OBITUARY : Professor Gordon Reynolds

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The Independent Online
Gordon Reynolds, Organist and Master of the Choristers at the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace for nearly 30 years, exerted a considerable influence on post-war English musical life through his performing, broadcasting and teaching.

Reynolds was appointed to the post at Hampton Court in 1967 and held it with distinction until his death, directing his last service on Palm Sunday. He inherited a choir almost devoid of choristers, whose places had been taken by four women singers, and with Gentlemen of the Chapel, some of whom were more interested in the status quo than in the highest standards of performance. He transformed it into a thriving body, setting up choral scholarships to be held in conjunction with Hampton School. He never lacked for recruits of suitable ability.

A fine choir trainer who always demanded, expected and got the highest standards, Reynolds was a joy to work for, a pleasure enhanced by his ability to convey his great love as much of words (especially the richness of language of the Prayer Book versions of the Psalms) as of music. He made two successful recordings with the choir, the first in 1985 and the second in 1993, and it is a matter of great regret that this fine choir- trainer and organist did not have the opportunity to record more. He can be heard on the 1993 recording, displaying his ability as an improviser on the organ and the full capabilities of the historic Hampton Court organ, whose sensitive restoration he oversaw in 1993.

Born in Hull in 1921, Gordon sang in the choir of Holy Trinity, opposite his home; he retained a lifelong fondness for his home county of Yorkshire. At the age of 15 he was appointed Assistant Organist at Beverley Minster, then under the musical control of H.K. Andrews. When Francis Jackson, then at York Minster, came to give a recital thinking himself the youngest cathedral assistant organist, Reynolds, his page- turner, was too shy to say anything to the brilliant young player, whom he thought miffed to discover one even younger.

At 17 Reynolds went to the Royal College of Music to study the organ with Harold Darke and then with the teacher whom he really sought, Sir Walter Alcock, and choir training with E.T. Cook. He read English at Hull University until called up in 1942 for war service in the Royal Air Force, training as a navigator in South Africa. He found outlets for his energy by founding and training a ship's choir and giving piano performances. After demobilisation in 1946 he taught music at Hanson High School, Bradford, and was Second Assistant Organist at Bradford Cathedral, moving two years later to become Director of Music at Kingston High School, Hull, and Organist at St Martin's, Hull.

Reynolds was a producer in the Schools Music Department of the BBC from 1950 to 1958, exercising a strong musical influence on a whole generation of schoolchildren, particularly through the influential Music Box programmes which he devised and presented and through Singing Together. He continued his work for the BBC until comparatively recently, contributing regularly to Record Review and other programmes and memorably presenting a series on the musical history of the Chapel Royal and another on Thomas Tallis. He made three series of television programmes on church music.

From 1952 to 1965 he was Organist of St Bride's, Fleet Street, having proposed to Cyril Armitage, the new vicar, the refounding of its fine musical tradition after the church's wartime destruction; there, too, he oversaw the building of a fine new organ, funded by Lord Astor of Hever, "generous enough to act as the Echo Organ for the Temple Church". In the still roofless and war-damaged church he had inherited, as he wrote, "a piano working along aleatoric lines, a comfortable cat, and a small assortment of ladies whose goodwill was much appreciated". By its re-dedication in 1957 it had a fine choir drawn from the London music colleges, and business throve, with people "dying to have their memorial services there".

In 1958 he joined the Music Department of Whitelands College, the Anglican teacher training college, becoming its head from 1962 to 1969, when he was appointed Senior Academic Professor of Music at the Royal Military School of Music at Kneller Hall, in Twickenham, a post and a place which brought him much satisfaction; he retired from Kneller Hall in 1986, but continued his association with it as Emeritus Professor.

Reynolds wrote regularly and extensively and will be remembered for his entertaining, stylish and instructive reviewing of choral and organ recordings for Gramophone magazine, Choir and Organ, Musical Opinion and more recently for Classic CD. He was appointed editor of the journal Music in Education and adviser to Novello and Co in 1962 and served on the editorial board of the Standing Committee for Amateur Music. He was the author of a number of influential musical text-books, producing and editing the highly regarded Oxford School Music Course books and a series of pamphlets of school music songs. His talent for combining seriousness with a delicious and never malicious sense of humour is caught in The Cassock Pocket-Book (of Divers Diversions for the Church Musician and Sundry Solaces for the Sabbath Sojourner) (1979) and in his two witty and apt dissections of the foibles of church musicians, Organo Pleno (1970) and Full Swell (1972).

He served the wider cause of English church music well, holding the chairmanship of the Church Music Society from 1987 until his death.

Richard Williams

Gordon Reynolds, musician, teacher, broadcaster: born 30 June 1921; Organist, St Bride's. Fleet Street 1952-65; Head, Whitelands College 1962-69; Organist and Master of the Choristers, Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace 1967-95; Senior Academic Professor of Music, Kneller Hall 1969-86 (Emeritus); LVO 1983; married 1946 Lois Rogers (two sons); died Petersham 18 May 1995.