The Australian at Queen Elizabeth’s coronation

The son of an Anglican priest, Mackey was born in Collingwood and educated at Melbourne Grammar School before studying organ at the Royal Academy of Music in London.


He was appointed a member of the Abbey in 1941 and took up the post in 1946 upon his return from service in the RAF Volunteer Reserve. McKee was influential in rebuilding the musical tradition of Westminster Abbey after Ward.

That same year he composed the soundtrack for the wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, and composed his motet God, we wait for your mercy for the ceremony.

In a letter dated February 1953, Ralph Vaughan Williams, one of the most famous British composers of the 20th century, wrote to McKee in an attempt to include a Hymn— old people (“all inhabited people on earth”)- The congregation can join in.

“I don’t think the fanfare at the beginning and end upset the congregation, but if you still do, then I’ll cut them,” Vaughan Williams wrote.

Scene from Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1952.

Scene from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952.Credit: Associated Press

“I would like to play all the extra horns before the introduction and the final verse. Can you tell me the size and composition of your orchestra, and then when you agree (if you agree) I will start scoring it.”

Wilkinson, who was 12 at the time, remembered McKee as a “very striking character; tall, with a prominent jaw, who would wear pinstriped trousers and a black jacket even in relatively informal settings.”

He recalled that the organization of the coronation was a “massive project”.

“It went on for six months and went from 2,000 normal seats to about 8,000.”


Away from the noise of construction work, rehearsals began in earnest, culminating in major rehearsals days before the coronation, he said.

Wilkinson recalled the climax of Elizabeth’s coronation, when the entire congregation chanted “God bless the Queen, long live the Queen”.

“Indian princes wore gold and silk, brightly colored garments and turbans, while nobles wore crimson robes trimmed with white ermine,” he said.

McKee was praised for interspersing contemporary pieces with older pieces steeped in past coronation traditions. This proved to be the peak of his career.

The day before the event, he was knighted at the Queen’s coronation in recognition of his enormous musical contribution to the Commonwealth.

It also made him the star of the family. That September, he returned home to Melbourne for the first time in 15 years.A short item appeared sydney morning heraldAnnounces that the Melbourne-born organist who “chosen, directed and conducted the music for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation” has come to Australia to help raise £1 million for the restoration of the abbey by giving organ recitals at Anglican churches in all states capital.

Australian author and historian Geoffrey Dutton once recalled that although McKee was a “perfectionist”, “he also had a lot of fun with him”.

McKee composed the score for Princess Margaret’s wedding in 1960 and retired in 1963 after 22 years at Westminster Abbey. He retired to Kent and then to Ottawa, Canada, where he lived until his death in 1984.

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