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Tributes to Peter Godfrey

Read NZCF’s official obituary for Peter Godfrey written by Life Member Judy Berryman here and a tribute by John Rosser here.

Other tributes to Peter Godfrey can be found below as well as on our Facebook pages. Should you wish to express your own thoughts about Peter through NZCF, please email office@nzcf.org.nz or post on our New Zealand Choral Federation Facebook page.

Listen to an excellent RNZ programme recorded several years ago with PDHG.




From Anthony Dreaver
Peter came to a country where choral singing was like an old-established edifice with sagging foundations. With his skills, resources, energy and ruthlessness he re-piled the building. In 1958, Auckland’s elderly cathedral choir took the brunt of auditions, rigorous rehearsals and his demand for exact pitch and rhythm. Still conducting, he patrolled the stalls, head cocked to detect that flat note and force it up with a peremptory finger. Survivors of this process found that what they had taken for granted – the singing of psalms, hymns and responses – could achieve unimagined dimensions of strength and delicacy.

Since then, Peter Godfrey has influenced thousands of New Zealanders by the force of his intellect, his knowledge and his willpower. Church, cathedral and university choirs, Dorians, Orpheus and all-comers groups discovered the elation that followed from accepting the discipline, listening to each other and bonding as an instrument.

The founding of the National Youth Choir opened a wider field of influence. The parents of his singers observed in wonder as their young people learned not only to sing, but to demand the highest standards of themselves in all things as independent and interdependent people. Former members are soloists (many internationally), choral directors, composers, teachers and administrators.

His role in the founding of New Zealand Choral Federation was a characteristic combination of drive, goodwill and team building. Those he inspired have developed our choral culture in repertoire and styles that Peter himself never aspired to, but they have done so on the strong bases that he laid down.

You will all have memories of Peter Godfrey. I think of him in surplice and cassock as dusk settled in the sanctuary at old St Mary’s Cathedral; of sun-hatted concerts in his splendid garden at Waikanae; and of a man in a grey suit stepping in at no notice to conduct the Brahms Requiem for Orpheus Choir when our director retired in mid-song with a dislocated shoulder. But, above all, I will remember his clarity, his integrity and his kindness

From Derek Williams
Professor Peter Godfrey introduced me to choral music when I was an undergraduate attending his lectures and singing in his university choirs, the most prestigious of which was the Auckland
University Festival Choir, hand picked for the International Choral Festival tour of America, culminating in a massed concert of 640 voices, consisting of university choirs from 16 countries, conducted by Robert Shaw.

The Festival Choir toured the USA as billeted guests of the US government, with performances at the White House and Kennedy Center Washington, the Lincoln Center NY, and a host of campuses down the US East coast, thence to the UK to sing at Westminster Abbey, and at Professor Godfrey’s alma mater, King’s College, Cambridge, where we met his friend Sir David Willcocks and sang a concert in joint chorus with the resident choristers in the famous chapel. We also performed at the Maltings, Snape, where we met Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Then off to Europe with performances in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Last stop before returning to New Zealand was Singapore.

Such was the tremendous impact on our lives, that we have met every ten years ever since the tour in 1972, and Peter attended every single one of them and conducted us again, singing the favorites of the tour. To this day, we all still know our parts to Jubilate Deo by heart.

From Juliet Dreaver
What an incredible gift this man was to NZ. I’m so grateful to have had the privilege of benefitting from Peter & Sheila Godfrey’s decision to leave England in 1958, and to come to the other side of the world where he crafted a unique and vibrant choral music community. My parents having sung in St Mary’s Cathedral choir in 1959 I heard his name spoken in reverent tones from an early age. Meeting him in 1979 as one of the younger members of the newly formed Youth Choir I was star-struck – and he was taken aback to encounter the next generation! How many generations now though, how many thousands of singers and audience members, conductors and composers has he encouraged and inspired over the past 60 years?

My best moments in music and some of the most meaningful moments of my life are due to him – thank you, dear Prof. Rest in Peace

From Carol Dyer
Emeritus Professor, Peter Godfrey, CBE, Life Member of Kapiti Chorale, has been our Patron for ten years, always attending our concerts, following his time as our Musical Director, taken up when he retired to Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast. He was instrumental in extending the repertoire, introducing a range of music, some quite challenging, to the choir and demanding very high standards, taking us out of our comfort zone and saying “when you know it, you will love it”. Absences were frowned upon; he thought that choir should always come first and commitment be uppermost, as it was for him. He took time in the early years to run ‘classes’ before choir practice for those whose musical knowledge was somewhat lacking. In our book ‘Kapiti Chorale – The first Thirty Years’, the author wrote “He cajoled, he entreated, he encouraged and he berated but always with the benign authority that he knew what he was doing and was right…” There would not have been anyone in NZ at the time with his experience and depth of knowledge and skills in music. Rest in peace Peter and know that many will continue to sing on into the future.

From David Griffiths
I am very saddened to hear of Peter’s passing. There cannot have been a greater and more significant mentor to me as a young composer and singer. This, I’m sure, is the testimony of so many now accomplished composers, singers, conductors and musical directors throughout New Zealand and overseas. From the early days with St. Mary’s Cathedral Choir (later Holy Trinity Cathedral Choir), the Dorian Singers, the University Choir and the National Youth Choir so much has been born and multiplied into what has become in New Zealand one of the most thriving choral music traditions that has literally conquered the world with international awards and recognition that is thoroughly and deservably admirable.

I well remember the very demanding, exacting manner in which rehearsals were conducted at St. Mary’s. You were late at your peril and to miss a rehearsal without adequate warning was a full on bollocking in front of the choir….quite an experience. But the expectations wrought a unity and musical result that you wouldn’t want to give anything but your best for.

It was such a privilege to have the opportunity to hear one’s music premiered under this disciplined and colleagial environment and I also value the first commission I ever received – ‘Praise the Lord Oh My Soul’.

Peter led a number of international tours with the University Singers, the Dorian Singers and later the National Youth Choir. I was fortunate to have several of my larger choral works given an international airing during these travels in the seventies. I’ll never forget the strange silence then applause after my ‘Beata Virgo’ was performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester.

Peter also gave me my first professional singing engagement in the Mozart Mass in C and many other opportunities ensued in the following years.

My University teaching career I owe largely to Peter’s advocacy. What a rich and rewarding life of giving of his gifts even to the last years with the Waikanae Choirs that he led with such enthusiasm.
I count it a rich blessing that at the Cathedral Choir reunion earlier this year Peter was able to attend and at the concluding dinner conduct us all in a number of favourites, all of which he knew from memory, even if our names were forgotten to him.

A true father to so many musicians and worthy of a high place of honour in the history of New Zealand Music.

From Norma McCallum
As a humble alto in the Kapiti Chorale it is thanks to Peter Godfrey, our Musical Director and friend, for the pleasure and privilege of singing so much glorious music for so many years. His wry comments to those not up to standard will always be remembered ‘Tenors, please try not to sound so agricultural’ and ‘Altos – lovely. Now next time try to get the notes right.’ Thank you, Peter. Farewell.

From Wendy Watson
Apart from the great legacy he has left us with his love of choral music, let us not forget the legacy of friendship amongst his choristers. My closest friends are those I have been privileged to know for nearly fifty years, from my days with them in St.Mary’s and Holy Trinity cathedrals.

From Catherine Kiddie
Professor Godfrey introduced me to singing in choirs when I was a Musicology and violin performance student at the University of Auckland doing my BMus and MMus. I began private voice lessons while singing in the University of Auckland Singers, went on to sing in the NZ National Youth Choir and have not stopped singing in choirs since. I also did Level 100 choral conducting with him at the University of Auckland. I am now a K-12 Music educator in Vancouver, Canada, who loves to direct children’s choirs. Professor Godfrey opened up the world of choral singing and professional solo singing to me for which I am forever grateful. Sad that he has gone. I will always remember him fondly.

From Shona McIntyre-Bull
How privileged we have been to know and learn from this amazing leader and mentor. Peter, “Prof” has helped shape the lives of so many of us. The pure musicality of his choral directing, his instilling of choral discipline, his sense of humour, his caring and nurturing, his energy and passion and drive…NZ has lost a priceless gem. Deep condolences to his family, and a heartfelt “thank you” for sharing this wonderful man with us. May he rest in peace.

From Richard Hulse
I recorded Peter conducting the choir at Saint Paul’s in Wellington for a broadcast church service back in the 80s. I’d just started recording services, and when he heard the playback of the rehearsal he said it was a shame people couldn’t hear it like that when broadcast (it was going out in AM mono). What a boost for a young music recording engineer! I worked with Peter many times after that, and I learnt a lot about how a choir should sound from hearing how he working with the singers. He always appreciated my efforts to represent the choir at their best. His legacy will live on in the lives of those he influenced and the many recordings made during his career.

From Marion de Weyer
Thank you Peter for your dedication to choral music, from in front of the choir to singing in the choir stalls. For the work you did in setting up the NZCF I have many happy memories of that first year on the Ex. Committee. Rest in peace.

From Caroline Lambrechtsen
So many fun memories being taught by Prof Godfrey. His warmth and passion for singing helped shape so many careers. You will be missed. Kia kaha.

From Catherine Biggs
Such a wonderful conductor and musician – I loved playing in the orchestra for Bach cantatas with him in Wellington. RIP Prof Godfrey and condolences to your family.

From Kim Sue Hendry
I will never forget Prof Godfrey’s lectures on Choral Music and conducting. Also singing in the Auckland University Choral Society. We were so lucky to have him as Head of Music.

From Canberra Tatchies
A wonderful man, great conductor and superb choral specialist. Loved singing with him. RIP Peter.

From Murray Jenkin
An inspirational teacher who provided the musical foundation which has served me well for more than fifty years.

From Wendy Dawn Thompson
What a wonderful man he was. Such an experienced and inspirational musician. I am so grateful for his influence in the musical life of so many New Zealanders.

From Kathryn McGredy
He pretty much set the course of my life. True for many of us I’m sure. How incredibly lucky we were.

During the first concert of the Copenhagen Royal Chapel Choir in 2007 I met with Peter for lunch – and he attended our concert in Wellington Cathedral. He even passed his “hat” from his years in King’s College on to one of our soprano soloists, Georgis Marinos – after he had sung the Pokarekareana as an encore – in a Danish arrangement.

From Ebbe Munk
I am fully informed about his huge influence on the truly high standards of choir singing in New Zealand. And on several occasions I have had a chance to pat respect to the work of New Zealand Choral Federation that he founded. We are many honoring his memory.

From Edna Weedon
I remember Sir Peter for his warm discipline during one of the NZCF Labour Weekend workshops during the 1990s – specifically ‘Israel in Egypt’ which we performed in the Wellington Town Hall.  It is a weekend I will never forget.  Thank you, Peter, for inspiring so many people to participate in choral singing.

From Alison Thomson
Members of the East Coast branch of NZCF wish to extend their condolences to the Godfrey family on the loss of their patriarch. Peter is remembered fondly in this area for his contribution to choral music over many years. He so willingly shared his gift and love of music to so many. He will not be forgotten.

From Roy Tankersley
I first came to appreciate the fine musicianship and wisdom of Peter Godfrey singing under his direction at the 1964 Royal School of Church Music Summer School held at St Marys in Parnell. Some twenty years later when I was appointed Organist and Choir Master at Knox Church Dunedin, I needed to upskill myself in the training young choristers and wrote to Peter for advice. His reply was prompt, fulsome and so helpful.

From Heather Charlton
How fortunate I was to have been one of Peter’s students at Auckland University in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Not only was he an outstanding lecturer but his legacy to New Zealand music and choral music in particular, is immense. I owe him a debt of gratitude for arranging my Belgian Ministry of Culture scholarship, which lead to 5 years of study in Brussels and Antwerp and an eventful career in Europe. Even when he moved south to Waikanae from Auckland I visited him whenever I returned to New Zealand and we enjoyed reminiscing – the difficulty of lectures next to the maintenance department at Auckland University, listening to Palestrina to the accompaniment of saws and hammers, discussions on early music performance and many other musical memories. Even here in Europe the story of Peter stepping in to conduct the Brahms Requiem unexpectedly reached me! Thank you Peter for coming to New Zealand and for sharing your life in music with us.

From Rowena Janes
RIP Prof; your contribution to NZ Choral music is impossible to overstate, not only to the community as a whole but for your incredibly inspiring influence on so many individuals. It’s doubtful that I would ever have picked up choral singing again as an adult, let alone had the wonderful opportunities and experiences that I’ve had, were it not for you. Always a joy to sing for, alternately flattering, insulting and cajoling, but never settling for second best. You will never be forgotten.

From Janie Cook
On the eve of Peter’s 90th birthday, he was a guest of the Kapiti Chorale who proudly celebrated this landmark birthday with their patron guest of honour. On that occasion we recognised that Peter touches us on three levels: 1) A direct influence, as many of us sang under him; 2) Our choir is defined by his 10-year directorship; and 3) Our choir is in a nation where choral music flourishes thanks to Peter’s vision and drive.

We are deeply saddened to no longer have our patron at our concerts.

From Marijke Batenburg
The Prof was an inspiring leader. It is true – a totara has fallen and with all such magnificent trees they are the inspiration that provides space for the growth of many. For me that was joining the all-comers choir at the university in the late 70’s – each Wednesday lunchtime arriving – with a sharpened hb pencil (essential), to sing.

Then in the 90’s just after the NZCF was formed Graham Hoffman on behalf of the Prof, asked if I would be available to assist facilitating the NZCF committee. Peter did not wish to be bothered by the admin of committees. I accepted and learnt of the passion to sing together in choirs of all ages, all across NZ. So often I heard or learnt it was Peter’s leadership that had set so many on a course towards choral music either as choristers or conductors or both.

Indeed his legacy to choral music in NZ is great and the memory of him indelible. May he rest in peace