Alan William Rees, OSB
February 1, 1941 – October 2, 2005
Alan William Rees was born in Morriston, near Swansea, on 1st February 1941, the only son of John and Hilda Rees. His love of religion and music began at an early age when he was taken to Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Chapel by his father and St David’s Church in Wales by his mother and, while still young, learned to play the organ. He was educated at Dynefor Grammar School, Swansea, and University College Cardiff, where he gained an honors degree in Music and a Diploma in Education. He became an ARCM in 1961 and an ARCO in 1964.
In his teens he became an Anglo-catholic and in his first year at university he was received into the Catholic Church by the saintly chaplain, Dom Leo Cesar. He also began thinking of a religious vocation and visited several monasteries. The Abbot and Council of Ampleforth accepted him for the novitiate. A nervous breakdown caused those plans to be shelved and he went into teaching. From 1963 to 1968 he was Organist and Choirmaster at St David’s Cathedral, Cardiff. At this time he also began composing music for the Liturgy in English. He was chosen to compose the Mass that was sung for the Papal Visit to Cardiff in 1982.
In September 1968 he joined the novitiate at Belmont Abbey and made his Simple Profession in September 1969. He was solemnly professed on 29th September 1972. From 1970 to 1972 and again from 1974 to 1982 he was House Master of Cantilupe. He studied at Sant’ Anselmo, Rome, from 1972 to 1974 and was ordained a priest by Bishop Mullins on 29th September 1974. For six years he was also Assistant Novice Master and from 1982 to 1986 Novice Master. From 1970 until his death he was Choirmaster and Organist. He served on the Abbot’s Council from 1975 to 1986 and was Delegate to General Chapter in 1977.
In 1986 he was elected Abbot in succession to Dom Jerome Hodkinson. He was universally loved as a gentle and loving father and taught the community by word and example. However, he disliked being in authority and eventually, suffering from depression, had to resign after seven years in office. During his abbacy the annual May Procession in honor of Our Lady was initiated.
In 1993 he was appointed Titular Abbot of Tewkesbury and continued his ever expanding work as a retreat giver and confessor. He also continued to write prayers for publication and compose music for the Liturgy. His music for the Mass and the Divine Office is now sung throughout the world. He was a member of the Panel of Monastic Musicians from 1972 and Chair of the Society of St Gregory from 1981 to 1985. He had worked with ICEL (The International Committee for English in the Liturgy) since 1985 and was currently involved in setting the new English translation of the Missal to music. In recent years he was also Vicar for Religious in the Archdiocese of Cardiff.
Unfortunately, periods of deep depression recurred in 2000 and again from May 2005. This final bout of depression, despite hospitalization and on-going therapy, was to prove fatal and he died on 2nd October, having been rushed by helicopter to Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham. During his final illness he was anointed on several occasions, though he was convinced that he had lost the gift of faith, so dear to him throughout life, and that he had been abandoned by God.
The vast number of tributes received by the Abbot and Community is proof of the great love and esteem in which he was held by so many people. He will be sadly missed by his Community and family and by his countless friends throughout the world. May he rest in peace.
The above tribute prepared by Belmont Abbey.
The following tribute published in The Telegraph:
Abbot Alan Rees, who has died aged 64, made a major contribution to the music of the Roman Catholic Church when the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s led to Latin being replaced by vernacular languages in public worship.
Although he was brought up in Welsh Nonconformism with a love of its hymnody, his compositions were firmly rooted in the Gregorian chant which Rees loved and sang every day as a monk of Belmont Abbey in Herefordshire.
He insisted that the new music of the Church should be: "easy to sing, generally tuneful, easy to learn - music that will cause as little preoccupation with the notes as possible and the greatest attention to the texts and resulting prayer." Writing in Gregorian medieval modes rather than modern scales, he claimed that his Nonconformist background might have helped him to write in the first seven modes, but he had difficulty in capturing the grandeur of the eighth.
Rees was a founder-member in 1971 of the Panel of Monastic Musicians, which encourages those communities, both male and female, which sing the choral offices. Its 1996 publication Hymns for Prayer and Praise, which he co-edited, is now used in monastic communities throughout the world. When the panel found itself short of a tune for a particular hymn text, Rees would often be sent out to write one; 10 minutes later he would return with a finely crafted composition.
Besides his Congress Mass, written for the National Pastoral Congress in Liverpool in 1980, and the Cardiff Mass, composed for Pope John Paul II's visit to Britain in 1982, he was prepared to write many simpler settings for anyone who asked him. His Belmont Psalm Tones and Responses and his choral and organ music are performed widely in both Anglican and Catholic churches.
Although a superb organist and improviser, he much preferred setting words: Music for Evening Prayer was an attempt to re-establish the ancient office of Vespers in parish churches.
Alan William Rees was born at Morriston, near Swansea, on February 1, 1941. His love of religion and music began when he was taken to the Tabernacle Welsh Baptist Chapel by his father and to St David's Church in Wales by his mother; and he started to learn the organ at a young age.
Young Alan became an Anglo-Catholic while at Dynefor Grammar School, Swansea, and a Catholic in his first year at University College Cardiff, where he gained an honors degree in Music and a diploma in Education; he later became an Associate of both the Royal College of Music and the Royal College of Organists.
Rees visited several monasteries before being accepted for the novitiate at Ampleforth; but a nervous breakdown led him to shelve this plan and go into teaching. From 1963 to 1968 he was organist and choirmaster at St David's Cathedral, Cardiff, when he began composing music for the Liturgy in English.
In 1968 Rees joined the novitiate at Belmont Abbey, where he was solemnly professed three years later. From 1970 to 1972 and from 1974 to 1982 he was housemaster of Cantilupe House. Rees also studied at the Benedictine house of Sant' Anselmo in Rome for two years before being ordained priest. He was then assistant novice master for six years and novice master for four years; from 1970 he was choirmaster and organist.
In 1986 Rees was elected the ninth Abbot of Belmont, which was founded in 1859 and raised to be an abbey in 1920. During his abbacy he initiated the annual May procession in honor of Our Lady. But while universally loved for his gentleness, he disliked being in authority and, suffering from depression, resigned his post after seven years.
Rees was appointed Abbot of Tewkesbury, a titular appointment which stretches back to the pre-Reformation Church, and he found ever expanding work as a retreat-giver and confessor, as well as in being vicar for religious in the archdiocese of Cardiff.
He worked with the International Committee for English in the Liturgy from 1985 and was recently involved in setting the new English translation of the Missal to music. Although a prolific retreat-giver, particularly sought after by religious orders, he was the sole author of only one small book, Prayers from the Cloisters, based on the age old monastic practice of Lectio Divina (Holy Reading), the meditative approach to Scripture.
Several of his own prayers, which appeared in To Speak in His Presence (1995), give an insight into the inner turmoil which led to serious breakdowns before his sudden death on October 2, convinced that he had lost the gift of the faith, which had been so dear to him, and that he had been abandoned by God.