Chipp, Edmund Thomas (1823–86), organist, composer, and conductor, was born 25 December 1823 in London, son of Thomas Paul Chipp (1793–1870), a distinguished performer on harp and timpani. Nothing is known of his mother.
He entered Belfast musical life at a significant juncture. By the middle of the nineteenth century the big towns of the industrial revolution were celebrating their affluence and importance in the erection of large, secular, ornate, multi-purpose halls. Belfast saw itself as a player in that league, and a company was formed to put up a hall to challenge comparison with those in such places as Birmingham, Liverpool, and Bradford. The imposing centrepiece of the Ulster Hall was to be the organ, donated by the industrialist John Mulholland (1819–95), later 1st Baron Dunleath. The company cast its net wide for an appropriately accomplished organist, and looked to London. William Thomas Best, who had made a reputation as an innovator with his arrangements of orchestral and operatic music for the big secular organ, would have been their man, but he had lately gone to a big new organ in Liverpool. He had, however, been succeeded at the Royal Panopticon in London by another outstanding musician: Edmund Thomas Chipp, educated as a chorister in the Chapel Royal, had considerable experience in London as organist of various churches and violinist in leading orchestras. He had composed a quantity of church and secular music and an oratorio, ‘Job’, and held a baccalaureate (1859) and doctorate (1860) in music from Cambridge (St John's college). The company approached Chipp, whose stock was high and who drove a hard bargain. The portfolio of jobs with which he came to Belfast in 1862 included, as well as organist of the Ulster Hall, the conductorships of the two main musical societies (the Classical Harmonists and the Anacreontic Society), and the post of organist and choirmaster of St George's parish church. To all of them Chipp brought great performing skill, metropolitan standards, and unlimited energy. He gave weekly solo recitals on the Ulster Hall organ, the repertoire including his own arrangements of concert and operatic music. Both musical societies (their previous conductors summarily dispensed with) gave their concerts to a new and exciting standard under his baton.
Chipp quickly reached the conclusion that the two societies should amalgamate, for reasons artistic and economic which he assumed were self-evident. The societies, quite different in origin and constitution, were not persuaded. Chipp precipitately resigned both conductorships and founded a Musical Union of his own. The choral element, the Vocal Union, came into being quickly, and gave oratorio and other performances while Chipp was recruiting an orchestra. But orchestral players did not materialise in any number (as a modicum of market research would have told him) and the public did not warm to oratorio with organ accompaniment only. There was no way back for Chipp: the two older societies had by no means left the scene, and now regained their audiences under newly appointed conductors. Also, the recitals on the Ulster Hall organ, admission to which was cheap because the company had intended them to attract the working classes, were not patronised by those classes. The company, far from making a profit on its new hall, was losing money, and the biggest element in the loss was Chipp's salary. Chipp was offered a new contract at half the salary, refused, and left Belfast in 1866. He was appointed organist of Kinnaird Hall, Dundee, in February 1866, and of St Paul's church, Edinburgh, in May, but within a year of leaving Belfast had accepted the post of organist and master of the choristers at Ely cathedral, where he spent the rest of his life, abandoning his secular organ career. He died on holiday in Nice 17 December 1886.
In his short period in Belfast he had made an impressive impact. In the long run, his abilities and ideas proved of lasting value. He had demonstrated for his successors the power and versatility of the big secular organ. Most importantly, within less than a decade, the Anacreontic Society had retired from concert promotion, and a new Belfast Musical Society had come into being which, with the Classical Harmonists and the rump of Chipp's Vocal Union, amalgamated in 1874 into the Belfast Philharmonic Society. The town now had, like others in Britain, Europe, and America, a single society with its own chorus and orchestra, and access to a big modern concert hall. It was to be a model which endured into the succeeding century, and it was Chipp's vision.