Rita’s 60 years of making music for Morebattle

Rita Purves who has been Morebattle Church organist for over 60yrs.
Rita Purves who has been Morebattle Church organist for over 60yrs.

LAST year may have seen the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but in Morebattle there’s another diamond celebration going on.

For the village’s Rita Purves marked 60 years as the church organist.

Mrs Purves was just 13 when she started playing for Morebattle congregation on October 9, 1949.

She said: “It just became part of my life. I just do it every Sunday and enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed music of all kinds.

“I’ll carry on until I start to make lots of mistakes.”

The musician took three years off when she trained as a teacher at Moray House in Edinburgh, but otherwise she has played for the Sunday services, weddings and funerals of the village for the last six decades.

It’s somewhat of a family tradition, as her aunt, Miss Jean Young, was the organist for many years, followed by her children – Mrs Purves’ cousins – before she took over.

The retired primary school teacher was about eight when her aunt started teaching her piano.

She went on to play the accordion, specialising in Scottish dance music, and of course the organ.

Asked about the skills needed for the church instrument, Mrs Purves said: “You just need to be able to read music.

“If you can play the piano you could play the organ. I don’t play the foot pedals [which give base notes] because my legs are too short – I’m only five foot.”

Recalling her first service, Mrs Purves said: “You are not so nervous when you are young.

“Maybe I was nervous the first Sunday, but not too bad. I remember my father being there and when we came home he said ‘you missed out a verse of the hymn Courage, Brother, Do Not Stumble.’

“I don’t think I’ve ever done it since!”

She went on: “I remember one wedding I had been given the message the bride was just coming. In fact, her car was very late and she hadn’t even been on her way: I played for about an hour!

“In situations like that you just have to repeat things, but I also used to take a whole pile of voluntary books ... you have to be prepared for anything.”

Asked where her love of music came from, she said: “It’s maybe come through the family. My grandfather on my mother’s side, Bill Queenan, played the violin and my dad’s sister, my aunt, was very keen on music and my cousins played – I think it’s come down from both sides of my family.”

She says she has the support of a good choir at Morebattle. She also sometimes plays at Hownam and, occasionally, Yetholm.

Mrs Purves taught at Hawick and at Kelso for three years before returning to her native Morebattle when she and husband, Tom, who came from Morebattle Mains, had their children Fiona, Susan, David and Neil, and Mrs Purves worked part-time as learning support at Morebattle and Yetholm.

She told us: “I very much enjoyed being a teacher, I always liked working with children. When I was at school myself, I never wanted to do anything else than be a teacher.”

Alongside her love of music and attending concerts, Mrs Purves also likes to bake and sew, attending the village’s weekly sewing bee.