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John Hindle Holt (1939-2019): The Tribute given by Tom Moore at his funeral
John Hindle Holt began what would become a lifelong relationship with Wakefield Cathedral and its choir when he became a chorister and scholar at QEGS in 1947. Little did he, or anyone, know at that time just what an impact he would have in this place over the course of his life.
John assumed the position of head chorister in 1954, under the direction of Dr Percy Saunders – fondly known as “Doc”. Archive photos here at the cathedral chart John’s time as a chorister, and John could always remember minute details of those days. If anyone came with a query about the cathedral choir and its history, John was the person to ask. One such occasion occurred just a couple of years back with a question about a broadcast of Allegri’s Miserere. John quickly recalled that this work was broadcast from Wakefield Cathedral in 1954……… and named all the rest of the music that was sung in the service too!
John apparently not only excelled as a chorister; in doing some research through the Old Savilians and the Development Officer at QEGS, I quote two short excerpts from John’s school reports; School Year 1954-55. Form 5UA aged 16.2 ‘A splendid fellow in every way. He is shy and yet very pleasant, and a sound all-round performer’. School Year 1956-57. Form 6M2 aged 18.1 Noteworthy interests: ‘Music-an excellent bass voice and a real musician-Cathedral Choir. 1st XI vice-captain-continues to bowl with enthusiasm and intelligence. Senior prefect.’
When John’s voice broke, he soon moved into the back rows, where, for a start, he sang as a bass but soon moved to cantoris tenor. This position in the choir had also been occupied by John’s father during the 1950s, and later by his brother James. Characters came and went, but a few remained constant – Richard Haigh for example – and of course John. In 1961, at the time of Provost Hopkins’ retirement, John also became Doc Saunders’ assistant, and choristers from those years when John served in this role well recall him, and I quote, “putting the fear of God into us”. There was obviously a drive and desire for good performances on John’s part and he was going to achieve this!
John lobbied both Provost Hare and Percy Saunders to begin week day evensongs, starting with services on Thursday evenings which became part of the choir timetable in 1969. This weekday service has remained the focal point of sung weekday evensongs in Wakefield Cathedral ever since – it still goes strong.
In April 1970, Doc Saunders died suddenly, and John, along with Andrew Carter led the music department through what must have been a sad and difficult time between then and the start of September term in 1970, when Jonathan Bielby assumed the position of Master of Music. At that time, the organ was becoming increasingly played by the late great John Scott, and John Holt began to take a back seat as far as choir direction was concerned, allowing first John Scott and then numerous assistant organists to work under Jonathan’s direction.
In 1966, John was a founder member of the Wakefield Cathedral Old Choristers Association. He was secretary between 1966 and 1988, with Bill Brotherton being chair for just as long! At the time of Bill’s death, John became chairman, and although he didn’t always hold one of the positions of office in the association, he was an active member on the committee right up until his death. John also served on the committee of the national federation of old choristers and was at one point chair of this. He did much to ensure national gatherings and meetings for the federation came to Wakefield from time to time.
Personally, I always found John to be a great support to me in my positions at the cathedral, first as Assistant Organist, and latterly Director of Music. John was wise, offered great words of encouragement and advice, and was never slow to appreciate what the choir achieved. He was always enthusiastic about cathedral music and at the drop of a hat would come back to help us, even singing long term in the choir again for periods after his first retirement. In fact, we believe that John actually retired from the cathedral choir 3 times – and therefore had 3 retirement gifts from the lay clerks! The last time John retired was in September 2016; the best part of 70 years since he joined as a treble. Even then, John would come back and help out, and loved to take trebles’ practices and direct the music in services when one or the other organist wasn’t present.
Both the cathedral choir and St. Peter’s Consort, of which John was also a long serving member, sing a great deal of music composed by John over the years. These compositions will no doubt serve as a lasting testament to John, and will ensure he is remembered in our choirs. It is quite right and just that he should be remembered with affection, and for all the hard work he did over such a long time for the musical tradition here.
John asked particularly for the King James Bible to be used at this service. I end with a quote from the book of Matthew, and the verses telling the parable of the talents; “His Lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord”.