MELVILLE COOK, the organist and choirmaster, achieved international distinction in his 50 years' service at Leeds Parish Church, Hereford Cathedral and finally, until 1986, at the Metropolitan United Church, Toronto.
His musical career began as a chorister in the Cathedral Choir of his native city of Gloucester under Sir Herbert Brewer and Herbert Sumsion, and he became the latter's assistant in 1932. In the Royal College of Organists' Fellowship examinations the previous year he was awarded the Harding Prize. Following his appointment at All Saints' Church, Cheltenham, in 1935, Cook became in 1937 the youngest organist ever to be appointed to Leeds Parish Church. His playing of Basil Harwood's taxing anthem 'O how glorious is the kingdom' at his first Sunday service has acquired almost legendary status.
Soon after receiving his Doctorate in Music at Durham University in 1940, he began war service in the Royal Artillery. On demobilisation in 1946, he made great efforts to change the robust Leeds 'sound' that he had inherited from his predecessor, Dr Albert Tysoe, by introducing into the choir's repertory a proportion of Tudor polyphony. In 1947 the BBC broadcast Choral Evensong from the parish church on four successive Wednesdays, a vindication of Cook's policy, and a reflection of the speed with which he had raised choral standards within a matter of months following his return to civilian life.
For all his West Country reserve, he always said what 'characters' his Leeds choirboys were. For their part they looked upon him with a mixture of fear and reverence, but were never left in any doubt that only their best was good enough, and what he found acceptable would satisfy anyone. This was ultimately of immense comfort to his many pupils, several of whom subsequently enjoyed distinguished careers. His concern for clarity in part playing and phrasing was always paramount.
In 1948, Cook became conductor of the Halifax Choral Society, and in 1950 founded the Leeds Guild of Singers, whose concern for good style came at a time when performance practice was only in its infancy.
During Cook's 10 years as organist of Hereford Cathedral, from 1956 to 1966, he conducted some masterly performances at the Three Choirs' Festivals in each city.
In Toronto as organist of the Metropolitan United Church, 1967-86, his essentially ecumenical religious outlook found happy expression, and he received there a daily reminder of his time in Leeds, because at the side of the five manual organ there is a memorial tablet to one of his predecessors, Herbert Austin Fricker, founder of the Mendelssohn Choir, who had previously been City Organist and Chorus Master of the Leeds Musical Festival.
Last Christmas, Melville Cook returned to Leeds Parish Church to read one of the lessons at the carol service. It was a portion of Scripture he had read there 54 years before, and his delivery seemed to encapsulate his great affection for Leeds and its people, an affection that was reciprocated wholeheartedly.
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