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- George Thalben-Ball - Leslie Woodgate - Berkeley Mason -


   LINKS to other pages in this site and to other sites in the Travelling Days series:

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GEORGE THOMAS THALBEN-BALL was born of English parents on 18th June 1896 in Sydney, Australia. When the young Thalben-Ball was three years old he and his family returned to England. He later joined the choir of G. D. Cunningham in Muswell Hill and, having won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music, went on to study organ there with Walter Parratt.

    While at the Royal College Thalben-Ball worked with Walford Davies, who had required a good sight-reader to assist in accompanying one of his choir-training courses. Early in 1919, following the retirement of Walford Davies who had recently joined the newly formed RAF as its Director of Music, he was appointed first as Acting Organist and Choir Director at the Temple Church, Thalben-Ball3.jpg - 35978 Bytesand in 1923 to the permanent position which he held for 62 years.

    One of the choir's recordings on a double sided 78rpm disk, 'Hear My Prayer' and 'O, For The Wings Of A Dove' by Mendelssohn with the solo part sung by 'Master Ernest Lough', was released in June 1927 and caused a sensation. It proved so successful that the masters of the original wore out and the same artistes had to re-record the two sides a year later. In 1962 it became the first classical single in HMV's history to sell a million copies. The recording, now transferred to compact disc, is still available as an item in various collections.

    The degree of Lambeth Doctor of Music was conferred on Thalben-Ball by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1935. The Temple Church was destroyed in an air raid in 1941 but Thalben-Ball remained much in demand not only as a church and concert hall recitalist but also at the BBC; he went to Bedford to be in charge of the music for 'The Daily Service' broadcast each morning. He was occasionally called to read the news such as when the regular newsreader was unable to reach the studio because of a bomb damaging the main line from London!

    While in Bedford Thalben-Ball stayed in lodgings on The Embankment - his family moved to and remained in Wales until the end of the war. "He often went rowing on the ... river and ... he liked to explore the surrounding countryside on a delapidated bicycle. Once he was riding along in heavy rain with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding aloft a shabby umbrella. He was highly delighted when a small boy on the kerb called out, 'Oi, guv'nor, where's yer tight-rope?' (Recounted by Jonathan Rennert in his biography, "George Thalben-Ball" published by David and Charles in 1979 - with acknowledgement). Thalben-Ball1.jpg - 38864 Bytes
    After the war GTB remained as an adviser to the BBC until 1970 and continued on the committee compiling the BBC Hymn Book until that venture came to fruition in 1951.     On 23rd March 1954, the Temple Church 'Quire' was rededicated and Thalben-Ball was able to rebuild the famous choir. He was presented to H.M.The Queen when she attended the restored 'Round Church' on 7th November 1958. The choir was soon back to its former glory and during the 1960s and 70s a new series of gramophone records was made. Ernest Lough, now a bass, sang with the choir which now also included his sons Robin and Graham.

    GTB was appointed City Organist of Birmingham in 1949 to succeed G.D. Cunningham, his former teacher, and here he gave weekly lunch-time recitals on the Town Hall organ. George Thalben-Ball opened many important organs, including the rebuilt organ at the Royal Albert Hall, and that at the BBC Concert Hall. He performed regularly at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in the Royal Albert Hall and at the Royal Festival Hall. His good sense of humour was legendary. After a performance at one Promenade Concert (which was being broadcast) he received his usual prolonged applause. Since there was no time available for encores, he came on stage for his second bow having donned his overcoat. For the third bow he added a hat, the fourth an umbrella - and a suitcase for his fifth and final appearance!

    GTB later toured Australia, the USA and Canada. In 1981 he gave an organ recital at Bedford School during the school's 'Restoration Year' in celebration of the rebuilding of the main building destroyed by fire in 1979.
    George Thalben-Ball was knighted in 1982. That same year he retired from Temple Church. On 18th January 1987, soon after his ninetieth birthday, he died; he was buried at Highgate Cemetery in London.
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    The picture (right) shows, from right to left, George Thalben-Ball, Basil Cameron, Sir Adrian Boult, Leslie Woodgate, Berkeley Mason and, possibly, the organist at St Paul's Church, Bedford where the 1940s photograph appears to have been taken. (With acknowledgement to Jonathan Rennert)

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HUBERT LESLIE WOODGATE (Below right, and third from the left in the photograph above) was born on 15 April 1900. Following his education at Westminster and the Royal College of Music he joined the BBC and later became its Chorus Master.

    Popularly known as Leslie Woodgate, he became one of the foremost choral trainers in the United Kingdom. He conducted, and was director of, several provincial choral societies, and was much in demand as an adjudicator at festivals.   He became director of the Kentucky Minstrels, a popular singing group that performed ‘on the wireless’ during, and immediately following, WWII.

    Woodgate's hundreds of choral compositions include a large percentage of arrangements of folksongs, Christmas carols, Woodgate.jpg - 28558 BytesAfro-American spirituals and other popular music. Woodgate also edited the ‘Penguin Song Book’ and the ‘Penguin Part-song Book’ and wrote a treatise entitled ‘The Chorus Master’.

    Woodgate also composed instrumental and orchestral works. Organ pieces include an Impromptu and Pastoral Song and Variations on an Old French Carol Tune.   Orchestral works include an English Dance Suite for strings which was also published as a piano solo.   He was still working at the BBC at the time of his death on 18 May 1961.
    (Leslie Woodgate's photograph on the right with acknowledgement to the BBC)

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BERKELEY MASON (instrumentalist rather than conductor but included here as he appears second from the left in the above group photograph!) was a popular organist and pianist of the 1930s and 40s.

   Mason frequently performed on the the organ at Promenade Concerts and recitals throughout the United Kingdom. He also accompanied well known singers at concerts, recitals and recording sessions.



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