​Dr June Nixon’s last of 11,000 services as Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral must surely rank among the biggest of her record 40 years in the role and one for which, dare it be said, all stops were pulled out.

About 530 people attended Sunday morning Choral Eucharist at the Cathedral on 3 February – more than three times the usual number for the service – Dr Nixon’s last service as Organist and Director of the Cathedral choir. Among those in attendance were many former choir boys and men who had sung under her direction.

Her successor – the former Music Director at Christ Church South Yarra, Mr Philip Nicholls –  is to be commissioned at the 10.30am Choral Eucharist next Sunday, 10 February.

Dr Nixon’s farewell also marked the departure of her longest-serving choir member, her husband Mr Neville Finney.

The Revd Dr Norman Curry, who was an Associate Priest at St Paul’s for almost 40 years, paid tribute to the couple at a reception in the Chapter House after the service: “For many of us, this Cathedral will never be able to be separated from our memories of June Nixon and also of Neville.”

Dr Nixon’s 1985 Woods Service, which she composed in honour of Archbishop Frank Woods, was used for the Choral Eucharist for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. The Dean, the Revd Dr Andreas Loewe, preached and the service was led by the Acting Precentor, the Revd Dr Ruth Redpath.

In his sermon on Simeon’s prophecy about the infant Jesus, Dr Loewe said: “Those who, at the close of the day, routinely pray or, as here at St Paul’s Cathedral, hear sung the Nunc Dimittis – the words Simeon first proclaimed in the Temple when holding the infant Jesus in his arms – echo the prayers of generations through the ages. For most of us Simeon’s song is inextricably linked with the timeless cadences of the Prayer Book – and how fitting is it for us to reflect on the Scriptures that stand at the heart of Choral Evensong, as we give thanks for 40 years of music ministry of our outgoing Organist and Choir Director, Dr June Nixon.”

A former Dean, Bishop James Grant, recalled that when Dr Nixon took up the post in 1973, aged 31, there were “more than a few” people who questioned the relevance of Cathedral traditions such as Choral Evensong in late 20th century Melbourne.

“Not so June. There was never any doubt in her mind that this was to be advanced and affirmed.

“For 40 years, June has not only nurtured this tradition but refreshed it.”

Bishop Grant said Dr Nixon accommodated sometimes bizarre requests but added: “In my time as Dean, I can truly say nothing appeared to faze her.”

He said the Cathedral’s Lewis organ was almost unplayable by 1986 but that Dr Nixon had insisted that only the famed Durham organ-building firm of Harrison & Harrison could do the work. For two years, the firm restored the organ and Melbourne was now the proud possessor of the best surviving example of T.C. Lewis’ work, “and didn’t Lachlan really let it rip today”, Bishop Grant said.

The “Lachlan” is Lachlan Redd, Assistant Organist of the Cathedral, who told the reception of Dr Nixon as a teacher of music. She was a woman of few words, he recalled, but of telling, enduring messages. “Loud and fast will not impress me” and “You are still thinking like a pianist” were among her memorable lines.

“June is more than just a musician, she’s a wonderful teacher,” he said.

Dr Loewe said many of Dr Nixon’s friends in the world of church music had wanted to be present and read out tributes to her from leaders in the field such as Sir David Willcocks, formerly Director of Music at King’s College Cambridge, and his successor, Dr Stephen Cleobury; Mr John Scott, former Organist and Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral in London and now in the comparable role at St Thomas’ in New York City; the Director of the Royal School of Church Music, Mr Andrew Reid; Dr Roy Massey, former Organist and Master of Music at Hereford Cathedral; and Dr John Bertalot, Organist Emeritus at Blackburn Cathedral in England and Director of Music Emeritus at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton in the United States.

Two days after Dr Nixon’s farewell service, the Cathedral Chapter – by acclamation – awarded her the title Organist Emerita “for her immeasurable contribution to the worship of God in countless services and concerts, for her diligence in nurturing and educating the men and boys of the Choir, and for her leadership in sustaining choral and organ music in Melbourne and beyond”. The title will be awarded formally at the Cathedral’s Spring Concert in September.

St Paul’s plans to raise money for an Organ Scholarship to be named after Dr Nixon. Contributions should be sent to the Music Foundation via the Dean.

Dr Nixon has bought a digital pipe organ for her home and St Paul’s will contribute the recorded sound of every pipe of the organ of Salisbury Cathedral in addition to the four other classic organ sounds, most of them  Cathedrals in the United Kingdom, she already owns.

In her response at the Chapter House reception to the tributes paid to her, Dr Nixon quoted Psalm 16 (“The lot is fallen unto me in a fair ground: Yea, I have a goodly heritage”) and said: “What an enormous privilege itʼs been to be a curator of this goodly heritage.

“In 1973 I had a sound in my head which I wanted to reproduce, and to gradually tune to this building,” she said. “I aimed firstly for beauty of sound, as without beauty, for me there can be no music. I wanted to create a sound for St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne – a sound which would perfectly complement this magnificent organ, a sound which would seem to grow from the very stonework of this most beautiful Cathedral.

“I wanted our music to inspire the congregations of this Cathedral, with a repertoire which was not exclusively from any other culture, any other country, any other age or indeed for any other congregation. I wanted the people who came to St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne to experience a sound, and at least some music that they wouldn’t hear in any other Cathedral anywhere in the world.”

Dr Nixon noted that she had worked with five deans, seven precentors and six archbishops and remarked wryly: “We musicians really only want one thing from our clergy, and that is to be trusted to do our job, then to be left alone to get on with it. However, if being left alone to get on with it comes with encouragement, support and appreciation for what we do, we flourish, and so does the music.”