The Music Place!

Welcome to the second installment of the "In Conversation With..." series. This time we sit down for an interesting chat with a living legend of music, Paul Paviour OAM. Anyone who has been involved with music in our region, or indeed across Australia, will be aware of the work of Paul Paviour. As an eminent composer, Paul has been producing work for more than sixty years. His music is widely performed both here and internationally. Now in his mid 80's he recently undertook a tour of the USA performing some of his compositions to highly appreciative audiences. Of course we know him as the founding Director of the GRC, and almost thirty years on, he is still making an active and positive contribution to the musical variety and richness of our region. But how did all this begin? Let's find out....


PSW: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview Paul. You and I have spoken in the past about things that you have done recently, but today I would like to go right back to the beginning. How did you discover music?

PP: I went to a Roman Catholic convent primary school which I didn't enjoy at all. From my memory I didn't do any music there. Then at the age of nine I went to a public school in Bedford and stayed there for eight years. It was a very musical school. Of course it was wartime and a terrible year for Europe. Many of the staff played music – the Headmaster played the double bass! There were choral societies and there was a thing called a "Gramophone Club" where people would get together and play records, which were made of shellac in those days. That is where I heard my first symphony. Also the big thing was the fact that, in 1941, the BBC was bombed out of London and they moved to Bedford. So the Symphony Orchestra and all of the other wonderful BBC musicians and ensembles moved to my town! You saw all of these wonderful musicians and conductors walking the streets in town, like Sir Adrian Boult. The school announced at an assembly that there were a dozen free tickets to a lunchtime BBC Concert. As a young lad of 9, 10, 11, it was very good! I got out of doing homework, which made me very happy! As a result I saw some of the great musicians of the time like Yehudi Menuhin and Sir Thomas Beecham. His was the first big symphony concert I went to.

PSW: Do you remember a teacher who was particularly influential at the time and what did they do?

PP: Yes, there was an old fellow called Herbert Coulson. He'd been in the Great War, so he was of "that" generation – very stern and with a bristling moustache. He brooked no trouble from us kids. If you stepped out of line he would cane you so his discipline was good, but fair. He was also the organist at the parish church. My mother knew him because she was a singer.

PSW: I was going to ask you whether there was music in your family.

PP: Yes, she was a good singer and she played the piano – not brilliantly. She asked the organist to take me on for a few lessons and he did. I wasn't a great student to be honest. I was more interested in listening to music and discussing music than performing but anyway, he taught me organ. In the course of events I left school and for a short while I worked in the bank because in those days you were waiting to be called up at 18 so there wasn't much point in doing much. I was called up and did service in the Royal Marines and eventually the Royal Navy on what was then their biggest aircraft carrier. During that time, there was a church close by the barracks in Portsmouth. I would go across and ask the priest of I could go in and practice the organ and he said that would be fine. He must have mentioned it to someone because one day we were doing something and I was suddenly ordered to see a chap called Major Vivien Dunne. He was very senior and I was worried that I had done something wrong. Anyway, I went over to see the Major. He said: "I hear you're an organist!" I said "Yes, err, yes sir!". He said: "I want you to play with the Navy Band this Sunday!" What happened was, once a month the military band played for the church service and they were great. One or two things had an organ part. I was terrified, to be honest!

PSW: How old were you?

PP: Oh, about 18 or 19. That sort of arrogant youth who thinks they know it all but when it comes down to it, knows nothing. I must have sounded ok anyway because afterwards he asked me if I liked singing, and I did. So he invited me to sing at a big event that was coming up in the Royal Navy Drill Shed in Portsmouth with combined choirs. Sir Malcolm Sergeant was coming as honorary Director, and all the head brass, admirals and everything. I agreed to do it fearfully! About that time I got the order to move to the Plymouth command and I had to go. So I went to see Major Dunne and told him I had been ordered to move. Off I went to Plymouth. We'd been doing maneuvers out on the moors and were caked with mud when somebody rushed up to tell me that the Agitant wanted to see me! This person is next to God in the army – if the Agitant calls you up, it means you've done something really wrong. I wanted to clean myself up but they wouldn't let me – I had to go straight away. So I went to the Agitant covered in filth. He looked at me sternly and told me that there had been orders come through from Portsmouth that I was to go back there and sing or something! He was most confused by this, but he let me go and they came and collected me. When I arrived there they weren't expecting me, but I ended up singing in that big event under the baton of Sir Malcolm Sargeant.

PSW: So how long did you spend in the services?

PP: Oh, only two years – that was the standard National Service, but it seemed to go by quite quickly. So some years later I met Sir Malcolm Sargeant and I reminded him of that concert in Portsmouth and he exclaimed about how wonderful it was! Then for a short while, like most lads who don't know what to do in life, I formed a choir who had a fair bit of success in eisteddfods and I did a bit of teaching. I was in my early twenties at the time. At that age and time, when you're not certain quite what to do – it was a funny time when we got out of the war, then went into the Cold War which was a funny sensation really because no one really trusted anybody. Stalin was going around the world beating everyone in the head and communism was very strong of course plus it was the nuclear age, which was completely new, and nobody really knew how to handle that. So it was a funny age politically and it affected us all. The idea of starting a job and doing it for forty years what not so clear any more. You did a few years when you don't quite know your direction.

PSW: So how did you find a direction into music?

PP: Well, it's quite interesting funnily enough. I had to go to London for some reason. I got in the train and in the same carriage was a man called Sam Wisdom. He was a lovely fellow who was also Vice Chairman of a local Eisteddfod, which was a very big event held over a fortnight. He knew me from my choirs taking part and so on, and he got talking to me. He asked whether I had considered doing teaching full time? It took me a bit by surprise but I liked the idea – but I had no proper qualifications. He said, well, if you can get in anywhere to do your training, I'll get you (what was called then) a county bursary. By that time I was married with two small children.

PSW: Oh really? When did you get married?

PP: Around 1954 I think it was. So I had two small children and responsibilities – also my father in law came to live with us after my mother in law died. So it was a bit of a challenge. But he said he would help me out anyway. So, I applied and got into the Royal College of Music ,which was, and still is, the leading music institution in England.

PSW: Was that a surprise to you, or where you expecting to get in? You said you'd had an uneven musical education.

PP: It was a bit of a surprise, but it was very good. My background leading up to it involved a lot of music making at grass roots level – teaching, running choirs, orchestras and so on.

PSW: It sounds like the start of a "learning through doing" philosophy. Would that be accurate?

PP: Yes. It was a learning curve which was very good because as the years went by I noticed a lot of other people who went the other way, going straight from school to Cambridge or Oxford and got their degrees. Then they went out into the world and found it very difficult. They hadn't done the practical work and often had no idea of how the music was supposed to be done. They struggled.

PSW: Can I take you back to your time at the Royal College? I'm wondering about some of the key people who influenced you during that period of time.

PP: I was encouraged by professor Herbert Howells who was one of the leading educators - a lovely fellow. He was Professor of Music at the College and also at the London University. He was very well read and very erudite. I always enjoyed his lessons. Sir Adrian Boult was very good at conducting and taught me good stick technique. Funny thing – his recordings are still reckoned today to be the best examples of great conducting.

PSW: Was there a particular "light bulb" moment when you suddenly realised "Yep, I get this, I know where I'm going with this". Did you have any moments like that?

PP: There was no immediate flash of light on the road to Damascus in that respect, I just looked at the situation and the people around me and thought that I would like to do this. I suppose we all have dreams of conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. (laughs) I suppose most of my education was a gradual learning curve. You hear a work that you'd like to conduct, or enter a competition, or want to write something in the style of something else. It was a gradual realisation of things. You have an idea in the back of your mind of what you'd like to do, but you realise that life is not like that unless you're extremely lucky! If you're in the concert hall when the conductor dies of a heart attack and they call out for anyone who can conduct Beethoven's 3rd! (laughs)

PSW: Not so lucky for him I guess!

PP: No, not really – you wish for these things but they don't happen like that! But I've always been interested in the creative side, right from school. In fact I wrote several things at school – an organ concerto and a march for the school orchestra.

PSW: Yes, I'm interested in when the composing started and who gave you guidance in that area in particular?

PP: Well, one of the people who influenced me at that time – I was about 19 - I wrote to Vaughan-Williams. At that time he was the leading composer in the UK. I asked him if he gave composition lessons. I had a lovely letter back that said he didn't teach, but he would like to see what I had written. So I went down two or three times to where he lived in Dorking, South London. He was a big man, very kindly. He looked at my work up to the time he died. He wrote to somebody in Cambridge and recommended me to a Professor there, so I ended up having lessons in Kings College, Cambridge thanks to Vaughan-Williams. He influenced me very much, not so much in what he said, but his influence and guidance. I remember he told me once that I had finished a piece three times! No one can do that except Dvorak! Study Mozart – he knows how to finish a piece! I shudder now about what I submitted to him! A few years ago I was sorting stuff out in my shed and came across some old music and though "What the hell are these?" I suddenly realised they were two of the things I had taken to Vaughan-Williams and I thought, "How could I have done that?" I look at them now like the dribblings of a five year old! So I threw them away. He influenced me very much. He would always speak to me at concerts and ask how I was getting on. I have several letters from him, which I cherish.

PSW: Did you have any connection with Benjamin Britten?

PP: No, butI saw him several times – conducting the War Requiem in its first performance and Peter Grimes. He was a very slim, boyish man with curly hair – looked like a puff of wind would blow him over. In fact one of the greatest experiences that has stuck in my memory and influenced me greatly involves him. I was invited to a private performance for the Queen Mother by Britten and Pears, or Ben and Peter as they were called. They were performing "Die Wintereisse". It was something that took place once a year called the Chancellor's Concert (the Queen Mother was the Chancellor of London University). Britten and Pears came out. Pears was very tall. Britten sat down and played those lovely chords that start Die Wintereisse, and he scarcely moved a muscle. Phenomenal technique! I thought; "THAT'S how to accompany! Immerse yourself in the music, no histrionics, no look how good I am, just let the music speak for itself." That's one of the lessons that has stuck with me to this day on how to accompany. You just immerse yourself in it – don't treat it as a piano solo. For the whole of that long song cycle I was transfixed. But many things have influenced me. I remember going to a concert on our honeymoon as a matter of fact, that was given by Alfred Deller, who is a counter tenor. Now I don't like counter tenors as a rule. I think it's a peculiar sound. But this was in the city of York in a building from about the 14th century. A lute player accompanied him. They came out and sang Dowland and other 16th and 17th century material and I was transported. To me, no other counter tenor has ever moved me in such a way. But there have been many other great performances that have influenced me.

PSW: So, to come back to you, how many pieces do you think you have composed?

PP: Well, there are about 150 in print. Some are just little songs or educational pieces, but there are orchestral works – in fact I'm correcting proofs of three at the moment.

PSW: And of all of those works, which brings you the most pride?

PP: It's difficult to say. I suppose the Second Symphony is pretty good – it was performed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with Patrick Thomas, but there are many other choral works too. I think the one you like most is the one you are performing at the moment! (laughs) But as you say, going back to philosophy, my philosophy has always been to take what comes. I was teaching in Bedford and suddenly got a phone call from the Headmaster in Yorkshire offering me the job of Head of Music in a big grammar school, which is quite a leap from teaching in a studio at the time. I did that and then five years later I saw an advert in the Times for a Director of Music at All Saints College in Bathurst, New South Wales. I hadn't a clue where Bathurst was – I only had a vague idea where Australia was to be honest! But I said why not and applied! Didn't hear anything for three months! Then I got a phone call and over we went in 1970. Then five years later I got a call from the head of Goulburn Teachers College to come and deliver the music program there and I thought, OK, I'll do it for two years. Those two years have become thirty-five! The College became the CAE, then the Police Academy and we were pushed out. Then, as a result of the local people here who wanted to keep the Arts alive in Goulburn, and luckily the government of the day were supportive and Rodney Cavalier (the minister at the time) asked me to run the Conservatorium once it was set up. So I said yes and we started in the little building up the back of the building we are now in.

PSW: And next year is our 30th anniversary. So, what would you hope for the next 30 years of the Con?

PP: Well, hopefully to continue the work going. I'm a bit depressed that so many businesses are closing. There are a lot of people unemployed which means that things are dropped and music is usually the first thing that goes.

PSW: How do you think the Con can contribute to a society that is, perhaps, contracting?

PP: Well, it's difficult to know. Offer them something that they can't get from anywhere else. A love and enjoyment of the Arts. I produced a report, which recommended that the unemployed be funded to learn an instrument and play in an orchestra or group. It would give them a sense of pride, purpose and community.

PSW: Sounds a little bit like a musical Men's Shed!

PP: Yes! Get someone who's qualified to teach them – better to learn an instrument than dig ditches for the dole! The cost of that would probably be less than the benefits being paid now. The sense of satisfaction – imagine a band of 30 or 40 unemployed people giving service to the community in a positive way through music. You've got to offer them something. It has happened in other countries so why not here? Otherwise you're going to have in the future at least 70% of the people leaving school who want to stay in Goulburn unable to get a job. The Arts might be the answer to give them some hope. I'd like to see something like that.

PSW: I think that's an amazing vision for the future. I want to thank you for your time and insight today and wish you well for the future.

PP: Thank you – it's been a pleasure.


I hope you have enjoyed this conversation with Paul Paviour. Your comments and observations are very welcome. Paul's latest cd "The Guest – Choral and Organ Music of Paul Paviour" is now available through the GRC.

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