Vale Peter Godfrey

Vale Peter Godfrey

Vale Peter Godfrey

Former Director of Music at Trinity, Professor Emeritus Peter Godfrey, passed away peacefully in New Zealand on 28 September 2017, aged 95.

Widely regarded as the father of New Zealand choral music, Professor Godfrey's achievements were to nurture singing in New Zealand of the highest standards and promote significant levels of participation of choristers of all ages. 

Born in England in 1922, Peter attended Denstone College on a music scholarship, and began as a chorister at King's College, Cambridge, aged nine, later reading Music as an undergraduate there. Appointed Acting Director for six months in 1978 when Philip Ledger took sabbatical leave, Peter became the first person since the sixteenth century to have been a Chorister, Choral Scholar and Director of Music at King's. During World War Two, Peter served with the King's African Rifles reaching the rank of Captain. Resuming his studies at Cambridge where he held the John Stewart Scholarship in Sacred Music, in 1946 he shared college rooms in King's with another returned serviceman, David Willcocks, destined to become Director of Music at King's in 1957. While still a student, Godfrey married Sheila McNeile, and then began his career as a school music master, including appointment as Head of Music at Marlborough College in 1954.

Having declined an offer in 1952 to teach in Melbourne, Peter, now with a family of four daughters, went to New Zealand in 1958 as Lecturer in Music at Auckland University. Early in his tenure, he presided over the first choral training course taken by the then ten-year-old Michael Leighton Jones (later Director of Music at Trinity), whose mother had been at school with Peter's wife. It was Sheila Godfrey who encouraged Leighton Jones on his path to a choral scholarship at Cambridge.

Peter soon also took on the role of Director of Music at St Mary's Anglican Cathedral, serving until 1974, a year after the new Cathedral of the Holy Trinity came into operation. In the community, he became conductor of the Auckland String Players (1959–1968), Dorian Choir (1961-1983), Auckland University Choral Society (1968–1982) and Auckland University Singers (1970-1982), as well as founding the Symphonia of Auckland. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1970 and Professor of Music in 1974, a position he held until 1982 when he moved to Wellington. 

In the capital, he was able to take over as Musical Director of the New Zealand Youth Choir (1982–1988), having served as Principal Conductor since 1979. He was also Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral, Wellington (1983–1989), and Director of the Orpheus Choir (1984–1991). He was the driving force behind the establishment in 1985 of the New Zealand Choral Federation, fostering a support network for school and church choirs. 

In 1989, the Warden of Trinity College, the Revd Dr Evan Burge, approached Professor Godfrey about taking the role of Director of Music at Trinity. The Choir of Trinity College had been established under Professor Peter Dennison in 1977, but Dennison had for a number of years conducted little apart from the annual Carol service. In fact, Dennison died just a few months before Godfrey's arrival, having expressed his delight at the appointment. Godfrey was director for two years, 1990 and 1991, before the funds available for the position were exhausted; not, however, before a Music Foundation had been established, with the hope of raising substantial funds to endow choral scholarships and the position of Director of Music, and also to fund replacement of the aging organ. Godfrey's plans included establishing a College chamber choir for those not able to make the commitment of time to the two or three Chapel services sung each week, and also an "All Comers Choir". During Godfrey's time, one of the weekday services of Evensong was transferred to the now regular Sunday, and the carols services were continued. The Choir also released its first CD recording.

On his return to New Zealand, Peter was Director of the Kapiti Chamber Choir and the larger Kapiti Chorale, and also conductor and organist at St Michael’s Church, Waikanae. Here he was an influence on Gillian McNaughton, the current Senior Organ Scholar at Trinity, who sang treble in the church choir. Peter introduced her to the world of Anglican choral music and gave her organ lessons. Gillian recalls that his 'passion for excellence and his love for creating beautiful music was infectious and incredibly inspiring.'

In recognition of his contributions to music and music education, Peter Godfrey was made MBE in 1978 and CBE in 1988. He was accorded the titles of Professor Emeritus from Auckland University in 1982 and of Director of Music Emeritus at Wellington Cathedral in 2002. His contribution to music at Trinity College is significant in his re-establishment of the Choir in the form we see today, and the encouragement of philanthropic support of music in the College that has enabled it to continue and thrive. A choral scholarship in his name was established in 2002.

Date: 3 Oct 2017
Category: People