An Appreciation of Joyce Katherine Hooper, MBE

by Ted Van Loock, 11th July 2001

This is an appreciation of an optimistic, enthusiastic, energetic woman who led her flock into fertile, verdant pastures of the unknown culture fields. You will have your own personal memories of Joyce and incidents to recall of her endearing and demanding qualities, for she was a person to demand attention.

Joyce Gayford was born on the 3rd of September 1909 in Redhill and had a brother Dudley and two sisters Molly and Nora. She spent her early years at ‘Heatherlea’ on White Post Hill. She went to the Kerry private school in Doods Road and, leaving after the fifth year, was accepted by the Royal Academy of Music where she studied singing and piano. With the completion of her music course she moved to Harrow and took up an appointment at Harrow County School. Continuing her teaching at Harrow, she moved back to Redhill during the war years. Here she joined the ARP as a driver. It was on this occasion, in an event associated with the bombing of Shaw’s Corner, that another explosion took place: the meeting with her future husband, dear George. They married at St Matthew’s Church on Saturday 4th October 1941 and always lived in Redhill.

It was after the war that Joyce’s involvement in local musical events took off. She was appointed conductor of the Dorking Oriana Choir, and later became Chairman of the Redhill and Reigate Music Festival, which flourished and expanded under her successful leadership of many years.

At the same time, and for four years, Joyce was made Musical Director of the East Surrey Operatic Society, her last production being Bitter Sweet in 1949. Joyce had a great desire to conduct Gilbert and Sullivan operas, but the committee of ESOS would not perform them with her, so she left to go her own way. Before embarking on G & S, Joyce made up her mind to sing madrigals, so she formed the Redhill Madrigal Singers.

Now madrigal singing was familiar to Joyce, having sung under T D Lawrence with the Meadvale Madrigal Singers and in the Fleet Street Choir, but we singers knew nothing about them, although we had to be good sight readers. With her now familiar style of cajolery, she licked us into shape and took us to the Llangollen Eisteddfod, to the Purcell Room, to broadcasts in Let The People Sing, with the award of the area Roas Bowl.

The next event was setting up the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. “So good for the chorus for which Sullivan wrote so well,” said Joyce, “and the clever and humourous libretto of Gilbert.” So the Opera Club was born in 1952. The chorus rehersals were full of fun and hard work. Performances were at the Market Hall starting with the Pirates of Penzance. The Market Hall was packed every night, so the future was assured from that moment on. But this was not enough for Joyce! She must needs pursue a higher plan. So she decided that, although the Redhill Choral Society were singing Oratorios, they were not tackling Bach, and she formed the Redhill Bach Choir, which performed works of Bach, Beethoven and Walton, again with great success. This was still not enough. The raging fire of her musical soul demanded the ultimate peak of her ambition - the performance of the Mozart operas.

In June 1970, having conducted the Opera Club for 20 years, strengthened by her knowledge of her singers and the instrumentalists of the orchestra, she embarked upon the most ambitious project of her career: the Mozart operas starting with the Magic Flute. She brought to Redhill something they had never seen before and Surrey Opera was born. So, with the enthusiasic support of people like Ruth Dyson, a core of dedicated assistants and the funding from her own resources, she set out on this exciting venture. The Magic Flute was another great success. It was exciting, Joyce said, that Russell Smythe, our Papageno, should go on to the Guildhall School of Music and subsequently to a successful professional career, singing at Covent Garden and with the English and Welsh National Opera companies. With the financial success of her first opera, all the Mozart operas followed in its wake, together with Beethoven’s Fidelio, for which a tenor, Martin Cutze, was prepared to travel all the way from germany to sing Florestan. Realising, in 1976, that she would like a younger conductor to take over, Joyce heard of a brilliant young musician who was conduction The Marriage of Figaro at that centre of culture, Blindley Heath. She felt quite sure that she had now found her successor and handed over the baton to Jonathan Butcher, who has continued so remarkably where Joyce left off.

During this time of activity with the many amateur groups, she had to earn a living, for she was only receiving honorariums from them. To sustain her and her home entertainments, about which more later, Joyce took up various teaching appointments. She taught at the Reigate Count School for Girls, as it was then, until she secured the more lucrative part-time post as music teacher at Roedean. Later on, she was appointed to the music position at Benenden, where Princess Anne came under her tutelage. As well as her music talents, she developed the skills of Art Marketing. George’s successful career as an artist was boosted considerably by Joyce’s promotional enterprise. Exhibitions, Gallery sales and private sales were enthusiastically supported by Joyce.

We all knew how good she was but officialdom did not, until finally on that wonderful day in 1981, she went to the Palace and was awarded the MBE for services to Music.

Throughout Joyce’s life there were always friends to assist in whatever project was under way at the time. There were rewards however. You might be invited to a musical evening at her home Loxwood, a special treat, where you would hear some talented musicians playing or singing to you. If you were lucky, you would have George playing the part of the jester.

Joyce was always on hand to talk or listen to anyone who wanted her counselling, advice or guidance, and there were many others who went on to professional careers having trod the boards with Joyce,

Here we are at the end of a great life that we have been privileged to witness. Joyce never appeared to let anything depress her. She was enthusiastic about everyone and everything she came in touch with, always seeing the best in things and people. “This tolerance comes with age,” she told me. This is a personal appreciation so I must say that for me, but I suspect for all of you, it has been a great and wonderful experience to have been taught music by such a superb teacher, and to have sung and performed such great works under such a dedicated and inspiring conductor as Joyce Hooper.

Let this be a day of happiness

I do not want any sadness when I die. I have had such a joyous and happy life until my beloved husband George died on 18th July 1994. My happy childhood - my musical training (RAM) - were all full of fun and happiness, mostly because of music and art and my many pupils and lovely friends.

So all my friends must think of all the wonderful things we have learnt together: Back’s B Minor Mass and the St Matthew Passion, Mozart’s superlative operas headed by the Magic Flute, Schubert’s Lieder, Beethoven’s Fidelio and his great Ninth Symphony.

Let this be a day of happiness. I thank my parents for bringing me into this lovely world, for the companionship of my brother and two sisters and for the wonderful 52 years of marriage to George, who taught me so much about Art and the beauties of nature and literature.

Joyce Hooper, 26th February 1996