Bangor Cathedral; Westhumble, RSCM Press, 1999; Psalm chants and refrains, Psalms for the Eucharist, Mayhew-McCrimmon, Great Wakering, (1986); Music for the Eucharist: Rite A, choir, congregation, organ, 1974, rev. 1978, 1980, St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham; simplified version published, St Mary’s Press, Wantage (1982)

(c) Writings

Justice, love, and relationships in the work place’ [keynote address, Conference of the Association of Anglican Musicians, Atlanta, June 2003], abbreviated version, Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians, xii/6 (2003), pp 1, 4-8

‘Renewing the past in the present: the living art of church music’, Composing music for the Christian Church in the 21st Century, ed. Stephen Darlington and Alan Kreider, Norwich, SCM-Canterbury Press, 2003, pp 158-72, 178-9

‘Striking the Anvil’ [keynote address, RSCM International Summer School, Durham, August 2002], abbreviated version, Church Music Quarterly (December 2002), pp 9-10

‘Englische Kirchenmusik heute’, Musik und Kirche (2001)

16th- and early 17th-century Ensemble Music

(a) Editions

Orlando Gibbons: Consort Music (Musica Britannica 48), London, Stainer and Bell for The Royal Musical Association, 1982

The Instrumental Canzonas of Girolamo Frescobaldi: A Comparative Edition and Introductory Study, unpublished dissertation (four volumes), University of Birmingham, 1975

(b) Writings

‘Orlando Gibbons’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, OUP, 2004; The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, London, Macmillan, 2000

‘Music in Milton’s youth’, The Milton Quarterly (1997)

‘Ensemble and Lute Music’, The Blackwell History of Music in Britain, II: The Sixteenth Century, Oxford, Blackwell, 1995, pp. 263-322, 360-68

‘Frescobaldi’s Reworked Canzonas’, Frescobaldi Studies, Duke University Press, Durham, USA, 1987, pp. 269-83

‘The Distribution of the Consort Music of Orlando Gibbons in Seventeenth-Century Sources’, Chelys, xii (1983)

‘Orlando Gibbons: The Domestic Context of his Music and Christ Church Mus. MS 21’, The Musical Times, cxxiv (1983)

‘Frescobaldi’s early inganni and their background’, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, cv (1978-9)

Other musical activity

Up until 1993 John Harper was involved in choral direction, including the direction of daily choral services in Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford (1981-90), and the direction of music at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham (1972-8) and the Edington Music Festival (1971-80). The lists below include performances outside the liturgy.

(a) Choral direction

Bangor University Choir and Orchestra: Elgar, The Apostles, 1992; Lausanne Chamber Orchestra with Magdalen College Choir, Oxford: Handel Utrecht Te deum and Jubilate, Bach Easter Oratorio, Fribourg Festival/Radio Suisse, 1990; Baroque Orchestra with Magdalen College Choir: Keiser St Mark Passion, Handel Ode for Queen Anne's Birthday, Handel Utrecht Te deum and Jubilate, Bach Easter Oratorio, 1990; Handel Solomon, 1989; Bochmann Quartet and Magdalen College Choir: Britten, Saint Nicolas, 1989; Orchestra of I Pomeriggi Musicali (Milan) with Magdalen College Choir: Handel Solomon (chorus master) on tour in Lombardy, 1989; City of London Sinfonia with Magdalen College Choir: Fauré Requiem, 1989; Mozart Mass in F, Vivaldi Magnificat, Gloria; Mozart Vespers, Haydn Nelson Mass, 1987; Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra with Magdalen College Choir: Handel Samson 1988 (chorus master); Hanover Band with Magdalen College Choir: Haydn, Stabat Mater, 1988; London Festival Orchestra with Magdalen College Choir: Vivaldi, Beatus vir, Magnificat, 1988; London Baroque with Magdalen College Choir: Handel Messiah, 1988; Purcell Dido and Aeneas, 1987; English Concert with Magdalen College Choir: Handel Messiah (chorus master) 1986; European Community Baroque Orchestra with Magdalen College Choir: Handel Messiah, 1985; Birmingham University Choir and Orchestra: Handel, Saul, 1979; Bach, St Matthew Passion, 1978

(b) Opera and related direction (with University Opera Groups)

Three Medieval Music Dramas: Planctus Mariae, Visitatio Sepulchri, Peregrinus
(Bangor, 1993); Mozart, Le Nozze di Figaro (as Electric Figaro) (Bangor, 1992);
Cavalli, Ormindo (Bangor, 1991); Adam de la Halle, Robin and Marion and Peter Maxwell Davies, Yellow Cake Review (Birmingham, 1981); Purcell, King Arthur (Birmingham, 1980);
Motomasa, Sumidagawa and Yeats, A Full Moon in March (Birmingham, 1978)

(c)  Recordings

with Magdalen College Choir, Oxford: Carols from Oxford (compiled from The English Carol, 1984, and The Victorian Carol, 1990), re-issued, Regis, Kidderminster, 2004;
with Magdalen College Choir. Oxford: The English Anthem 1540-1987, 5 volumes (CD), Alpha Records, Eynsham, 1990; re-issued, 4 CD set, Regis, Kidderminster, 2000;
with Edington Festival Choir: A Celebration of the Christian Year, Discourses, Tunbridge Wells, 1980;
with St Chad's Cathedral Choir, Birmingham: Mass at St Chad's with Compline and Carols, Abbey Records, Eynsham, 1976

Current membership of public, academic and editorial bodies

Consultant member, Church of England Liturgical Commission (2001-)
Music Adviser, Panel of Monastic Musicians (1975-)

Chairman and Research Director, Early English Organ Project (1999-2005; continuing as consultant to the project, under the auspices of RCO)
Chairman, Plainsong and Medieval Music Society (1998-2006; continuing as Treasurer)
Director, Centre for Advanced Welsh Music Studies (1994-2003; continuing as founder director)

Chairman, editorial committee, Plainsong and Medieval Music (2001-)
Member, editorial committee, Early English Church Music (1998-)
Editor, Hanes Cerddoriaeth Cymru/Welsh Music History (1996-2003; continuing as founder editor)



Fellow, The Royal School of Church Music (2007)
Visiting Scholar, Sarum College, Salisbury (2005-)
Leverhulme Research Fellowship (1997-8)
Honorary Fellow, Guild of Church Musicians (1996)
Papal award: Benemerenti (1978)