Prompted to get in touch following the sad death of former Headmaster Peter Rowe in September 2020, OS Peter Cooling (SH,57-62) shared his unique recollections of an exceptional Memorial Hall concert in January 1960 within which he played a pivotal role in its place in College history.
From his home in Florida, Peter wrote to share his Stortfordian Story:
‘I am Peter Cooling and was in School House B from September 1957 to July 1962.
While at BSC I was very active in extra-curricular activities of a technical nature. I was the Projectionist for the Film Society, the Electrician/Lighting/Sound Effects/Stage Designer for the Dramatic Society, a member of the Astronomical Society when we built our very own reflecting telescope, an unofficial electrician for School House where I regularly fixed fuses and repaired minor malfunctions. Friends and I had our Hobby Room in SH, overlooking the kitchen courtyard by the back stairs in which we worked on War Surplus electronics – Radio Receivers and the like, and did Short Wave Radio listening. We even had a Radio aerial stretched from School House to the Memorial Hall. This is background to the item of most importance to this note which is that I was also a Tape Recorder of the Music Society’s Concerts.
In January 1960, Headmaster Peter Rowe invited the well-known composer Benjamin Britten and his companion, tenor Peter Pears to give a recital at BSC in the Memorial Hall. This took place on January 30, 1960. The Director of Music was Christopher Bishop who was obviously looking forward to the Recital but who would not be able to attend due to sickness. He therefore asked me to obtain their permission to record the recital.
Permission was graciously granted and a recording duly made, albeit in a rush. The Recording was made using the school's mono Ferrograph tape recorder. Due to Christopher being unable to attend, the making of a recording became possible. I had never recorded a duo before and so had to put something together quickly. The only attachment points for a microphone were the balcony rails either side of the stage and I had to guess where to place the piano and singer. I also had to string the only somewhat short cables I had and I also had to hide everything. Given the time element and the shortage of a test singer, it was simply a guess as to where Peter would stand and still be heard over the sound of the piano. This did fortuitously provide a placement of performances of Benjamin and Peter in such a way as to highlight the closeness and marvelous accompaniment provided by Benjamin. Prior to this concert, I had recorded orchestra and choir in local churches only, notably the Messiah.
Christopher Bishop later left BSC and went to work for EMI, the record company, where he had access for all sorts of equipment. He still had access to the recital recording and in 2005 converted it to CD and kindly donated a recording to the archive of the Pears-Britten Library in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. At the time of conversion, in a letter to me, Christopher Bishop noted that it raised the interest of a number of musicians who requested their own copies of the concert recording which included five songs have never been recorded before or since, making the recording unique. Mr Bishop observed that the recording may be of particular interest to piano accompanist since the mike setting "gives the foreground to Britten, enabling the listener to hear in close-up how he follows every nuance of Pears' singing."
CD cover and insert by Christopher Bishop
I wanted to make sure that these pieces of history were not lost and forgotten. The contributions of Peter Rowe and Christopher Bishop leave a legacy for the School and musicians everywhere with the Britten- Pears Concert Recording.
You’ve no idea of the sense of happiness and wellbeing this episode has brought me, not only for the preservation of history but for the recollection of some wonderful memories. I also had an email exchange with Christopher Bishop and a long chat with Rodney Slatford so all is well – at least better – with the world.’
Peter Cooling (SHb, 57-62)
Peter pursued a highly successful career in IT and computer programming within the Airline industry and has been resident in The United States since 1975
Benjamin Britten (1913 –1976) was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He was a central figure of 20th-century British music, with a range of works including opera, other vocal music, orchestral and chamber pieces as well as film music. His best-known works include the opera Peter Grimes (1945), the War Requiem (1962) and the orchestral showpiece The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (1945). Britten performed many of his own works in concert and on record. He took a great interest in writing music for children and amateur performers. His most frequent and important muse was his personal and professional partner, the tenor Peter Pears, working together for four decades.
College Swimmers 1961 College Polo Players 1961
Peter is standing on far right, next to Mr. Blackwell Peter - Seated Front Left, Rodney Slatford - Back row, second from left
Making the news on the other side of the pond!
Peter shared his story of the concert with a fellow music enthusiast in DeLand, where he lives, which is approximately halfway between Orlando and Daytona Beach in Florida. He thought that the story had local appeal and so an article was written and published in the local newspaper May 17, 2018.
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