David Wright (staff)

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David Arthur Wright
MA, BMus (Oxon), FRCO, ARSCM

David Wright
Nicknames Pinhead
Born 16 April 1934(1934-04-16)
Leamington Spa
Died 14 January 2021(2021-01-14) (aged 86)
Education King Edward's School, Birmingham; Exeter College, Oxford (MA, BMus); FRCO
Roles Head of Music
Years at BGS 1957-1999
Departments Music
Subjects Music
Known for Choir, Orchestra, Organist and Choir Master at St Botolph's
Spouse Joan Gelsthorp
Children Toby Wright

David Arthur Wright was a teacher of Music at Boston Grammar School (1957-1999).


by David's son, Toby Wright

Organist and Choirmaster, who for many years was at the heart of the musical community in Boston

David Wright came to Boston in 1957 to take up the posts of Organist & Choirmaster at St. Botolph’s (the Stump) and music master at Boston Grammar School, a joint appointment which arose following the departure of his predecessor, Philip Marshall, to Ripon Cathedral.

As Organist & Choirmaster at the Stump, he led the musical life of the community for over 40 years, until his retirement in 1999. In the earlier part of his time at the Stump he led the choir in several broadcasts of Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Overseas Service. In 1978, when the BBC issued a cassette and LP "Songs of Praise" recording of hymns from the popular TV series, it was Boston Stump's 1977 edition, under David's direction, that was chosen (with Eric Wayman, one of David's frequent musical collaborators, playing the organ).[1]

In 1993 David led the direction of the East Midlands Church Choirs Festival when it was held in Boston, devising a programme which featured music by several musicians with links to Boston, including John Taverner, Philip Marshall, Gordon Slater, Colin Hand[2] and David Wright himself, whose compositions include several short anthems for choir and a setting of the Preces and Responses[3].

The 450th anniversary of the death of the great Tudor composer, John Taverner, in 1995 brought a number of events to the Stump, including a memorial service on the occasion of the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to mark Taverner's resting place under the tower, at which the Stump choir sang several of Taverner's antiphons, under David's direction.

David's close working relationship with the Taverner scholar and composer Colin Hand, also a Boston resident, led to the composition of several works by Dr Hand for David, the Stump choir and the Boston Choral Society. These include his "Missa Sancti Botolphi" (dedicated to the Stump choir in 1979), his cantata "High Tide" (commissioned by Boston Choral Society for the 1980 Boston Festival)[4] and organ works including his "In Nomine 6" ("The Taverner Sonata"), dedicated to David.

In his early days in Boston, David had founded the Boston Operatic Society[5], to raise funds for the Boston Choral Society (then named the Boston Choral Union)[4], which he conducted until his retirement in 1999. In his work with the Boston Choral Society he led performances of many of the great works in the choral society tradition, at concerts in the Stump and elsewhere, including Elgar's Dream of Gerontius, Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, Haydn's Creation, Brahms' Requiem, Handel's Messiah, Howells' Hymnus Paradisi and the Bach passions and Mass in B minor, collaborating with colleagues including Harrison Oxley, John Ludlow, Neil Black, Christopher Robinson, and attracting vocal soloists of the stature of Helen Watts, Marion Milford and Nigel Perrin[6]. Amongst lighter fare were several performances of Gilbert and Sullivan, including semi-staged productions of H.M.S. Pinafore and The Gondoliers at the Sam Newsom Music Centre, which he led from the piano.

Childhood, Birmingham and Oxford

David was born in 1934 in Leamington Spa, shortly after which the family moved to Birmingham. With the outbreak of war, the family chose to relocate to Barmouth to avoid the risk of bombing in Birmingham, and it was in Barmouth that David took his first piano lessons and sang in the choir. At the age of 8 he joined the choir of Lichfield Cathedral, where he sang until the age of 10, also starting to learn the organ with Ambrose Porter[7]. On returning to Birmingham, he continued his studies under Philip Cranmer and Willis Grant at King Edward’s School, joining the choir of Birmingham Cathedral.

He went up to Oxford to read music at Exeter College in 1952, and it was whilst at Oxford, in 1955, that David took his FRCO examination and was awarded the Limpus Prize, the first prize for practical performance in that session's FRCO examinations (amongst a group which also included John Sanders, later of Gloucester Cathedral, and John Birch, later of Chichester Cathedral). When injuries sustained from a bell-ringing accident meant that he needed to extend his time in Oxford, and his tutor, Thomas Armstrong, was replaced by H K Andrews, Andrews asked David to take up the role as his Assistant Organist at New College during David's BMus year. It turned out to be a vintage year, as he had the opportunity to work with three eminent directors of music at New College that year– H K Andrews, Henry Ley and Meredith Davies – before being succeeded as Assistant Organist by Christopher Robinson.

During his Oxford years, David also conducted various choral and orchestral groups, including the Exonian Singers and Exeter Orchestra[8], and was secretary of the Oxford University Musical Club and Union. His friendships at Oxford included the comedian and actor Dudley Moore, who played in the violin section of David's orchestra, and the playwright Alan Bennett. He also recalled Sir Roger Bannister in the college common room having just run the first four-minute mile. On leaving Oxford, David was succeeded at New College by Christopher Robinson (later of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and St John's College). The window of the organ scholar's room at Exeter College, Oxford, was well known as a useful entry point into college for late-night revelling students 'after hours' when the college entrance was locked, and as organ scholar in the late 1950s David was happy to oblige by placing a sofa under the window for anyone who might slip.

Boston – organist, pianist and teacher

David Wright early in his career, at the Stump organ

Throughout his time in Boston, David was a frequent recitalist, as organist and also as a pianist, both in solo piano recitals and as an accompanist for many local singers and instrumentalists. He had learned to play the piano in Birmingham with the noted teacher Leonard Rayner[9] – who had himself been taught by Benno Schoenberger[10], a favoured pupil of Franz Liszt. (The tutoring lineage then goes back directly to Czerny and Beethoven)

He oversaw the restoration of the Stump's Harrison & Harrison organ in 1987[11], and made two commercially available recordings on the instrument, issued in 1987 and 1992. Indeed, it was his love of the Harrison & Harrison organ (described by Lawrence Elvin in his book "The Harrison Story"[12] as "one of our most beautiful Parish Church instruments and certainly one of the finest of the many glorious organs that have come from the Durham firm") which was the heart of David's musical life in Boston. When the opportunity arose for him to take the post of Director of Music at Bath Abbey, it was his preference for the organ at Boston over that of Bath Abbey which contributed to his decision to remain in Boston.

Following his retirement as Choirmaster at the Stump in 1999 he continued as Organist, and was appointed Organist Emeritus in 2007. Whilst always eschewing the limelight, performance on the Stump organ framed his life in Boston, including as soloist in a Handel organ concerto with Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 1959, through to performances of the Poulenc Organ Concerto and Saint-Saëns 'Organ Symphony' in later years. On a visit to Boston in the 1970s, the then-serving Prime Minister Edward Heath specifically requested an opportunity to hear and play the organ at the Stump, resulting in David and Edward Heath turning pages for each other in the loft as they took turns to play the instrument.

David Wright in 2019 when he was presented with his ARSCM in Salisbury Cathedral

In 2019, David's services to church music in Boston were recognised by an honorary award from the RSCM, when David was made an Associate of the Royal School of Church Music at a ceremony in Salisbury Cathedral.

As a teacher, David was responsible for inspiring generations of pupils in Boston, including many who went on to pursue careers in music, both through his private instrumental lessons on the piano and organ, and his role as Head of Music at Boston Grammar School from 1957 to 1999. School concerts, the school orchestra and supporting dramatic productions were all part of the role, and as the curriculum moved increasingly to the use of electronics he relished the opportunity to involve himself supporting his pupils through the use of recording equipment, a life-long interest. In later years, pupils also enjoyed the inspiration from his wide-ranging assembly talks, crossing onto many diverse topics beyond music.

He was an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (having completed his training under Herbert Howells), an adjudicator at music competitions and festivals, and a lecturer and tutor in the extra-mural department of Nottingham University (1958 – 1969).

Although a traditionalist, he loved to 'let his hair down' musically, entertaining boys through school performances of "Rooster Rag" or "Daniel Jazz", his improvisations, and his own comic arrangements for choir concerts. Countless youngsters found themselves opened to a lifelong love of music through his enthusiasm to cross musical boundaries, with his enjoyment of the lighter side exemplified by his love of the music of Jacques Loussier and The King's Singers.

Other interests

Aside from music David had a very wide range of interests. He enjoyed all things mechanical, including old cars and steam engines, and had an interest in astronomy and physics (having studied the then-nascent topic of nuclear physics when in the sixth form). He was passionately interested in sound recording and hi-fi technology, often editing his own recordings. He had a love of poetry, Latin, much classic literature, and the impressionist painters. As a young man he was a keen photographer, carrying out his own dark-room processing and printing, and building his own photographic enlarger.

In the 1980s and 1990s he took up table tennis, initially with son Toby, and competed in the Boston & District Table Tennis League[13] for several seasons.

He maintained his acute and enquiring intellect to the end of his life, with a particular passion for keeping his mind active completing killer sudoku puzzles.


David met his future wife, Joan (née Gelsthorp) when she became an organ pupil of his on arriving in Boston in 1957. They married in 1961. Joan was herself a very fine musician. An Associate of the Royal College of Music, she worked with David as rehearsal accompanist for Boston Choral Society and Boston Operatic Society, in addition to her own roles as Assistant Organist at St.Nicholas's Church, Skirbeck and music teacher at Conway School.

David moved to Winchester in early 2020 to be closer to his son and daughter-in-law, Toby and Sarah, and his grandchildren, Martha and Freya. He passed away in Winchester on 14 January 2021.

David Wright (AO 56-57) Remembers

An article written by David Wright himself for the New College Choir Association Newsletter - July 2012[14]

I was lucky enough to be the Assistant Organist at NC in a truly vintage year (1956-57), having the unique experience of working under no fewer than three eminent musicians in that short period: H.K. Andrews, Henry Ley and Meredith Davies. All three treated me as a friend rather than as a junior, and I regard it as a great privilege to have had the opportunity to be so close to them and share their confidences, which were not always anything to do with music.

I had been the Organ Scholar at Exeter College, which was one of the very few Oxford Colleges that recruited local boys to sing with the college undergraduates who formed the ATB sections of the chapel choir. (Some little time later Organ Scholars at the college had the luxury of using boys from Christ Church School, and of course after the college ceased to be a single-sex one female undergraduates joined the choir instead of boys, and this is the situation now.)

In my post-graduate (B. Mus.) year, when my services were no longer required at Exeter College, H. K. Andrews invited me to be his assistant. I was flattered and thrilled that this great man had chosen me, but perhaps he was influenced by the fact that when I took the F.R.C.O. examination I was awarded the Limpus Prize. One day HKA told me that the Headmaster of New College School would like to meet me, so I duly went along to the school. There was a chap in scruffy old overalls mowing the grass, and I politely asked him if he could tell me where I might find the Headmaster, to which he responded: "I AM the Headmaster".

I got on really well with HKA, and found him to be very kind, supportive and encouraging, in spite of his reputation for being awkward and at loggerheads with most people. I remember that when an admiring student asked him how he managed to get his choristers to produce such beautiful tone, he growled: "They wouldn't dare not to!". HKA was also very generous. He was even intending to take me on a trip to Bayreuth, to experience Wagner on his home ground, although in the end this had to fall through. I was able to enjoy having the occasional dinner with him at High Table in New College at his expense, though, at which the alcohol flowed freely, including my introduction to the delights of Cognac.

My only disappointment during this wonderful time was that a BBC programme of music by Morley that we were due to record had to be cancelled because the boys succumbed to an outbreak of chickenpox! (Or was it measles? No doubt there are ex choristers who remember.) During the Michaelmas term HKA resigned, and Meredith Davies was appointed to succeed him. As he was the Organist at Hereford Cathedral he had to give the Dean and Chapter there the appropriate notice and therefore was not able to take up the NC post for a few months, so Henry Ley was brought out of retirement in Ottery St. Mary to bridge the gap. I greatly respected him because of what he had achieved during his working life, and he was delightful to work with, but was of the opinion that the NC Choir was so good that rehearsal was superfluous! I disagreed with him over one issue – at one Evensong we had performed one of Herbert Howells's settings (probably the Coll. Reg.), and when he came up to the organ loft afterwards I was enthusing about the beauty, not only of the choral writing, but also that of the organ part. He made it clear that he did not think much of Howells’s organ music, saying that only Bach really knew how to write for the organ!

In those days, as well as being a keyboard player, I was a countertenor singer, and when Meredith Davies eventually took up office he made more use of me as an alto in the choir, singing opposite Michael Groser[15]. (Incidentally, I was surprised that in all that was written about Michael after his death, no mention was made of what is my abiding memory of him, that he used to ride about on a precarious-looking motorised bicycle! It seemed somehow so to characterize his delightful but somewhat off-beat personality.) I remember in one BBC recording in which I was singing Meredith stopped the choir after the very first chord because my note was apparently not quite in tune!

Meredith had a wry and rather naughty sense of humour, and I shan't forget an occasion when forty singers, including both him and me, were arranged in a semicircle on the Holywell Music Room platform to perform Tallis's Spem in Alium. It fell to my lot to start the whole thing off, and Meredith, who was standing nearly opposite me, was doing his best to make me laugh just as we were beginning by pulling funny faces at me.

It was in his time that I received the biggest fee, relative to the amount of work involved, that I have ever been paid. It was a BBC recording of music that was almost entirely unaccompanied. There was just one anthem (by Henry Ley, I think) that had an organ introduction consisting of just six single notes. As the organist's fee was eighteen guineas – a princely sum to a student in 1957 – I was in effect paid at the rate of three guineas per note! Incidentally, I never heard the broadcasts that we did, and I should be very interested to hear from anyone who has any recordings (presumably on reel-to-reel tape) from this era. I think they were recorded for the BBC Overseas Service.

It seems a sad fact that no-one mentioned in these recollections of mine is still alive, but we are after all going back fifty-five years!

Radio and TV appearances

External links


  1. Songs of Praise - BBC One London, 16 October 1977 18.40 - from Boston, Lincolnshire... Conductor David Wright
  2. Colin Hand Obituary - Church Times
  3. Choral Evensong - BBC Home Service Basic, 19 August 1964 16.05 - from Boston Parish Church Preces and Responses (Wright) Psalms 98 and 99 Lessons: Ezekiel 33, vv. 21-33... Organist and Choirmaster, David Wright
  4. 4.0 4.1 Boston Choral Society
  5. BOS Musical Theatre Group - formerly Boston Operatic Society
  6. Nigel Perrin
  7. Ambrose Porter - Lichfield Cathedral Choir
  8. Oxford Concert Programmes: Miscellaneous Concert Items (no dates)
  9. Leonard Rayner - Leonard Rayner Piano School
  10. Schönberger, Benno - Oesterreichisches Musiklexicon Online
  11. St Botolph's Harrison & Harrison Organ - The Parish of Boston
  12. The Harrison Story (Lawrence Elvin) - Google Books
  13. Boston Table Tennis League
  14. New College Choir Association Newsletter - July 2012
  15. Michael Groser, sculptor - groserfamilies.com

See Also