Choir

May

Since the start of 2019, the world of music has lost three influential musicians; Michel Legrand, Jacques Loussier and Andre Previn. Their contributions to performance, composition and arrangement have been well publicised over the years with, of course Andre Previn's epic appearance on the Morecambe and Wise show. Rather less well-known recent deaths in the world of music include two teachers who did much to encourage my student years.

Clifford Bunford (1919 -2018) was for many years in charge of all the choral and vocal music in the music department of Cardiff University. I worked under his direction as accompanist to the university choral society and Baroque choir, and when my attempts to play the french horn without offending the ears of any listeners finally defeated me, I had singing lessons from him. He arrived in the department in my second year having taught for many years with great distinction at nearby Cathays High School. He was quite different from the other members of the university staff with genteel lives spent in academia in that he was a “hands-on” teacher.

Within a couple of terms our choirs were “on the map” with first performances of new works and Radio 3 broadcasts. Singing lessons were enjoyable, I was rather more interested in the repertoire for accompanying purposes, but I learned much from Cliff.  All his students will remember his advice to lift the cheeks when you sing, complete with the phrase “I may have a fat face, but I can see my cheeks vibrating out of the corner of my eye”! I was even persuaded to join the opera group and particularly remember being the bass in the quartet of shepherds in Menotti's lovely “Amahl and the Night Visitors”.

Only later did we students discover that his life had been a real “rags to riches” story. Born to an already large family in Aberfan, and educated at the same primary school later engulfed by the infamous coal tip in 1966, he passed a scholarship examination to attend Quaker's Yard Grammar School. However, he left after school certificate and went to work at the nearby pit. Despite those years of depression in the Welsh valleys, the standard of music-making was very high. Cliff had a lovely treble voice and quickly became the Aled Jones of his day winning cups and trophies at music festivals (eisteddfodau), something which continued when his voice broke to tenor pitch.

It was 1945 before he was able to afford to attend the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire (as Cardiff University was known until the mid 1970's) and he graduated BA. His teaching career lasted until the move to the music department in 1971. For over forty years he directed the Cardiff Bach Choir. Having such a fine tenor voice he was often asked why he didn't become a professional singer. He replied with impish modesty, “I was too short for a lead role. It would have taken a huge suspension of disbelief to accept me winning battles against burly baritones or winning the hand of equally burly sopranos.” Literally hundreds of music students owe much to this dedicated teacher.

Robert Joyce (1927 – 2018). The obituary in the Church Times begins “The death of Robert Joyce at the age of 90 has robbed the world of church music of one of its venerable statesman. A man of formidable intellect, imagination and insight, after taking up his appointment as Organist and Master of the Choristers at Llandaff Cathedral in 1958 he proved a vital influence on British musical life far beyond his provincial outpost”.

Born in Tynemouth, Harry (as he was known) won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in 1944 where his teachers included William Harris and Harold Darke. This was followed by the Organ Scholarship at Corpus Christi College Cambridge where his organ teacher was Boris Ord. He returned to the Royal College of Music to study conducting, and had his first church appointment at St Margaret-on Thames, Twickenham for just a year before he went to St Matthew's Northampton. This was one of the parish churches which was a springboard to a cathedral post – Alec Wyton to St John-the-Divine New York; Michael Nicholas to Norwich; John Bertalot to Blackburn etc and so it was that just a few years later Harry Joyce was appointed to Llandaff Cathedral in 1958.

Llandaff cathedral had been badly bombed during the second world war, and by the late 1950's it had been rebuilt in a very imaginative way utilising as much of the ancient building as possible. The time was ripe to rebuild the music at the cathedral with Wales' only choir school. The Queen was present at the rededication ceremony in 1960.

By the time I started lessons with Harry in 1969, Llandaff's music was of a very high standard. There were commissions and first performances, organ recitals by the great and the good (I turned the pages for the Belgian organist Flor Peeters who was not impressed when the twelve cathedral bells pealed during his rehearsal!) and the annual Llandaff Festival (along the lines of the Three Choirs' Festival). It was a treat for we students to attend mid-week evensongs when the full choir would sing the most superb music for just a handful of people. It was rather like having your own tailor-made worship occasion! It was worth hearing the choir on the 15th evening of the month when Psalm 78 with some 72 verses would rattle along with graphic depictions of frogs, thunderbolts, lice, cattle etc.

The Church Times obituary makes great play of his “precise and flawless” playing which was “calm and consistent”. I remember the time when a very well-known organist was to give a recital at the cathedral, and sadly fell ill on the actual recital day. Harry was seen in the university library looking for an obscure piece on the original programme, which a couple of hours later he played, along with the rest of the programme, superbly! He gave the first (broadcast) performance of Alun Hoddinott's Organ Concerto – which showed that Cardiff University's Professor of Music knew little about the organ starting the piece with both hands and both feet playing a chord with a crescendo (get louder) marking. This was achieved by his assistant pushing open the swell box with an umbrella underneath the organ stool!

Despite all his eminence (he was one of the few organists to hold the ADCM – Archbishop's Diploma in Church Music) and skill in choir-training, choral conducting and organ playing, he was a very approachable and encouraging teacher. He played the organ at our wedding, and wouldn't hear of taking a fee, and on a few occasions when I had a pupil taking a diploma we would go over to Cardiff for his advice.

The obituary skirts over the reason for his leaving the cathedral in 1973. Quite simply, the Dean and Chapter refused to do any maintenance on the organist's house (leaking roof and rising damp!) and so Harry and his wife moved out to the other side of the city. Getting to the daily boys' rehearsal at 8.30am was problematic as was the 5.30pm evensong. Cardiff traffic was very heavy even then! So he parted company with Llandaff and became a lecturer at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

I learned a lot from just watching him play, never mind the lessons I was fortunate to have, and owe him much to his kindness and encouragement. May he rest in peace.

Hopefully the dramatic woodworm infestation spotted in the organ on Ash Wednesday and pictured for posterity in the April magazine, is also resting in peace, thanks to the quick and efficient work of our excellent organ builder, Tony Cawston. Organ builders are a rare breed as they have to be multi-skilled, and good ones are very hard to find. Our organ is not the easiest to maintain and we are fortunate to have it looked after so efficiently.       Nigel Davies


Choir
Webpage icon Church Groups - Choir