Obituary: Bernarr Rainbow

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BERNARR RAINBOW was recognised in Britain and abroad as the leading his- torian in the field of musical education.

A successful schoolteacher and director of music, he was also a man of insatiable curiosity who amassed a vast collection of historical books and materials. In middle age he became a punctilious scholar, completing two research degrees, but was always anxious to make his discoveries widely available for the benefit of colleagues and their pupils.

Rainbow was born in London in 1914, and went to Rutlish School, Merton; his father was Curator of Pictures at Hampton Court Palace. Whilst still at school he was appointed to his first post as organist and choirmaster at St James's, Merton, and at Trinity College of Music, from 1933 to 1939, he was a pupil of the academic harmony pedagogue Dr William Lovelock. As with many of his generation, Rainbow's studies were interrupted by the Second World War. He was not able to proceed with his London degree. Instead he served with the Army in North Africa and Italy, until he was invalided out in 1944.

Soon after returning, Rainbow was appointed Organist and Choirmaster of High Wycombe Parish Church and Senior Music Master at the Royal Grammar School. But he really got into his stride as a historiographer of music education after he was appointed Director of Music at the Coll-ege of St Mark and St John in Chelsea in 1952, which became connected to the Institute of Education at London University.

At the time, before the days of university expansion, this Church of England teacher training college was a lively intellectual environment with principals such as Michael Roberts and later A.A. Evans. Further literary connections included the poets Thomas Blackburn and John Heath- Stubbs, who both taught there.

On the musical side, Rainbow had an instinct for new developments, although he felt more at home in earlier centuries and was suspicious of mere novelty. In the early 1960s, at a time when Peter Maxwell Davies was amazing everyone with what his pupils at Cirencester Grammar School could do, Rainbow appointed me, fresh from studying and working in New York, and soon after George Self and Brian Dennis. When I went for interview I improvised on the chapel organ: Rainbow later told me it was then that he was determined to appoint me since he could hardly wait to see the expression on the Principal's face during the chapel services.

Rainbow's work at St Mark and St John confirmed the average music teacher's need for guidance. So he published his first book, Music in the Classroom, in 1956, and then edited a Handbook for Music Teachers in 1964, which went through two more editions.

A profound influence on Rainbow, which moved him into his own unique areas of historical musicology, was a discovery he made in 1953 when rummaging in the basement at the college. He found early service sheets which showed that, from its foundation in 1840, the chapel of St Mark's College, Chelsea (as it then was), played a vital role in the choral revival within the Anglican Church. A repertoire of Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Palestrina and Victoria was not the usual cathedral fodder at that time.

Rainbow's predecessors included the Rev Thomas Helmore, the college's first precentor, and John Hullah, who pioneered methods of teaching singing to large classes.

As Rainbow investigated the musical life of church and school in 19th- century England, it became increasingly clear that the German sobriquet "The Land Without Music" was demonstrably unjustified. So he provocatively threw this down as the title of his first scholarly book exploring musical education in England from 1800 to 1860 in terms of its continental antecedents. Three years later, in 1970, Rainbow's The Choral Revival in the Anglican Church, 1839-1892 appeared, where he developed further his particular flair for relating musical practice to church politics in a fascinating way.

Rainbow wrote a short critical biography of John Curwen (1816-1880), the inventor of the tonic sol-fa method of teaching sight-singing and founded the Curwen Institute in 1978 to promote Curwen's principles. These anticipated the methods much later put into practice in Hungary, as Kodly himself admitted.

Rainbow's infectious enthusiasm for all he studied, carried him on into generously making his sources available too. In retirement during the 1980s he edited some 25 classic texts in music education from originals in various languages as Classic Texts in Music Education. But Rainbow's magnum opus, which brings together all his involvements and strides across many centuries, is Music in Educational Thought and Practice (1989).

This near 400-page treatise starts with Ancient Greece and Rome and ends in the mid-1980s. After tracing centuries of methods of teaching notation, often developed against odds, Rainbow's message is clear:

In pursuit of spontaneity a generation of schoolchildren had already grown up without skills previously regarded as essential in elementary education. Theories that children should not be pestered to learn to spell, write grammatically, or learn multiplication tables later found a musical counterpart in arguments against teaching the use of notation.

Rainbow's warnings made abundant sense but are only now being heeded.

In 1972, when the College of St Mark and St John moved to Plymouth, Rainbow transferred to Gypsy Hill College of Education and became Head of Music when it was incorporated into Kingston Polytechnic (now university). Here he launched the new CNAA degree of BA (MusEd). As a musicologist he contributed to many of the leading dictionaries and, following his MPhil and PhD from Leicester University, was particularly pleased with the award of their first DLitt in 1992. In 1994, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an Honorary Fellow of Trinity College of Music in the following year.

In 1996 Rainbow issued another prescient warning against neglecting one of our greatest national musical assets. He became President of the Campaign for the Defence of the Traditional Cathedral Choir, an organisation formed to champion the ancient tradition of the all-male choir in cathedrals and similar choral foundations by resisting the introduction of women and girls into such choirs. Also in 1996 he generously established the annual Bernarr Rainbow Award for School Music Teachers which is administered by the Music Education Department at Trinity College of Music. There is nothing like this award, which is being supported by the Bernarr Rainbow Trust, a registered charity, and is endowed to enable it to continue into the foreseeable future - a worthy memorial to its founder.

Bernarr Rainbow made a remarkable recovery from a stroke in 1991; his much-loved and supportive wife, Olive, died in 1996; and he fought his own debilitating illnesses with exemplary courage and characteristic good-humour.

Bernarr Joseph George Rainbow, music educationist: born London 2 October 1914; married 1943 Olive Still (died 1996); died Esher, Surrey 17 March 1998.