As a talented tenor, Nicolas’ superb singing voice has given a great deal of pleasure to many people over the years. Still, he has also been a teacher for almost 40 years, a dedicated educator who has played a large part in encouraging others to share his passion and learn to appreciate good music.
Having retired in 2010, he has devoted his time since then to the Brighton Philharmonic. He will continue to support the orchestra though he has to step down as chairman at December’s annual general meeting as this position can be held for only nine years at a time.
His most recent involvement on the classical music scene is with Lewes Baroque which staged its first festival in 2019.
Although born in Sunderland, Nicolas has spent most of his life in the south-east of England and he went to school at Christ’s Hospital near Horsham. It was there at the age of about 16 that he discovered his singing voice and his lifelong love of music came to the fore.
Both his grandfather and father were musical, and his mother also loved music – Nicolas grew up with the sound of Radio 3 being played loudly in the background.
His first job was as a professional singer in the choir at Chichester Cathedral.
“That was a fantastic experience, to be singing in a building with such wonderful acoustics,” he says. “I was in the choir for four years, and at the same time, I got into teaching there, English and Latin. So my original intention of a career as a singer changed direction, though I continued to sing with lots of choral societies.”
A career in education proved to be a shrewd choice for Nicolas, and he went on to become head of Classics and a housemaster at Hurst College, where he stayed for 12 years.
Then came an enormously prestigious appointment as headmaster of the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, a specialist music school which provides a marvellous environment and expert tuition for gifted children from all over the world to pursue their love of music, develop their musical potential and achieve standards of performance at the highest level.
Nicolas led this inspirational seat of musical learning for 22 years before retiring in 2010, and over the past nine years has continued to make his mark in several exciting and challenging voluntary roles connected with music and education.
Until recently he was president of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, effectively chairing the board of the ISM until he reached the end of that term of office last year. He remained as a governor of St Paul’s Girls’ School in London and was also a governor of the Royal Ballet School – at both of these schools. He provided valuable expertise as chairman of their education committees.
His dedication to the world of music and education was recognised in 2011 when he was awarded the MBE.
“I think it is vital for children to be allowed to learn about music,” he says. “They need to be able to experience anything creative, be it art, drama, music, anything that gives them the chance to express themselves rather than being constrained to just the national curriculum. It’s what this country needs; encouraging children in this way is crucial for them.”
When retirement came, and Nicolas made his home in Iford, he was determined that his energy and experience would not go to waste.
“I was looking for things to do as I was only 61 when I retired,” he explains. “I very much wanted it to be involved with education but also still in the musical world. The front runner at that time was the Brighton Philharmonic, so I became a board member, and I’ve been chairman for the past six years.
“Now 95 years old, the orchestra has had only three directors during that time, and it has a very loyal band of Friends, with people from all over nearby towns and villages as well as Brighton supporting it.
“Allowing people to hear high-class live music locally is crucial and many leading musicians from all over the country who play with other professional orchestras most of the time enjoy coming to play at our concerts in The Dome and having a day at the seaside. Over the years we’ve had many amazing musicians playing with us in Brighton.
“The Brighton Philharmonic offers a very innovative programme throughout the year, an eclectic, extensive choice – chamber music and other genres, including a musical extravaganza. It’s vital that our concerts should be entertaining. These are challenging times, and as it approaches its centenary, we have to make sure the orchestra has to diversify. We have hopes and dreams for the future.
“It is a hard task keeping an entirely professional orchestra going in this current financial climate, and I have been finding it more challenging recently to raise the funds we need to continue to present orchestral concerts. I have to step down as chairman after the nine-year limit, and as I hand on the baton to another member of the I know, we need to appeal to a broader audience without losing our vast body of Friends who have supported the orchestra brilliantly since 1941.
“We need to attract more young people, and there is not enough breadth in the national curriculum, so I’ve used my educational experience to introduce a way of giving school students a taste of music by bringing them into rehearsals. About 900 children and their parents have come in to spend about 45 minutes listening to music and realising how exciting it is.
“Our next series of concerts has just begun and will include a musical extravaganza. More details can be seen on our website.”
Nicolas will be sad to have to step down from the chairmanship of the Brighton Philharmonic, but music will continue to play a large part in his life.
“I still play keyboards at times – I think a singer has to be a musician as well,” he says. “Chamber music has been part of my life since I was a teenager, and there’s still a lot of music-making to be done.
“I’m now involved with a relatively new organisation in Lewes, a Baroque collective, a small choir and small group of players. It’s been going for a couple of years, and now I’m helping it to get off the ground.
“Lewes is an amazing place. It’s quite extraordinary how much is going on here, and there’s room for lots of live music and good audiences who want to hear new things and be thrilled by them.”