Richard Cock recently returned to Bishops to receive the Robert Gray Medal Award. In the interview with Paul Murray, that follows, we learn how Richard was inspired at school, for his music career.
Even before I got to Bishops I was taken on a tour of the school by my father Charles Cock (FH 1925-34) ... well not quite a tour, but I do remember being taken to the chapel…and I think that’s where the magic all started for me. I was aware from my grandmother that there were organists in the family, and that singing in a choir had played an important part in her life. She told me that when she was a girl at St Cyprian’s….this must have been in the 1890’s…that they used to walk down from St Cyp’s to the Cathedral, and that she gazed lovingly at the Head Chorister at that time, and that later they met up and he became my grandfather Charles Ernest Cock (at Bishops. 1903-04). I also later came into possession of two bits of family history. (see photos below). These confirmed for me that both my paternal great-grandfathers had been church organists, one in Devonport and one in Woodstock. So I guess it was my grandmother that encouraged me, and planted the seed that I should be an organist, and I just assumed that I would one day learn to play the organ. So when I arrived at Bishops in 1962 as a day boy in the Prep I put up my hand to learn the piano….I didn’t even know really what an organ was! I had had piano lessons previously and just assumed that they would continue when I moved to a new school, and I remember my first report saying I had made good progress, and that I should learn the organ…it all seemed to point in one direction.
On my first Friday, I think, at the Prep this rather imposing old man, Doctor Brown, or “Doc” as he was known, took us for singing, and I had to sing in front of the whole class. When I went back to sit down I was told by Peter Robinson, (SH, 1957-67 HoS) who was sharing a desk with me, ”Bad luck! You’re in the choir”.
Since I had never sung in a choir…Woodridge Prep , where I had been for the previous four years, had virtually no music, and certainly no choir…I didn’t really know what it meant even. However, that moment changed my life forever, and I have been involved with choirs ever since that day in one form or another.
Because I had been at boarding school at Woodridge, where nothing was very far, and I was always on time for everything, I used to arrive for choir rehearsals at Bishops very early and park my bike just outside Founder’s House, ready to rush down to the Prep after rehearsal. We were known as the Prep trebles, and we rehearsed 4 mornings a week: two for Chapel Choir and two for the Special Choir…I was put into the Special Choir very early on. Well, because of my early arrival I soon was given the name Punctual Boy. It seemed that everyone in the choir had been given a nickname by Doctor Brown….Cheshire Cat, Rondebosch down the Ages, Indian Colonel, Cub Boy, Peculiar Fish and so on. I thought nothing of it. In fact Punctual Boy seemed something quite positive, and I needed boosting as a new boy in the school. It all sounds rather quaint now, and probably was, but it was just what happened in those days.
My organ lessons started as soon as I got to College, and I joined another young aspiring organist in my year Anthony Melck (Matric- 1966), with whom I kept in touch over many years. He was an economist who ended up as Vice Chancellor of Unisa, but when he left that, took up his first love which was building organs , and in his retirement he joined the Austrian organ building firm Rieger. We were Sir Anthony and Sir Richard to each other…..we saw ourselves as something special! Well, we were…we were the youngest organists in the school.
I was in awe of the senior boys in the Choir: Christian Ashley Botha (WH: 1953-63), and Michael Robinson (OH/FH: 1956-1965) who played the organ brilliantly, and I soon learned about Timothy Farrell (GH: 1952-1961) who had been an illustrious predecessor at the organ in the chapel. He later became Sub-organist at Westminster Abbey, and was a real organ “rock star”. So we had something to aim at!
But I had to get to those dizzying heights from nowhere, and soon I was taught a hymn and had to play for the chapel service. It was incredibly nerve-wracking. I practised for weeks, on one hymn, until I could do it perfectly, and I did. I remember being very proud of that. I don’t suppose the boys even noticed that someone else was playing the organ. Later it became a regular thing, but one incident remains seared on my memory. I must have been in Standard 8 or 9 , and was asked to play for chapel, and somehow, I had the wrong tune and the words were far too many for the notes. In those days the organ was down the side of the chapel under the extra set of pipes sticking out. The staff were in their raised seats looking at me, and they thought this was very funny. They sang heartily, fitting in ALL the words on the last note of each line, and killing themselves when they saw my distress at the end of every line. I really didn’t work out quickly enough what was happening and just ploughed on to the end of the hymn. Since then I check and double-check, and triple -check before starting any hymn, and sing all the words so that I know they fit. It was an excellent lesson which I have never forgotten.
Through all those early days I was encouraged by Doc Brown, and inspired by him for my first four years at Bishops. In 1966 John Badminton arrived (Staff - 1968-81). He had a very different approach, and I made good progress under him, and it was he who suggested I go into music full time. I did, and have never regretted it for one moment. John supported me over many years and when he went on Sabbatical, it coincided with my leaving UCT, so I could stand in for him at Bishops for six months. I also conducted the Philharmonia Choir in his absence, and did my first professional conducting job: Good Friday 1972, Messiah in the City Hall, Cape Town.
I was so well-trained at Bishops, that as soon as I left school I took an organist’s post at St Michael’s Observatory, at the suggestion of Barry Smith, the organist at St George’s Cathedral, and the four years I spent there set me up for the journey that lay ahead, a journey that took me to the Royal School of Church Music, and then to Chichester Cathedral where I ended up as assistant organist, and director of Music at the Choir School, before returning to South Africa in 1980. It was while I was at Chichester that I sat for the examinations for Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists, which I passed, and so I joined the elite band of only two ODs to have that qualification: Timothy Farrell and myself, and those two are two of only five South Africans ever to have been awarded the Fellowship. The other three are Michael Brimer, Christopher Cockburn and Shirley Gie.
So “Bad luck! You’re in the choir” actually turned out incredibly well for me, and I have had a rich and fulfilling life in music, which in spite of Covid19 is not over yet!Above
: It is this school report that inspired Richard to take up the organ. It is from Doc Brown. It said that he should take up the organ. Th document is undated but is circa 1960/61. Above:
Dr C E Brown who taught at Bishops from 1934-65. He was known as 'Doc'; ''Bruno' or 'Buster'. He was educated at Wocester Cathedral King's School, in Elgar Country and played a significant role in transforming choral music at Bishops. He was a major figure in the musical life of Cape Town at that time. He died in December 1973. His ashes are immured in the Memorial Chapel at Bishops.Above
: This is the photo of Doc Brown conducting the choir. Richard Cock is in the front row second from right.The Three Photographs Above
: Awards to members of Richard's family in recognition of their long service as organists.
The clock was presented to Richard's maternal Grandfather for service to the Devonport Congragation; and the Silver Tray, to his paternal Grandfather, for decicated service to St Mary's Woostock.In Mr Richard Cock's speech for acceptance of the Rovert Gray medal, at an assembly in the War memorial Chapel on Friday 13 March 2020, he referred to some of his experiences whilst at school, that led to a music career. It is reproduced her.
Richard Cock – Speech for Acceptance of the Robert Gray Medal on Friday 13 March 2020
Thank you for the honour. Really nice that having had business and medicine last year, this year the arts are being honoured. Not enough honour and recognition for the arts in South Africa.
- Interesting serendipitous facts:
- Bishop Gray, after whom this medal is named, founded this school in 1849.
- Sophy, his wife, designed and instigated and paid for the building of several churches in the Cape. St Saviour’s, Claremont, was one of these, and the first wedding celebrated in the church in 1853 was my great-great grandfather. So I feel a sort of connection to Sophy and Robert.
- In 1949 à 100 years after Bishops was founded, I was born in Port Elizabeth.
- Prep school Eastern Cape. Honored by Woodridge Prep There was no music in the school when I was there, but recently after the fire which destroyed many buildings they rebuilt and named the Arts building after me. I pointed out the difficulties of having a building called the Cock Block. They realized this and said it would be the Music, Art and drama Block opened by Richard Cock! Rhodes University honoured me with a Doctorate in May of 2000 .These honours are from the Eastern Cape. Now delighted to be honoured by Bishops in the Western Cape.
- Came to Bishops in 1962 as mentioned. First Friday in prep school in class music I was auditioned for the choir and told to be in it. Peter Robinson, who eventually became head boy when we were in post-matric – sitting next to me said ‘bad luck, you’re in the choir’. Rehearsals took place in the chapel so my earliest musical experiences were in this very chapel. Church music has played an important part in my life ever since. My parents in 1962/3 were in process of divorce. Bishops and especially music became safe haven. During a Congregational practice, from which as a choir members we were excused, I was summoned by Mr Piley Rees, who was acting headmaster. He wanted to know why my work had deteriorated so badly. I blurted out the story in a flood of tears.
- Somebody came to the rescue – as my mother had no financial means to keep me at the school. I think it was Mr Rees who organised a Theron Bursary for me. I realized how important this was in my life and it has inspired me to do similar things for other people. Over the years the Apollo Music Trust has given out about R20M in support of students and educational concerts. And I have raised about another R20M for various charities through fund-raising concerts.
- Directors of Music at Bishops – Claude Brown & John Badminton – gave me incredible opportunities. Conducting, teaching, Support.
- Even while still at school I was on the committee of the Philharmonia choir.
- Most important lesson, I learnt to be myself.
- Two senior boys in the school who were both head of choir before I was, inspired me
- Christian Ashley-Botha who later became director of the Drakensberg Choir Boys School
- Alec Grant – went on to become a neurosurgeon, but also was a pianist, singer and actor (King Lear)
- No recognition in the school for cultural activities in those days. You did it because you loved it, or because you got a half holiday – used to get a half day off school if you were in the choir. I think it’s a really good thing that there is more recognition for the arts now.
- Important lesson for my life as well from these two – both of them were fiercely individual and refused to fit the mould. People need to be comfortable being themselves.
- We were supported by an amazing staff here at school, many of whom, although it was not their discipline, were involved in the cultural life of the school:
- Alfred Payne – Maths and singer
- Michael Fisher – French and sang in the choir and great supporter of music
- David Slater – Physics and played the piano, sang in the choir and ran a concert club
- Vernon Harries – Chemistry and practiced piano every evening (RAC practiced organ at night in the Chapel and heard him practicing in School House. He was the Housemaster)
- As soon as I left school, I was encouraged to take a job as an organist and choir master at a local church, and I could do so because of the training that I had had at Bishops. Church music has been a theme running through my life, and it comes full circle now again in receiving this special award.
- Thank you to the school, the headmaster, the staff, you the boys and the OD Union as well as everybody who has supported me on my musical journey which started here.
FROM THE EDITOR/ARCHIVIST
THE FOLLOWING IS THE HEAD CHORISTER'S REPORT ON THE CHOIR, PUBLISHED IN THE DC MAGAZINE OF JUNE 1976.
CHOIRHead Chorister: R. A. Cock
For the Choir, this term has been a very busy one. "Elijah" is taking up a good deal of time, and besides this, many other engagements have made for little time to sit back. For the Special Choir, one of the more rewarding duties was a visit to Robertson to sing
at a wedding. After a good Lunch the Choir performed during the service and judging by the many comments made, the singing was well received. Besides this, the Special Choir sang at two other weddings in the Chapel. On the same day that the Special Choir sang
at Robertson, a number of other Chair members attended a combined Evensong in the Cathedral, which was attended by many other choirs affiliated to the R.S.C.M. During the course of the term, Mr. Hunneyball died, and the Choir at very short notice sang 'Thou
Knowest Lord' (Purcell) most movingly. Over and above these, we have had our normal duties to pursue, and anthems sung for this term were: 'This Joyful Eastertide' (Shaw), 'Most Glorious Lord of Lyfe' (Armstrong Gibbs),'Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring' (Balch), 'The Hallelujah
Chorus' (Handel), 'Come Holy Ghost' (Attwood), 'Lif't Thine Eyes' (Mendelssohn), 'O Holy Spirit' (Tye), 'Blessed be the God and Father' (Wesley), and 'Nolo Mortem Peccatoris' (Morley) which was sung at the broadcast service. The play, "Murder in the Cathedral", required a small choir, and a group of Tenors and Basses performed very creditably indeed; Latin sung in plainchant is very much a style of its
own, and the unfamiliar idiom was remarkably well captured. It is hoped to introduce (next term) a new set of responses, as the present ones are rather dull. This will add to our new Amen, at the end ,of the service, a setting by William Smith, which is much appreciated. Finally, congratulations to Amm and Bradshaw on being appointed Choir Seniors to join the staunch band of choir disciplinarians.