Healey Willan (b. Balham, London, England, October 12, 1880; d. Toronto, Ontario, February 16, 1968), theory teacher, composer and organist, was born into an Anglo-Catholic family in England and served several churches in the London area, becoming known especially for his adaptations of Gregorian chant to be able to be sung in English translation. In 1913 he moved to Canada where he led the theory department and was organist at the Toronto Conservatory of Music. He also was organist at St. Paul’s, Canada’s largest Anglican church, and after 1921 at the smaller Church of St. Mary Magdalene. By invitation, he composed an anthem for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a singular honor for one not residing in England.
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The music for this short prayer is just one segment from the Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena, an Anglican service composed by Healey Willan (b. Balham, Surrey, England, 1880; d. Toronto, ON, Canada, 1968) in 1928 and named in honor of Saint Mary Magdalene Church in Toronto, where Willan served as organist and choirmaster for forty-seven years. The Psalter Hymnal Revision Committee assigned the title WILLAN KYRIE to this piece in honor of its composer. Willan composed his Missa in D major for unison voices with simple organ accompaniment. Sing in unison with a clear but light organ tone.
Willan spent his early years in England as a student from 1888 to 1895 at St. Saviour Choir School in Eastbourne and later as organist and choirmaster for several churches in and near London. In 1913 he became head of the music theory department for the conservatory of the University of Toronto. Thus began a long and distinguished career with that university, where he was influential as a teacher of composition and university organist and choral conductor. Willan retired in 1950. An outstanding composer, he wrote for orchestra, piano, organ, and voice. He was the musical director for the Hart House Theater and wrote incidental music for fifteen plays.
Willan's contribution to church music was equally impressive. He served as organist-choirmaster at St. Paul Anglican Church (1913-1921) and at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene (1921-1968), both in Toronto. He promoted the use of plainsong through¬out his career. In addition to his organ preludes Willan wrote liturgical music, motets, anthems, and some thirty hymn tunes. A number of those tunes, as well as settings of biblical canticles and harmonizations of plainsong melodies, were first published in The Hymnary of the United Church of Canada (1930) and The Book of Common Praise (1938) of the Anglican Church in Canada. Willan was also music editor of The Hymnbook for Children (1962).