Peter Moorse Obituary

 

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Peter Moorse was a champion of church music. He was a musical mover and shaker. He moved us, he shook us. He took us through a hundred shades of every emotional colour of the rainbow and brought us to a peak of performance practice that few have ever or will ever match.

Peter was a complicated and amazing musician. His characteristics were many, at least one for every letter of the alphabet. We could start with affectionate, belligerent, caring, daring, effusive, fiery, garrulous – you may continue in like mind.

I first met Peter in 1970 as a first year undergraduate at Goldsmiths’ College. As a fellow organist and steam train buff, we had a lot in common and he took me under his wing. As well as rebuilding my organ technique, he upgraded my social skills and with fellow students introduced us to fine food, fine wines and fine musicians. He was ready and able and willing to share his wide knowledge and expertise in and out of lectures, and we were in awe of him.

As a choral conductor he excelled. It was said that Martin How, a good friend of his, could get a flock of sheep to sing. Peter also took a menagerie of students and by a multitude of methods had us grafted into a fine chorus. My first Goldsmiths’ College Music Society Choir concert was ‘Hodie’ by Vaughan Williams, his favourite composer whom he had met in person. Verdi Requiem, Gordon Crosse Changes, Elgar Dream of Gerontius and many more followed.

At the end of my first year, I joined other students in the Music Society Choir to take part in the first performance of the BBC Commission ‘Arena’ by George Newson, lecturer in Electronic Music at Goldsmiths’. The list of performers was dazzling – Cleo Laine, Jane Manning, Alan Hacker, Joe Melia, Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and more, all under the baton of no less than Pierre Boulez. We were dazzled! Peter had met Cleo as he was involved in the first performances of Johnny Dankworth’s Folk Mass. The rehearsals did not go smoothly. Michael relates the moment when Peter and Cleo met in the bar at the Roundhouse during a break in the rehearsal she said “Peter, what the fuck are we doing here”! (not a word that Peter often used….) But all went well in the end and the concert was on Live BBC TV.

Peter’s teaching career started at Repton School, and then became involved with teaching at Goldsmiths’ College, rising to the position of Senior Lecturer and Director of Practical Studies. In a long career in church music, Peter held posts including sub-organist of Guilford Cathedral, Director of Music at Maidstone Parish Church, Assistant at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, and Director of Music at St John’s Wood Church.

Seated one day at the organ, playing for a Choral Evensong, he demonstrated his unique way of psalm accompaniment. Every colour of the organ was used, often using the most unlikely combinations, and any moment of word painting or double-entendre in the words were given treatment according to the Moorse code. His improvisations were legendary and Barry Rose writes “those who remember his playing still talk with appreciation of his amazingly inventive improvisations in and out of Evensong, even if they did not always appeal to the Dean!”

In my final year at Goldsmiths’, Peter brought some of his very many musical friends together to form the ‘London Cantata Choir’. Based at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, I was honoured to be the organist for their first concerts and on many other occasions. The choir performed in many London venues including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and St John’s Smith Square and became recognised as one of the finest smaller choirs in London, attracting significant funding from the NFMS and Performing Rights Society. The tradition of the annual performance each Good Friday of Bach St Matthew Passion started in St Martin’s but then moved for a ten-year run to St Paul’s Cathedral, featuring some top musicians.

Peter was very involved for many years with the RSCM, acting as housemaster and director for very many chorister courses. In 1984 he was asked to direct the prestigious week-long Adult Summer Course at Salisbury Cathedral. This was a well deserved honour. Gordon Stewart was booked to be organist but had to withdraw at fairly short notice. With the timetable printed with staff initials, Peter called upon me, possibly as the only other organist with the same initials. I went through the most tortuous grilling ever to make sure I was ready and able to cope with the burden of the challenging music, the daily services, and the rigour and demands of the course director. It evidently worked, as we were called back for 3 more glorious years, including Radio 3 broadcasts. Many of the course members have become very close friends. On the strength of these courses, Peter encouraged me to apply for Cathedral posts and eventually, against the odds of age and background, I was appointed as Assistant Master of Music at Peterborough in 1986, solely on the strength of Peter’s teaching, encouragement and his gift of opportunity and experience.

Peter was rightly proud of the success of the London Cantata Choir. Performances blossomed and the choir started a regular round of English Cathedral visits, including St Paul’s, Canterbury, Salisbury, Norwich, Derby, Gloucester, Hereford, Westminster Abbey and York Minster. Many performances were of works by living composers who became good friends. Performances were electric – thunder and lightning mixed with spring sunshine – no other choir sang quite like the LCC, thanks in full to Peter.

But it was not always a smooth ride. Peter did not suffer fools gladly and 100% commitment, concentration and dedication was the minimum requirement from all concerned. When matters went against Peter’s requirements, he was ready to take on anyone, the lowly and the mighty, from a trembling first year student, or a maître d’hôtel or chef, through to Cathedral Precentors and Deans and beyond. Yes, there were some upsets and blacklistings but all part of the nature of such a creative genius.

In more recent years, Peter has throttled back. LCC outings became fewer and there were a number of ‘last performances’ over the last few years. Peter kept bringing us back for more, and we were ever grateful. But in the end the baton was given up, and the London Cantata Choir and its creator and sole director, hung up their cassocks for the last time.

But there has been SO MUCH music making, so many memorable experiences, tears, laughter and anecdotes. There is so much more to say, and those very many who have been touched by Peter’s love and attention over so many years need to reward him by keeping these thoughts alive and by continuing to make music in his memory. He deserves nothing less than that.

Gary Sieling

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Peter Moorse, Gary Sieling, Dr Barry Rose

5 thoughts on “Peter Moorse Obituary

  1. Peter was my Personal Tutor for the (then) fledgling German and Mus degree. He was great company and we spent many hours at the Rosemary Branch discussing much about music and life. I played in his Gerontius in SMitF in I think 84 or 85. This performance was one of my favourites though I’ve played it many times since. Peter was a very nice man and a great musician.

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    1. Just seen this obit now, I too played in Gerontius in SMitF, also St Matthew Passion in St Paul’s and Messiah in St Margaret’s Westminster I think. Peter was an inspirational if unconventional lecturer and musician, he kindled my love of 20th century music during my BMus of 1982-85 and also introduced me to fine wines and food. His temper could be fiery and it was sad that that meant his brilliant practical musical skills were perhaps not put to such wide use as they should have been at Goldsmiths. I will forever have happy memories of him and Dream of Gerontius will now always be associated with his spirit for me.

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  2. As a very young student starting organ lessons with Peter Moorse, I was in awe of him as I realised his enormous talent and insistence on nothing less than perfection. When he allowed me to accompany at St. Peter’s Church, St. Helier, way back in the 1950’s it had to be note perfect. I recall telling him that I would be on holiday with my family for two Sundays and he told me he “could not stand half-baked Christians” I was fourteen, deputising at the daughter church and playing at the nearby hospital Chapel as well as at St. Peters. Aged fourteen and a bit, playing the Widor after the service he started to have a go at me until he realised the congregation had gone to the East end so they could just about see me on the West end organ. The vicar announced that one of Peter Moorse’s students aged only 14 was playing, the congregation applauded and he took a bow. Later he insisted I went over a couple of pages to get it perfect before playing it again. Later he took me to a concert at the Festival Hall to give me encouragement. Years later I was playing at a large church and had to extemporise for a while. A gentleman came over and asked if I knew Peter Moorse as my “style was so like his” What a compliment and how fortunate I am to have such a superb example. I wonder if the “Choir of Angels” are being licked into shape. RIP. and thanks Dennis Moor

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  3. As a student at goldsmiths college 1972-75 I was fortunate to play for Peter in the St Matthew passion orchestra for many years on good Friday. We became great friends despite various spats and was happy to introduce him to my husband,David Buckland, a member of the BBCNOW, who consequently played for Peter on those memorable Good Friday performances
    Susan Buckland (Higgins)

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  4. I’ve only just read this sad news and am moved to honour Peter for the opportunities he gave me as a young singer. From 1984-1986 I was privileged to be a member of his touring cathedral choir, Goldsmith Cathedral Singers. We sang in some beautiful cathedrals and I was introduced to the most wonderful music through his direction, which ignited a love for psalm singing in particular. He gave me many opportunities to sing solos and I cannot listen to sung evensong without remembering that time affectionately. If I had realised then that that would be the only time in my life I would be privileged enough to take part in such a unique experience I would have treasured it even more, although I have gone on to become a professional singer and teacher. Thank you Peter for giving us these experiences and contributing to our musical journies so generously.

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