CHARLES COLLINS

by
02 November 2006

ORGANIST of Dunedin Cathedral, professor at the London College of Music, recitalist, and composer, Charles Collins died on 3 October, just three months before his 90th birthday.

He grew up in Newbury, where he became head boy of St Bartholomew's Grammar School, and was later President of the Old Newburians' Association, in which capacity he was presented to the Queen in 1972. He learned the organ at St Nicholas's, Newbury, and then went on to study at the Royal College of Music, gaining his ARCM and Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists before war service in the Royal Corps of Signals.

In 1947, Charles was appointed organist and choirmaster of St Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin, in New Zealand, and enjoyed a successful eight years at the cathedral and as a recitalist, including several broadcasts. In 1949, he married Kay, a doctor's daughter in Dunedin, whose professional involvement in the theatre complemented his music. They had in fact both studied their chosen subjects in adjacent buildings in 1930s London, though they never met until after the war, and 12,000 miles away.

After the birth of their two children, the family came to England, and Charles took up a professorship at the London College of Music, where he remained for 34 years. He also taught at grammar schools, continued giving recitals widely, and was director of music at St John's, Buckhurst Hill, and then from 1976 at St Nicholas's, Harpenden. Charles and Kay settled happily in Harpenden, well known in church and community; and Charles taught piano locally, and remained an active and appreciated supporter of the St Albans branch of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, in whose work he had always taken an interest.

Charles Collins's own compositions are colourful and effective, skilfully and wittily crafted, and enjoyed by listener and performer alike. Little has been published, but the 1978 Communion Service remains a firm favourite, and his later works include sonatas for piano and cello, piano and organ, and an avowedly modern organ sonata composed in 2002. Among his papers is the draft of a Te Deum, on which he had latterly been working, for the Harpenden church.

A keen sportsman, he played rugby for Newbury Rugby Club, then tennis until his late 70s. He finally graduated to croquet as player, coach, and club secretary at the St Albans Croquet Club.

Charles Collins was a modest man of great charm, whose enjoyment of music and capacity for friendship remained ever fresh.

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