22 September 2018 • A reflection on Ivor Hosgood from David Berwick

I was very saddened to hear recently of Ivor’s passing on 15th August, and my initial thoughts are, of course, with his wife Jennifer.

There are very many musicians in this region who have a massive amount to thank Ivor for. With his rather special organisational skills Ivor gave a public platform to hundreds of young and musically talented individuals through his ‘Music at St. George’s’ concert series. A large number of these young people went on to have significant careers in music – thanks in no small measure to Ivor.

This great enterprise started off in 1977 when he was organist at St. George Tombland Parish Church in Norwich. Perhaps it wasn’t obvious at the beginning just how big this excellent scheme of helping young musicians would become. To make a success of any venture on this scale calls for dedication and selfless giving, and both these attributes Ivor had in considerable measure. It speaks volumes for his energetic endeavours when we have to record that between October 1977 and February 2001 there were a staggering two-hundred-and-fifty concerts in the complete life cycle of ‘Music at St. George’s’ – a truly amazing achievement. I may say that I was delighted to contribute to the one-hundredth-and-fiftieth concert on 29th September 1991, when Ivor commissioned me to compose a choral work for that special occasion.

In ca. 2001 I was approached, together with many others, and asked if I would support a campaign that wished to see Ivor get a national award for his unstinting services to music in general and towards young people in particular. Of course I was delighted to get behind this endeavour and duly sent off my lengthy endorsement of this initiative.  The happy culmination saw Ivor and Jennifer attend the investiture by Her Majesty the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 8th May 2003 of his very well earned MBE.  

I got to know Ivor soon after his arrival in the Norwich area and, as fellow organists, we had frequent chats in the office and elsewhere about news within the organ-playing world. I remember very fondly two particular days we shared when all things musical were on the menu. 

One evening we went to Cambridge, and attended a rather wonderful choral concert given in St. John’s College, where the college’s Musical Director, Dr George Guest conducted the assembled musical forces. We are talking here about the late 1960s when that college and its near neighbour, ‘King’s’ vied for prime position in that most musical of cities. Many people would have placed King’s in the most prominent position – but the musical achievements at St. John’s under Dr Guest was pretty formidable. We certainly enjoyed that evening.

My other powerful musical memory was of yet another visit to Cambridge in 1970 when we travelled there as members of the Norwich and District Organists Association, of which body Ivor was the secretary from 1970 to 1976. The whole day was devoted to mouth-watering visits to a number of colleges where the resident organist of each chapel demonstrated the various instruments to us. We organists love these events – but something even better was to be ours later in the afternoon, and I think I can dare to say that the experience was to prove to be unique in the musical lives of us both. 

When our organ-crawl eventually arrived at King’s College Chapel the group was met by the college’s Musical Director, who then was none other than the redoubtable Sir David Willcocks – he of so many very fine ‘Carols from King’s’ Christmas broadcast performances, not to mention excellent recordings by several generations of choristers at that august college. After a very interesting address about the organ we were then expecting the instrument to be demonstrated to us – but Sir David Willcocks had an even more delicious treat in store for us – would any of us like to ascend the stairs to the hallowed organ loft . . . and play this famous organ ourselves for a few minutes each? Sir David suggested we try to find some of the quieter stops on the organ as there were people milling about the building!

I was seated next to Ivor and I remember him leaning down and whispering to me “Are we going to do it?” – I said yes, but let’s just wait and see if anyone else is keen enough to go first, and of course there were several takers. So we got in the queue. We were then told to go up in pairs and try to keep to our allotted five minutes! When our turn came we were somewhat surprised to discover that to the right of the organ stool, the floor area was taken up by large organ pipes mounted on their backs on the loft floor. It is not that unusual for large organs to have sets of pipes up to 32 feet in length, and these usually formed part of the pedal organ division. Here, owing to their great length making it impossible for them to be housed vertically within the organ case itself, these massive pipes had to be hidden out of sight from floor level in the chapel, and the horizontal layout scheme solved the restricted space problem. When our turns came to play we choose to have a moderately quiet workout with some hymn tunes. What a thrill – and never to be forgotten. In the evening we were back in King’s again – but this time to listen to an organ recital given by Brian Runnett, the then Master of the Music at Norwich Cathedral. I’m sure Ivor must have relived that very special day many a time.

If I may I’d like to mention a far less formal memory of Ivor, and anyone who served with him under Derek Lees in 4S Sovereign House may well recall this incident. In a way this episode showed Ivor’s resolve to win through under pressure. 

At the time I was in the neighbouring section under Brian Ekers, and working with Sam Weller, Tommy Smith and Barry Alderton amongst others. Ivor sat with his back to me and, as the afternoon went on, Ivor lit a cigarette. Nothing unusual about that – so far! I distinctly remember a heated argument kicking off between Ivor and someone on his ‘phone during which Ivor got to his feet and dramatically threw the cigarette end into his waste bin. Still totally distracted by the on-going bothersome ‘phone call Ivor did not immediately notice that the contents of said waste bin had ignited after the introduction of the cigarette end – and flames were suddenly licking around the bin’s perimeter.

The call went up to attract Ivor’s attention to the spectacle unfolding by his right leg. Eventually, Ivor twigged the shouted warnings but, rather than hang up on the person making the troublesome ‘phone call (I suspect Ivor felt he was winning the argument at this stage!) Ivor carried on with the conversation whilst simultaneously trying to quell the flames by repeatedly stabbing his foot in and out of the waste bin! Eventually the panic was over and the flames were thwarted. There were cheers and a bit of muted applause when Ivor finally put the receiver down – and shook the smoke out of his trouser leg!

To conclude in a more reflective vein, I have to turn back to his selfless and generous giving to young musicians in Norfolk. There can be no doubting that Ivor will be fondly remembered and respected for all his very significant musical achievements in this region. Farewell Ivor. May you rest in peace.

David A. Berwick