Peter Hart was born on 27th December 1941 near the village of Blackmore, which nestles in the Essex countryside between Brentwood and Ongar. Being the first of three children, he was a special Christmas present for his parents during a time of wartime troubles and the concern at the escalation of hostilities as Pearl Harbour brought America into the war.
As he grew up, he followed his father into the church, joining as a choirboy at the age of six. His father was a lay reader at St Laurence Church, Blackmore, a church noted for its late Norman architecture and unique wooden “pagoda” tower, which dates from 1400. The church, with its choir and music, was an inspiration to Peter, laying seeds that would last a lifetime. At home, Peter’s mother played an elderly harmonium enjoying hymns and pieces, like Handel’s Largo. Peter’s musical enthusiasm led him to save up for weeks to buy a toy trumpet from a shop in Ongar only to find, with bitter disappointment, on getting it home, that it only played just one plaintively raucous note.
By 1952 with the war behind them, his mother arranged piano lessons for Peter with the local Baptist Pastor, although practice was confined to the ancient harmonium at home. This new opportunity was unfortunately tainted by the death of his father who had recently died from cancer, although his mother held the family together, buying a new piano on which Peter spent most of his spare time practising. He was pleased with the piano, but the organ at church still fascinated him and he and his younger brother would cycle to Blackmore Church where Peter would, without permission, play the organ trying some of his piano pieces while his brother kept lookout.
In 1957 financial constraints forced the family to move to Kent, the beloved piano was returned and their home boxed and stored. They lived in temporary accommodation for nearly a year before they found a suitable flat, but it was strictly no pianos. It was about this time, during the late 1950s, that Peter attended an organ recital at Christ Church, Tunbridge Wells, given by Trevor Webb and, totally captivated, he decided this was the instrument for him. Trevor Webb was most approachable and helpful arranging lessons for Peter, which started a friendship that has endured for some fifty years. Peter spent much time on the organ, often at the expense of schoolwork, which, together with the disruption of Secondary schools, resulted in disappointing exam results.
However, after leaving school Peter found a quite fascinating job in a second hand bookshop, the books were wonderful but unfortunately not the pay. Fortunately Peter did obtain a qualification in Engineering Drawing and after a year at the bookshop he was offered employment in the drawing office of a company in Tunbridge Wells, which led to further work at Paddock Wood. The financial rewards were to be welcomed although, away from his music, Peter did not find the work rewarding and only with perseverance did he manage to continue with drawing office work until 1972.
However, Trevor Webb had moved on to Hadlow Parish Church and Peter followed, playing Hadlow’s beautiful monster of an organ (1880 Monk with mechanical action throughout) before Trevor moved again to Sittingbourne, teaching at the Grammar School and taking the organist’s position at Holy Cross, Bearsted. Peter’s grounding of two years at Hadlow, with its heavy actions and stops, gave him the experience to move on to St Matthews, High Brooms, Tunbridge Wells for the next six years. In 1968 he moved again to St Paul’s Rusthall for a further two years.
During the early 1970s Trevor asked Peter if he would like to become the assistant at Holy Cross, Bearsted, which was about the time that Trevor had become a lecturer at the mature student teacher Training College at Sittingbourne. This was the start of a change of profession as Peter had found drawing office work increasingly dull and, on enquiring, was told if he could gain another four GCEs he could be accepted for teacher training. Self taught, he gained the qualifications within eighteen months and in the autumn of 1972, at the age of thirty, spent three very happy years in the music department. Qualifying in 1975 Peter started teaching at Detling CofE Primary School where he spent seven very happy years.
In 1976 he met and married Sally who was a pianist and singer teaching at a School in Bearsted. They had sixteen very happy years together, Peter becoming a stepfather to her two children, Christopher and Sophie; sadly Sally lost a two-year battle with cancer and died at the age of fifty in 1992. During their years together Peter had continued teaching, moving on to Staplehurst Primary School in 1982 where he continued his work until retirement in 2003.
Being the assistant organist at Holy Cross, Bearsted provided wonderful opportunities for playing some very fine organs, as the choir sang in a number of different cathedrals, often twice a year, allowing Peter to play, for example, at Chichester Cathedral for Easter and St George’s Windsor in the summer. There were three tours to Utrecht and he will never forget playing Parry’s I was Glad on the awesome organ, with full brass, in the Nicolaikerk. There were also sessions on the Dom organ and the little Sweelink instrument in Amsterdam.
His playing for the Holy Cross choir has afforded Peter the privilege of playing for services in every cathedral in the south of England, from Canterbury to Exeter. Also some of his own music has been sung at these services, his Versicles and Responses gracing Hereford Cathedral, where he is looking forward to playing again in 2009.
As the accompanist to the Open University Chapel Choir there have been opportunities for playing in France at: Rouen, Reims, Chartres, Tours, Laon and Aix-en-Provence as well as many more fascinating organs on these visits. One lasting memory is playing the Haydn Little Organ Mass in Reims Cathedral with the Great West Door open and also being asked to play the voluntary after Sunday morning Mass on the Grand Organ at Tours.
Peter has been a valued member of our Association for more than forty years, joining soon after he started lessons with Trevor Webb. He also finds time away from his music for hobbies, enjoying brain-teasing things like Sudoku, especially the “killer variety”, code words and Kaburo. He especially enjoys walking, when he can visit his favourite area of the Lizard in Cornwall. Peter’s quiet demeanour hides a confident practicality, turning his hand to DIY if the necessity arises; he built a clavichord when at college, which he still finds very useful for quiet late night practice.
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