Obituary: William Cole

There can be few, if any, persons past or present who could list LVO, DMus, FSA, FRAM, FRCM, FRCO after their name, and it may be that in this, at least, William Cole was unique. One of the most distinguished musicians of his generation, he had an extremely successful and full life. The staggering breadth of his involvement in so many spheres leaves one wondering how he managed to fit it all into one lifetime.

He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he met the organist Walter Emery, the beginning of a long and musically fruitful friendship - they even shared the FRCO prizes in January 1930. They went on to give many joint lecture recitals, especially featuring the organ works of Bach, and they built up a large following over the years. Many recognised and appreciated Cole's gifts as an organist, maintained well into his ninth decade. His unaffected approach was built upon the surest of techniques and unfailing musicianship. He could make the simplest Chorale prelude speak the profoundest of truths.

In 1930 he became Organist and Choirmaster at Dorking Parish Church, where he stayed for 24 years, and in the following year he was appointed Music Master of Dorking County School. He served in the Air Ministry during the Second World War, helping to organise the vast increase in aircraft production necessitated by the conflict, and in this post his obvious gifts as an administrator must have been invaluable.

Following the war he was appointed Professor of Harmony and Composition, and Lecturer in History of Music, at the Royal Academy of Music. Alongside this work he also held posts at Toynbee Hall (Honorary Musical Director 1947-58) and the Royal Academy of Dancing - as Lecturer 1948-62, Chairman of the Music Committee, 1961-68, Member of the Executive Council, 1965- 68, and Member of the Grand Council 1976-88.

In 1954 he was appointed by Ralph Vaughan Williams as his Assistant Conductor of the Leith Musical Festival, initially with the idea that Cole would conduct the works Vaughan Williams did not like. Soon Cole took over the reins, and in his time conducted many notable performances, including the first performance of George Dyson's The Canterbury Pilgrims.

In 1962 he left the Royal Academy of Music to become Secretary to the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, having been an examiner since 1943. In the late 1960s he introduced the guitar syllabus and expanded the wind syllabus. He also found time to write a series of theory exercises, and those inimitable small white books were used by countless music students for many years. He once said that they were written as a temporary idea, and he never expected to see them so comprehensively adopted, perhaps even dreaded by some. After he left the Board he continued to mark, moderate and set theory papers, his sharp mind ever quick to spot any discrepancies.

In 1954 he was appointed Master of the Music at the Queen's Chapel of the Savoy. There he trained and nurtured a superb choir of men and boys. His tireless energy and selfless commitment were recognised by his appointment as LVO in 1966. A fierce advocate of the Prayer Book of 1662, his strong faith shone through in all he did. He will be remembered by the many choristers (all drawn from the school which he attended as a boy - St Olave's, now in Orpington) who sang for him as a man of great musicianship, and, above all, humanity. Whilst insisting on the highest standards of discipline and musicianship, he cared for and respected his choristers, rarely needing to admonish or chide. It was always moving to see the many former choristers who returned to fill the Chapel once a year for a special service, and a tribute to the esteem and affection in which he was held.

He communicated a great respect for the Church and its music, and, above all, a respect for the words they were singing. He knew many of the psalms by heart and personally found them of great comfort in times of sorrow. His musical knowledge was immense, and he delighted the choir with his first-hand stories of composers such as Vaughan Williams, Dyson and Holst, many of whom he knew well. The Christmas Carol services he devised and directed were much revered - especially that established over 20 years ago for the Garrick Club, of which he was a member.

Cole composed many pieces for the Savoy Chapel, including a fine setting of the Te Deum written for the Royal Victorian Order, sets of responses (including a beautiful setting of the Lord's Prayer) and an arrangement of "In the Bleak Mid- winter", which is certainly one of his very finest works. After his retirement from the Chapel in 1993 he was made Master of the Music Emeritus, and he continued to compose for the Chapel, including the Savoy Service and, very recently, a Christmas prelude for organ, dedicated to me, his successor at the Savoy Chapel, based on "While Shepherds Watched".

In 1960 he became a Council member of the Royal College of Organists, acting as Honorary Treasurer 1964-85, President 1970-72 and thereafter Vice-President. He brought great discretion to his work there, and it was largely due to his efforts that the College was granted a Supplemented Charter and Charitable Status, against the advice of "experts" who denied this would be possible. Many other distinguished institutions were similarly indebted, including the Royal Harmonic Society (Honorary Secretary 1969- 80), Royal Choral Society (1972-92), Musicians' Benevolent Fund (1972- 97), Surrey County Music Association (1958-76), the Education Committee of Surrey County Council (1951-62), whom he actively persuaded to appoint a Music Advisor, and the London Association of Organists (1963-66).

William Cole had a love of stained glass, and was an authority in particular on roundels. Having produced a catalogue of Netherlands and North European roundels in Great Britain (1993), he had another book on roundels in preparation.

William Charles Cole, organist, choirmaster, musical administrator, composer, conductor, writer: born 9 October 1909; Organist and Choirmaster, Dorking Parish Church 1930-54; Professor of Harmony and Composition, and Lecturer in History of Music, Royal Academy of Music 1945-62; Honorary Musical Director, Toynbee Hall 1947-58; Lecturer, Royal Academy of Dancing 1948- 62, Chairman, Music Committee 1961-68, Member, Grand Council 1976-88; Master of the Music, Queen's Chapel of the Savoy 1954-94 (Emeritus); Member of Council, Royal College of Organists 1960-97, Honorary Treasurer 1964- 85, President 1970-72; Secretary, Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music 1962-74; Member, Central Music Library Council 1964-95, Chairman 1973-93; LVO 1966; married first Elizabeth Caw (three daughters; died 1942), second Winifred Mitchell (one son; died 1991); died Guildford, Surrey 9 May 1997.

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