Obituary: Hazel Gedge

by
06 April 2018

Hazel Gedge with her husband, David, at the organ of Brecon Cathedral

Hazel Gedge with her husband, David, at the organ of Brecon Cathedral

A correspondent writes:

HAZEL ANNE GEDGE died on 23 February, aged 80. For more than 40 years, she and her late husband, David (Obituary, 5 August 2016), ensured that Brecon Cathedral was regularly supplied with music of a quality that far surpassed what might reasonably have been expected to have been found in what was essentially no more than a priory church in a provincial backwater, which had found itself raised to its present dignity in the wake of Welsh Disestablishment in the 1920s.

Born in Kidwelly, in Carmarthenshire, Hazel Davies’s early abilities as a pianist and organist were nurtured at the parish church, and at the age of 18 she went to London to study with C. H. Trevor at the Royal Academy of Music. There she flourished, winning various prizes and scholarships, and by her mid-twenties she was giving recitals on BBC Radio, and recording solo LPs for what were then major record labels. She also served as assistant organist at Holy Trinity, Brompton, in the days when that church still maintained a choral tradition.

It was at the Royal Academy that she met David Gedge. They were married in 1962, and left London for Selby Abbey, where David served as organist and Hazel as his assistant. They went to Brecon in 1966, in the same formation, and stayed there for the next 41 years. It is unlikely that David could have achieved all that he did in Brecon without Hazel’s unstinting support, musically and otherwise; and they both received the Cross of St Augustine from Archbishop Williams in 2006.

At Brecon, Hazel continued to perform; but she also maintained a busy teaching practice, and for more than 30 years organised and hosted instrumental examinations for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. Although he himself was a fine organist, David would often cheerfully acknowledge that his wife-assistant was by far the better player; and their children, Nick and Harriet, sometimes wondered how far Hazel’s career might have gone had she not chosen to commit herself to motherhood.

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Quite apart from her musical achievements, Hazel was a perfect foil to David’s occasionally haphazard approach to the non-musical aspects of large events. She seemed able to conjure tasty meals out of thin air, when there was a sudden and unexpected arrival of a crowd of people; and the tangible sense of fellowship that attached itself to any event at Brecon in those days was always as much a part of the experience as the performance itself. Callow youths often found themselves tucking in alongside world-class soloists who had known the Gedges for years, and who had come down for the weekend to help draw in the punters.

Although she was generally softly spoken, Hazel’s firm sense of right and wrong was unwavering, and she was perfectly capable of being direct and straight with just about anyone. She was regarded by many with affection and respect; but also occasionally with a healthy degree of fear. The “four-minute warnings” that were issued when she was on the warpath were only ever ignored by the uninitiated; but the dressings-down were usually fully deserved. Soon enough a gentle and forgiving arm would be placed around a shoulder, and normal service would be resumed.

Hazel’s maternal instincts extended far beyond her own immediate family, and she and David gave significant encouragement and support to many local young people. The kitchen table at Garth Cottage, just outside the cathedral Close, was a haven for plenty: those who needed help with music-theory exams; those who were struggling with O- or A-level music; or those who just needed a cup of tea and a friendly ear. Many children, through Hazel and David’s determination, achieved distinctions that might have seemed unlikely at the outset; while others from troubled backgrounds and broken homes were given, through the cathedral choir, much-needed stability and a sense of self-worth.

After four decades at Brecon, David and Hazel retired to Kidwelly, where their musical partnership continued. Hazel returned to the organ on which she had learned to play, joined the Mothers’ Union, and frequently brought the town to a standstill with her invincible tendency to park the car where she liked. She and David delighted in the company of their grandchildren; and after his death in 2016, six years after that of their daughter, Harriet, she continued to play for services as her mobility decreased, and until her health finally failed. A bevy of friends rallied round to ensure that she could continue to live in the house in which she had grown up to the end.

Hazel’s faith, like David’s, was deep but unfussy. At Brecon she was not above slipping out of the north transept door at the start of the sermon on a Sunday morning, to baste the meat and turn the potatoes; and at Choral Evensong she shared the organ bench with a succession of snoring pugs. Those who listened to her flawless performances on Choral Evensong on BBC Radio 3 might have been surprised to see her afterwards with a stiff gin in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The choir at her packed funeral at St Mary’s, Kidwelly, was made up of singers – now scattered far and wide – whose lives Hazel and David Gedge had touched, or, in some cases, changed. They both leave behind them a rich and remarkable legacy of music, and of love.

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