Smith, Wilfred E

Smith, Wilfred E

On January 25th 1986 a Memorial Service was held at St. Mary Abbots Kensington for the late Wilfred Smith, Director of Music at Hurst from September 1950 to July 1962.

Wilfred studied music at Oxford on the advice of Sir Hugh Alien, after gaining an open scholarship in Mathematics at New College; and at the Academy of Music with organ tuition from Dr. Harold Darke. He was appointed organist Calcutta Cathedral, and when in India joined the army during the Second World War. After the war he returned to be assistant director of music at Tonbridge from where he came to Hurst. When he arrived, the College already had something of a musical reputation. Two of its former music masters, H A.Hawkins, and M Davies, had gone on to be organists of Chichester and Hereford respectively, and their work had already produced fine music scholars like R. W. Carrington and H. A. Marchant. To Hawkins we owe the carol service, the first broadcast, and the setting up of an orchestra, but the modern musical scene at Hurst, flourishing so much that we have a national reputation, really began in the days of Wilfred Smith assisted by others like Robin Gregory and H. R. Holloway.

In November 1954 HMI produced their last report on Hurst, and already the section on music was lengthy praising the well qualified and able Director of Music, and his good humoured and enthusiastic approach. The musical scene then was rather different from today. There were only four visiting music teachers. There were 52 boys and 7 masters in the Choral Society founded by Smith in 1950, and 34 boys and 2 masters in the choir which was affiliated to the Royal School of Church Music. There were a series of flourishing musical societies in which much could be learnt and enjoyed: the Jazz Appreciation Society, the Gramophone Society chaired by Mr. Gregory, the Opera Society and a Madrigal Society. In the summer of 1953 an Orchestral Society was formed, and this became the Orchestra in the Lent Term of 1954 when on March 28th they opened with Overture in D by Handel arranged by Elgar. The Choral Society which began with the Bach Mass in B was already going from strength to strength, and in the Lent Term 1955 fruitful co-operation with PNEU began in Haydn’s Creation. There followed Brahms’ Requiem, Rossini’s Stabat Mater, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and many others. One notices a D. J. Hughes as Hon. Sec. of The Choral Society in Michaelmas 1957. Particular interest was already being shown in English composers, something which Christopher Moore has continued in his day. On July 20th 1957 there was a meeting in the Hall of the Headmaster’s House (now the Library) to commemorate Elgar’s birthday 50 years before, and on March 25th 1962 “The Dream of Gerontius” was given for the first time. The centenary of Delius’ birth was equally noted in 1962.
But Wilfred Smith did much more than sustain successful choir,. Choral Society, and Orchestra, and all from the Music Practice Hut, opened in September 1949, on the other side of the road next to the gym. He brought distinguished names in the world of music to us: Leon Goossens in November 1953 and Julian Bream in Lent 1957. He started the House Music Competition in December 1951 (Star were the first winners . . .), and brought Sir Thomas Armstrong, Principal of the Royal Academy to judge it in Michaelmas Term 1960. The School Band began in Summer Term 1955. The A Cappella Choir had its origins in the small special choir formed in December 1961. Hawkins had now retired to the Tudor Malt House across North Field, and must have delighted in the launching of the fund in 1960 for our present organ which raised voluntarily £5,028 11s 9d with the help of a fete organised by one C. J. Dean which secured £1,500 in a day – a remarkable achievement considering changes in money values.

By the time Wilfred Smith left us music was flourishing in such a way that the various upsets in personnel in the Music Department in the mid-1960’s did little to dent its onward progress towards the fabulous Music Weeks of the Seventies, four records, and the great cathedrals of the land. The long line of music scholars continued with such awards as those of Steinitz, Hartley, Butterworth, Davies, Todd and Harling. By the early 1960’s nearly a hundred boys were learning a musical instrument. On March 15th 1958 occurred the first Music Scholars concert. Perhaps we might leave Wilfred on one of the high notes of his time with us: the visit to Holland in May 1957 to sing in the English Church, the Dutch Reformed Kloskerkirk at The Hague and also at Gymnasia (grammar schools) in Utrecht and The Hague.

Wilfred wrote to Canon Howard to give him an account of the trip pointing out that he had left a Hurst prospectus at Utrecht, and stressing that the bearing and behaviour of the party had been beyond reproach. Rehearsals had taken place on the way across on the first class promenade deck of the Harwich-Hook steamer, and clearly proved successful because all their music including Howells and Vaughan Williams was English, and the choir itself was something of a novelty to its Dutch listeners. Accompanied also by David Bailey and the Rev. Jenkins the party had time for sightseeing, and discussion with their Dutch hosts: “language presented no problem on the trip”… Here perhaps is an idea for the Music Department: instead of a cricket tour to India let’s have a choir trip instead.

Wilfred’s life ended whilst he was still the Organist at St. Mary Abbots, where in consequence the memorial service was held. The Memorial Address was given by Canon Anthony Caesar who was initially acquainted with Wilfred when they were both Directors of Music and latterly when he became a curate at St Mary Abbots. Canon Caesar, said that Wilfred had a gift for making music, not only church music but in the wider sphere as well, especially by his sharing, as teacher, his enthusiasm with his pupils. He also referred to the delight of his friends, when after many years of bachelordom, he became a family man and the inward joy that he must have experienced when his son became a chorister at one of our great cathedrals. In particular he said: “I can think of no one who was more gentle, kind, considerate, and full of joy and laughter. .In short there was in him, a zeal caring for other people and their welfare. I think also he was almost completely unflappable. If things weren’t going quite according to plan he would always keep smiling and thus restore any confidence that might be weakening. But first of all there was his faith in God and devotion to the Church, uncomplicated, and quite unostentatious, which led him to become first and foremost a Church musician. For this Hurstpierpoint and the worshipping community of St. Mary Abbot will ever be grateful”. Let these words remain as a memorial to a Hurst musician.

Wilfred was survived by his wife Felicity and his two children Sebastian and Rosamund.

Director of Music

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