Stephen Cleobury interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 4th July 2008

0:09:07 Born 1948 in Bromley where father was a physician at Bromley Hospital; mother had been a nurse there; knew both my maternal grandparents who also lived in Bromley; my grandfather had worked in the City; they had moved out of London to Essex, then to Bromley; grandmother was a housewife; have no recollection of ever seeing paternal grandmother but did know my grandfather; he was extremely interested in music; he had worked in the Foreign Office; he recalled looking out of an upper floor window when Chamberlain returned with the paper; when his wife died he decided to become ordained as an Anglican priest; he had been a lay reader, and because he had done his Ph.D. externally, the Bishop allowed him to be fast tracked; he was Curate at St Luke's Church, Bromley; after a while my father became the junior partner in general practice; as the senior partner chose not to live in the house, we lived there; it was quite large with the surgery in part of it

3:47:05 My father was extremely musical and had wanted to be a professional musician; his father would have thought it a bad profession as he held quite left-wing views, and believed that everybody should be paid the same; he just thought that given the world as it was it would be a very precarious profession and he was guided into medicine; he does play the organ and piano, and at various times in his life experimented with other instruments; despite having not been trained in music he has a very high degree of musicality; my mother was not really trained in music but enjoyed singing and was an amateur choral singer; later on she was Secretary of the Kent County Music Festival and did a lot of work encouraging young persons to be involved in music; my mother is a great talker, my father, by contrast rather quiet and understated; to me they have been an example of a near perfect marriage and relationship which has been an inspiration; I have a younger brother, Nicholas, who is also a professional musician; our younger sister, Julia, is also a professional musician and peripatetic teacher; my father moved us all to Birmingham then back down to Canterbury; my brother and sister both moved there and my sister continues to live there

7:45:24 Think my first school was called Kerrywood but I have no distinct memories of it; the earliest memory of school is going to a rather smart prep school called Bickley Park which had a purple uniform; one memory I have is of playing rounders and being hit on the face with a bat; I still have a slight scar; think that experience probably led to my distaste for playing games; I don't remember music at the school but I was sent to Hilary Urquhart to have piano lessons; at that time, aged six or seven, I travelled to school by bus on my own; unthinkable today, but it gave children an independence; so instead of taking the two buses home on one afternoon I would go to the piano lesson, then walk to my maternal grandmother's house where I would have tea and then went home later; I was lucky with the piano lessons as she was a fine teacher; I had a paternal aunt, Edith Lucas, who was also a piano teacher; I remember doing grade 1 and getting merit but my aunt took the view that I should have got a distinction; the reason I didn't was because I scored rather a low mark in sight reading; she wrote to me saying I must work harder at that; I have always been grateful for that as it did make me take it seriously, so that during my professional life I have regarded myself as being reasonably good at it; my other musical experiences were at church; we naturally attended the church at Bromley Common where my grandfather was Curate, and my father quite often played the organ; would play for the annual performance of Stainer's 'Crucifixion' on Good Friday; music meant that I was not bored by church and I became interested in the liturgical side later

12:25:00 Believe that my brother and I had been put down for Tonbridge School, but my father decided he wanted to leave general practice and become a psychiatrist; a courageous decision, in retrospect, as he had three children under ten, and we were quite impoverished when we moved to Birmingham; to begin with we lived in accommodation in the mental hospital at Rubery, south-west Birmingham, where father had his first post; my brother and I were sent to a school in Selly Oak for a term or two; a spinster colleague of my father's, Aubra Roberts, who also lived in the hospital, befriended us; she suggested a choir school education to my parents; Nicholas and I were taken to Worcester in about January 1958; remember having an audition with the organist, Douglas Guest, whom I later realized had been the second organ scholar of King's in the 1930's; David Willcocks had just left Worcester for King's; as well as a musical interview we had an academic interview; we sat at desks in the nave huddled round stoves; that is where we went and it changed the course of our lives; my sister got a scholarship to King Edward's School for Girls in Birmingham

16:02:11 A slightly different system operated in the choir school; King's School, Worcester, had a preparatory department called St Albans, and the choristers were educated there with other non-choristers; my life focussed on the Cathedral and music much more than the school; it is an understatement to say that not every aspect of school life was happy; didn't play games except for cricket, which I liked though was not good at; I don't think I am angry about it because that was how things were; I think I was pilloried to some extent by my peers because they didn't understand my obsession with classical music; there was a kind of anti-culturalism as well as anti-intellectualism; what it did was to make me very resilient and tough; when facing difficulties in adulthood I have drawn on those experiences as a child; to some extent they were character building; developed a love for classical music early on as that was the sort of music we heard at home; remember when about twelve singing in the Three Choirs Festival in a performance of Verdi's 'Te Deum' and being stirred by one of the melodies; at that point I remember thinking that I'd like to spend my life with music; even before that I was responding both emotionally and intellectually to music; we did not have to do a common entrance exam but went directly from St Alban's into the main school; we did have to take 11+ but it was pretty much a formality that one went through; when I look at our choristers at King's today and I see all the pressures that surround them at thirteen having to do common entrance to get a music scholarship, I feel rather sorry for them, although they are getting a better all-round musical education than I had

22:29:21 Here at King's when a boy is thirteen, regardless of whether his voice has changed, he has to leave and go elsewhere; at Worcester I was able to stay on in the choir until about fourteen and a half; I was extremely fortunate in having two very inspiring and dedicated teachers on the music side; there was a nineteenth century organist at Worcester Cathedral called William Done who left money to enable former choristers to receive free instrumental tuition; I was awarded this in my last year in the choir and Douglas Guest started me on organ lessons and simple lessons in harmony; he was succeeded in 1963 by Christopher Robinson who brought with him as an assistant, Harry Bramma; they were just fantastic teachers; as a result, towards the end of the 1960's there were six or eight of us winning major organ scholarships to Oxbridge colleges; the quality of music in the school was transformed by Harry Bramma as Director of Music, before which it was rather poor; Christopher taught me the organ and piano and Harry dealt with the academic side of my education at 'O' and 'A' level; there were no formal 'O' and 'A' level classes timetabled in the school, we did them out of school; we used to go to Harry's house at four o'clock a couple of afternoons a week; he used to give us money and send us to the cake shop while he brewed the tea, then we would come back and do our harmony or whatever; he was dedicated to getting us interested in good music; he bought a new hi-fi and he would play recordings for us; there was a major gap in what the school provided where there was no orchestral activity; only later did I learn to play the viola a little, but deeply regret never having the opportunity to play in an orchestra; there were some teachers who were passionate about music - Ken Barnett, a great lover of Mozart, and Tony Cubberley who had read classics at King's; I was quite good at maths and did 'O' level a year early and went on to do additional maths; Richard Knight, our teacher, was working on a book about new ways of teaching maths and we had the opportunity to use early calculators; when it came to the time to choose 'A' level subjects the mathematicians wanted me to do maths and further maths but I wanted to do languages; by that time I was clear enough about my desire to do music and thought it would be useful to know French and German; that is what I did; I was interested in classics but not very good

28:27:06 I was not a good reader when young; I was interested in cricket and read books about it; I was interested in chess and played for the school; at Worcester we had a wonderful cricket ground and on Wednesday half day I would go and watch matches; I enjoyed reading newspapers and was interested in politics; think that my early English teacher was not very inspiring which meant that I was never a good reader; now I hugely regret that and wish I had more time to read; of course, music was in a sense a hobby, and I listened to all kinds of music apart from what I was studying; the politics I was interested in were the party politics of the day; I did run as the school Conservative candidate in the election of 1966; I remember being able to get Peter Walker, the M.P. for Worcester to come and speak in my support; I met him just a few months ago at the Carleton Club and I reminded him of this; I won; I am still interested in politics but don't have time to follow it so closely; I also used to pour over Whittaker’s Almanac and could probably have repeated the members for most constituencies, and in some cases the size of their majority and the swing; over the years my general political stance has moved to the left; I am now at the stage where I could not support any of the political parties because none has a totally convincing position for me; a great hero of my earlier life was Ted Heath and I got to know him later on because of his musical interest; the strongest commitment I have had to a political position would be to the so called one nation Toryism which accepted that to have a buoyant economy you had to have free enterprise, but had to look after those who couldn't manage; that is probably my basic outlook; today, a lot of my instincts would be with the Liberal Democrats; I am pro-European; they are the only party to speak out about Iraq; on the other hand, I am quite a libertarian and believe in my right to send my child to an Independent school if I want to

34:42:04 I applied to St John's, Cambridge, and was appointed organ student; a friend of the family was a professional musician who had been a choral scholar at St John's; he advised my parents; I received advice also from Christopher Robinson and Harry Bramma; at that time St John's and King's were pre-eminent; I got an organ scholarship; first liberating period was when I went into the sixth form because it was easier to follow one's own enthusiasms and I was less concerned about what other people thought; coming to Cambridge was another such experience; felt for the first time that I could indulge myself in music in a way that would be respected; came up to read music; I worked very closely with the late George Guest who was the Director of Music at St John's; he was a legendary figure in his lifetime; St John's was his life's work; he came as an organ scholar, he went into research and within a year he was invited to become organist; he was a great inspiration; from a technical point of view there are criticisms that I now see one could have made but he was possessed of enormous natural musicianship; he was quite a tough task-master; I also came across David Willcocks at King's who invited me to play the organ in King's; did attend  choral evensong on Sundays; also played as the rehearsal accompanist for the C.U.M.S. chorus every Friday night; he could be terrifying; first piece I played for was the Bach B Minor Mass; started on the piano with the 'Gloria' and then he introduced me to the choir as he wanted them to hear that I could play well first; Peter le Huray, a Fellow of St Catharine's, one of the last of a generation of musicologists who ranged quite widely; he was very good on early English music and taught me notation; he gave me insights into the intellectual appreciation of music; I valued the academic in music which I think has informed my approach to doing music

42:02:05 Did four years in all as an student; during that time had a number of musical epiphanies; George Guest was very interested in the music of the Roman church and had visited Spain and was a devotee of George Malcolm who had done enormous work in bringing Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony into the repertoire of Westminster Cathedral; Guest copied a lot of that so that St John's choir at that time was probably the only Anglican choir singing any significant amount of Gregorian chant; I remember finding that inexpressibly beautiful when I first heard it; remember having tea with a friend, Terry Albright, an organ scholar at Jesus College; he had just bought Messiaen's 'Turangalîla Symphonie' which I got very excited by and went off to learn organ music by Messiaen which resulted in my doing a complete performance of Messiaen's 'La Nativité du Seigneur'; I got very enthusiastic about opera; in those days the Guildhall Opera used to perform at the Arts Theatre; remember Verdi's 'Falstaff'; I did get involved in University productions; we had visiting orchestras; remember going to hear Berlioz' 'Symphonie Fantastique' in the cinema conducted by Norman Del Mar; there were lots of experiences to add to what I had had at Worcester with liturgical and major choral works; I found Cambridge full of musical experiences, and it has remained so; arguably there is too much going on, in the sense that there seems to me to be a superfluity of student musical activity which doesn't always yield performances of the highest quality, which I would prefer; in recent years I have done some workshops, master class type things on conducting, for example, in America, where they have a much more organized pedagogical system of instructing students; but you can devise all sorts of courses and get students up to a certain level, but unless there is a natural talent and musicality there as well they are not going to make it to the top; here we are much more dilettante about it; people have all these opportunities and the cream rises to the top; people like Richard Hickox, Andrew Davis, Mark Elder, David Atherton - all these people cut their teeth in the undergraduate musical world in Cambridge; it remains so to this day; at any one time there are always a few; here in King's there is Thomas Ades, the composer; more closely connected with me are some of our organ scholars who have gone on to have successful careers

47:47:10 After my degree I went to be organist at St Matthew's Church in Northampton; a lavishly built church with a four manual organ, made possible by money put up by the local brewery; there was a men and boys voluntary choir, completely different from anything I had experienced before; local children, some of whom came from quite poor families, whom I had to recruit; the church is musically quite distinguished because one of the early incumbents had been Walter Hussey who later became Dean of Chichester and he was a great patron of the arts, a wealthy man in his own right; he had the ability to spot talented artists at a young age; he had commissioned Benjamin Britten, Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore, when they were at early stages in their careers so affordable; there was a wonderful Sutherland 'Crucifixion' behind the altar which must have been a model for what he eventually did in Coventry Cathedral; there was a Henry Moore 'Madonna and Child'; Britten's cantata 'Rejoice in the Lamb'; our forebears had failed to endow it so stuck with a very large building that they couldn't afford to keep up; thus I was paid very little money, but I was also appointed Director of Music at Northampton Grammar School, with neither teacher training or experience of teaching; that was very hard work; I enjoyed teaching 'O' and 'A' level but found the class music teaching a challenge; although I was deeply committed to music I did not have a great ability to enthuse other people about it; I also conducted the local Bach Choir which was an amateur chorus which brought me into contact with amateur orchestras, and I had a chamber choir; I think that apart from the last ten to fifteen years that I have had here in King's where I have also been working with the BBC Singers, I don't think I have ever been busier; Northampton was a completely different experience from what I now see was a rather cloistered existence till then; remember talking to Douglas Guest, who had been my choir-master at Worcester, about it; he said it was a good thing to go and get your knees brown; although I found it in many ways frustrating, since then I have been more and more grateful that I did it for the widened perspective that it gave me; I was there for three or four years; at the end of the second year I was given a certificate to say that I was now a qualified teacher; I'd had no training and nobody had been to observe me; we had a very good Headmaster who supported new teachers where matters of discipline were concerned

54:18:16 I then want to Westminster Abbey; Douglas Guest was the organist there and he wanted me to come as sub-organist; I held that post for three or four years; the Abbey side was stimulating; I came back into the world of high quality choral singing and had my first experience of dealing with professional singers; I had been given responsibility for all the services which involved the Lay Clerks, and when the boys were on holiday; things had got a bit slack and on the first Sunday I warned them that I was going to approach things rigorously; one of the senior Lay Vicars came to me afterwards and praised me for my courage in saying this; the first service I played for was the memorial service for the Duke of Gloucester, and there were regular services at which the Queen or members of the Royal Family would be there, or the political elite; however, the actual nature of the job was unsatisfactory; had to be there when wanted, when the boys were on holiday or the organist was ill, but other than that it was a part-time job; had to do other freelance things to earn a living; I had to give a weekly organ recital every Sunday evening for half an hour

57:54:16 From there I moved to Westminster Cathedral where I became Master of Music; that was mildly controversial because I was an Anglican; the great thing was the recent arrival of Basil Hume as Archbishop of Westminster; the first Master of Music, Richard Terry, had sung in the choir at King's in the 1890's; he became a convert to the Roman church, taught at Downside, was very much involved in editing Renaissance polyphony; there are a few very early recordings of the Westminster choir and they sound pretty much like the Anglican choirs; George Malcolm transformed that; things had become difficult as the priests were trying to come to terms with the Second Vatican Council and its aftermath; there were issues about having a robed and professional choir singing the services as there had been so much talk about involving the congregation; also, it was costly and was it the right use of money; without Hume's arrival it might have disappeared; one of the first things he did was to announce that there would continue to be a choir; he reconstituted the school governors and appointed excellent people to the Council; he got all the senior Catholic hierarchy from the Duke of Norfolk downward round the table and told them to find the money for it; they did so although did not safeguard the professional singers; Hume was a great inspiration, deep humanity, and the few times I went to see him about professional things I came out of the room feeling completely different; he had an extraordinary way of stopping one feeling angry about things; I had a wonderful time there musically, although sometimes frustrated when dealing with the priests

1:02:20:09 Own religious beliefs; born into a family where grandfather an Anglican priest; father played the organ in church, and assumed that he believed; in recent years when I have talked to him I found that he does not believe as a lot of his scientific training and work as a doctor has made it difficult; my mother is a natural believer, reads her Bible and has a prayer book by her side; I was quite devout when young; I was confirmed about fifteen, but remember being told by the Bishop that by eighteen I would be an atheist; I was deeply shocked; remember struggling through Hans Küng's book 'Does God Exist?'; my grandfather wrote about natural philosophy and I did try to read some of his writings; in the course of my professional life I have heard many sermons and have also met some really inspiring clergy; for various personal reasons in recent years that has cooled; when I went to Westminster Cathedral I was warned that they would try to convert me to the Roman church; in fact they never did, and were punctilious about that; I did begin to love the liturgy, and quite a lot of atheists I know also love it; we had a Dean here who decided to use a different Bible translation from the Authorized Version; Tony Tanner, probably agnostic, wrote to the Provost asking him to instruct the Dean to cease using 'tea bag English'; feel there is something important about the ritual; the Roman Catholic liturgy has a strong feeling of rhythm and design, almost a work of art; for me musically to have begun to understand it has deepened my appreciation of liturgical music; nowadays it has become more difficult for me

1:07:34:09 When I was a committed and unquestioning believer I would have said that in great music one was experiencing God but not calling it so; now feel that it is undoubtedly the case that many have these feelings with music and poetry, now I am not sure what to call it; one of the great mysteries for me is how do you explain the effect that the music of Bach has on you; in recent years I have read and come to know Don Cupitt but he has the idea that God is in and around, and I quite like that, and I have got much keener on the Holy Spirit than God the Father and God the Son; I have tried to develop this idea when challenged; an undergraduate interviewed me this year for 'Varsity'; he thought the services in King's Chapel were not especially valid as they were basically concert performances; I simply don't accept that; I think that what we are doing is so rich that it enables an extraordinary wide spectrum of people to go in and gain something from it; I hope you can cater for the traditional Christian, but also a visitor, an agnostic or atheist, or Buddhist; one of the things that sustains me in what I am doing every day is that if one person has come and been enriched by the experience, then it has been worth it

1:12:37:11 When I first came to King's I was really terrified because I stood in great awe of the tradition and doubted my ability to be able to continue it; Bernard Williams was a huge support to me; he asked me to come to see him shortly after I arrived; he warned me that not many Fellows went to Chapel, but collectively they deeply valued it and were very jealous of its reputation; at the end of my first term he suggested I should speak more to the choral scholars, very discretely helping me along; after about five years felt I would do better to be myself rather than looking over my shoulder, wondering what people were thinking; once I started doing that it got easier; it is enormously rewarding but is with you all the time; six days a week you are conducting a choir service and you want it to be good; yesterday, for example, in the congregation there were at least half a dozen very distinguished retired church musicians, David Willcocks among them; when I wake on a Monday morning and know there is no service there is a different feel to the day; the acoustic of the building is both beautiful but also very resonant so the chief challenge is to achieve a clarity of texture; motivation of, and the psychological approach to the members of the choir, particularly the choral scholars, where they have to be prepared to spend twenty hours a week singing, as well as academic work; there are times when some need a bit of motivating and have come to realize how this can be approached from a psychological point of view, and the extent to which what I do is going to be very formative for them; that increases my sense of responsibility; also feel that as I get older there is a value to handing on to the next generation, therefore the teaching element becomes more important to me

1:18:35:05 My work with the choir here is central, but I also work with professional singers and players, and amateurs; the aim is the same in each case, namely to produce the best that you can with the material you have; people are not machines; for me, provided someone is motivated and trying to do their best, that is fine; the way you arrive at getting the best is slightly different; for professionals, my approach is to try to be efficient and well organized, and create a framework in which they can exercise their professional skill; with children, the important thing is not to patronize them because they are a lot brighter and quicker than adults generally give them credit for; they are very self-critical and quick to spot if a choral scholar is not pulling his weight; with young choral scholars, who are apt to think that they are quite good, you need to both affirm them in that belief but also make sure they understand that they haven't yet arrived at the top of their ability; I do still play the organ, though less than I used to; I remember having a scholarship to study abroad when younger and went to Germany where I had the opportunity to practise eight hours a day for three weeks; I have never been so fluent; I sometimes look with envy at organ recitalists who just have to play; the reason I enjoy playing the organ is that I spend quite a lot of my time working out how to motivate people; playing the organ, I am just motivating myself; I am much stricter with myself than other people; it also means that I have subjected myself to the sort of discipline I am requiring of my organ scholars or choral scholars; I don't really compose as I don't have any really serious creative ability; I do arrangements and think I am quite good at that because I was given a good grounding in it at school and in the tripos; I am rather old-fashioned in my beliefs about what should be taught to young musicians; think that composers who have a natural ability will be fine anyway, but people like me who have to arrange things have to be musically literate

1:23:29:18 I find it almost impossible to rate our choir; within its genre it is  one of the best; it is difficult as I am very close to it and it's like watching a child grow up; I don't have enough time to listen to other choirs; I don't particularly enjoy it as I either think they are better or not as good; on  my own enjoyment of music, I am terribly limited; I enjoy listening to jazz though I don't know anything about it; there is so much classical music that I don't know which I would like to know; amateur music lovers often know more music than a professional as the former can listen to many pieces while latter has to practise one; we don't have enough time to listen to music, which is regrettable; I don't do much supervising of undergraduates or post-graduate students; when David Willcocks and George Guest were in charge of choirs they were employed as University Lecturers and drew a stipend as such; as the choirs became more active and central to what they were doing, this became an anomaly; by the time I arrived here the link between a University lectureship and Director of Music at St John's and King's was severed; I am paid by the College not by the Faculty and there is nothing in my contract that requires me to do any teaching at all; I have, however, taught the first year musicians their harmony and counterpoint; I've done it because I quite enjoy it and it means I meet the students in their first year so I know them for the rest of the time they are in College, and I do have a general responsibility in the College to oversee student music making activity; I am not a Director of Studies as that link has been severed; supervising makes me feel that even at a minimal level I am engaged in what my colleagues are doing; I have always tried hard not to give the impression that the Chapel is a separate organization

1:28:43:22 The College has been a great stimulus to me; I could have found myself as a cathedral organist living in a close; it would be very nice to have a tied house and not to be a commuter; nevertheless, I think what I gain from being here rather than a cathedral is the ability to meet and talk to people working in other fields; I have found that very stimulating, and many of them are intensely interested in music, so there has been a point of contact; also there is a sense that I enjoy being part of a community; another option I could have had was to try and make a freelance career, but I enjoy the community; I have sat on College committees and done a spell on the Council, so I feel I have done a stint in a collegial sort of way; I don't have many close friends but there are people I am glad to see and talk to; Tony Tanner was one; Wynne Godley used to like to talk to me about music; people are able to talk to me about music in a way that, sadly, I am not able to talk to them about their discipline; I have got on very well with my music colleagues - Iain Fenlon has been a great friend and supporter, Nick Marston, and at the moment we have extremely cordial relationships in the Chapel; if any of my colleagues knew the setup we have here with the Dean and Chaplain they would be very envious; another great supporter was Pat Bateson; we all need affirmation of the right kind

1:32:18:05 Thoughts about Handel; although may have been easy to imitate, there is a sense of imagination that makes him unique; even a work as familiar at the ‘Messiah', is just an astonishing creation, though the least typical of his works; most of his oratorios are based on Old Testament subjects; a work like 'Israel in Egypt' is immensely powerful with amazing depictions of the plagues and locusts; depiction of a darkness that can be felt; I knew a clergyman, Dean of King's London, Ulrich Simon, whose family had come from Germany as refugees; he had converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest; he told me that he and his wife started every day listening to a Bach cantata; both Handel and Bach tended to self-plagiarize to some extent so they could write very quickly by adapting; Handel's fluency with 'The Messiah' is hard to fathom; Beethoven, for instance, worked with much greater difficulty