An interview with Beryl Francis

With a twinkle in her eye and beautiful music at her fingertips, Beryl Francis is no ordinary person. At eighty-five years old she wears her advancing years with pride. Still an outstanding pianist and superb musician, she’s no intention of closing the lid on her beloved upright Bechstein or switching off her electronic keyboard. In fact, she’s enjoying the Indian summer of her distinguished life.

It’s clear that Beryl really does love music. Sitting at her piano as she cheerily talks about her past, she casually knocks off a few, note-perfect, bars of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata without any sheet music in front of her. Although theoretically, Beryl has been retired for twenty-five years, there are no signs of her slowing down.

“Accompanying singers and musicians, helping them make the most of their performances, has always been my forte and something which gives me pleasure. I’m planning to do more of that in the future” said Beryl.

As a youngster, when Portsmouth was being blitzed, Beryl was sent to live with someone whom she describes as a “wicked aunt” in Eton. “There was no piano for me to play so I had to make do with a tiny piano accordion” Beryl recalled. “When my father, who was a skilled cabinet maker, was moved from Portsmouth Dockyard to Worthing I was able to go home and to play the piano again.”

When Beryl was fourteen she won a scholarship to the London College of Music. She took this up and by the time she was sixteen she’d won the coveted Silver Medal for Pianoforte. After she left college, she worked in various Portsmouth schools as Director of Music. This included the Priory Comprehensive and the newly formed Sixth Form College. She was conductor and director of the Portsmouth Schools’ Orchestras and conducted performances of oratorios by massed school choirs.

Beryl Francis was also the first woman from Portsmouth to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists. She gave recitals regularly and was a church organist for some years. A woman of wide interests, she was active in the University of the Third Age. Some time ago Beryl ran and hosted the Structure in Music course for the U3A.

Beryl has always been interested in politics too. She reminisces about Socialist figures of yesteryear like Attlee and Gaitskell. Beryl’s a Labour Councillor in Havant and Warren Park is her ward. She’s also a school governor there.

At 3.00 pm on Sunday 31 March at St Faith’s Hall in The Pallant, Beryl Francis will direct from the piano the Townswomen’s Guild Choir as part of the Havant Music Festival. This is Beryl’s farewell and it promises to be a great concert.

Beryl is giving a lunchtime recital in St Faith’s Church on Friday 5 April, also as part of the Havant Music Festival. Her half-hour performance is expected to be packed with musical gems like the slow movement from Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, a Polonaise and a Waltz by Chopin, a bit of Haydn and Bach plus works by modern composers. It begins at 12.30pm and admission is free.

Stuart Reed

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