THE NERVOUS music student approached the Director of Music Studies to ask his advice about his course of work. The reply was firm, courteous and encouraging. Allen Percival had that effect on people, especially the many students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama whom he guided in that responsibility, and later as Principal.
The Guildhall School holds a unique position amongst music colleges in Britain in that it is independently funded, by the Corporation of London. This independence has always given it a somewhat maverick quality and when, in 1965, Percival became the eighth principal since the foundation of the school in 1880, it required a person of imagination and strength of purpose to see it through challenging years.
Looming on the horizon was the building of the Barbican Centre and although it was intended that the Guildhall School should move to purpose-built premises as a part of that massive development, it was the triumvirate of Allen Percival, Ernest Fleischmann, Managing Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Sir Peter Hall, then of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who had the imagination to propose the immense possibilities of co-operation between music and drama students of a leading college and their professional counterparts.
It was a bold scheme, but the departure of Fleischmann and Hall from their respective posts left Percival somewhat isolated and the grand design took far longer to emerge than had been anticipated. But through dogged resolution, in the turbulent political and financial rollercoaster of the 1970s, he saw the Guildhall School move into its new premises in the Barbican in 1978. The day after the official opening, with a typically unselfish and shrewd decision, Percival decided to offer his resignation. After some 16 years in senior positions in the Guildhall School, he felt it was time, for the sake of the institution, for others to take on the responsibility of running such a diverse and active place.
During his time at the Guildhall, Percival had brought both rigour and diversity to the music courses and in particular his encouragement to Juliette Alvin to establish the first, and still the only, course in a music college to train music therapists is one example of his foresight. The course soon developed a significant reputation.
The ways are many that lead people to become principals of colleges, especially arts colleges. Allen Percival's musical abilities were evident from his childhood in Bradford. His subsequent study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, at first coincided with his duties in the Royal Navy. Although he was only able fully to concentrate on his studies after the war, he never lost an opportunity to organise, conduct, and play in a host of musical activities in all kinds of unlikely places, even performing concertos with the somewhat improbably named Home Fleet Symphony Orchestra.
Percival's real ambition was to conduct but after he came down from Cambridge there were just too many others with the same idea. As often happens to young musicians, initially he held a variety of jobs, including a brief spell in Paris for the British Council and some piano teaching at Haileybury school, before, encouraged by the fine musician Thurston Dart, Cambridge beckoned once more. It was from his post at Homerton as Director of Music that he moved to the Guildhall School in 1962.
His wife, Rachel, was well- known to many schools radio listeners as the presenter for 10 years of the Music and Movement broadcasts. It was a profoundly happy marriage and her death from cancer in 1987 was a grievous blow. Although he was now busy as a director of the music publishers Stainer & Bell, Percival found further stimulus when he was asked to 'mind' the new Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts for 16 months, before its new Director, John Hosier (his successor at the Guildhall School), took over in January 1989. To his, and everybody's, great joy, Allen Percival married again in 1990. His bride was Margaret Pickett, whom he had known in childhood in Bradford. It was eminently appropriate that she was at that time Head of the Music Therapy course at the Guildhall School. Their enthusiasm for living was infectious and their exuberance was perhaps stimulated by the awareness that, having been seriously ill a few years ago, Allen knew that time could be running out.
And that nervous student? When he in turn became Principal in 1988, Allen Percival was on hand to offer advice and chortle affectionately, as he listened to the same old problems still bouncing around.
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