Paul Harrison, 11 May 1965 - 25 July 2021
We were so sorry to learn of the passing of Paul Harrison, Director of Music at City of London School between 2006 and 2020, earlier this week.
From the wonderful Carol Services to the fantastic concerts, our relationship with the Chapel Royal, and the levels of engagement with music across the School community, Mr Harrison’s legacy at CLS was significant indeed.
"The curtain is down too early: a symphony without a finale, an interrupted cadence, a song missing its outro.
Paul Harrison would know what to do in these circumstances – the proper words, the music that should be sung, the refreshments that should be served. Who to call, who to charm. Not in a stiff or pompous way – his sense of mischief, of quiet and not so quiet subversion of authority would never allow for that – but because he cared deeply and passionately that people should be served, and served well. As a musician, as a teacher, as a host, there was always enough to go around. Enough music for the pupils who might forget to come to rehearsals until the last minute, enough time for the staff member who needed mentoring, enough canapes for the adults and kit kats for the children, enough wherewithal to rally support for a struggling family.
Paul revitalised the music department at City of London School. And like the excellent cook that he was, he knew which pots were simmering, which ones were on a rolling boil, and when to take things off the heat. Paul chose his staff well, trusted them to get on with it, and gave them the means to do so. He empowered, commissioning compositions from staff members, creating the space where pupils could mount fully staged operas. He also trusted the pupils – a lifetime’s experience enabled him to be the calm centre when the stresses of exams, performances or applications became pronounced. And what pupils he sent out into the world – to music colleges, leading university departments and the chapels of Oxford and Cambridge.
To walk into his music department, which he revitalised, was to walk into the unintentional, but not unintended polyphony of dozens of instrumental and singing lessons, classroom music, choir, band, and orchestral rehearsals, and at the heart of which was Paul’s office, door open, desk groaning with a horizontal filing system the key to which only he knew, and Paul himself who’d greet this great hive of musicality each day with ‘Morning, team!’.
Paul was a champion of his pupils, of his staff, of the traditions and practices which keep music going – whether that was never, ever, cancelling a Chamber Choir rehearsal (pupils would always know it was on, and on for them – and Paul had an instinctive knack for knowing who wanted to be front and centre, and who wanted to hide at the back: there was room for everyone), conducting phenomenally difficult music theatre scores for the School musical with all the expertise and talent of the best West End MD, making sure that choristers’ rehearsal time was sacred, or putting Chapel Royal choir on a sure footing that will see it thrive for the 21st Century. As a musician, Paul led from the front – there was no music too difficult for him, and he ensured that by the end of his rehearsals, it was not too difficult for the pupils either. Paul was, in the words of those who learned from him and worked with him, ‘a gem’, ‘an inspiration’, ‘a legend’, as at home in a Palace as he was on a narrowboat.
That, after a lifetime of service, Paul should be unable to enjoy the retirement to which he looked forward so much and about which he would talk with the customary sparkle in his eyes, seems beyond words like ‘unjust’.
JS Bach, after a lifetime of making music and teaching young people, sat down to write The Art of Fugue – the great summation of his musical principles. In the final movement, the music builds and builds, but then the manuscript breaks off: JS Bach died before he could finish the work. In the first edition of the collection, his son, Carl Philip Emmanuel decided not to try to finish the unfinished part, but instead to end with a simple organ piece for a church service which his father dictated at the end of his life. In the moment of loss we feel at something left ‘incomplete’, we are led to reflect on the beauty of talent put at the service of others."