My life in music - Richard Prince

  • Posted on: 26 May 2019
  • By: huw

Richard Prince, pictured here as an 8 year old choir boy was for many years Musical Director of Royston Choral Society and is now a stalwart member of the basses, writes about his life in music.

Early influences

From a very early age music has played an important role in my life, through piano playing, organ playing, singing, and directing. Both sides of my family had musical traditions so I suppose it was inevitable that I should begin piano lessons aged five and join my local church choir. My piano teacher was the music teacher at the local grammar school and he taught me until I was 13. There was a teacher on the other side of the park but as he also taught jazz my mother decided he wasn’t a proper teacher! Both my parents didn’t take to the lighter side of music; you can guess their reaction to Rock and Roll…
My church choir was all male and, as boys, our pay was a bag of chips from the local chip-shop. Looking back, I think we were a menace to society after choir practice on a Friday evening when we roamed the streets. From when I was about seven, my mother took me every Christmas to hear Handel’s Messiah in Morley Town Hall. I used to wait expectantly for the trumpet and the final choruses.

School days

Junior school really extended my singing. It was an all-boys choir of 8 to 13/14 year olds and we had a very enthusiastic teacher with whom we performed songs such as Schubert’s The Earl King and The Trout. We were successful in music competitions. Instrumental teaching was in its infancy; I learned the recorder but was not picked as one of the few to learn a brass instrument because I had piano lessons privately. That had to wait until grammar school. Grammar school stretched me even more. I went to the only co-ed grammar school in Leeds that was looked down on by other grammar schools because it was in south Leeds, and in a working-class area. However, the music was excellent with a large junior choir and a four-part senior choir, both choirs performed regularly in concerts and carol services. A new music teacher arrived and he became my piano teacher, although he lived in north Leeds which meant a 40 minute bus ride. His wife used to supply tea and snacks in the kitchen! He taught me through O level and A level music and we started a Madrigal Group and continued the school tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan Operas. My starring role was Nanki Poo in The Mikado. By this time I was also playing the organ; my first regular post paying me £25 a year or about the cost of 300 pints of Tetley’s Mild Ale; my music has always included a good social side to it! A musical perk in Leeds was half-price tickets to the concerts in the town hall - they cost us one shilling (5p) and we sat behind the orchestra.

A new musical direction

I went to Durham University at first to read music. I was at St Chad’s Theological College - an Anglo-Catholic foundation and all the chapel music was plainchant. After my first year, I switched to a general degree, including music, but didn’t take part in any university music clubs. I nearly made the B minor Mass but the lure of an excellent party in college was too much. So much for university music. In my PGCE year I found the lectures so boring that I did piano practice (I was getting free lessons as part of the course). I began teaching in Tynemouth. The music advisor ran the local choral society so all new teachers involved in music joined it. Through making friends there I also joined Felling Male Voice Choir. These choirs opened up new doors and eventually I became deputy conductor of both and accompanist and deputy accompanist. This led to opportunities to play in the Albert Hall and play and conduct in Newcastle City Hall. I also formed an eight-voice singing group with friends. Church organ playing and choir work continued, and then I moved south.

Moving to Royston

With the job at Meridian School in Royston there was the Choral Society which was, at that time, a night school class! I also became organist and choir master at St John’s Church and began singing with Chanticleer – a chamber choir based in Royston. That was 42 years ago! I spent many happy years in charge of the RCS. Looking back, these last forty-odd years have been the best for discovering different composers and styles of music. Choral Society opened the door to a wide variety of works with and without orchestra. The church choir led to cathedral visits – something I still do with Priory Singers. I’m still playing the organ – but not as a fixed position- and I’m still singing in a chamber choir and the choral society. I’m still playing the piano and I still like a drink after rehearsal. Here’s to music making - cheers!