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(L) Samuel Hudson conducting Blackburn Cathedral choirs
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Enjoy hearing choir sopranos singing a ringing TOP B ...
... by listening to this short recording from JB's Princeton Singers' CD Welcome Yule: It's JB's arrangement of a tune you all know!
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Once in Royal, Hark! the Herald & O come, all ye faithful
JOHN BERTALOT, MA (Cantab), Hon D.Mus, FRCO(CHM), Hon FRCCO, Hon FRSCM, Hon FGCM, ARCM
John Bertalot conducting the choir of Blackburn Cathedral for the final Consecration of the cathedral in the presence of HRH Princess Alexandra, 1977
I have led such a privileged life:
please enjoy sharing some of its highlights with me.
The seeds for JB's career in church music were sown when, at the age of four, he was taken by his parents to Canterbury Cathedral where the organ happened to be playing. 'I want to play like that,' he said, and eventually he did!
Although he was born in Kent, his parents eventually moved to Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex where he became a chorister in the choir of St Mary's Church (built in AD 1107)
He had organ lessons there and grew to love the church and all that it stood for.
JB won the major organ scholarship to the Royal College of Music, London, where he studied with Dr Harold Darke, and gained his FRCO, CHM and ARCM
(Photo of Dr Harold Darke taken by JB in room 90 of the RCM, 1953)
JB's contemporaries as students at the RCM included Peter Hurford (founder of the St Alban's international organ festival), John Sanders (Director of Music of Chester and Gloucester Cathedrals), John Birch (Chichester Cathedral), Colin Mawby (Westminster Cathedral) and Gerald Hendrie (Professor of Music of the Open University).
Also the guitarist Julian Bream and the operatic star (Dame) Joan Sutherland.
The organ teaching staff included Sir George Thalben Ball (Temple Church), Sir John Dykes Bower (St Paul's Cathedral), and Sir William Harris (St. George's Windsor Castle). There were two Directors during JB's time there: Sir George Dyson and Sir Ernest Bullock.
My first faltering steps as an organist and choirmaster were taken when I was appointed to St. James-the-Less church, North Lancing, in Sussex – a 30 -minute cycle ride from my home in Shoreham.
The organ was a 4-rank ex-cinema organ with a white movable console, but the choir was full of wonderful people - one of whom (the diminutive chorister on the far right) contacted me recently. He's now a Grandfather, but we would love to meet again. Thanks, Robin!
JB said farewell to St. James-the-Less when he won the organ scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford, where he studied with Dr. Egon Wellesz ...
... and then he won the organ scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied with Dr Boris Ord (conductor of the famous King’s College Choir) and Professor Patrick Hadley.
He was the offical accompanist for the Cambridge University Music Society (CUMS) when they rehearsed for performances of Honegger's Joan of Arc at the stake (in Cambridge Guildhall), and
Handel's Israel in Egypt (in King's College Chapel) when he played the magnificent organ with the 150-voice choir and University orchestra.
He also played the organ in the University Church for Billy Graham's first Mission to Cambridge in November 1955.
The whole University was set on fire by those services that week - everyone was talking about them.
JB also composed two musical comedies for the Corpus May Week concerts: the script for the first, Cinderella and the Wicked Dean, was written by Peter Vincent, son of the professor of Italian at Trinity College, Cambridge. Peter eventually became a script-writer for the Two Ronnies, and other major TV comedians!
And he conducted the first Cambridge performance of Meniotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. The part of Amahl was sung by a chorister from Peterborough Cathedral through the kindness of its legendary Director of Music, Stanley Vann.
JB conducting the CCC chapel choir in madrigals in the Old Court (1325) after the May Week Concert 1958. "I'll sing you one-o: Green grow the rushes-O!"
Whilst JB was still at Cambridge he was invited by Martin J. R. How, the inspirational Headquarters' Choirmaster at the RSCM, to be a housemaster on a choristers' course at Addington Palace, near Croydon in Surrey, the world HQ of the RSCM.
This was a tremendous thrill for, in those days, the headquarters for the world-wide music of the Anglican Church could be said to be at Addington Palace. Residential courses were held there not only for choristers, but also for choirmasters and for organists. Music students from the London Colleges were sometimes housed there: it was a-buzz with activity and Dr Gerald Knight, its Director, was the resident Patron Saint of it all.
This was the first of many courses that JB helped to lead, and later directed, both at Addington and elsewhere in the UK. And it was mainly through these courses that he learnt 'how' to be an efficient choirmaster - by watching those who knew more than he did (especially Martin How). It was a time of magic and glory!
After graduating in 1958 JB was appointed to perhaps the most famous church in the UK at that time as a patron of the arts: S. Matthew's Northampton.
There was a Madonna and Child, by Henry Moore,
and a Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland.
There was a magnificent 4-manual 1895 Walker organ (three Open Diapasons and 16, 8 & 4 reeds on the Great, and a real Double Open Wood on the Pedal)
and a superb choral tradition with a choir of dedicated men and boys whose firm foundations stretched way back to the church's founding in 1895, when Charles King was Director of Music.
King composed the tune Northampton for the hymn, Songs of Praise the Angels sang, and gave annual performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the church choir.
King was succeeded by Denys Pouncey who became organist of Wells Cathedral, and later by Alec Wyton who went to St John the Divine Cathedral in New York City, and then by Robert 'Harry' Joyce who was appointed to Llandaff Cathedral in 1958 leaving the S. Matthew's post vacant - for JB to be appointed!
One of the S. Matthew's choristers pictured here in 1960 is tenor Brian Ager (extreme Left 2nd row from the back), who sang the treble solo for the first performance of Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb. Another chorister is Robert Walker (back row, second from the left) who became a well-known composer, and yet another was David Holton (middle row, 3rd from the right) who became professor of modern Greek at Cambridge University. Those were the days!
Annual commissions for anthems were made - during Alec Wyton's time the first was Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb followed by Finzi's Lo, the Full Final Sacrifice. JB inaugurated the S. Matthew’s Concerts under the active patronage of Benjamin Britten. He also founded the S. Matthew’s Singers, and conducted the Northampton Bach Choir and Orchestra, and also the Northampton Symphony Orchestra.
Elizabeth Poston composed JB's first commission in 1959 - a joyful Te Deum
Elizabeth Poston seen here with JB and his parents
During his six years at Northampton he also taught organ and piano at Stowe School, general music at Maidwell Hall Prep School, and was, for two years, Music Master at Trinity High School, Northampton.
In 1963 he was invited, by Dr Gerald Knight, to be one of the leaders of the hand-picked RSCM choir which would sing at the Anglican Congress in Toronto.
Dr Knight conducted the choir, Sir John Dykes Bower was our organist and our Chaplain was the Rt. Revd. Ted Roberts, who was the Chairman of the RSCM Council (and who later became Bishop of Ely).
JB was in charge of the A, T, Bs, and Martin How was in charge of the trebles.
They were an unforgettabe 3 weeks:
The opening service was held in the Toronto Ice hockey Stadium with a congregation of some 20,000.
Then we sang daily services in St. James' Cathedral, Toronto and, on our day off, we visited Niagara, singing morning service at Hamilton Cathedral en route.
We were given a lavish and most delicious lunch at Hamilton Cathedral, which I remember vividly 50 years afterwards: especially the orange jelly served with our savoury course!
This was our first experience of New World church hospitality. We hadn't got round to that yet in the UK!
Towards the end of our stay in Canada we sang in Kingston and Ottawa Cathedrals,
and our final concert was in Montreal's Anglican Cathedral. JB conducted this, with Sir John Dykes Bower as our organist and Bishop Roberts singing in the choir. What a privilege that was!
Our final anthem at Montreal was Finzi's God is gone up: after which we immediately took a coach to Montreal Airport and flew home. It was all over - but the memories linger on.
Toronto and Montreal Cathedrals
On JB's appointment to Blackburn Cathedral in 1964 he was succeeded at S. Matthew's by Dr Michael Nicholas (who became Director of Music of Norwich Cathedral) who was followed by Dr Stephen Cleobury who eventually became the Director of Music of King's College, Cambridge.
For 18 years JB was director of music of Blackburn Cathedral in Lancashire, where he led one of the largest men and boys’ cathedral choirs in England - which was entirely voluntary and which broadcast many times for the BBC.
During his early years at Blackburn Cathedral, the whole building was radically transformed
for it had become a rather reluctant, though well-intentioned, chrysalis.
After JB had been there only two months he was told to have the organ taken down (this caused consternation in certain old choristers' minds - until they were told why the organ had to come down!).
A giant hardboard screen was to be erected between the East end of the Nave and the transepts, for the Nave and the crypt beneath were about to be transformed under the direction of London architect Laurence King.
JB asked J. W. Walker and Sons from Ruislip to do the dismantling (for he knew of their fine work from his six years at S. Matthew's) and they carefully stored all the pipewok in large boxes in the crypt and they provided us with a temporary four-rank extension organ which was miraculously efficient.
(It was 'temporary' for five years, for the cathedral's restoration had to be completed and we had no money to buy a new organ!)
The Nave was filled with scaffolding, a new marble floor was laid, and the ceilings were painted in glorious mediaeval colours and John Hayward designed all the new works of art, including a massive Christ the Worker for the West wall of the Nave.
Exactly a year later the glorious Nave was re-hallowed by Bishop Charles Claxton in the presence of HRH The Princess Margaret (The Queen's sister) - even though she was an hour late!
Also there for the Rehallowing on Wednesday 6th October 1965 were Archbishop Donald Coggan from York, and also the very first Bishop of Blackburn, Bishop Herbert who became Bishop of Norwich. JB had invited Dr Francis Jackson to play the (miniature) organ for us for that service!
JB augmented the cathedral choir with six trebles from diocesan churches so that the diocese could be involved musically in the rehallowing. One of the choristers was young Colin Edmundson who became music scholar at Oxford, and later taught 14-year old David Briggs and 15-year old John Butt the organ!
We worshipped in the Nave for the following 4 years whilst the Transepts and East end were similarly transformed into a brilliantly coloured butterfly – full of light and joy – with a superb lantern tower which was crowned by a slim aluminium spire and a 15 ft gold-leafed Cross which could be seen from many miles away.
JB also raised the money (through a meticulously worded letter to generous millionaire William Thompson of Burnley) to purchase a brand new organ and, with Dr Francis Jackson from York Minster and Bert Collop, the Director of J. W Walker & Sons, an ambitious specification was drawn up (which included the unque pedal 32ft reed: SERPENT!). This organ became one of the most exciting cathedral organs in the UK
The Serpent pipes in Walker's factory, August 1969. Doubly mitred to imitate the shape of the Serpent wind instrument.
By December 1969 the Transepts, East end at Lantern Tower had been completed, and the coloured ceilings in the transepts were even more glorious than those in the Nave
JB remembers asking one of the painters and gilders where else he'd painted such ceilings. 'Buckingham Palace!' he answered.
'And which is the best you've ever done?' 'This one!'
John Hayward's scintillating paintings on the ceilings of the four corner-arches at the base of the Lantern Tower:
JB & our new Sub Organist, Ronald Frost, played for the blessing of the organ in December 1969 in front of a packed cathedral.
JB played the 'consecration' piece: Bach's St Anne' Fugue.
And then JB gave a short recital on the brand new organ, concluding with Dupré's Variations sur un Noel.
Admiring the console after the service: Bert Collop (MD of Walker's), Bishop Claxton, the Mayor of Blackburn and a highly delighted JB!
The opening recitals in 1970 were given by Dr Francis Jackson, Flor Peeters and Harold Darke.
Dr Jackson composed his first organ sonata for this occasion.
1970 in JB's Studio in St Mary's House, Cathedral Close, Blackburn, immediately after Flor Peeters recital.
L-R: Flor Peeters, Bert Collop, Dots Bertalot, Terence Duffy (Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral) & JB
The unique organ cases were designed by John Hayward. He said: 'The organ should go in and out of the building, and the Swell boxes should be in full view!
Weekly lunchtime organ recitals were inaugurated by JB, and large-scale concerts.
JB founded the Blackburn Bach Choir (now re-named the Renaissance Singers) which won for two years in succession shortly after their formation, the UK rounds of the BBC's international singing competition, Let the Peoples sing. i.e. We were rated as the finest mixed voice choir in the UK.
Our annual Christmas concerts in King George's Hall, Blackburn, attracted capacity audiences (of some 1,500).
JB was also a Senior Lecturer at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where he lectured in history, taught harmony and composition, and led weekly choirtraining classes for the organ students, which always included several FRCOs.
He had the privilege of teaching some most gifted musicians during those 18 years, including (below L-R) – for choirtraining: Gordon Stewart (who became his successor-but-one at Blackburn Cathedral) and Lyndon Hills (Preston Minster), and for harmony and composition: Ian Harrison (St Stephen's Church, Bournemouth), Sally Beamish (international composer) and concert pianist Martin Roscoe.
When meeting one new student at the RNCM JB remembers asking him if he'd composed anything. 'Yes, a three act opera!' came the reply! That was more than JB had done!
One of JB's fellow Senior Lecturers colleagues at the RNCM was Keith Bond, who'd also been organ scholar of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (two before JB!).
When Ronald Frost became unwell after being with us for wonderful 2 years, Keith Bond succeeded him. This also was a most creative time for us all. Keith's wife, Ruth, became music secretary and everything flourished.
Keith introduced senior girls into the Young People's Choir (which Ronald Frost had founded - for we had so many ex-trebels who wanted to continue singing with us).
The YPC numbered over 30 teenage singers through Keith and Ruth's pastoral and musical leadership. It's never been so large!
The Cathedral Choir was at its most enthusiastic - and all the singers were entirely voluntary.
And the Blackburn Bach Choir were also in tip-top form:
Two basses who sat next to each other were Harold Darke's Grandson, and Sir John Stainer's Great Grandson!
JB also have the privilege of directing six RSCM Cathedral courses when we sang the daily services for two full weeks in most privileged places, with singers hand-picked from church and cathedral choirs throughout the UK. He directed three 2-week courses at Westminster Abbey, and one each at Coventry, Norwich and finally Canterbury Cathedral. The standard was, of course, extraordinarily high (there were several Cambridge choral scholars in our ranks each year, including cathedral-organist-to-be Paul Hale) and every course ended with a live broadcast of Choral Evensong on the BBC.
The Norwich Cathedral Course, 1969, with a final concert in the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge.
JB extreme left, organist Keith Burton-Nickson, extreme right.
The RSCM 2-week Course at Coventry Cathedral 1970, with some Blackburn choristers marked (L-R):
Derek Crompton, Ivor Bolton, David Rothwell, JB and Steve Holmes, Organist, Simon Lindley and Precentor Joseph Poole.
Our organists for these 6 courses were dazzingly distinguished, including Dr Roy Massey (Hereford Cathedral), Simon Lindley (sub organist, Westminster Cathedral), Peter White (Leicester Cathedral) and Keith Burton-Nickson (Rossall School).
And because JB had such talented choristers at Blackburn Cathedral (including Ivor Bolton, who became an international orchestral conductor) he was able to invite half a dozen or more of his Blackburn singers to enjoy these courses with him.
Blackburn Choristers from the 1971 course at Westminster Abbey
L-R: Philip Carr (became church warden at Blackburn Cathedral), David Rothwell (became an executive of Pilkington Glass) Alan Carr (Phil's twin) Ian Harrison (St Stephen's Bournemouth) Ivor Bolton (International orchestral conductor), Derek Crompton (who is currently a tenor soloist in Blackburn Cathedrak choir), Philip Crozier (who became an organ virtuoso in Canada) Peter Holroyd (manager of Booth's supermarkets) Jonathan Stephenson (lost touch) and JB
At our first Abbey course we were the first Anglican Choir to give a concert in Westminster Cathedral, by the kind invitation of Colin Mawby (JB and Colin had been fellow students at the RCM. It pays to know the right people!)
JB's final cathedral course was at Canterbury Cathedral in 1973
JB's Mum and her sister Nell Humphrey came for our final concert in Canterbury Cathedral which, for us three, was an emotional moment, for it was the fulfilment of JB's wish, at the age of four in 1935 in the presence of his parents and Aunt Nell that he heard the organ playing in that blessed place and wanted to make music just like it.
One of JB's greatest privileges was to be asked to be Godfather to the first-born son of Phil and Joan Hunwick, who were both members of JB's Blackburn Bach Choir. (Phil is still a long-time tenor in the Cathedral Choir). When Phil drove JB the next day to see mother and baby in hospital, it looked just like a Nativity scene: the father standing there so tall and the baby so small - Ah, it rhymes!
So JB decided to give the baby (his name is Christopher) an everlasting present by composing a Christmas carol for him, based on his name. Christ over appears in the chorus, and this carol is now sung worldwide. Listen to the first verse:
Little baby, born at dark midnight, Came from God that we may walk in Light;
Now a star is in the heaven, and Christ on earth,
Christ over us all doth shine. Alleluia.
Order 'Little Baby, born at dark midnight' (SATB or unison with piano) from
Chris is now archivist to the Duke of Northumberland, who owns Alnwick Castle (second only in size to Windsor Castle). And Chris's wife, Geraldine, is archivist to Newcastle University!
And if that weren't enough, Phil and Joan's second son was called Noel (because he was born on Christmas Day). So Noel had a carol written for him, too. As JB wanted Noel to become a Cathedral Chorister (as had his elder brother) his carol was called Alleluia, SING, Noel! Listen to the first verse:
Alleluia, alleluia, sing to Jesus:
Sing Alleluia, sing Noel, blow up the trumpet and ring-a the bell;
Jesus is standing where Adam fell, Mary's Son, Emmanuel.
Sing Alleluia, Jesus is born: Alleluia, Sing Noel!
Order SING NOEL (SATB or unison with piano) from
This carol is also sung worldwide. Noel is now Managing Director, with his business partner, of two superb restaurants in the heart of London, called INAMO, where the tables transform themselves into computers - and you can actually see photos, on the empty plate before you, of the food you order! The first restaurant is in Wardour Street (134-136), and the second is just off Piccadilly Circus, towards the Athanaeum! (INAMO St James).
You'll have a meal and a gastronomic experience which you will relish - and want to return to again and again!
Voted the best new restaurant in London!
JB's World tours increased during his 18 years at Blackburn. He visited South Africa four times during his career - leading the country's main RSCM courses in Cape Town and Johannesberg.
He lectured at the Universities of Pretoria and Port Elizabeth, led choral workshops all over that vast country, and was resident musician three times at the Drakensberg Boychoir School – they were the very finest boy choir in the world – reaching staggering levels of musicianship. For example, there were at least two Drakensburg boys every year who could sing the Queen of the Night aria!! Listen!
JB conducting the superb Drakensberg Boychoir in South Africa
In addittion to conducting six RSCM Cathedral Courses, and many other RSCM courses in the UK, and visiting South Africa four times, plus his first visit to Australia to lead choristers' and choirmasters' courses, and to lecture...
...JB led nine separate residential choir courses across the Atlantic! Four for the oldest choir course in the USA - called Wa-Li-Ro (named after the founding Bishop of Ohio, Warren Lincoln Rogers) which were held on an idyllic island in Lake Erie. The composer-in-residence was Dr Leo Sowerby who always composed an anthem for these annual courses.
JB led a course in Florida, three courses in Canada (at London Cathedral and Kingston Cathedral, Ontario and Toronto Cathedral) plus the major USA choristers' course which was held at Princeton University
when his assistants included the Directors of Music of Washington National Cathedral and San Francisco Cathedral. The final service of the Princeton course was held in St. Thomas's Church, Fifth Avenue, New York City. What a privilege! (That was the year before he knew that there was a Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton!)
He also adjudicated at music festivals in the UK - from Ayre in Scotland to Bournemouth in the south of England, and he also adjudicated for two months at music festivals across Canada - from Halifax Nova Scotia to Toronto and Winnepeg.
(How did he find time to do all this as well as to keep his cathedral and RNCM work going? Happily there was abounding energy in those days – ah, me! – as well as vacations!)
Just before he left the UK for his new post in the USA JB had the enormous privilege of playing the organ in the Royal Albert Hall, London, for the Annual Festival of Remembrance, which was televised live by the BBC.
Towards the end of the 90-minutes of military displays there was a service which was led by hand-picked singers from churches throughout the UK. Not only did JB lead 6,000 people in singing Eternal Father, strong to save, but he was told to improvise on the organ for exactly 3 minutes (after the military displays) whilst the choir and clergy processed onto the platform from the far end of the Royal Albert Hall. Even though JB could improvise, he felt that, on this occasion, he should write out his improvisation to make it appropriate for the occasion. So he included extracts from Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony (for the Royal Navy), Onward, Christian soldiers (for the army), a quotation from the Dam Busters' March (for the RAF) and, as the next day was the birthday of Prince Charles, he hid (successfully) Happy birthday to you in the counterpoint.
(He wrote a letter to the Prince the following week telling him what he'd done - and he received a reply!)
In the Royal Box were The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, The King of Norway and Margaret Thatcher.
What a thrill it was to play, before my Queen, two verses of the National Anthem in company with the massed bands of the Grenadier Guards!
It doesn't get any better than that!
Two months later JB moved to the USA to take up my new post.
In January 1983 JB succeeded Dr. James Litton as Director of Music of Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, NJ, where he led one of the most ambitious Episcopal choir programs in the US. He was also an Adjunct Associate Professor at Westminster Choir College, Rider University, Princeton.
Princeton is an exceptional place: it is home to one of the great Ivy league Universities in the USA; it has a graduate college where 1200 post-graduate students study for their doctorates, and it has the Institute for Advanced Study where Einstein was, and which has the most gifted scientists and highly charged brains in the world doing advanced research. It has the largest Seminary in the USA (directly opposite Trinity Church) and also one of the leading music colleges in the USA (Westminster Choir College). In addition, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there's a millionaire living on almost every corner!
And everyone is so full of enthusiasm that, when leadership is offered, many are the folk who wish to join in!
Although the church building is relatively small, every cubic inch packs a punch,
and there was a magnificent four-manual tracker Casavant organ which is tuned to Werkmeister II (which makes accompanying Howells in tune somewhat tricky!)
JB's church choir of men, (including some professional singers), teens, boys and six senior girls sang several times in Washington National Cathedral - which included concerts before our Choral Evensongs.
The choirs of Trinity Episcopal Church, Princeton were most enthusiastic throughout my 16 years with them, as this recording demonstrates, which was made at our first concert in Washington National Cathedral! (The six girls asked if they could scoop up to a top C at the end - Yes!)
JB founded the Princeton Singers which won international acclaim through their concerts and broadcasts not only in the US but also in England and who were rated as one of the top three mixed-voice choirs in the USA.
Under his direction they were the featured choir at two national conventions of the Association of Anglican Musicians, and also sang four concerts to the American Guild of Organists’ Centennial Conference in NYC which was attended by 3,000 delegates from all over the world. (Dr. Ronald Arnatt, past President of the AGO, said that their concert was the finest of the whole conference!)
Listen to one of our favorite anthems:
The Princeton Singers made three concert tours of England - singing each time to capacity audiences in Blackburn Cathedral.
They also gave a concert at the historic Three Choirs' Festival in Hereford Cathedral where they sang to an audience 1,400, as well as giving concerts to capacity audiences in Westminster Abbey and in the Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, where their performance was reviewed by the international music magazine CHOIR & ORGAN (November, 1996) with adjectives such as ‘seamless’, ‘faultless’ and ‘sheen of perfection’. ’[The Princeton Singers] are undoubtedly a fine example of American choral singing at its strongest.’ Their CDs are available through GOTHIC RECORDS of California and ETHEREAL RECORDINGS of NYC.
The Princeton Singers immediately before their concert in the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge.
Centre front row L-R: Dr Stephen Cleobury, Trinity Organ scholar Scott Dettra (who later became organist of Washington National Cathedral) JB and Dr George Guest.
JB led choir courses and gave lectures at Universities in NewZealand and Australia. The two choir festivals he conducted in Sydney on each occasion he regarded as the best prepared festivals he had ever conducted.
With Heloise Barr, wife of H.H. Judge Barr who hosted JB for his second visit to Sydney
He also conducted a concert in Melbourne Cathedral through the kind invitation of Dr June Nixon - the legendary Director of Music of that Cathedral. Dr. Nixon held that post for exactly forty years and her choir was the only cathedral choir outside the UK to sing daily services. And they were entirely voluntary.
JB enjoyed the privilege not only of welcoming choirmasters to Trinity Church from many parts of the USA who came to observe JB's programme of music, (one choirmaster even made the journey from New Zealand to observe JB's rehearsals!) but he also led very many choir courses throughout the USA –
from San Francisco in the West to Washington National Cathedral in the East,
In San Francisco with former Trinity Head Chorister Jesse Antin, who became concerts manager and lead alto of 'Chanticleer' - perhaps the finest men's choir anywhere in the world.
to Florida (three times) in the South, to Denver, Colorado (twice) in the North;
to Lexington, Kentucky in the centre, to Canada over the border;
and to many other cities in between...
...including five annual week-long courses at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, which were attended by choirmasters from all over the US, as well as abroad - including Japan!
Just before he retired from Princeton he was invited by Dr Fred. Swann to conduct the 80-strong professional adult choir of the Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove, California, in JB’s own arrangement of “Amazing Grace”. This was televised to 154 countries around the world. Dr. Swann said afterwards, “Everyone has RAVED about you! Thank you so very much for coming and being such a joy of my people.” Dr. Robert Schuller, in welcoming Bertalot to the Crystal Cathedral, invited him to return as often as he could! Enjoy listening to the last two verses! of JB's Amazing Grace!
Order JB's arrangements of AMAZING GRACE and ABIDE WITH ME
One of the delights of working in the privileged University town of Princeton is that one gets to make friends with folks who have influence. John Baker, a former Captain in the US Navy, managed to get JB to play the world's largest organ - in Atlantic City, New Jersey. This was an amazing experience for it not only had full length 64ft pedal stops and 100 inch wind pressure tubas, but it had seven manuals, the lowest two had additional two-octaves of keys. Full organ was like blowing up a thunderstorm!
The Convention Center is ENORMOUS. The organ pipes are hidden behind gallaries which run round three sides of the hall.
We were given a tour of the two sections at the 'east' end of the auditoriam (i.e. the platform end) where the 100-inch tubas are and also the giant 64ft pipes.
It was a breathtaking experience, and such an abounding privilege.
Another thrilling privilege was to play the legendary Wanamaker organ in the the Lord and Taylor emporium in Philadelphia (the American equivalent of Selfridge's). Recitals are given three times every day during shopping hours - Marcel Dupré had improvised his Symphony Passion on this organ; the present organist is Peter Conte whose playing is also legendary and hospitality abounding.
Almost EVERYONE in Princeton is a Person of Influence ... none more so than the good folk who rallied round during my 16 years there, to help organise the church choirs and enhance my Princeton Singers.
Ann McGoldrick (left) was not only chair of the church choir steering committee for two creative years but she also volunteered to become Concerts Manager of my Princeton Singers. She gathered round her top influential people to become members of the Singers' Board and she became a dazzling efficient Mother to us all! (See page 170 of my Immediately Practical Tips book, for the 'Mrs Silver' mentioned there is based on Mrs McGOLDrick!
In the center is Robbie Ellsworth who was also chair of the choir steering committee, and organised the second visit of the choir of King's College, Cambridge, to Princeton so that, although their fee was $15,000 we made $15,000 profit. And that came from untold hard work on her part. She is a marvel!
Robbie lives with her delightful family in one of Princeton's lovely houses (all Princetonians have lovely houses!) where she invited me to stay for more than several visits to the USA after my retirement. Robbie is a continual joy to be with - inspiring, energetic, creative and so very welcoming. What a privilege it was to have such amazing friends and creative colleagues during my most happy years in Princeton! Thank you!
Two more choir families who also welcomed me so warmly into their homes were
(L-R) Dr Rob & Pegi Stengel, and Drs May & Costa Papastephanou, and Costa's gracious Mother, (who made me three glorious ties)!
I imagined May's home for the meeting mention on page 170 of my Immediately Practical Tips, and the choir parent mentioned on p. 260 of that book was Dr Rob Stengel!
And, needless to say, all these wonderful parents had their children in Trinity's choirs - and all of them are now doing very well indeed in the Big Wide World! Alleluia!
Just before JB retired from Princeton he received a letter from Rider University, Princeton, offering him an honorary doctorate of music, in recognition of [his] “tremendous musical achievements and contributions to sacred music,”
The letter said: Previous honorary degree recipients have been Leonard Bernstein, William Mathias and Riccardo Muti. We look forward to awarding one to you as well. How could I refuse? I was thrilled.
And so, decked in my splendid new doctorate robes, I conducted my final Choral Evensong at Trinity - the last piece being Jonathan Willcocks' most beautiful God be in my head ... and at my departing! Tears were very near the surface.
And as a farewell gift, Trinity Church made me Director of Music Emeritus. What an honor!
And so, in 1998, I returned to England - to live in a village just outside Blackburn in Lancashire, where the Romans had a lookout on the top of the hill 1900 years ago!
Whatta view from the top of the hill!
Blackburn Cathedral is only 12 minutes away, and as a 'welcome home' gift, the Dean of Blackburn made me Cathedral Organist Emeritus. What an honour!
It was a particularly happy coincidence that the new Director of Music of Blackburn Cathedral, RICHARD TANNER, arrived in Blackburn the same week that JB did.
For many exciting things were about to happen!
The first exciting thing was a visit from the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, who came to Blackburn Cathedral for the dedication of the restored Lantern Tower
(The former had, alas, been built of 'modern' materials, and had, effectively melted!
I was asked to compose an anthem for the entry of the Princess.
Well, there's only one anthem on which to model a Royal Entry and that is Parry's I was rather Pleased. So, taking that as my matrix, off we went - and it sounded glorious, sung by the cathedral choir, with organ, brass and timps, conducted by the recently arrived cathedral Director of Music, Richard Tanner.
Here's the opening!
Thy Word is a Lantern unto my feet, and a Light unto my paths ...
After the service the Princess asked me how long it took me to compose it: About 2 months!
L-R: Dean David Frayne, The Princess Royal, Richard Tanner and JB
The next exciting thing happened almost immediately - the rebuilding of the magnificent organ in Blackburn Cathedral.
(You'll remember that it was brand new in December 1969: well it had been very well used during those musically busy 30 years and it was now in urgent need of restoration and enlargement.)
David Briggs was appointed as our advisor (he'd given his very first organ recital - at Blackburn at the age of only 14 - and he'd played it entirely from memory!)
The Dean and Richard Tanner generously invited JB to be part of the planning team
and Canon Andrew Hindley undertook to raise the £300,000 which it would cost.
There's a super 12-page booklet (BLACKBURN ORGANS) ready for downloading right now -
see the left hand column top of the page - with specifications of the organs from 1826 to the present day, lots of photos and mouthwatering details!
It was a special thrill for JB to be asked to play the organ for part of that service (Greg Morris
was our most talented Assistant DoM and organist) - for JB had played for the opening of that brand new organ 33 years before!
The next exciting thing that happened to JB was that he accepted the post of organist of a village church 10 miles from Blackburn.
The organ was terrible (last rebuilt in 1937) there wasn't a Vicar and the adult choir hadn't rehearsed for a year!
The choir quickly doubled in size, their enthusiasm was infectious, the new Vicar arrived, AND the church raised enough money to buy a brand new digital organ which JB had designed and Copeman Hart built.
It had four 32fts, two en chemades, bells, four harpsichord stops, flute celestes, and everything else that one could possibly wish for,
AND the Sunday dedication took place exactly on JB's 72nd birthday! WHATTA BIRTHDAY PRESENT!
L-R: Vicar Richard Adams, Choirman/treasurer/electrician Stuart Warford, JB, Ernest Hart, the Archdeacon of Blackburn and Geoff Wormwell, Chairman of the Appeal Committee.
JB was there for 11 most creative years - the choir personnel were marvellous - incredibly keen - 100% punctual, 100% enthusiastic and great Christians.
JB taught them to sight-sing - and wrote a book about it - for IT WORKED!
Published by Kevin Mayhew - it's a best seller!
Richard Tanner's creative work at Blackburn Cathedral during his twelve years with us was very exciting indeed.
He organised most ambitious concerts (not only the Bach Passions and B minor Mass) but also works such as Monteverdi's Vespers, and David Fanshaw's African Sanctus, and he introduced regular Christmas Spectactular Concerts which attracted capacity audiences.
All these, and many more cathedral activities, were published in Music & More; a magazine which promotes not only the tremendous music programme at Blackburn Cathedral, but also some of the many other pastoral programmes of outreach. JB found himself as creator and editor of this magazine which goes all over the world. (See copies of the printed editions under Newsletters in the left hand column at the top of this page, and also under M&M ONLINE.)
Richard Tanner organised Cathedral Choir tours to Paris, Berlin, Prague, Malta and the USA, as well as broadcasts and TV, and he presided over the rebuilding of our organ and increased the number of cathedral choirs from only three to NINE, so that Daily Choral Evensongs became a regular part of our worship. And all the singers were volunteers.
Richard's delightful wife, Philippa Hyde, was a tremendous asset to the Blackburn musical scene, for she is a superb soprano soloist and graced many of our concerts with her lovely voice and gracious presence.
A recurring great thrill, after my retirement to the UK in 1998, was to re-visit some of my many friends in the US.
My very first friends in the USA (for they met me at Kennedy Airport when I arrived in the US at the very end of 1982) are (center) John Sully and Dr Kathy Rohrer who were founder-members of my Princeton Singers, sang in the church choirs, and their daughter was also a leading light in the choirs. No words of mine can tell how very much their abounding friendship means to me. (And Kathy was one of the interviewers when I came to be vetted for the post, way back in 1982!)
The Sullys live in an amazing house in the wild countryside 30 minutes from Princeton which is continually being extended.
Either side of them are Jim and Ruth Thornton - again, a most lovely couple who were devoted members of my adult choir at Trinity and the very dearest friends!
Two of my professional colleagues and special friends are Dr. James Litton (center), who was my predecessor at Trinity Church, and Tom Whittemore, our successor at Trinity, whose talents and abounding energy enlivens the music program at Trinity so creatively.
What a thrill it is to rub shoulders with such musical leaders.
When Tom brought his Trinity choirs to Blackburn in 2007 it was my special joy to welcome him and John Sully & Kathy Rohrer to my home - and to enjoy the view from the top of my hill. Such friendships are one of the most special privileges of my life. Thank you!
It was a painful joy, during one of my return vacations to the US, to visit Dr Alec Wyton in his lovely home in Connecticut, for he was unwell.
I owe more to dear Alec than I can ever express, for he was not only my predecessor-but-one at St. Matthew's Northampton all those years ago, but it was initially through him that I was appointed to Trinity Church, Princeton. He had been not only Director of Music of the enormous St. John the Divine Cathedral New York City, but also President of the American Guild of Organists. He was America's Mr Church Music.
Every memory of dear Alec is lovely and inspiring.
But to return to unalloyd joys:
Very special friends near Blackburn (who go way back to the time when I was DoM of Blackburn Cathedral last Millennium) are known as DDD - as you'll see from their names.
More than several times we made visits to Europe:
Our dinner in the historic Café Mozart in Vienna was very special indeed:
And it was the most tremendous privilege to attend a superb concert in Vienna's golden Musikverein - with seats in the fourth row. Magical!
And, whilst we're at it, one of the most moving moments I've ever experienced occurred at the start of the Sunday morning service in St Thomas' Church, Leipzig, when a churchwarden placed a lighted candle upon Bach's flower-strewn grave in the chancel.
JSB was indeed there amongst us.
And if that weren't enough, when we were in Leipzig for the Bach festival, we discovered that my 1970s Blackburn Cathedral Chorister, Ivor Bolton, was conducting a concert in Bach's other church in that city - the Nicolaikirche. So, of course, we went (Ivor took several standing ovations - I was very proud of him) and afterwards we met him in a vestry for a compulsory photo, and then went on to enjoy late night drinks with him outside a nearby café. Hallelujah!
David & Ruth Demack and JB with Ivor Bolton in the Nicolaikirche.
Touristy photo: An hour's bus journey from Leipzig was this very famous castle - which was being turned into a tourist attraction. Colditz!
What a pretty village it was, with the attractively restored castle looming over the hospitable town square!
There was no hint of the heroic things that had happened there during WWII.
Some members of my village church choir also organised trips to Europe - Florence / Venice / Pisa / Rome ... it was moving to visit the place where St Paul was imprisoned in Rome and, of course, there were very many photos:!
Another touristy photo!
Mind-blowing Vatican Corridor
JB's books on choirtraining, published by Augsburg Fortress, Five Wheels to Successful Sight-singing, and John Bertalot’s Immediately Practical Tips for Choral Directors, are best sellers and have received rave reviews in leading musical journals on both sides of the Atlantic.
They have been required reading for the Master’s program at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. Due to demand around the world, both have had to be reprinted, and the Practical Hints are now being translated into Korean!
Dr. Austin Lovelace, reviewing FIVE WHEELS wrote, “If you buy only one book this year, this should be it!”
Dr. Paul Bouman wrote of Bertalot’s second book, Immediately Practical Tips , “If I were still teaching a church music course, I would make this book required reading!”
Since retiring back to England in 1998 he has written two more best-selling books which are published by Kevin Mayhew.
How to be a successful Choir Director. Dr Roy Massey, past President of the Royal College of Organists, wrote, 'I don't think anyone has approached the subject in quite this way before and you deserve to have a worldwide readership. This should be required reading for the RCO's choral diploma.'
Teaching adults to sight sing. Colin Mawby, former Master of Music of Westminster Cathhedral, wrote, 'John Bertalot is a great writer who is able to reduce a complex subject to its basic essentials. His book on sight-singing is superbly structured, practical, down to earth and amusing – essential reading for both choirmasters and singers, I highly recommendit: the book is beautifully written, a good read and destined to become a classic.