Catch up with Jason Smart

I turned my back on Carisbrooke Grammar in 1967 with no regrets and embarked on a course at the Royal College of Music in London, where my principal study was the organ and my second the harpsichord. At the end of my second year I was privileged to be awarded an organ scholarship to St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. This was supposed to be a two-year appointment, but I ended up staying for three. The scholarship was conditional upon me continuing to study at the RCM, so after my graduate course finished, I embarked on an M.Mus. (which in the event I never completed) and had composition lessons with Herbert Howells, a name to be conjured with by anyone involved in classical church music.

As Organ Scholar I was effectively the chapel’s third organist although, as the title implies, the post was very much a training position. My time there was singularly devoid of nationally significant royal events, the only one being the funeral of the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, but personal highlights in my final year were finding myself having to cope single-handedly with Matins on Easter morning with the whole Royal Family present  (the organist being indisposed, and the sub-organist non-existent) and, a couple of months, later conducting the choir during the annual ‘big event’, the service for the Knights of the Garter, which that year was televised by the BBC (whose cameras studiously avoided showing me!). Much to my surprise a set of preces and responses that I wrote for the choir remained in use at Windsor for over thirty years and was broadcast several times.

Although there was something undeniably special about living in Windsor Castle, after three years I was ready for a change. I rather doubted that I was temperamentally suited to a life in cloisters, but I had no clear idea what else to do. My dilemma was solved when I was snapped up by Sandown High School who were looking for an extra music teacher specifically to teach the ‘O’ and ‘A’ level music students. I spent a year at Sandown and thoroughly enjoyed it, but the government was just beginning to make it compulsory for teachers to have a teaching qualification, so I decided I had better go to Newton Park College of Education near Bath and obtain a PGCE. Rarely have I made a worse decision. It put me off teaching completely. The only two worthwhile things I acquired during that year were a knowledge of the rules of snooker and, ultimately, a wife, Cathy.

Cathy landed herself a job teaching music in Bristol and I found a job there with the Department of Industry. Like so many people who join the civil service, I intended it to be only a temporary measure, but I found the work interesting and stayed. I eventually married Cathy in the long, hot summer of 1976 and before long we had a son and a daughter.

In 1986 I moved to Plymouth on promotion and that is where Cathy and I still live. You probably know the joke that runs, ‘You know when you’re getting old when you’ve worked for six different companies but always sat at the same desk.’ Well, that’s me. Changes in government policy over the years resulted in considerable evolution workwise. In the end I found myself working for a completely different department to the one I had joined, administering European grants to projects in Cornwall. It was hardly the career I had envisaged when I left school, but it paid the mortgage and has provided security in retirement. I used to wonder occasionally whether I would have been happier staying in teaching, but nowadays I look at the state of the profession and count my blessings. I don’t regret my choice.

Music has remained my primary interest and has sustained me through the often unpleasant vicissitudes of life. Since leaving Bristol I have mostly steered clear of parish churches, but for many years I had a loose association with the adult voluntary choir of Rochester Cathedral, occasionally accompanying them during vacations at services in the cathedral and elsewhere and also touring with them several times in the USA and Germany. After I retired from the day job in 2009 I devoted myself for a while to accompanying local community and chamber choirs, although eventually I had to relinquish this work as it had become a full time occupation that left me little time to learn genuine organ repertoire and pursue other, more relaxing interests.

My appointment to Windsor in 1969 very sadly put an end to the Renaissance Motet, the Early Music choir I had formed with friends from Carisbrooke Grammar and with whom I enjoyed so much fun. That was quite a painful wrench, but its legacy was a scholarly interest in Tudor music of the Reformation period, an interest that remains extremely keen. Over the years I have made my own editions of much of this repertoire and have had a few of them published. On one occasion my editing earned me a minor award in the USA. I also manage to maintain a slow, but regular trickle of modest discoveries about Tudor composers and their music with the result that my name crops up every now and again in footnotes, acknowledgements and CD inserts. I am content with that.