(photo of Ken Snuggs at Petersfield Town Hall)

Kenneth Stanley Snuggs FRCO, LRAM, ARCM, LTCL, LTCL(CMT)

1928 - 2002

An appreciation by Lyndon Davies

Ken Snuggs grew up in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, one of three brothers. Music was always his first love, but there was no money available to pay for professional training. He worked for a while as a dental nurse, and later as a salesman for Hartley's jam.

It was fortunate that Mary was a qualified teacher by the time they married; she understood his talent, and was willing to support him while he pursued his dream. He studied at Trinity College of Music, where his organ teacher was Dr. Douglas Fox. He could not have been more fortunate: here is a comment on Dr. Fox from the internet:

"Having been an Oxford Organ Scholar, and a major prize-winner to the Royal College of Music, he undoubtedly had a prestigious musical career ahead of him. The answer was No, because in 1917 he lost his right arm in battle. He became a brilliant teacher, and I have always been grateful for all that he gave me. I wondered whether he ever realised my gratitude. I never once heard him complain about the loss of his arm. Years later in 1954, I conducted a concert at Worcester during a Three Choirs Festival, at which Douglas Fox brilliantly played the Ravel Concerto for the Left Hand with the London Symphony Orchestra. This concert was broadcast for the world to hear."

My own memory of Dr. Fox is of an organ recital he gave at St. Peters', Bournemouth on the 3-manual Harrison. He had re-arranged some of the organ repertoire so that he could play it with just his left hand and both feet, and was thus able to continue his career as a recitalist.

Ken joined the staff at Dunhurst in 1965, a year before I came to Bedales as resident piano teacher. It was the custom at that time for Bedales musicians to take a few pupils at Dunhurst, and I was given four: Jeremy Clayton, Cathy Rye, Caroline Pearson (daughter of Dunhurst's deputy headmaster) and Victoria Brooke. It was Ken who welcomed me to the school for the first time, and as the year progressed I had many opportunities to appreciate the range of his talent. I sang in a Bedales choir which performed the Mozart Requiem in a local church; Ken accompanied, and the village church organ exploded into life!

There was a composite recital at Steep village church, and Ken contributed a solo on the tiny organ there. He played, of all things, Messaien's "L'apparition de l'église éternelle". It was composed for a large French romantic organ; yet Ken's performance on that little instrument cast a spell over the audience -- you could have heard a pin drop.

For Christmas 1966 Ken composed a set of songs for a Dunhurst musical: "Scrooge" was based on Dickens' "Christmas Carol", and the script was written by English teacher John Hort. I immediately realised that Ken's talents included composition: the tunes were catchy and memorable, perfectly suited to children's voices; the harmonies were logical and well-crafted. Ken and John decided that a coeducational school needed a love interest in the story, so they gave one of the characters a girlfriend -- not present in Dickens' tale. The girl was played by Elizabeth Brook; I don't know which teacher wrote the words -- they are delightfully simple, yet ingenious:

"You've captured my heart
It's therefore mine no longer
I cannot truly say I have a heart, can I?
Unless it is yours
Which you in turn have given me
To cherish and to love until the day I die"

The appealing character of the child combined with the simple words, and Ken's beautiful music, to create a moment of pure magic. Forty-two years later, it remains a very special memory.

In the summer of 1968, with colleague Rosemary Wood as producer, Ken assembled a cast of Petersfield folk for a performance in the Town Hall entitled "Hi-Lights". It included highlights from four popular musicals -- one was "White Horse Inn", but I've forgotten which others. Ken and I accompanied on electronic organ and piano; in the break between two shows I contributed a couple of piano solos.

All the Dunhurst children came of course. In every school there are are a few children who have a special radiance, and one of the most memorable at that time was Cathy Champion; she also had a delightful way of expressing herself. Commenting on my piano solos after the show she remarked "But according to me, it's impossible to play the piano that fast!". Ken and Mary certainly appreciated Cathy: when I repeated her comment to them, and said what I wonderful character she was, Ken replied "Yes, she's an absolute gem".

Ken's love of children was very much part of his warm and vital character. He was a perfect father to Lesley-Ann and David; the atmosphere within the Snuggs family was always happy and welcoming. His Christian faith informed every part of his life - he was a man of high moral standards, great courtesy, and endless kindness. Mary's parents had been missionaries (she was brought up abroad); in her he found his "other half" - a woman whose warmth and kindness matched his own; who shared his religious faith, his love of music, and his dedication to teaching. She proved an ideal choice as girls' matron at Dunhurst, and also taught the reception class. She often sang in the choirs Ken conducted.

In 1967 Ken was appointed organist of Bramshott Parish Church, 10 miles north of Petersfield. Around this time he heard the first Allen "Computer" organ -- the first to employ digital sampling commercially, at a time when other electronic organs still used analogue techniques. He was tremendously enthusiastic about the possibilities of this instrument, and soon had one installed at Bramshott, where it replaced an ailing pipe organ.

That was 43 years ago, and the pipe-versus-digital controversy is still a source of lively debate amongst organists. Ken certainly preferred pipes when available, but loved the Allen because "It enables me to play the repertoire". He proved his point Sunday after Sunday, and in a series of concerts at Bramshott which used the Allen in every possible way.

I studied the organ as my second instrument at music college, and arrived at Bedales having heard many of the leading players of that era. Near my home in Poole, Geoffrey Tristram was an outstanding recitalist, whose summer performances at Christchurch Priory often filled that large church to capacity. He also broadcast regularly. As a music student in London, I heard an unforgettable recital at the Royal Festival Hall by the great Bach exponent, Helmut Walcha -- world-famous through his recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. George Thalben-Ball was at the height of his fame; I heard him play many fine instruments, including those at the Royal Festival Hall and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Even with that background, I was amazed by Ken's playing on the Allen organ at Bramshott. Remember this was an early digital instrument -- outstanding in its day, but with many deficiencies yet to be ironed out. Yet Ken was able to extract more pure music from it than many cathedral organists produce from thousands of pipes. Unlike the piano, an organ does not respond to touch -- a pipe either speaks at full volume, or not at all. Consequently an organist makes his instrument expressive by attention to the most minute details of articulation (the space between one note and the next) and rubato (subtle variations of tempo). Ken was born knowing more about these subtleties than many organists ever learn; even to hear him play a well-known hymn on a Sunday morning was a thrilling experience. At one concert he played a Handel organ concerto, with a suitable ensemble; I have never heard that music come so vividly to life.

If I have said more about Ken's talent as an organist than as a choir-trainer, it is only because this country has produced quite a few fine choral conductors, while truly expressive organists remain rare. Certainly Ken loved conducting choirs, and although he mainly directed amateurs, the results were second to none. I had the privilege of playing the organ for his daughter's wedding, so that Ken could give her away, and conduct the choir. The little Walford Davies anthem "God be in my head" is perhaps too well known; but I never heard it sung more beautifully than at Lesley-Ann's wedding. Once again, Ken produced a few minutes of pure magic.

The friendship that developed at Dunhurst lasted to the end of Ken's life (he was my senior by 16 years). The first "Hi-Lights" show proved a great success, and thereafter the Petersfield Hi-Lights staged a complete show every year. By then I had left Bedales, but Ken invited me back each time. Sometimes we played organ and piano; sometimes he conducted a small orchestra, whilst I played organ "to thicken the sound". There were pantomimes too, and other Christmas entertainments; so with regular concerts at Bramshott, I often found myself in the Petersfield area three times a year. These were always rewarding occasions musically; they also provided a welcome source of income at a time when I was still establishing my career.

Throughout nearly four decades, people who knew Ken said to me, over and over -- "He should have been a cathedral organist". They were absolutely right. Certainly it was what he most longed for, and in such a setting his gifts could have been fulfilled. He did play occasionally at Guildford Cathedral, when a Petersfield choir sang for services, and took him as their accompanist. I have a letter from him stating that it is "a most complicated organ"; I presume he refers to the disposition of the pipes in various parts of the building.

That demonstrates the range of his talents: a man of immense vitality and warmth, who loved the calm and majesty of a great cathedral. A man who taught 7 to 11 year olds at Dunhurst with enthusiasm and success; yet who was so deeply moved by a performance of Elgar's "Dream of Gerontius" at Guildford Cathedral, that he was talking about it for weeks afterwards. A composer who could write catchy sixteen-bar songs for a Prep-school play, yet be equally at home writing an anthem for a church choir.

This portrait would not be complete without a mention of Ken's other enthusiasms -- most notably for fast cars. In the sixties his pride and joy was a Lotus Cortina -- a collaboration between Ford and Lotus which produced a legendary "sports saloon", offering the then phenomenal acceleration of 0 to 60 mph in less than 10 seconds. This acceleration was dramatically demonstrated one morning when Mary's hat came off during the drive to church! The car's registration plate began with the letters MUO; Ken liked to parody these as "Mary, unfortunately, objects". I'm sure she didn't; she agreed with me that although an extremely fast driver, Ken was always safe; he was never involved in an accident. We both felt that the fine coordination he developed as an organist was part of his driving skill -- an organist uses his feet just as much as his hands. He later owned a BMW 2002, at a time when the marque was quite rare in England.

Like many of his generation, Ken did not travel abroad until well into adult life. He bought a caravan, and remarked to me after the family's first trip: "You pick up handful of soil, and realise – this is FOREIGN!"

His funeral at Bramshott church, on 25th September 2002, was a deeply sad occasion for family and friends from near and far. For nearly forty years his had been the musical heart of Petersfield; now that heart was stilled. The church was packed of course; Mary said to me that one of the hardest things was "seeing someone else playing that organ".

As I returned to my car after the service, a lady returning with some shopping paused to chat to a neighbour. He commented on the unusually large number of mourners, and she replied "It was the man who played the organ".

Ken would have loved that.

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"Hi Lights excel in Rossini work"

Excerpts from a press report -- June 1983

"Rossini described his 'Petite Messe Solenelle' as 'the last mortal sin of my old age' - an unnecessary apology, no doubt, for his genial setting of the church's central liturgy.

Indeed it bubbles over with melodic, harmonic and rhythmic invention, and as the programme note pointed out it is neither small nor solemn.

It was a delight to hear the work in St. Peter's Church, Petersfield, on Saturday in something approaching its original form, with a small choir (though larger than Rossini's 12 voices) accompanied by piano and harmonium -- in this case a small electronic organ.

The combined forces of the Hi-Lights Singers and Harmony, and soloists drawn from the choirs, were conducted by Kenneth Snuggs. The work had been carefully prepared, and the singers' enthusiasm was immediately transmitted to the audience.

. . . .

Special praise must be given to Lyndon Davies for playing the long and difficult piano part with such sparkle and panache, on an authentic sounding instrument!

During the first performance of the work it is said that Meyerbeer stood throughout, at times excitedly raising his hands above his head, trembling and weeping.

We felt nothing but joy and gratitude to Mr. Snuggs. It must be a long time since Petersfield has heard such a spontaneous and enjoyable choral concert in such an appropriate setting on such a beautiful evening".

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Ken Snuggs' professional qualifications

FRCO: Fellow of the Royal College of Organists

LRAM: Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music

ARCM: Associate of the Royal College of Music

LTCL: Licentiate of Trinity College, London

LTCL (CMT): Licentiate of Trinity College, London (Choir Training)

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