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Obituary: Robin Sheldon

04 November 2022

Dr Jenny Taylor writes:

ROBIN SHELDON was one of the most eminent church musicians of his generation. Music master at Eton, he founded the Music in Worship Trust to explore and encourage a greater breadth in worship music, particularly in the Evangelical wing of the Church.

Music, faith, and an ability to encourage others distinguished his life. A son of the vicarage, Robin Treeby Sheldon was one of three boys born to Dora and the Revd Gordon Sheldon, Vicar of St Mary’s, Cheltenham (now known as Cheltenham Minster). He was involved in church music very young, playing the piano from the age of five, then moving with the family to Crowborough, and playing the church organ there from the age of 11. He was educated at Charterhouse School and, in 1950, went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read music.

A man of energy, vision, and a huge capacity for fun, he immersed himself in the CICCU (Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union) and in the musical life of the university, conducting, on one memorable occasion, a small orchestra across several floating punts on the River Cam. He went on to study at the Royal College of Organists, in London, and became organist of All Souls’, Langham Place, during John Stott’s incumbency. He met his adored wife of 65 years, Rachel, to whom he remained devoted, while at the Royal Academy of Music, where she was studying flute and piano. She apparently spotted his convertible Sunbeam Alpine before she spotted him. They were married at Burton-on-Trent in 1956, after Rachel took advantage of the leap-year opportunity to propose.

Their first home together was in Hampstead, but they moved to Eton in 1958, when Robin took up the post of organist and music master at the College, where he remained until 1966. The family then moved to King Edward’s School, Witley, where Robin was Director of Music for the next eight years, arguably the happiest of his working life.

It was while at Eton that Robin commissioned his brother Richard, who was still an undergraduate at Cambridge, to design an “upside-down” holiday home, Camel’s Eye, in Trebetherick, Cornwall. It was enjoyed by the burgeoning family, including Bimbi, the 12-year old grandson of a former Prime Minister of Sierra Leone, for whom the pair acted as guardians. Now Canon, Bimbi Abayomi-Cole officiated at Robin’s funeral. “Uncle Richard” sang at the couple’s wedding, and at Robin’s funeral, and for which Dr Noël Tredinnick played the organ.

The Music in Worship Trust, Robin’s lasting legacy, was registered as a charity in 1984, though it had formed the germ of an idea from 1974, when Robin took up the post of Director of Music at Lancing College. It continues to provide a standard of excellence in church worship, and is now known as the Music in Worship Foundation. Robin imbued it with his “amazing knack of making a plain-ish piece of music feel like a true musical party”.

A “boyish mischief” included a love of scooters, sunflowers, and spinning tops, which endeared him to children, and made him such a good teacher; his scooters represented his sense of fun, risk, slight rebelliousness.

In 1979, after Robin took up the post of Director of Music at Holy Trinity, Hounslow, he continued to examine for the Associated Board for the next 20 years. He was appointed Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music, and Fellow of the Royal School of Church Music. He was editor of a noted collection of essays, In Spirit and in Truth: Exploring directions in music in worship today, published in 1989 by Hodder & Stoughton, to which both the liturgist and former Bishop of Woolwich Colin Buchanan and the former Bishop of Maidstone Graham Cray made contributions. Robin also edited several collections of hymns, and was musical editor of The Anglican Hymn Book, revised and re-published in 1977.

He is survived by Rachel — with whom he shared his care-home accommodation at Cliveden Manor, in Marlow, for the last four years of his life, and where he died — and four children and 11 grandchildren.

Robin Treeby Sheldon died on 10 August, aged 90.

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