Paul Griffiths playing the E M Skinner 1920’s organ (from Regent Classic Organs) at the Pope Francis mass in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Did you know that Paul Griffiths, CEO of Dubai Airports, is also an accomplished organist?

Having managed to combine a high-profile career with an impressive schedule of concert and recital engagements, he has made many public appearances as a recitalist, continuo player and soloist. He has played in places such as Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral back home in the UK, but nothing compares to his experience at the Papal Mass in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Speaking to Gulf News as he was driving back from the Shaikh Zayed Sports City Stadium where the mass was celebrated, Griffiths said: “It was an amazing occasion — the first visit of a pope to the Arabian Peninsula, the messages he conveyed and the emotions of those that had gathered. Tomorrow, when I get back to work, it will be just another day. I would be a million miles away from today’s event, but I will never forget.”

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Specially invited to play the organ in front of a live audience of more than 135,000 people, with millions more watching on television, Griffiths was clearly moved by the experience. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Just incredible,” he said.

Griffiths started learning to play the organ at the age of 10 and studied both music and computer science.

Having aspired to train as a Cathedral organist, he was highly placed in several national competitions and worked his way through a series of professional qualifications to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. In recognition of his services to British prosperity in the UAE and to music, Griffiths was conferred the title of ‘Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George’ (CMG) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2015.

Griffiths, who was accompanied by eight brass players and a 120-member choir at the Papal Mass, said: “The music before the mass was the Sonata Pian’ e Forte by Giovanni Gabrieli (played on the organ and brass) and then a Bach chorale prelude. After the service, I played the Toccata from Symphony No 5 by Charles-Marie Widor and then the organ and brass played the March of the Priests by Felix Mendelssohn.”

Gulf News staff member Fermel Fuentes (left) was part of the mass choir for the UAE Papal Mass. Image Credit: Gulf News

His composer wife Joanna Marsh, who was involved with five different musical pieces, said she had arranged them to suit the occasion.

“My job as a composer was to write arrangements for the hymns to add fanfare and harmony that would increase their intensity and grandeur. An occasion like this often needs a composer or arranger to take the music up a notch — to add drama and emotion to reflect the elevated character of the occasion.”

Gulf News staff member Fermel Fuentes from the Philippines was also part of the choir for the Papal Mass.