GAVIN PARRY  50 not out – a chorister’s tribute

By virtue of his outstanding record of fifty years’ unbroken service Gavin Parry becomes the longest serving accompanist in the history of the Pendyrus Male Choir, if not of any Welsh choir, and in so doing has shown himself to be one of Wales’ most durable and exceptional musicians.

I have been involved with choral singing since schooldays, and over this period, acquired a good knowledge of the ingredients and subtle inter-personal dynamics that can make or break a choir. Crucial to the success, let alone reputation, of a leading amateur organisation such as Pendyrus is the role of the accompanist, the glue which holds the structure together, the rock on which it stands. Fortunate indeed is the choir whose accompanist has become a byword for sensitive musicianship and skilful collaboration with conductor and choristers alike, and above all else total dedication, dependability, and unswerving loyalty. These virtues are possessed in abundance by Gavin Parry, even in his seventies, despite a few cardiac scares, a regular half-marathon runner, a physical fitness which has stood him in good stead.

To list Gavin’s accomplishments and achievements would be to exhaust me and embarrass him. Cardiff born and bred, he early developed advanced sight- reading skills which would prove invaluable, took piano grade 8 when he was in his early teens, and his LRAM a few years later. He worked briefly for a chemicals firm in what is now the Czech Republic but then the Soviets, hearing he was there, invaded, and he returned to Wales a lot faster than when he went out. He emerged from university with a science degree, his head full of physics, his fingers full of music. He proceeded to further his piano studies at the Royal Academy of Music specialising in accompaniment, then settled down to a day job at the then Welsh Office and came to the attention of Glynne Jones in 1973. A legend was launched.

The possessor of a wickedly dry humour he is the most modest and self-effacing of men. In rehearsal he rarely intervenes and will venture an opinion only when asked. I remember one occasion when our then musical director paused over a passage, in ‘Nidaros’ I think it was: ‘Are you singing that chord right? It seems wrong to me. What do you think, Gav?’  ‘Oh,’ says Gavin breezily, ’they’ve been singing that wrong for twenty years.’

And of course, Gavin KNEW. He has always known. For half a century, with his trademark unflappability, exceptional keyboard skills, ability to extricate the choir from musical tight corners, and that most prized asset in any accompanist, rock-solid reliability, Gavin has adapted flexibly to the requirements and widely different temperaments of various conductors –   to today’s Ieuan Jones via the mercurial Glynne Jones,  John Samuel, himself a fine pianist and Stuart Burrows’ regular accompanist, to Stewart Roberts, a cellist as well as conductor. I have a vivid memory of him playing the Rachmaninov cello sonata with Gavin during the choir’s tour of Cumbria in 2012.  By the end of it, Stewart’s face was red, and his eyes were streaming. I said to him, ‘I can see you were moved by that. Was it hearing Gavin’s piano complementing your own playing so sensitively?’  ‘Yes’, he said, ’Gavin is superb, but it wasn’t that – the spike of the cello was on my foot.’

He is dedicated to his craft. One afternoon when we were in Waterford in the south of Ireland the boys set off from our hotel for what they euphemistically called a walk. Gavin however, though never averse to a pint himself, stayed behind and I saw him heading in the opposite direction, to the empty hotel ballroom where there was a grand piano. Under his arm was J. S. Bach’s ‘The Art of Fugue’. Believe me those contrapuntal exercises make that composer’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ look like child’s play; they are bloody difficult. Gavin was warming up for the evening concert.

Tributes to his supporting and sometimes saving role have been regularly paid by divas of the opera and concert stage who have starred at our Gala Concert series, like Rebecca Evans, Shan Cothi and Gwawr Edwards. Such stellar names usually bring with them their own accompanists since they cannot be sure who will be nervously lying in wait. They never need bring them to the Rhondda Fach or to any venue where Pendyrus is performing, whether a modest village hall, the Millennium Centre or an English cathedral; they know the skilled and dependable Gavin Parry will be there. A few years back Lesley Garrett came here, but understandably reluctant to rely on an accompanist she didn’t know, insisted on bringing her own. Once she heard Gavin, she knew she needn’t have bothered. It would have saved the choir considerable expense too.

Gavin has, for fifty years, been travelling twice a week to choir practice in Tylorstown from his home in Cardiff, where his wife Glenna is more than a standby: she is a saint, a musician in her own right; they met on tour when Glenna was the choir’s travelling soloist.  An organisation of Pendyrus’s status has a concert schedule which often means a weekend engagement as well. Gavin hardly ever misses; it is unusual if he does. He is rarely deterred by bad weather, for it would take a landslip or comparable act of God to stop him. This means a round trip of eighty minutes minimum, sharing the driving with a car-load of Cardiff-based choristers who can, if they choose, afford to miss the odd practice; he cannot. He has been doing this, uncomplainingly and for little reward, since 1973. It is an extraordinary achievement.

In sum, the undemonstrative Gavin has a matchless record of service to Pendyrus, to the musical community in the Rhondda, and Wales generally. It is with deep appreciation, admiration, and long-standing affection that the choir toasts Gavin Parry’s unbroken half century as the dedicated accompanist of Côr Meibion Pendyrus, a choir whose Centenary is looming and which he has served with enormous distinction for half its entire existence.

Diolch, Gavin.