Geoffrey Robert Self was born in Wallington, Surrey, on January 23rd 1930 but moved with his parents to nearby Carshalton soon afterwards. His attitude to his school days (and to education in general) is best summed up by his reaction to the bombing of his school during World War 2: “Our school was bombed twice. Our joy was boundless when we turned up in the morning to see the pile of rubble that had been the laboratories”. However, amidst the gloom of schooldays, he took piano lessons from the school music master who, despite being given to volcanic outbursts of temper, proved to be an inspiring teacher, sowing the seeds of a lifelong love of music. Geoffrey proved to be an able pianist, and gained his ARCM diploma whilst still at school and was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College . Unfortunately, lack of money prevented him from taking this up and so he went to work for the London County Council, devoting his spare time to avid concert – going, studying scores and working with amateur orchestras in London. He also founded and directed the LCC Choir.
Geoffrey married Beryl Williams in 1951 and they subsequently had five children.
In 1958 he was appointed County Music Organiser for Somerset Rural Community Council. His responsibilities were wide-ranging, involving various community choirs and adult musical education. In addition he conducted the Somerset County Orchestra, founded in 1945 by Sidney Hollyoak, presenting concerts of a consistently high standard throughout the county. One of his most notable achievements was a very early performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde in Glastonbury Parish Church, featuring a young John Shirley-Quirk. Reorganisation meant that his position was likely to disappear, so in 1964 he took up the position of Lecturer in Music and English at Camborne Technical College (later Cornwall College) where he remained until retirement. Whilst in Cornwall he was for many years conductor of Redruth Choral Society and the Cornwall Symphony Orchestra and was also associated with the Mylor Festival.
An enthusiastic lover of English music, he wrote a number of books on composers for whom he felt a particular affinity: E J Moeran, Julius Harrison, Eric Coates and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. He also wrote a highly-acclaimed study of British light music and a history of music in west Cornwall. For many years he worked on a study of, perhaps, his favourite composer, Frederick Delius, although, sadly, this was never completed.
Geoffrey was invariably modest where his own compositions were concerned. Although he wrote several large-scale works, including a piano concertino and a set of Symphonic Studies for orchestra, he believed firmly that the composer’s craft was best sublimated to the needs of the community and wrote carols, anthems, instrumental and chamber pieces for specific performers or occasions and was always deeply touched when his pieces were performed. Several were published, including two carols by Elkin, an arrangement of Yellow Bird for school children by Novello, some arrangements of Bach chorale-preludes by Hinrichsen and, more recently, a selection of organ and choral pieces by animus.
Music aside, he loved steam railways and was a life member of the West Somerset Railway. Some of his happiest times were spent with his wife Beryl, sometimes with children or grandchildren as well, trundling through the beautiful countryside between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead, behind a lovingly-restored GWR loco.
Above everything else, though, Geoffrey was a loving family man. He adored Beryl, and devoted his life to the support and encouragement of his family. His energy, warmth and endless patience invariably shone through, particularly in the final years of his life when he was plagued with illness.
Geoffrey Self died at home in Bridgwater on October 20th 2008 and his ashes are interred, together with those of his wife, in the churchyard of St. Euny, Redruth. A memorial service was held for him in the church on January 2nd, 2009 at which a number of his compositions were performed, including his beautiful ‘Autumnal’ played by his daughter Margaret and his anthem ‘Cantate Domino’ by a choir directed by Angeline Seymour, a former pupil. It is to be hoped that his music will continue to be performed and held in deep affection for many years to come. His is the music
of a consummate and warm-hearted craftsman who took pains over everything he wrote. Adrian Self
My parents were notorious for moving house. The loving tribute below by my wife, was begun when they were hoping to move back to Cornwall from Somerset. Sadly, this was not to be, but he now rests in his beloved Cornish earth. The poem is a perfect summation of a lovely man:-
Geoffrey’s off to Lyonesse to taste the salt-tanged air;
To smell the sea and feel the breeze blow through his soft, white hair, And hear, upon the warm ‘Droof* night, the dulcet accents there.
Geoffrey’s off to Lyonesse with Beryl at his side.
To soak up strains of salted sand and trace the tousled tide And listen to the gaudy gulls ‘top Truro’s Park-and-Ride.
Geoffrey’s off to Lyonesse a pasty for to buy; Saffron buns and clotted cream and starry-gazy pie: The potential for cholesterol to soar aloft is high!
Geoffrey’s off to Lyonesse, but sadly not as planned.
The blousy breakers weep for him along the storm-tossed sand, And rain-drops fall, like liquid notes, on Arthur’s ancient land.
Geoffrey’s off to Lyonesse on clouds of tumbled mirth.
We’ll lay his ashes in the womb of sacred Cornish earth, And catch his soul, rejoicing, as a child released from birth.
In memory of my lovely father-in-law, Geoffrey Self.
* ‘Redruth’ is always pronounced thus!