A CHURCH organist who provided the musical backdrop for countless occasions in a North-East town has retired.

Joan Johnson bowed out after three decades at the helm of the choir and church music at St Mary’s Parish Church, in Barnard Castle.

She taught the piano at Barnard Castle School from 1981 to 2006 and it was the then school chaplain, Rev John Moore, that suggested she join St Mary’s.

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Under her leadership the choir has gained more young members, worked with famous names like singer Aled Jones and hymn writer Graham Kendrick and performed at venues from Trinity College in Cambridge to tiny churches across Teesdale.

She guided many choristers through music and singing exams and designed St Mary’s new organ in 2008 and oversaw the renovation of the church organ at Whorlton.

After Sunday worship this morning (Sunday, December 9) the congregation thanked Mrs Johnson for her service with a presentation.

She said: “The relationship, both musical and spiritual, with the choir and congregation has been very special.

“It has been really special to be part of so many occasions, happy and sad. “I’ve enjoyed it and the choir have always risen to the occasion when asked.”

Parish priest, the Reverend Canon Alec Harding, said: “Joan has played an invaluable role in the life of the parish over many years.

“She has played the organ, led the choir and developed our church music faithfully week by week for over three decades.

“There will be innumerable brides who have been walked into church to her accompaniment and many from the parish who have gathered to mourn their loved ones, and been helped to do so, through Joan’s sensitive choice of music and playing.”