St Peter's 13-18
St Peter’s School staff 1992 – 2013
Died November 2013, aged 60
Chris was a passionate and also a private man.
Chris’ passion for the trumpet was incredible to see – his trumpet was so much part of him. Chris has passion in such great measure that it made him one of the very best teachers that I have ever known. He was a man who did not like fuss; in his last few years, he did not like openly discussing the details of his illness and certainly did not want any special treatment.
Of course there was his other passion: aeroplanes (and, by extension, the RAF). He married Della in the School Chapel, dressed in his RAF uniform from his work with the school RAF section of the Combined Cadet Force. His best man was his dear friend, Matthew Grant, who ran that section. He had pictures of planes and insignia in his room at school together with a variety of trumpets from all periods and a vast array of mouthpieces. He could hear a Spitfire flying miles away and be able to tell which mark of Spitfire it was, even before it came into view! When Chris went to RAF camps he was always excited: almost like a schoolboy, he loved the formality of it, the clean shoes, the uniform and the strong structure.
Chris was born in 1953 in Clifton Village, a small, picturesque village situated by the river Trent, just four miles outside Nottingham. It is full of beautiful old houses, and Chris was particularly proud to have been born in a thatched cottage that several generations of his family, as tenant farmers, had lived in. When Chris was about eleven years old, he pestered his Mum and Dad for a trumpet after hearing his Dad, Oliver accompanying his trumpet-playing friend, Alan Wright, on the organ in the Methodist Chapel. ‘You can have a trumpet as long as you practice!’ was the deal, and Chris certainly maintained his side of this bargain for the rest of his life!
Alan became his first teacher, and his regular visits to give Chris lessons became Red Letter Days in the Blood household. After helping his Dad in the school holidays in his blacksmith’s shop and doing a spot of farmyard tractor-driving to earn some extra pocket money, Chris left Nottingham to study the trumpet at the Royal College of Music in London.
During his time at the RCM, he won the prestigious Manns Brass Prize for solo trumpet playing. Whilst Principal Trumpet of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company he enjoyed so much the unique experience of performing The Pirates of Penzance with the company in a private performance in Windsor Castle, where the select audience consisted of the Queen, Prince Philip and other members of the Royal Family.
Chris played in many different orchestras and for West End Shows before moving into teaching as Head of Brass at Bedford Modern School and also at the Junior Guildhall School of Music. Chris moved to York with Tina and their two daughters, Anna and Jenny, of whom he was so proud, in January 1992 as Head of Wind Studies at St Peter’s. Chris’s room was opposite mine and when I arrived each morning he would always be practicing: long notes, scales, and arpeggios. A routine, yes, but a careful and thorough one from which many could learn: a professional routine that ensured that he was always in good shape to play. It distressed him so much latterly when he could not play at all.
Chris insisted on high standards in rehearsal and that everyone was part of a unit, all contributing to the whole. Teamwork in the bands and groups that he ran was an absolutely essential requirement. Above all, in everything that he did he was a professional. He provided excellent brass groups for our Minster services each year and he was so proud when one year he had a brass group that included a complement of five tube and euphonium players.
The school’s first USA Music Tour was in the July of 1993. To see him lick the Wind Band into shape during that year was so amazing, and choosing music that was difficult enough but still possible was an art he had clearly mastered. In that year he also established the Swing Band which is now such an important feature of musical life at St Peter’s. The idea of touring with 80 pupils for over two weeks was quite new to him, and he was not a little apprehensive about the whole thing.
Over the years Chris’s work with the Wind Band was so wonderful. His choice of repertoire was always impressive and imaginative. One of the pieces he loved was Holst’s Suite in E flat – especially the Chaconne from this, which he conducted many times so effectively and memorably. Tim Dunne, one of his early band leaders, affectionately called him ‘Cap’n Blood’; Captain Blood is a film starring Errol Flyn with music by Erich Korngold – a composer much admired by Chris. One review of Chris’s work in The Peterite says ‘also thanks go to Cap’n Blood for his great patience, when most of us, at some time or other, have deserved to walk the plank.’
Chris’s work in St Olave’s in getting new brass and wind instrumentalists started was also notable, and his organising of classes where every pupil had an instrument to play got so many involved in music.
Chris did some notable orchestral conducting – in my time I remember a performance of Elgar’s Overture Cockaigne at the Jack Lyons Concert Hall at the University – an extremely difficult piece played with real flair and precision. Then, more recently, a performance of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony in the Minster – so polished and beautifully shaped. In his last major conducting role, in March 2013, he directed Arthur Bliss’s Kenilworth Suite in the school concert in Leeds Town Hall arranged for Wind Band by Chris himself. It was a wonderful testament to his work with that group.
He was a Tutor in Temple House and inspired much affection in his pupils in his down-to-earth, no-nonsense dealings with them. Chris loved bands and would regularly arrange for Army or RAF bands to visit both St Peter’s and St Olave’s, and for our pupils to play with them. This was also another way to encourage others to take up wind or brass instruments.
The Remembrance Service in the Chapel each year is a very special occasion, not least because so many former pupils died in the two World Wars. Chris meticulously prepared the trumpeter for this service each year and also sent out many other trumpeters to similar services around York, all thoroughly rehearsed.
I have seldom seen someone so attached to his particular instrument. In fact he had 16 trumpets altogether! His promise to Alan Wright to practice was always kept, but, far more than that, he placed something of that same enthusiasm in so many youngsters’ heads and hearts. It is such a sad loss that so many in the future will never experience that special enthusiasm, encouragement and professionalism. Chris’s life touched those of so many others, all of whom will remember him with deep affection.
Mr Andrew Wright
(Director of Music, 1986 - 2010)