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Farewell to the "father of choral music" in New Zealand

The New Zealand Choral Federation is immensely saddened to announce the death of its founder and patron Emeritus Professor Peter Godfrey at the age of 95.

Peter was a brilliant and truly inspirational choral leader, whose influence on this country’s singers and conductors will continue to be felt for many years to come.

Words cannot express the debt of gratitude so many of us owe Peter.





Here is an obituary written on behalf of NZCF by Judy Berryman:

The passing of Peter Godfrey brings sorrow to all who knew him, but his gift to our choral world ensures that his legacy lives on in countless singing voices, and in choral music’s remarkable place in New Zealand’s arts story.

Since his arrival with his family in Auckland in 1958 to join the music staff at Auckland University, Peter has made an indelible mark on music throughout New Zealand. After fifteen years as a lecturer, he became Professor in 1974.  During his teaching career, his influence on countless music students was immense – many of those young people now number among this country’s most highly-esteemed professional musicians. Alongside his teaching, Peter conducted two of Auckland’s main orchestras, the University’s Choral Society and the Auckland University Singers, as well as the Dorian Choir, all groups receiving international recognition – the Dorian Choir won the BBC’s world choral competition Let the Peoples Sing in 1972.  He was recognised with an Arts Foundation Award in 2005.

Founder of the New Zealand Choral Federation in 1985, he worked tirelessly for the advancement of choirs of all kinds and his encouragement of young singers and conductors has earned this country the highest accolades in the international choral community. For years Peter undertook an exhausting schedule of choral courses, conducting workshops and seminars, which contributed immeasurably to the standard and popularity of choral singing over the three decades of NZCF’s existence. He guest-conducted and then directed the New Zealand Youth Choir for ten highly successful years, and many of that choir’s alumni have gone on to direct their own choral groups.

In fact countless musicians in New Zealand and overseas can trace their success in music to having been taught by or sung with Peter. His influence over decades has set many of our finest singers, players and conductors on their noteworthy careers. Composers, too, can look back on the generous support Peter gave them. He particularly encouraged young composers to write for choirs, and our wide repertoire of locally-written choral works owes much to Peter, who wanted NZ choirs to sing NZ music.

Having begun his musical life as a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge, Peter was never far away from church music, and always said that it was his first love. During his first 16 years in Auckland, he was Director of Music at Auckland Cathedral of St Mary and Holy Trinity, and after his retirement from the university and move to Wellington, he became Director of Music at Wellington Cathedral of St Paul.

After retiring from full-time work, he could not resist continuing to work with choirs. Having settled in Waikanae with his wife Sheila, he was appointed Music Director of Wellington’s Orpheus Choir, which he conducted from 1984 to 1991. He established two choirs on the Kapiti Coast – the Kapiti Chorale which he conducted until 2004, and the Kapiti Chamber Choir which he led until 2006. This was still not enough for him, as he then began a choir at St Michael’s Church in Waikanae, and in very recent years took a group of singers at the retirement village where he lived.

Peter was honoured twice by the Queen – first in 1978 with an MBE and ten years later with a CBE – and the Government recognised his tremendous contribution to music with an Arts Foundation Icon Award in 2005.

Although he is now gone, we know his gift to the New Zealand choral world over so many decades will remain with us: the almost immeasurable joy of singing wonderful music in wonderful choirs.

Other tributes will be placed on this site and our Facebook page as they become available. If you would like to send your own message, please email it to office@nzcf.org.nz or post it on our New Zealand Choral Federation Facebook page.