"One of the best composers Britain has produced in the past century." (Martin Anderson, The Independent)






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John Gardner - pupils' reminscences

During a teaching career spanning some 30 years, John Gardner made an impression on a lot of people. We have gathered some of these from a variety of sources, and would be very pleased to hear from other ex-pupils who have a memory they would like to share.John Gardner 1960s from the Paulina magazine

Michael Berkeley, the composer and radio presenter who was introducing yet another broadcast of Tomorrow shall be my dancing day  on Christmas Eve 2006 remarked,  "I remember him when I was a student at the Royal Academy of Music and he was a professor, and he was always laughing; a jovial, wonderful man."

Andrew Stowell records in his second bassoon blog, "When I attended his lectures on general musicianship at the RAM, he always managed to put  a new and interesting slant on a subject. The lectures were never dull and usually quite a challenge."

The Scottish composer David Dorward studied with him at the RAM for a short time and pronounced him a "lively character and superb musician".

Not all of his pupils enjoyed his tuition, however. Joe Jackson, who studied at the RAM, remembered him as a "hard-nosed technician. He was non-committal about my compositions, and apparently thought that what I most needed was a stern task-master to whip my theoretical skills into shape...Gardner was big on Bach, and on score-reading - the art of playing a piece on the piano reading from a multi-staved score. He was a vigorous white-haired man, stocky, probably close to fifty, but with an aggressive energy that made him seem younger. He wasn't a pedant, but he was a bit of a bully. For instance, he would make me play Bach fugues, over and over again, from an open score - that is, four parts on four staves - with four different clefs....This was pure sadism." (from A Cure for Gravity)

Paul McCartney, who took private lessons from him, has never said much more than "I went to a composer for some composition lessons", but one can guess they might have gone the same way as Joe Jackson's.

John Gardner conducting, St Paul's Girls' School

It is the girls of St Paul's who seem to have had the softest spot for him. It is perhaps not hard to understand why - he was at the time (1962-1975) the only male member of staff, and it was recalled that his predecessor, Herbert Howells, had a reputation at the School as being "rather dishy".

Sally Bradshaw, now a professional singer, recalls that "The music wing held a powerful attraction for me: as a teenager I already derived a great solace from music. I would sail along the corridor, passing the staff room with some degree of dread and, each time I went through the lobby, look to my left at a framed calligraphic picture: "Since finging is fo good a thing I wish all folks would learn to fing". I would intone it to myself like a mantra including all the 'fs.

My year was the first to sing John Gardner's carol settings which were premiered at the Christmas Carol Concert. I remember the excitement and also the matter-of-factness: John Gardner was modest and unpretentious and so we may not have realised fully at the time what classics those settings are. We sang Tomorrow shall be my dancing day obsessively in the locker rooms. To this day several members of my form are moved to tears when they hear those carols.

As a music master he was a delight. I remember nuggets of advice he would give during our singing class: "If you're a student and really want to hear a concert and haven't the money, just go and mill around at the interval and shuffle in with the crowd." That was as outrageous as he ever became. He handled the barrage of schoolgirl crushes with impeccable restraint and goodwill, clumping somewhat heavy-footedly home to his wife and numerous family in New Malden. He also introduced us to the best of choral music, outstandingly Vittoria anthems, whose spirituality and complexity took my breath away."

Rosemary Kerslake, the actress, recalls a remarkable performance: "For me John Gardner's greatest achievement was the performance of the Verdi Requiem, involving the joint choirs and orchestras of the Girls' and Boys' schools with professional soloists. It was a painstaking and laborious task to learn the music, since few of us were accomplished sight-readers. However, the eventual performance was quite extraordinarily inspiring and uplifting, and has left me with an abiding love of the Requiem, and indeed Verdi's music in general. Some of the soloists remarked afterwards that, although they had performed the work several times before with diverse choral societies, they had never experienced that level of excitement and intensity. I am enormously grateful to have been a part of it."

And we know of another Paulina who is desparate to know where the manuscript for The Twelve Days of Christmas is. One theory is that it is still in the back of a cupboard in the music department at the School, and if anyone has it, or knows where it is, we would love to hear from them!