Saturday, 28 June 2008

Dale and Dickie

I often hang my hat at All Angels-by-the Sea on Longboat Key, near where I live in SRQ.

It’s a neat parish, and the Rector (the Revd. David Danner) and I “read each other” well.

All Angels is blessed to have a terrific organist/ choir director. His name is Dale Hooey. We are professionally in respect and admiration of each other.

Yesterday I e-mailed my dreadful pun to Dale, and he replied with an A grade, noting that he had been a teacher.

I asked his subject, and to my delight (but not surprise) he said that he had been a Music teacher in Grades 1-12.

I thought “no wonder that he is such a good Church Musician”.

For I was reminded of my music teacher in what Americans would call High School. I was at Fairfield Grammar school from 1955-1960. There I was blessed to come under the tutelage of W.J. Richards, the Music teacher

Of course we called him “Dickie”, as we had done with another Mr. Richards the music and class teacher at Eastville Junior Mixed School (for Americans - this approximates to a Middle School).

W.J. Richards at Fairfield was one of the best. To him (as well as to my Dad and Mum), I owe a debt of gratitude for an appreciation for Choral Music.

But Mum and Dad- former Methodists - were stuck in the Victorian Protestant tradition of “Cantatas” - pious and somewhat syrupy settings by such luminaries as John Stainer and W.H. Maunder.

They knew almost nothing of the great J.S. Bach Cantatas..

W.J. (Dickie) Richards introduced me to Bach, and to a broader canon of choral music.

I sang in his choirs - first as a boy soprano, and later as a bass.

The Fairfield Grammar School Choirs and Orchestra under Dickie were legendary in Bristol.

Once a year we would pack Bristol’s Concert Hall (the Colston Hall - capacity 2,200 persons) for a concert of choral, orchestral and madrigal music.

One year the school orchestra, aided and abetted with teachers, performed the “Toy Symphony” by Haydn. (but see )

We, kids as we were, were amused to see our teachers “playing” the more exotic “instruments” for that Symphony.

But the Choral tradition represented Fairfield at its best.

We sang many of the greats from the folksong and classical traditions. I learned texts and melodies which remain with me nearly 50 years later.

The school hymn was “When all Thy mercies O my God” by the Deist, Joseph Addison.

We sang it to the tune “Contemplation” by Frederick Ouseley (see Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1950 # 177), thus producing the famous “Fairfield sound“.

That sound was so good that the B.B.C. had us sing a programme called “Sunday Half Hour” - a Sunday evening programme of hymn singing.

It was then that we sang the powerful Chartist hymn - “When wilt thou save the people?

( )

and another radical text “Raise the stone and thou shalt find me, cleave the wood and I am there“ .


The “Fairfield” sound was so good that we were selected to sing for a public performance of the double chorus “Come ye daughters share my mourning” from J.S. Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”. Heady stuff indeed when I was aged 12 or 13 and my voice had not yet changed.

The moment I remember most was when, at our annual Colston Hall concert, we sang “The Heavens are Telling” from Haydn’s “Creation”. That was a memorable moment as my pal Stephen could also sing it with us.

For you see, he is Jewish, and this was a wee bit from the Christian musical tradition which he could sing with integrity.

My teacher, “Dickie” Richards, introduced me to the wonderful Western choral tradition.

I suspect that Dale Hooey did the same for all the school students who met him in his 35 year school teaching career.

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