Obituary: Kenneth Beard

14 July 2010

Will Harrison writes:

FOR 29 years, Kenneth Beard, who died on 9 July, aged 83, served as Rector Chori of Southwell Minster, a title unique among Britain’s cath­edrals. It was a vocation he undertook with love, humility, and devotion, while firmly demanding the very best of the men and boys of the choir.

Born in Royton, Lancashire, Kenneth was a son of the manse: his father was a Methodist minister. He attended Kingswood School, Bath, and studied at the University of Manchester and the Royal Man­chester College of Music from 1946 to 1949, when he took a music degree. From Manchester, he went up to Cambridge as organ scholar of Em­manuel College, where he read for part II of the music tripos. He was also made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists in 1949, and gained a Choirmaster diploma in 1954.

Excused National Service because of a serious eye complaint that left him blind in one eye, Kenneth took his first appointment as choirmaster and organist of St Michael’s College, Tenbury Wells, in Worcestershire, in 1952.

There he had charge of the music during the college’s centenary cele­b­rations. The school’s reputation for music was very high, and his con­ducting of the première of Ben­jamin Britten’s Antiphon — in the pres­ence of the composer — strength­ened his reputation as an extraordinary mu­sician.

Yet Kenneth’s demand for musical excellence was balanced by his endeavour to shape his pupils into confident, competent young men. His reputation, therefore, was not simply based on his musical ability, but his care and concern for others — a gift that has lived long in his pupils, whether or not they have gone on to be professional mu­sicians, as many have.

For boys experiencing family problems, bereavement, or the familiar distresses of growing up, Kenneth was patient and kind as a listener, but also firm and wise as a mentor.


Moving to Southwell in 1959, Kenneth assumed the onerous responsibilities of two jobs, both of which had previously been full-time posts: as Rector Chori, directing the cathedral’s music, and as Head of Music at the Minster Grammar School, where his gifts were to benefit many hundreds of pupils. He also found the time and the energy to make a wider contribution to school life, including taking part in the annual school summer camp.

A particular highlight, and one that Kenneth would reflect on with warm satisfaction for many years afterwards, was a performance in 1976 of Haydn’s The Creation, in­volving all the school’s musical forces. In 1984, he directed the music at the service of the Royal Maundy, held in Southwell Minster during the centenary year of the foundation of the diocese.

Kenneth, who never married, had a succession of dogs, which, being large and barely trained, would invariably lead the way on walks. Later in his career, a house in Ashford-in-the-Water, Derbyshire, provided easy access to the walks and the scenery he loved, and became a place of hospitality and retreat on the days off which he eventually allowed himself.

Retiring from Southwell in 1988, Kenneth moved to Mold, North Wales, to become organist of the parish church. From there he moved to Baslow, Derbyshire, where he lived with his late sister, Muriel.

He greatly valued his many friends, and remained in close touch with a large number of former pupils, happily offering generous support. As a man of deep faith and exceptional musicality, Kenneth never sought the limelight or reward beyond a job well done. In 2008, however, he was awarded the Cross of St Augustine by the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognition of his service to church music.

On the day of the presentation, Kenneth, in typically self-effacing style, expressed his admiration for the achievements of his fellow recipients, while downplaying his own. The Archbishop’s citation, however, left no one in any doubt about the mag­nitude of Kenneth’s legacy: it told a story of fine musicianship, of devoted service, and of the quiet but deter­mined living out of deeply held Christian principles.

A mark of the esteem in which he was held was that, in his final years, during a long illness, he lived in Retford, Nottinghamshire, in the care of the family of two of his former Southwell choristers.

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