Obituaries

Michael Vaile

Funeral address by Barry Rose

It's such an honour  for me to be standing here today  to say something about Michael, as we celebrate the end of his earthly journey  and a close friendship that began way back in 1956.
55 years is a long time, and there are a lot of memories about one special aspect of Michael's life - his unique musical gifts, and as they always say about musicians, it's the early influences that are important.
Meeting Michael, way back in 1956, was to be a turning point in MY life. I was working in the City. in an insurance office, and Jeremy Symons, a  musical friend, was organising a Passiontide concert at The University of London, where both and he and Michael were studying - Michael was  then a student at the Bartlett School of Architecture.  I was asked to be the accompanist in the concert.
The work we were performing featured several soloists,  and Michael's part was the smallest - he took the role of Judas, in the story of Christ's betrayal  and Crucifixion. All Michael had to sing was a few sentences, but the moment he opened his mouth, I was absolutely spellbound - I'd never heard such musicality or vocal artistry from anyone, not even the most famous singers on record - and for me, it was to be a life-changing experience. Many of you won't be at all surprised to know that what was meant to be a solemn occasion also showed another side of Michael we all grew to know so well - his wicked and sharp sense of humour - none of us were exempt . One of the other singers. who had been rather pompous in the rehearsal about his own ability, actually started one of his solos four notes too high, and you can imagine how strained his voice
sounded. I was desperately trying to find the right notes to play, and out of the corner of my eye all I could see was Michael  shaking with fits of laughter - what we later came to know in the Guildford choir as the 'hanky in mouth' moment!
After the concert was over,  Jeremy and Michael had to dash off to choir practice - they were both singing with what was then the famous choir  at Hampstead Parish Church. 'You ought to come and join us'  they said - there's a vacancy for a Bass - why don't you ask for an audition? . I did, and I managed to get in, and so began the close friendship that Michael and I enjoyed for the rest of his life.
In addition to Hampstead, Michael also sang counter-tenor in several famous Cathedral choirs. When he was singing at Guildford, we used to rib him about it, and say that it would be easier to count how many of the 43 English Cathedrals he'd NOT sung in, rather than those he had.   Off the top of my head  - Ely Cathedral,  Worcester Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, New College Oxford, Salisbury Cathedral, and so on. Sometimes we went back to Michael's  old haunts, and I well remember one of those visits to Ely. We'd had  a very boozy evening in a local pub, and we'd both been taken short on the way back to the house where we were staying, right next to the Cathedral. We couldn't wait any longer, so Michael said, "oh let's go there" pointing to the garden we were passing. "It's only the assistant organist, and he won't notice if we pee all over his cabbages" . He didn't, but the next night he DID invite us both to Dinner, and, yes, you've guessed it,  amongst the vegetables was ----- cabbage -we both politely declined.  It wasn't long before we both decided that we needed to move closer to Hampstead - Michael from his family home in Lower Kingswoood, Surrey, and me from my home Chingford, in East London. Choirs weren't paid in those days - at least, we weren't - and we were short of money. so we lived together in a ground-floor flat in Golders Green - immediately renamed by Michael as Goldberg Greenstein -  and there we shared a bedroom - different beds, in case you're wondering.. At that time National Service in the Royal Air Force had caught up with Michael - somehow he'd  previously been exempted, probably because of his student status - and in true Michael fashion, he managed to land himself with a cushy posting to RAF Bentley Priory, at Stanmore, which meant he could  actually commute from Golders Green, though how he managed to wangle a living-out pass still defeats me.
 In the early mornings, as I used to struggle into my suit to go to work in the City, I used to ask him " are you going into the RAF today" ? and quite often he'd reply " no i don't think I will, because , I've been asked to sing at Evensong in Westminster Abbey". Those of us who had been marched around bleak parade grounds for hours on end  on cold mornings often wondered  how Michael  got away with it - but you know Michael as well as I do......
Towards the end of the 1950's I formed my very first choir, and Michael was a founder member. We called it The Jacobean Singers, and it wasn't long before we'd passed the BBC audition. And having spoken about Michael's rare gifts as a musician, here we both are, in a short excerpt from a Music at Night broadcast on what was then the Home Service. early in 1960. It's from a very old tape recording, and I'm sorry that the audio quality is not very good. I'm accompanying and Michael is singing part of King Solomon's prayer of dedication from the first Book of Kings - "yet have thou respect unto the prayer of thy servant" from William Boyce's anthem I have surely built Thee an house.

When I moved to Guildford Cathedral in 1960, Michael also came to sing in the Cathedral choir, and a recently discovered film of the television coverage of the Service of Consecration on 17th May, 1961, shows a youthful looking Michael in the choir, with an even more youthful me conducting it. We always had a standing joke that at this time of year Michael was a year older than I am - he was born in November 1933, and I was 6 months later, in May, 1934.
One evening, late in 1963, we held a social evening  for the choristers’ parents, and that was to see the biggest change in Michael's life. In those days we were all bachelors. and several  members of the choir shared the house that the Cathedral had provided for its organist.  We all clubbed together to provide food and drink for the evening, and suddenly, out in the kitchen Michael was a state of high excitement - he just set eyes on a very pretty girl. Katrina (Katy), who was there with her parents, as the sister of one of the choristers. That was it - he was desperate for a date, and to only way to get one was to ask her chorister brother Christopher  to arrange it.  Unfortunately, there was a bit of a mix-up, and Katy actually thought she was going on a date with Clifford Mould, one of the other men in the choir - but it was Michael who actually turned up !
And, as they say, the rest is history-  three years later, in July 1966, they were married in the Cathedral.
Soon after, they moved to Jersey, where Samantha was born and Michael was practising as an architect, and from there they returned to Guildford for a while, where Sebastian was born . Then the family  spent some time at West Wittering, so that Michael could be close to the work he was then doing for IBM in Portsmouth, and finally, in 1977, they settled  in Bournemouth.
Throughout all this time Michael and I were in close contact, and he continued to sing with the choir at Guildford Cathedral as often as possible until I left there in 1974. We had been signed up to record for EMI, and one of the records they asked us to make included several extended solos - and we had the men's voices to do it. I'll never forget the morning of the day on which Michael was due to record his solos later in the evening. The phone rang  - it was Michael. "I think I've got a bad throat coming on" he said, "and I'm not sure if I'll be able to sing tonight". "Come round to the house" I said, and we climbed into my car and drove round the A25 all the way to Westerham in Kent - anything to take his mind off worrying. We had coffee there, and we talked about everything other than recording. Then we drove back to Guildford, and the recording session went ahead as planned - with Michael singing brilliantly, of course.
Recordings from the 1960's have long disappeared from the catalogues, but a couple of months ago, EMI contacted me to say that they were re-releasing that recording on CD, and would I like a copy. I told them about Michael, and they sent another copy especially for him, and we were able to get it to him in time for his last birthday.
You can now share in Michael's unique artistry and skill with a short excerpt from that CD, where he's singing an aria with words taken from Psalm 19 - their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words into the ends of the earth, from William Boyce's anthem The Heavens declare the glory of God.

So how can I sum up  ?
Well, 47 years ago, Michael was best-man at our Wedding, and that's how we continued to know him - the best of men.  He was one of those rare people who  turned his enthusiasms in real accomplishments - no matter what he turned his hand to - architecture, flying, playing the viola, singing - the list goes on..
Always an elegant presence, somehow he became the natural centre of any group he was in.  And then there was that inimitably wicked and slightly irreverent sense of humour we so often enjoyed  - who else could get away, as he once did. with re-phrasing such psalm verses as Set up thyself O God (Psalm 108) to Get up thyself, O sod , and that, in the middle of Evensong .  We'd always assumed that the Almighty had a sense of humour, and just hoped that he still had it !.
There's a well-known  paraphrase  of  words attributed to St.Augustine of Hippo that reads - "he who sings prays twice"
Well, Michael, you've done more than your fair share of that - so rest in peace,  and lots of love from us all, till we meet again.
A SAD POSTSCRIPT (2013).  Michael's wife, Katy, developed cancer which became malignant during Michael's long stay in hospital. She bravely battled on and not only was at his funeral, but also at Guildford Cathedral for a performance of Fauré's Requiem, given in Michael's memory, in February, 2012. That was to be her last public appearance, and she passed away a few weeks later,

Jeremy Symonds



Jeremy Symonds died on Christmas Day, aged 79, after a long illness. He and his wife, Kate, had moved from Kew to Mere (Wiltshire) about ten years ago, when his health was just beginning to decline. Sadly, he was rarely, if ever, able to visit again his many friends in London, including those at his beloved Savage Club.

Jeremy was the second son of musical parents who lived in Chingford, but he and his brother were sent away to spend the war years at school in Cumbria. After the war, Jeremy returned to Essex and attended Forest School. Although he showed early talent as a singer, he did not receive a formal musical education but, instead, after National Service in the army, became a student at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. Subsequently, he made his career as a designer, working initially on church furnishings at Watts and Co, and SPCK, before moving on to Viners in Sheffield as chief designer.

As was pointed out at Jeremy’s funeral, his passion was always singing. He joined the choir of Hampstead Parish Church as a tenor in his early 20s, during the 1950s, when this correspondent was a chorister in the choir, and this was how he came under the influence of Martindale Sidwell. Jeremy had a beautiful natural voice and was often selected to sing the tenor solos, as choir members from that time will remember. Singing for Sidwell in the 1950s and 60s provided wonderful opportunities to perform in concerts, make broadcasts and recordings, and go on overseas tours, in addition to the usual church services (including the televised re-consecration service at St Clement Danes Church in October, 1958, before the resident professional choir there was established). Even after moving to Sheffield, Jeremy used to return each year to sing for Sidwell in the annual Hampstead Choral Society performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the Royal Festival Hall.

Quite soon after Jeremy and Kate were married in 1981, they returned to London and Jeremy was able to resume his singing career, now as a fine baritone. For several years he sang in many in many of the great churches in London, including at St Paul’s Cathedral under the direction of his old friend, Barry Rose.

A large gathering of Jeremy’s friends and family attended his very moving funeral service in Mere on 11th January, 2013. The choir of 16, together with the conductor, Professor Sebastian Forbes, and organist, Dr Barry Rose, sang Purcell’s Hear My Prayer and the Christmas carols Ding dong! Merrily on high and God rest you merry gentlemen, as well as two of Kate and Jeremy’s favourite hymns. This group of musicians included no fewer than seven who had sung with Jeremy in Hampstead over 50 years ago, together with other musical friends and, in some cases, their offspring.  These included Jeremy’s goddaughter, Rachel Podger, daughter of Richard and Heike Podger, who were also singing in the choir, and Sebastian Forbes’ daughters, Joanna and Emily. The other singers were Rupert Oliver Forbes, Tessa Forbes, Tim Williams, Martin Roberts, Gillian Hallifax, Elizabeth (Buffie) Rose, Carol (Hall) Savage, Richard Baker, David Roberts, John Taylor, David Roberts, Jim Newton (Kate’s brother) and Jeremy Hardie, joined by Barry Rose for the eight-part Purcell anthem. Addresses by Kate Symonds (read by Mrs Jane Hurd, the officiating Minister) and by Barry Rose, painted a warm, affectionate and amusing tribute to a talented and gentle man, much loved by his friends and family. The service ended very appropriately with a beautiful recording of Jeremy singing  ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ from Handel’s Messiah.

As well as remembering him as a good friend over many years, I shall always be grateful that Jeremy invited me to a Wednesday Luncheon at the Savage Club in August, 1998 and, subsequently, proposed me for membership of that unique London club. I am only sorry that he was not often able to enjoy the company of his Savage and other friends over recently, but his memory will live long in the minds of those who knew him, especially the many with whom he sang over the years.

Jeremy Hardie
April, 2013

 

William Madin