A Modest Man

John was not a famous singer, and would not want to be thought of as such. He was a modest man who worked in the profession for most of his life with dedication and enthusiasm.

But he was a larger-than-life character who will never be forgotten by those who knew him and worked with him, so it was thought appropriate that a new competition for singers sharing his enthusiasm for English Song should be dedicated to his memory.

Church Choir Boy

His talent for singing was spotted at an early age by his local church in Bexhill and he became a regular member of the choir. This instilled a love of church music which never left him, and indeed for the last few years of his life he was organist and choirmaster at St. Mary the Virgin, Ticehurst, while he kept up with other busy professional commitments. After some years as the leading tenor in the local amateur operatic scene in Bexhill, he joined the Glyndebourne Opera Company, where he sang in the chorus and undertook roles with the Touring Company. As this was not a full-time job and he had a growing family, he also sang with the Welsh National Opera and Opera for All, an adventurous small company which took opera productions to the most unlikely places.

Royal Opera Contract

In 1973 he was offered a contract with the Royal Opera, and worked with them for the rest of his life. He had an immense knowledge and understanding of the repertoire, his favourites being the Russian operatic masterpieces.

he loved English songs

But perhaps even more than opera, he loved English songs. He had always enjoyed singing songs from the period of Quilter and Warlock, but when he became involved with Finchcocks, the home of the Richard Burnett Collection of historic keyboard instruments, he began researching and singing songs to be accompanied by them. His particular delight was to find a dusty copy of something which had not been heard in public for a very long time.

He made three recordings at Finchcocks, reflecting a wide historical period from lute songs by Thomas Campion to late Victorian ballads. He sang regularly at Finchcocks Open Days, where his particular ability to engage and amuse his audience made him many friends. He believed passionately that the words were the most important component of a song, and that these should always be audible and interpreted correctly. His perfect diction never failed to be commented on.

John was always ready to encourage others, whether a diffident church chorister or an ambitious young professional.

He died suddenly on 4th July 2004, on his way to play the organ at Ticehurst, and will be remembered with love and gratitude.

John Kerr