John Hurd  FRCO

A short Profile

John Hurd was born at Leicester on 18th December 1931; although, had he some choice in the matter, he might have chosen less turbulent times. Ramsay MacDonald, Labour’s first Prime Minister, faced the ruinous consequences of the 1929 New York stock market crash and the subsequent British financial downturn in September 1931, resulting in the departure of the pound sterling from the gold standard.

    Nevertheless, John’s hard working parents were to provide him with an upbringing of encouragement and warmth, especially in his music. His mother, a competent pianist, was particularly supportive, as, evidently, his older brother had eschewed the piano in favour of the drums. However, these early years were to be at the mercy of the Second World War, as the family, who had moved to live in Margate when John was four years old, returned to Leicester for the duration of the war. John’s father, a photographic technician, was pressed into service in a munitions factory.

   John finally started piano lessons at the late age of ten, having lessons from a Miss Vardey, the daughter of the mysterious “Madam Vardey” who had been his mother’s piano teacher a generation before. Prior to these lessons he had played the piano “by ear” and considers, in retrospect, it allowed him a freedom to improvise “free from the dots”, something he would recommend to other piano pupils.

   The family returned to Margate in 1945 and John attended Chatham House School, having piano lessons with G C L Neville, a past President of our Kent County Organists’ Association. John enjoys relating the story of finding his name on the school’s honours board next to Edward Heath, for The Cordelia Belasco Prize for piano, but returning some years later to find the board consigned to the basement about to be burnt; so much for fame. John was greatly involved in music at school playing on many ocasions. Mr Neville also gave him a start on the organ with lessons and the use of the fine Conacher organ at Ramsgate Baptist Church.

   Leaving school John began two years teacher training in music at Goldsmith’s College in London. Here he received organ lessons from Dr. Pasfield, although he mostly studied the piano. John says that Goldsmith’s was known as a “marriage market”, and indeed this is where he met his future wife Ann; they married on 24th December 1954.

   Ann and John began their married life in Ilford, both as teachers, but after a year they decided to move to Kent and settled in Broadstairs. It was in Broadstairs that John first accepted the responsibility of an organist’s position. Although having played for some of the services at Margate Methodist Church, he still felt far from confident as an organist, but seeing an advertisement for an organist for the Vale Congregational church, he applied. Fortunately, when attending the interview, he was to meet his old Chatham House school language master; he was now retired, but he gave John a warm welcome to the post. Interestingly, our Association visited this church last year and John demonstrated the organ for us.

John Hurd FRCO

 In 1960 John moved to Ramsgate Methodist Church, which sported a new Brownes organ, although, after just a year, he and Ann moved to Cyprus where they taught at the St John’s Army School. This was in 1961, just after the first peace agreement and with few qualified music teachers in the country, John was a large fish in a small pool and found himself conducting choirs and even giving the first known performance of Handel’s Messiah in Nicosia. He also played at the garrison church, which had an awful Hammond organ that relied on coins stuck into its frame to keep it working.

   Returning to England they settled at Braintree, Essex. John quickly became the organist of Shalford village church, which had a small but impressive original William Hill organ. Here he conducted the Braintree Choral Society and eventually obtained paid leave of absence for a year to attend Trinity College of Music. John was surprised to acquire this further study year at Trinity College as it was really intended for general improvement in young inexperienced teachers: John hardly qualified. However, he had received some organ lessons from Dr Mews of Trinity College and had taken his ARCO. With the prospect of this further year at college he was determined to obtain his FRCO. Following the Trinity College interview — which was technically to be his third teacher training year — he received a phone call from the senior H M Inspector of Education for Essex asking why he wanted to go on the course. Perhaps against his better judgement, he decided to tell the truth and reveal his FRCO ambitions. Expecting to be turned down, the inspector’s reply was a surprise: “That’s excellent, enjoy your year!” John doubts that in today’s less enlightened era of education one would obtain such a response. Nevertheless, during the year he had organ tuition from John Webster who proved an excellent teacher, very understanding of detail and the technical way of approaching things and it proved to be a rewarding year of study.

   Following this “gap year” there followed two more years teaching in Essex before John obtained the post of Head of Music at Highworth Girls School Ashford, then Ashford Girls Grammar School. He had fifteen very pleasant years there before retiring in 1987, but continuing to teach piano at the school for another twelve years. It was a fine school; their Head of English thought that teaching there was like retiring in Cheltenham after life in Brixton.

   In  1990, and the approach of his sixtieth birthday, John was asked by John Blasket, Director of Music of Holy Trinity Church, Folkestone, if he could look after things as he was leaving and they needed someone there until they made a new appointment. As John had only just resigned as Organist and Choirmaster at New Romney, he was not seeking another full appointment but, as things transpired, he has stayed on at Trinity Church, as Assistant Organist, where he remains today.

   Trinity is a very traditional church, with full choral services under the very able direction of Tim Parsons, and he enjoys playing for them. John also “floats around” other churches in the district if he has the occasional Sunday off and for nearly twenty years has been the accompanist for the Dover and Saltwood Choral Societies. As well as playing for numerous events in and around Folkestone, John has been a very supportive member of our Kent Association for over fifteen years.


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