Professor Peter Godfrey, Father of New Zealand Choral Music

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Six choirs, including over 200 singers and soloist Janey MacKenzie, celebrate the life and leadership of Professor Peter Godfrey CBE, with introductions by Christine Argyle and addresses by Peter Averi, John Rosser and Simon Bowden.

Professor Peter Godfrey

Professor Peter Godfrey Photo: Jay Berryman

Born in England in 1922, Peter Godfrey was educated at King's College in Cambridge. During the Second World War he served as a Captain in the King's African Rifles. He later returned to Cambridge University to continue his studies, then attended the Royal College of Music and was Music Master at various schools and Director of Music at Marlborough College. In 1958, Peter came to New Zealand to take up the position of Lecturer in Music at Auckland University, which he held from 1958-1973, later becoming Professor of Music (1974-1982).

In his address at the Memorial Service, long-time friend and collaborator Peter Averi said:

"Looking back over Peter’s life, his inexhaustible energy and encouragement never lost momentum. His commitment to Auckland University, where he eventually became Professor of Music ultimately led him to resign from the cathedral, but he took the Dorian choir overseas, winning the best mixed-choir award in the European Broadcasting Union competition 'Let the Peoples Sing'. He established the Auckland University Singers and they also toured with great success. An all-comers University Choral Society was another popular activity during those years.  And somehow in the midst of all that he found time to conduct the Auckland String Players which he expanded into the Auckland Symphonia.

In 1977, when Peter was in England with the Dorian Choir he had a conversation with Philip Ledger, at that time Director of Music at King's College. They discussed the idea of an exchange, with Peter taking over at King's for a term while Philip Ledger came to Auckland. It all fell into place, they swapped houses, and for Peter it was a magical return to the place where his musical training had begun. He had the distinction of being the first musician since the 16th century to be a chorister, then a choral scholar and finally, director of music.

Peter Godfrey and Sir David Willcocks

Peter Godfrey and Sir David Willcocks Photo: Jay Berryman

The formation of the National Youth Choir in 1979 achieved Guy Jansen’s vision of a choir made up of the best young singers around the country. Peter Godfrey joined the Board of Management,  was guest conductor for the first three years and ultimately musical director until the monumental tour in 1988 in which the choir won the Best Choir award at the International Festival of Youth and Music in Vienna.

In 1983, Wellington beckoned through a sequence of changes on the musical scene, and the lure of resuming his life-long love of the cathedral tradition led him to Wellington Cathedral. At the same time, the Orpheus Choir needed a Musical Director.  Peter once said that his life had been full of coincidences and amazing opportunities. That was certainly demonstrated when he moved to Wellington take up both positions."

In 1985, Peter Godfrey was involved in the establishment of the New Zealand Choral Federation which remains to this day a strong body, supporting and co-ordinating choral activity in NZ at all levels.

In his retirement on the Kapiti Coast Peter Godfrey continued conducting three local choirs and even established a new choir at his retirement village.