Profile – Peter Gould, organist

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My father was an amateur organist in Portsmouth, where I grew up.

The famed “Mr Music of Portsmouth” Reginald Wassell was the reason why I chose Portsmouth Technical High School. He was an exceptionally gifted pianist and conductor, and organised a lot of musical activities in the area. His sister Dorothy Ellison was also most gifted and my cello lessons with her got me out of games!

Mr Wassell encouraged me to apply for the RCM and RAM as a pianist and cellist, and when I was accepted for the RAM he encouraged me to pay for additional organ lessons. As a result, at the RAM I’d dropped the cello and made the organ my first instrument by the third year.

But before I’d even had any organ lessons, I was delighted to have been accepted to be conductor of St Margaret’s Putney. This was the start of a love of directing choral works.

I owe a debt of thanks to my piano teacher Freddy Jackson, as well as my organ teacher Alexander Kelly, who recognised my talent. I managed to pass my FRCO and GRSM in the same week.

After that I attended Bretton Hall in west Yorkshire to learn to be a teacher, and got valuable experience in Honley High School, eventually becoming head of music there: it had (and still has) a strong music department, arising from a great tradition of music from the Yorkshire valleys where it is situated.

I was just about the first cathedral organist to be made a Canon when this facility was first introduced by the CofE. I was also very proud to be given the degree of Honorary Master of Music by Derby University at their annual prize giving ceremony in 2009.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Learning new and difficult music, which has meant a lot of practising!

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

The job of a choir master and organist is a lonely one, so I was pleased that when I was Master of the Music at Derby Cathedral our choir joined up with those from Leicester, Birmingham, Southwell and other cathedrals.

And what about your compositions?

I’ve written some descants and some evening responses for ATB, and an introit for advent for Derby Cathedral. At Derby the choir recorded my works, as did the Prebendal Singers.

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity? 

For music to listen to, I’m greatly fond of the composers from the “Tudor house” – Byrd, Gibbons, Weelkes and so on, as well as the composers from the early 20th-century – Vaughan-Williams, Walton, Mahler and Stravinsky. 

For music to play on the organ, I have very eclectic tastes, ranging from early French (especially Vierne), Buxtehude and Bach through to Sweelinck and Howells.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

I conducted Carmina Burana in Huddersfield Town Hall to celebrate Honley’s centenary – the largest concert I’ve led.

I conducted the Royal Maundy Thursday service at Derby Cathedral in the presence of the Queen, who told me her favourite anthem was “Zadok the Priest”. What is special about this annual service is that the local cathedral choir is joined by the Chapel Royal choir.

I’ve also been involved with a number of broadcasts from Derby Cathedral over the 32 years I was organist there.

I’ve played at St Matthew’s Westminster a number of times, having been engaged by the choir there, and have done recitals at Westminster Cathedral and King’s College, Cambridge.

I’ve played at choral workshops held by Brian Kay, Bob Chilcott and John Rutter.

You can find out more about my tour of all 278 of the Anglican churches in the diocese of Derby by going to YouTube and viewing “Peter’s Pipes Pilgrimage”. I repeated this in 113 churches in the Portsmouth Diocese a few years later (see my bio below).

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

If you’re keen, it’s well worth considering such a career. If you’re an organist, you’ll certainly have to get used to the anti-social hours, when evenings and weekends are busy.

How would you define success as a musician?

In my case, I’m proud of the fact that some of my students have gone on to professional organist positions, including Sachin Gunga, Sub-Organist at Portsmouth Cathedral.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

I hope to be doing much of the same, perhaps playing a little less, but carrying on for as long as I can continue to do it. I’ve got a 3-manual electric organ at home which I practise on every day.

About Peter

Peter was born in Portsmouth. His musical education was at the Royal Academy of Music in London where he studied organ, piano and cello. Whilst there he gained prizes for choir training, organ accompaniment and harmony and gained the following diplomas: GRSM (Lond.), FRCO, LRAM (piano teacher) and ARCM (organ performer), and has since been awarded the honorary ARAM. He then went to Bretton Hall College in Yorkshire to gain a Diploma in Education. Further accolades achieved in the 21st century include HonMMus (Derby University), FGCM and ARSCM.

In 1974 he was appointed Assistant Organist at Wakefield Cathedral and music teacher at Honley High School. He eventually became Head of Music at the same school in Huddersfield, Yorkshire and also assistant chorus master to the Wakefield Festival Chorus and conductor of the Cawthorne Choral Society. During his time at Wakefield he was involved in many professional recordings and broadcasts with the choir.

In 1983 he became Master of the Music in Derby Cathedral. Initially this was a joint appointment with Derby City Council where he also taught for three days a week in local junior schools. Later this post was abolished and for many years he then combined the post with part-time teaching in two secondary schools. For many years he was an accompanist to Derby Bach Choir and worked as an examiner for ABRSM touring the UK and Far East over the period 1984–2017.

Peter has given organ recitals in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, Birmingham Town Hall, King’s College, Cambridge and York Minster and given at least one organ recital in Derby Cathedral in each of the 32 years that he was organist there. In his final two years in Derby he toured every Anglican church in the diocese giving short recitals on the 278 different organs. You can see more about this on YouTube by going to ‘Peter’s pipe pilgrimage’.

Peter retired from Derby Cathedral on 6 January 2015 after 32 years in post and a total of 40 years of working in English cathedrals. He is pleased to know that no less than four of his Derby choristers currently have professional organist positions in English cathedrals.

Peter now lives just north of Portsmouth and finds that he is doing more organ playing in services and recitals than he ever did in Derby! It seems that musicians never retire and Peter was Interim Director of Music at Romsey Abbey for a term until Easter Day 2019. During the same year Peter played at 113 different churches in the Portsmouth Diocese and raised £3,000 for the Bishop’s Lent Charity. He is the membership secretary of the Cathedral Organists’ Association and the Portsmouth representative for the Friends of Cathedral Music. He was previously the Area Team Leader of the Portsmouth and Isle of Wight RSCM committee and Vice President of the Portsmouth and District Organists’ Association. When not involved in music he enjoys rail travel and can sometimes be found issuing tickets in the Booking Office of Alresford Railway Station.

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