Reunion of two church choirs directed by Martindale Sidwell:
(Hampstead Parish Church, 1946–92, and St Clement Danes, 1958–92)

24 April 2009 at the Savage Club

A strange feature of today's world is Alumni activity. Based on the notion of 'once a member, always a member', we all get stuff urging us to re-unite. Much of this gets put into the filing cabinet – the one in the corner.
But this was different. Of some 100 former singers, organists and clergy that worked with Martindale Sidwell in these two churches, as many as 80+ attended, and all the others would surely have wanted to attend. If there are yet others that we should have invited but didn't, our apologies. There may well be another such reunion in a couple of years' time.
Though Martindale ('Martin') died in 1998, one’s links with Hampstead survived through the annual Memorial Concerts held early in each new year. It was at last year's, a choral concert at the end of January, that I last saw Barbara. She seemed more frail and less mentally alert than before, but we would never forget the tireless support that she gave her husband, or her own distinguished musical achievements as harpsichordist, rehearsal accompanist, and piano teacher.

Barbara's death last autumn made many of us feel that presumed links with the past were now severed. Sadly, her funeral was poorly attended, and I was one of many that simply couldn't be there. Some others may not have been informed about it. This led Tim Williams to phone me (on Christmas Eve). I gave him Jeremy Hardie's current contact details, and my casual suggestion that it was about time we all got together snowballed into vigorous activity by Tim and Jeremy. The resulting reunion on 24 April at the Savage Club was a huge success. Renewing old acquaintances was an enormous pleasure. I can recall a handful of people that I had not seen for more than 50 years.
A further dimension to it all is the recovery and dissemination of memorabilia of two kinds: photographs and, significantly, recordings. We were able to sample both at the reunion, and their fuller recovery and availability, plus the creation of a website, will constitute busy activity in the foreseeable future. Group photographs revive memories in a delightful way, whilst recordings testify to Martin's unique, inspiring musicianship and the selfless process by which he achieved his aims.


I wondered if I was to be the earliest Sidwell singer present at the reunion, but that honour goes to David Faulkner (second from left). His late, elder brother John was Head Chorister when I joined one foggy November Friday in 1949. I dare say that each one of us can recall our first encounter with Martin (do hear Ken Jones on this topic!). In my case, I recall the stormy process of that first rehearsal, frequently peppered with 'Bless my soul'. The very next day I sang at a wedding and earned 6d (return train fare from Brent, 21/2d, net gain 31/2d; thus my career was afoot). Some of us will remember those little notes, dutifully passed from the organ loft across to Decani. One, addressed to me, simply said, "Stand up and SING!" So, I did.
As Hampstead Parish Church Choir became one of the most highly respected in the UK in the early 1950s, I do recall what a privilege it was that there was always something special to work for, be it a concert (Wigmore Hall or elsewhere), a broadcast (from a BBC studio, or evensong from the church), a gramophone recording, or a tour.
Stories abound about Martindale, and many other characters and events of those years, at both Hampstead and St Clement Danes. But the legacy of musical inspiration and achievement will surely stay with us even more strongly. We are all most grateful for the experience.

SEBASTIAN FORBES

 



Richard Baker writes:-

An unusual event took place in the Clubroom on Friday 24th April when about eighty musicians gathered to celebrate the lives of the late Brother Savage Martindale Sidwell and his wife Barbara, who died in her 89th year last Autumn after a distinguished career as harpsichordist and pianist. Martin’s remarkable gifts of conducting and musicianship had clearly affected the lives and careers of most choral singers and many organists in London during his tenure of the posts of Organist and Choirmaster at Hampstead Parish Church and St Clement Danes over some fifty years of the last century. The idea of re-assembling those who owed much to Martin and his at times unorthodox methods of music-making was conceived by former choristers Sebastian Forbes, Jeremy Hardie and Tim Williams, who had gone to considerable lengths to track down musicians, many of whom had not seen each other these past forty years.
Jeremy welcomed the company and Tim thanked the Club for its hospitality and Lynton Black for his trouble in arranging his usual sumptuous buffet. He drew attention to the many photographs and recordings available of the London Bach Orchestra and Hampstead Choral Society as well as of Martin’s two church choirs, and referred to Barbara’s unswerving support in the face of almost insuperable odds as Martin imposed unexpected aspects of his musical direction on unsuspecting singers and players. He mentioned such early stalwart singers such as John Prowse and Jeremy Symonds, neither well enough to be at the party; and a long list of leading soloists of their time who had all performed under Martin’s baton.
As well as five senior clergymen, an impressive galaxy of organists was also present, including four Brother Savages and, not least, Jane Harington, Martin’s assistant at Hampstead without whose loyal support his tightrope act of keeping more than one job on the go simultaneously would surely have collapsed.
Several of those in the Clubroom started singing for Martin at Hampstead in the late 1940s and early 1950, and many also sang at the Re-Dedication Service at St Clement Danes Church in 1958. Brother Savage Ken Jones, probably the longest-serving member (from 1958 - 1992) of Martin’s musical empire, rounded the evening off in his inimitable style, brooking no interruption as he delivered amusing reminiscences of the lives of Martin and Barbara during his long association with them.
Tim Williams evinced the hope that future reunions might follow, and drew attention to the Memorial Trust established in Martin’s name with the object of furthering the careers of young musicians. The small profit made on the evening is to be divided between the Trust and the cost of new bar stools in the Clubroom in memory of Martin and Barbara Sidwell.

 

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