The Decision to turn Professional
Peace and the Prudential decision to return to its headquarters in Holborn forced John to make a decision. With work as an accompanist, the increasing viability of the Derby String Orchestra, the Derby Philharmonic and now the Derby Choral Union, John realised that he should remain in Derby. He was fortunate that events had combined to take him away from the pressure of his parental background. Informing his mother on 8th July 1945 of his decision to become a professional musician, afraid that his father would not want him to leave a secure job, he wrote on the envelope in pencil, 'To be opened in secret'.
25 Bedford Street, Derby
My dear Mum
I think it would be wrong of me to let any more time go by without telling you of an intention which (perhaps you have guessed) has been in my mind for several months. To come quickly to the point. I think the time will arrive in two or three months for me to give up my work with the Prudential. Needless to say, I haven't reached such a decision without the most terrific thought, and a very deliberate weighing of ways and means.
Briefly, the position is this. As you know, I have been very lucky here in Derby to have such easy working conditions, under a sympathetic chief who has allowed me as much time off as I need for my musical activities. Well, now the time is fast approaching for the Pru. Divisional Centres to return to London and believe me, not only for myself but for all evacuees there is going to be a very difficult time in getting readjusted to the discipline and essential regimentation of Holborn Bars. If I go back to London (where, remember, I have no home to go to) I shall find it absolutely necessary to reduce very much, that which is the breath of life to me, my music. Moreover, I should find myself in the vast London arena, with no conducting appointments and lots of competition I expect for those which do arise.
By comparison, in Derby I have, I really think (without sounding conceited), created a very special position for myself which is quite unchallenged. The new Choral Union appointment carries with it excellent fees, the Derby Philharmonic has guaranteed me fifteen guineas a concert when I become a professional musician and so has the Derby String Orchestra. In addition my work as accompanist for the Municipal Concerts will be re-rated at probably five guineas a concert: it has been quite touching while I have been enquiring into the possibilities, to find how many eager friends are anxious to help me, keen as some of them put it, to help me get to a place 'right at the top of the profession.'
What I have in mind to do is this:
1. Spend a good part of my time in Derby to work with:
a) the Derby Choral Union
b) the Derby String Orchestra
c) the Derby Philharmonic
also a 'cracking' Orchestra for the Derbyshire Education Committee, also the Municipal Concerts, also all the 'odd' engagements which normally come my way as accompanist etc. during the season in Derby.
2. Go to London or any part of the country to accept engagements as Accompanist - in this I am assured of the support of Vera Kantrovitch who would like to work with me on a larger scale and also of Adila Fachiri who wishes me to play for her on every possible occasion. Also I expect to get work through Ibbs & Tillett, the London Concert Agents, whom I am seeing in London this coming Wednesday. You must remember too the large number of famous artists with whom I have played - almost without exception those people have assumed that I was a full-time musician and when they learned this was not so, have urged me to take up the profession without delay, as there are so few really good accompanists, though there are dozens of solo pianists.
Now I do not want you to worry about my future, dear - have faith in my determination and the talents which you have helped to give me. As you know, had it not been for our position at home I should have gone from the Monoux on to the Royal Academy or the Royal College of Music, there to train for the musical profession in the orthodox way. As it is, I do not at all regret the years spent with the Prudential: I have kept myself and made my way in the world. It has enabled me to have a fair amount of time for music, and has been the means of bringing me to Derby, the first town m which I have really made a first class name as a musician. The choice now is
a) whether to go back with the Prudential to London, giving up all my musical work here, keeping music as a hobby and concentrate on earning promotion in a job which now less and less appeals to me and which will eventually become a Government Department, or
b) to stay on in Derby, where I am happy in 'cheap' digs, where the cost of living is lower than in London and where I have great influence and literally scores of friends, here to, develop all my musical work and obtain a really big name in British Music, I hope. I would not make this monumental change in my life if I felt I had only a quite ordinary career as a 'competent' musician ahead of me. But I feel (and I am confirmed by all the opinions of those best qualified to speak) that I can, if I work properly, become a really first-rank conductor and meanwhile I have the useful second string to my bow, piano accompaniment. The more professionals I work with, the more I realise, quite without conceit, that by far the great majority of them have nothing that I too do not seem to have.
I have deliberately tried not to be too optimistic in my calculations, so that I am not building up false hopes but the more I think about it, the more sure I am that it is no good shivering on the brink but I must take the plunge now. A further consideration is that the Regional broadcasts of the BBC are starting up again and there will be a lot of work going there.
As a final guarantee, my friend Leslie Smart, who constantly urges me not to hesitate, has promised that he will not allow my income to drop below a certain level during the first two years of my career as a professional musician. So you need never picture me on the dole! I confidently anticipate getting sufficient well-paid engagements (apart altogether from my standing salaried orchestral engagements here) to increase my all-over income quite considerably.
Lastly, I should perhaps even now think twice about this matter if I were married or even intending marriage. As this is not so, as a single man I have not the least reason to be cowardly and always clinging to mere security at the expense of happiness in my true career. 'He who hesitates is lost.'
I know you will always understand perfectly how I feel and how excited I am at the prospect of giving all my time to the beloved art. I'll let you know how things progress! Let me know what you think.
Best love, Yours always John
P. S. The decision is really forced on me by the Choral Union appointment. With this added to my already full life, I should without doubt have had a nervous breakdown this winter!
Leaving the Prudential in September 1945, he had only reached clerk status in the third class (earning £275 pa) - hardly a meteoric rise.
His father noted in his diary:
1st October - Stanley enters the musical profession.
With many qualified people returning to 'civvy street,' Johm had been understandably nervous about leaving the security of a job. Leslie Smart, who made it financially possible for John to become a professional musician, was a very poor cellist. A timber merchant of 'old Midland stock', not attractive to look -it, very tall and with rather bad teeth, which did not worry him, he was an honest, outspoken man. Childless, he and his wife Dorothy treated John and Eva as family. An atheist, with Dorothy non-Conformist, he was rather disgusted, arguing fiercely with John when he determined to become a Roman Catholic in April 1947.
Totally unaware of his religious adherence, never having thought of him as a religious person in an outward sense, many of John's close friends were surprised when his funeral service took place in a Roman Catholic Church. Several reasons for his conversion have been given by those who knew him well, such as the cynical comment that the productions in a Catholic Church are 'very well rehearsed with outstanding sets and beautiful costumes'. During the years after the war there was certain social cachet in being Catholic and many young people embraced that faith. John wanted to 'belong', to be 'accepted'. Instrumental in his decision was the simple fact that he was happy in his mother's company as opposed to that of his father and it was she who took him to religious ceremonies in spectacular venues such as Westminster Abbey and St Paul's Cathedral. He had worshipped in Wakefield Cathedral, retaining a photograph of the interior amongst his papers. There are notes in his diaries as to times of services, and his attendance in the company of friends, particularly Marie King, a lady whose company he enjoyed.
The influence of St Stephen's Church was not only on his musical development. Winning first prize at the Scripture Union for his confirmation was paralleled by 'A's in the subject at the Sir George Monoux School. Religion helped to satisfy an emotional need. Above all, he needed the Confessional, needed the solace of confiding in someone, of expressing himself in truth, resolving the conflict between hid personality and his background.
In 1958 he had wanted to take part in a Catholic Pageant on 10th February at the Royal Albert Hall but as his career developed and he became accepted, his Catholicism changed from a means of public identity to a very deep personal conviction which surfaced when hw conducted religious music. He would sometimes slip away to a church on his own. Visiting the 'Tosca' church in Rome, there was a moment when he went away and prayed quietly. On holiday in Italy, attending an audience with the Pope, the presence and the atmosphere affected him profoundly. His depth of feeling evinced itself, not just with tolerance but in the respect he showed to others, of whatever religion, thoughtfully endeavouring to assist them in their practice. To them he could confide his feelings.
At this stage in his career, having made the decision to become a professional musician, John had doubts as to his capability to succeed. Although he had not had a formal training in the music colleges, away from the metropolis he was mixing with organisers of concerts who accepted his musicianship. In his nervousness over a proposed appointment at Uttoxeter, a well-known, established Choral Society, he lied. Interviewed prior to a performance of Messiah in the Town Hall, Uttoxeter on 7th December 1945, he began by claiming that his father was a violinist with the London Symphony Orchestra. He probably chose this orchestra because the father of one of John's friends played the trombone in that orchestra and occasionally gave John and his father free tickets for their concerts. He then proceeded to assert that he had studied under Tobias Matthay, the well-known professor of piano and Dr Markham Lee, both statements being completely untrue. (Mr Belchambers of the Monoux School had been Markham Lee's pupil.) He then asserted that he 'entered the Royal College of Music in 1934 where I studied the piano, viola and conducting. In 1936 I was appointed conductor of the Chingford (London) Choral Society.' (John had played the piano at a Chingford Choral Concert in December 1934.) However, the article finished with 'Mr Pritchard possesses a brilliant technique both as a conductor and pianist. We are of the opinion that John Pritchard is a young man of whom we shall hear more.'
Absolutely delighted by the performance he gave of Messiah, the County Music Organiser considered that the balance of the Choir was 'the best that he had ever heard in the whole of his experience. A very impressive debut.'
Whilst the importance of the Uttoxeter appointment was in the distant future, it was an engagement in Derby by the young violinist, Yfrah Neaman that opened a whole new vista for him.