Nottingham Harmonic Choir

Noel Cox

Noel Cox - Conductor of the choir from 1960 - 1973

Noel Frederick Cox, musician: born Grantham 25 December 1917; educated The King’s School Grantham and the Royal Academy of Music; Director of Music, High Storrs Grammar School, Sheffield 1939-45, Oakham School 1945-48; Inspector of Music, City of Nottingham 1948-59; at Royal Academy of Music: Professor for Harmony and Composition 1961-73, Warden 1973-83; appointed OBE for services to music 1985; married 1941 Jean Sleight (one son, two daughters); died Watford 19 July 2005.

Noel Cox was a musician of extraordinary versatility and capacity for hard work, who devoted his life to musical education but was also active as a pianist, organist, bassoonist, conductor, composer, editor, arranger and – perhaps most successfully of all – as an adjudicator in this country and overseas, where his success and popularity ensured that he was always in great demand. Like many busy people, he always seemed to have time and leisure for any one who sought his advice or services, and his response was always generous, friendly, good humoured and to the point.

Noel Cox was born at Grantham on Christmas Day 1917 – hence his forename. He attended The King’s School, Grantham, and had private piano lessons and in 1935 gained a place at the Royal Academy of Music, London, graduating as B.Mus., FRCO and LRAM and winning the Chappell Gold Medal for Piano and the Limpus Prize of the Royal College of Organists. He played the bassoon in the Academy’s Senior Orchestra, trained by Sir Henry Wood, and in the London Senior Orchestra under Ernest Read.

Cox was passionate about musical education and devoted his professional life to it. After six years teaching at High Storrs Grammar School in Sheffield and four years as Director of Music at Oakham School, he became Musical Advisor for the City of Nottingham for eleven years. In 1961, at the invitation of the Principal, Sir Thomas Armstrong, he returned to the Academy as a professor, was elected ARAM and later FRAM, becoming Warden (Vice-Principal) from 1973 to 1983. He was appointed OBE, for services to music, in 1985, and served as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music for 45 years including assignments in Canada, Africa, Trinidad and the Far East.

Although Noel Cox was best known as a choral conductor, he was also fully conversant with orchestral technique and, when he went to Nottingham, became trainer (and, in the concerts, bassoonist) of the orchestra of the Nottingham Harmonic Society, which was conducted, with or without the choir, by the legendary Herbert Bardgett. When Cox eventually succeeded Bardgett he brought real expertise in both fields, which enhanced the performances considerably. Cox had first conducted the Society in a concert performance of Gounod’s Faust in 1949, but during his own conductorship in Nottingham, there were many fine performances of works such as Belshazzar’s Feast, Jacob’s The Nun’s Priest’s Tale, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time and, most notably, in 1969, Genesis, by his Academy colleague Franz Reizenstein. To begin with, Genesis was not a popular work with the choir, by comparison with Dvorák’s Te Deum, which was the companion piece, but by the time of the concert the singers were enthusiastic, excited, and note perfect, and gave an excellent performance. It was on this occasion that Cox reassured his singers of their ability to do justice to the piece by telling them that ‘I’m not afraid of these big scores. Trust me and all will be well’. He was an inspirational conductor, at both rehearsals and concerts, and his Nottingham choir and orchestra were a source of great pleasure and justifiable pride. In London he also conducted the People’s Palace Choral Society (Queen Mary College), with which the Nottingham Harmonic Society occasionally combined for works such as Bach’s St Matthew Passion, and his approach to this very different group of singers was noted with interest and admiration.

He did not forget his bassoon playing and, for the Associated Board, edited New Pieces for Bassoon and composed two of the items in that collection, as well as composing and arranging music for wind ensembles. In 1975, 1976 and 1982 he adjudicated at the National Brass Band Championships.

Despite increasing administrative responsibilities at the Royal Academy of Music, his musical gifts were still much in evidence as a conductor and as a fine accompanist with brilliant sightreading. But he had the stamina and enthusiasm not to limit himself only to the demands of that institution and, before and after retirement, undertook more festival engagements than any of his colleagues and was Director of the Junior Orchestral Summer Course held annually at Bradfield College.

As well as his work as an executant, he was chairman of the Essex Music Association and of the Council of the Ernest Read Music Association; he was a Vice-President of the Royal Choral Society, the British Federation of Festivals and served on the council of the Royal Philharmonic Society, as well as being active in the Incorporated Society of Musicians. He also served on the adjudication panel of the BBC’s ‘Let the People Sing’ competition and the National Festival of Music for Youth.

Noel Cox was a man of great geniality, integrity and generosity, who guided the careers of innumerable young musicians and was an inspiration to all who knew and worked with him. His wife Jean was a fellow student at the Royal Academy of Music and two of his three children followed in his footsteps as professional musicians.

GARRY HUMPHREYS