Greenwich church taps musician with royal ties as ‘artist in residence’
James O’Donnell led music at funeral for Queen Elizabeth II
GREENWICH —There used to be a rhythm to James O’Donnell’s days.
For more than 20 years, O’Donnell, 61, was organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey, the venerated London church that has hosted coronations and other important events in English history.
In September, O’Donnell led the music at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. He did the same at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011, the service of thanksgiving for the life of Prince Philip in 2021 and other royal celebrations.
Despite the high profile of his position, O’Donnell said there was a certain routine to his days at Westminster, a steady rhythm of “daily services and daily rehearsals.”
That routine changed dramatically this month, when O’Donnell moved to Connecticut and started a new role as professor in the practice of organ at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He’s also an artist-in-residence at Christ Church Greenwich, where he’ll be playing in several performances throughout the year.
“It was a major shift,” O’Donnell said of moving to the U.S. for this next turn in his career. “This was an opportunity for me to do something different with my skills. Of course, I don’t have the same sort of pattern in my new life. I’m getting used to having a different sort of rhythm.”
O’Donnell was quick to point out that he is no stranger to the United States. As recently as October, he performed at Christ Church at its inaugural concert for its new Harrison and Harrison organ.
That performance is part of why O’Donnell was approached to be an artist-in-residence at Christ Church, said George Belshaw, director of advancement and engagement at the church.
“He’s well known within (the world of) church music,” Belshaw said. “His knowledge base, his skill and his talent are really remarkable to bring to Christ Church.”
In addition to performing at the church, O’Donnell will also headline other events, including
a free talk scheduled for the weekend at Christ Church titled “House of God and House of Kings.”
O’Donnell said he’s excited both for his role at the church and for his new position teaching at Yale. He said he doesn’t consider this a new career, but rather a continuation of what he was doing in England.
“I feel very comfortable in a seat of learning — of making music and teaching it,” he said.
Though O’Donnell said he loved his work at Westminster Abbey and “would have very happily stayed there more years,” he sees his time in Connecticut as a fresh opportunity.
“What I envisage happening (is) that there will be much more opportunity here to think and consider and pursue my music making here,” he said. “I will
not be running the music department of Westminster Abbey, and this will be a very different pace.”
O’Donnell will speak at 11:15 a.m. Jan. 29 in the Parish Hall of Christ Church, 254 E. Putnam Ave.