Farewell to Peter — 29.09.17

Musician, conductor and an inspiring friend to many, Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon, Peter Godfrey has died.

Peter received his Icon Award in 2005. The Arts Foundation was proud to honour Peter for his long career in music and especially for his contribution to choral music. The New Zealand Youth Choir, then called Tower Voices, performed at Peter’s Icon Award ceremony and was conducted by Dr Karen Grylls, a protégé of Peter's. Karen is now the Artistic Director of New Zealand Youth Choir and Voices New Zealand.

Karen sent this message to the Arts Foundation today:

At exactly the time Peter Godfrey left us last night, Voices NZ was rehearsing Jenny McLeod's "Dirge for Doomsday," a piece Peter performed with the National Youth Choir in the eighties. 

A great leader, musician and friend has gone from our midst. Peter's remarkable vision and endeavour which began in NZ in the 50s laid the foundation for the vibrant and wonderful choral life we enjoy today. 

I remember, at our first meeting, Peter challenged me with the opportunity to conduct a Samuel Barber piece with the University Singers. I was overwhelmed and felt like the most unlikely person for the job! Subsequently, he suggested I pursue study in conducting overseas. 

His vision and encouragement are etched indelibly on our lives. Together we mourn his loss and celebrate his great legacy. 

Patrons to the Icons, Sir Eion and Jan, Lady Edgar, offer their sympathies to Peter’s family and all who worked with and loved him. Sir Eion remembers the night that Peter received his Icon Award well and how proud Peter was to hear the choir.

Born in England, Peter Godfrey was educated at King's College in Cambridge and was a chorister and choral scholar in the choir.

War service intervened from 1942-45 when Peter served as a Captain in the King's African Rifles. He later returned to Cambridge University to continue studies as the John Stewart Scholar in Sacred Music. He then attended the Royal College of Music and was Music Master at various schools and Director of Music at Marlborough College.

In 1958, Peter travelled 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).

Throughout his teaching career, Peter has maintained a punishing schedule. Alongside his University career, Peter was also Director of Music for Auckland Cathedral of St Mary’s and Holy Trinity (1958-1974); Conductor of the Auckland String Players (1959- 1968); founder of the Symphonia of Auckland and Director of groups such as the Dorian Choir (1961-83), Auckland University Singers (1970-82), and the Auckland University Choral Society (1968-82). These groups have toured internationally and won prestigious overseas competitions.

In 1978, Peter was invited back to Cambridge as Acting Director of Music/Choir of King's College Chapel for six months. This appointment has meant that Peter is the only person to have been a chorister, choral scholar and Head of Music at Kings College Cambridge since the15th Century.

Returning to New Zealand, Peter became Conductor and Director of Music for the National Youth Choir (1982-88), Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral in Wellington (1983-89), and Director of the Orpheus Choir (1984-91). One of his greatest accomplishments was to found the New Zealand Choral Federation in 1985. In 1989 Peter accepted a two-year posting as Director of Music at Trinity College, Melbourne.

While Church music is Peter’s first love, he has always been involved with community choirs. From 1992 he was Director of the Kapiti Chamber Choir and of the 100-member Kapiti Chorale. He was also conductor and organist at St Michael’s Church,Waikanae.

In recognition of his contribution to music, Peter received an MBE in 1978, a CBE in 1988, and Professor Emeritus at Auckland University in 1982. 

When Peter received his Icon Award Diana Cable said, “Peter has worked with and inspired thousands of New Zealanders, instilling in many a deep love of singing, music and the arts." This is Peter’s true legacy and one that all New Zealanders can be grateful for.

The Arts Foundation extends it’s condolences to all who loved Peter.