Last week, the refurbished organ in the Great Hall of the People’s Palace at Queen Mary was officially inaugurated.
Along with the Purcell, Bach, Handel, Wesley, Ketelby, Coates, and so on, was a piece by my colleague and co-author Donald Preece. The piece was entitled “Nostalgic Interlude”, and was described by the organist, Alan Wilson, as “[featuring] beautiful undulating string sounds alongside solo flutes”.
I was delighted that this piece was included, along with Alan’s statement that “Donald has been a great inspiration to me”. From my vantage point (admittedly a long way from where these things are decided), it seems likely that the event might not have happened without Donald’s enthusiasm.
I first met Donald in 1973; we sat together on the coach for the conference excursion at the British Combinatorial Conference in Aberystwyth, and as a result of our conversation, wrote a paper together. Donald was a statistician, and had been at the legendary Rothamsted Experimental Station; as well as his remarkable qualities as a statistician, he was prepared to do a huge amount of work constructing various combinatorial designs (including the ones in our paper) by hand. In fact, it was nearly a quarter of a century later than I really understood our conversation on the coach properly, and was able to write a sequel, in which I constructed an infinite family of designs of the type we had considered.
I was delighted when we managed to get Donald a berth in the School of Mathematical Sciences at Queen Mary. Since then, he and I have not published much, but have a big file of unpublished material, especially our notes on primitive lambda-roots. (These notes have led to other published research; for example, a paper in Acta Arithmetica by Thomas Müller and Jan-Christoph Schlage-Puchta settles one of our open problems.)
Donald has many other interests. I was amazed when he took up rock-climbing and abseiling down tall buildings shortly after joining us. (Alas, his health no longer permits this.) Primarily of interest here, he is an organist, an Associate of the Royal College of Organists. Attendees at many British Combinatorial Conferences have heard him performing (usually on the piano) at the conference concerts.
Donald has taken time off from mathematics to do a detailed investigation and survey of all the working pipe organs in the East End of London. The College has just published his book, The Pipe-Organs of London’s East End and its People’s Palaces. He has been astonished by the number, variety, and quality of the instruments he has discovered. If you are interested, I am sure that the College will sell you a copy of the book very cheaply, but I can’t find a web link, so you might have to turn up in person!
Anyway, Donald has been deeply involved in the restoration of the organ in the Great Hall, and introduced the concert with some words about the organ and its place in the musical life of the College and the East End.