SHEILA MacCRINDLE, whose death must have touched countless musicians both in Britain and abroad, spent the greater part of her professional life as a music publisher, promoting the work of contemporary composers, a job which would have brought her a respectable reputation as one of music's backroom women if it had not been for her unique personal qualities. As it was, she became one of the great characters on the modern music scene, adored by generations of composers, including figures of the stature of Witold Lutoslawski, whom she continued to promote after her retirement from full-time work just over a year ago.
How is one to celebrate the achievement of someone who impinged on so many lives? A curriculum vitae is difficult because she revealed so little about herself even to intimates. She must have discovered early on that the best way for a shy person to maintain privacy was to divert personal inquiries by quizzing the inquisitor. This she did with the deepest sympathy and understanding, and it made her a matchless friend. But all one really knew about her was that she read music and English at St Andrews University, was sometime secretary to the poet Stephen Spender at Encounter, went into publishing, and soon gravitated to music, first at Belwin- Mills, then at Universal Edition and finally Chester Music. I had known her casually for 10 years before I signed a contract with Chester's very much through her good offices. From then on I discovered in her the perfect confidante, as I know did all Chester's composers.
Her deceptively diffident manner disguised an impressive breadth of culture both literary and musical, and a sharp critical acumen. Her lack of censoriousness, which served so well in her friendships and which enabled her to promote with enthusiasm a surprisingly varied musical catalogue, - from Lennox Berkeley and Peter Maxwell Davies to John Tavener and Lutoslawski - went hand in hand with unerring taste and an untrammelled insight into artistic matters. Obscurantist intellectualising in the promotion of the latest idea would be greeted with 'well, it's all rhubarb, isn't it?' - a favourite catchphrase. In a music world increasingly dominated by packaging, the demands of yearly accounting, crowd pleasing, she espoused the moral high ground of artistic excellence and integrity, and from this position she supported us in our creative endeavours. She promoted music through friendly persuasion rather than marketplace hustling, and she did so with humour as well as sagacity.
In fact her hilarious sense of humour, another defensive weapon no doubt, was legendary. You knew which bed she was occupying when visiting her hospital ward during her last days: it was the one crowded with visitors and surrounded by laughter. The wit was never spiteful or barbed. I have a card which she sent a few days before she died - she was an inveterate postcard sender - enclosing a newspaper cutting which said: 'Payne just loves funky Sandwich'. How she loved such verbal squibs.
If anyone were to contemplate writing an anatomy of friendship, then someone like Sheila would be taken as a model of the perfect friend - committed, yet not possessive, giving of love without thought of receiving anything in return, understanding without being judgemental.
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