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Promoting the Musical Legacy of Healey Willan


Mary Willan Mason, the daughter of the late Healey Willan, has managed the Musical Estate of Healey Willan, fostering his music, managing royalties, permissions and copyrights, etc. since his death in 1968. With great zeal and fervor, she has tirelessly promoted his music in publications, recordings and in performances.

In June, 2011, Mary Willan Mason assigned the responsibility of continuing the musical legacy of Healey Willan to the Rev. Scott Haynes in Chicago, Illinois, USA, by legally entrusting his musical estate to Fr. Haynes' care.

Fr. Haynes has formed the Healey Willan Society in consultation with Mrs. Mary Willan Mason, for the purpose of fostering the musical heritage of Healey Willan.


While Maestro Willan’s music is known and loved by church choirs, organists and instrumental ensembles, much of his music in no longer in print or has never been published. After Johann Sebastian Bach, Healey Willan is the most prolific composer of church music. It is the goal of the Healey Willan Society to bring back into print as many musical works of Healey Willan as possible.  The Healey Willan Society will foster an increase in the public performance of his musical works in churches, concert halls, etc., will produce audio recordings, and promote Maestro Willan through film, radio, the Internet and television, etc.


Mary Willan Mason, Daughter of Healey Willan

My father wrote music consistently and constantly. In my earliest memories, that is what he did and I took it for granted. Over many years I began to realize he was someone quite special in musical terms. In the last few years of his life we became very close friends and so often he raised the question of what should be done and what would become of his life’s work, the over eight hundred pieces of music, some in manuscript, some little more than preliminary ideas. In my blithe ignorance, I promised to take care of everything.

It has been a learning experience that I cherish: the publishers now my friends, the publishers who have to be reminded of their contractual obligations, publishers who let works go out of print, out of circulation and neglect to let me know, perusing the Berne Convention and the Ilsley report. Now after more than forty years I was beginning to ask myself the same question. Who would look after his legacy of enduring works? After all, violinists have their Paganini Variations still in print, and organists have the Willan Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue, but how about the motets used around the world, O Lord Our Governour, the only Homage Anthem commissioned for a coronation not written by a British resident, the music for Tenebrae and so many other significant masterpieces, the Requiem begun a century ago, left unfinished, and with modulations unheard of until Benjamin Britten wrote similar works many years later, or his opera Deirdre, which seemed a bit dissonant when it was performed in 1946 but now sounds right?

So it was a delight and an answer to prayers when two very modern angels flew down out of the sky, Father Scott Haynes and Joseph Phelps, a musician angel and a lawyer angel, and there couldn’t be too many of those. They spoke of stewardship, of data based technology for making the work I had been doing with pen and a little computer into a great compendium of knowledge, order, permanence and accessibility, a tribute to the composer about whom I have read is a natural successor to William Byrd, 1543 – 1623.

Since a majority of his works were written for the service of the church, some people who never knew him, suppose he was a solemn, retiring individual. Such is not the case at all. He laughed uproariously and frequently chuckled. He loved a good story and told them well. He loved all creatures great and small. Particularly dogs. Once he admonished our fox terrier to leave the birds in the garden alone and she got his message although she quivered when sparrows came enough for his crumbs. He loved cryptic crossword puzzles and could make words rhyme in unusual ways. I must have asked him once to put some harp parts in something because he demurred saying that harp solos reminded him of angels picking their teeth. You never knew what to expect but it was usually hilarious. He once described some rather pedantic piece as like taking a reluctant puppy for a walk on a rubber leash. Even when conducting his choir in the most solemn music, there was an energy, a passion, a drive, that never allowed what he referred to as lugubriance. He despised the habit of dragging the tempo at the ending. There is always joy in his music, a statement of deep faith.

At a meeting of the American Choral Directors Association in Kansas City years after his death, a group of American directors and I chatting together were asked by Canadian Robert Cooper, if they could name three Canadian composers. Two were easy but then there was a silence. I asked if they had ever heard of Willan. They all said, “O course!” and then one added, “You don’t think of Willan as a Canadian any more than you think of Bach as a German.” I hope my father was listening in. He would have loved it.

So there it is, as he would say, Healey Willan’s legacy entrusted to Fr. Scott Haynes for all time. I hope and think my father’s question is finally answered and that he is content, all that I could possibly ask.

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