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Memorial service for Peter Godfrey

Bulletin: the broadcast of the service for Peter is at 7pm on 28 December on RadioNZ Concert.

Over six hundred people filled Wellington Cathedral of St Paul on Sunday evening 12 November for the Memorial Service celebrating the life and work of Professor Peter Godfrey, long-time patron of NZCF. Two hundred were singers from one of the seven choirs Peter had conducted in Wellington during the nearly forty years since his retirement from Auckland University, and for the massed items they were joined by another fifty or more former singers of those choirs as well as many who had attended Wellington Region’s NZCF May Workshops.

There were also many Cathedral parishioners, vocal soloists, orchestra players, music administrators, and many whose lives he had touched while giving so much to New Zealand’s choral life since the late 1950s. The service was conducted by the Cathedral’s Dean Digby Wilkinson and Christine Argyle filled the role of presenter introducing each item. Individual choirs each sang a piece of their own choosing – and all music was either from a work or by a composer that they knew Peter admired – there was Pearsall’s Lay a Garland, Fauré’s Sanctus from the Requiem, and compositions that Cathedral Choir organists had written – Dienes’ Jesu Dulcis and Walsh’s Eternal Spirit. Peter’s Kapiti Coast choirs sang And the Glory from Messiah, Elgar’s As Torrents in Summer, and Elizabeth Salmon’s Blessing, which she had written for Peter’s local parish church. The massed choirs, conducted by Guy Jansen, opened the service with Wood’s Oculi Omnium, the favourite grace that Peter had every choir in the country sing by heart before a meal. Brahms’ How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place, which Karen Grylls conducted, brought the service to a very moving conclusion.

Other highlights among many were the magnificent singing of the hymns, all Peter’s favourites – RVW’s For All the Saints, Parry’s O Praise ye the Lord, and Howell’s All my Hope on God is Founded, while the heart-breakingly beautiful Dido’s Lament by Purcell was sung by Janey MacKenzie, who had a long association with Peter as chorister and soloist. This gave the service a lovely interlude of hushed sadness amid the uplifting thankfulness expressed in the other items sung by the choirs.

The singing was interspersed by three fine addresses. Peter Averi, long-time colleague and friend, recounted Peter’s exceptional contribution to the country’s musical and choral life, John Rosser, chair of NZCF, spoke of his personal experience as a choir member for many years, expressing for us all his admiration of what every singer has gained from Peter’s choral leadership and vision, and Simon Bowden, Chair of the New Zealand Arts Foundation, described the arts world’s tremendous gratitude to Peter, as they awarded him an Arts Icon in 2005. Simon Winn, the Cathedral’s Canon Precentor, read Psalm 139 vv1-14, and before the final blessing, the Royal School of Church Music’s Chorister’s prayer was recited by all – a fitting end to the service .

It was clear that all the singers were singing their hearts out for Peter Godfrey one last time; the congregation rejoiced in sharing the heart-felt emotion of the service, aware there is much to be thankful for in the gifts he gave to New Zealand’s musical life.

Judy Berryman