Dennis Bamforth (1935 – 2005), a brief appreciation

Thousands of recorder-players and music-lovers have cause to mourn the death of Dennis Bamforth, and thousands more in years to come will be grateful for his dedicated advocacy of the Recorder Orchestra and his consistent championing of the medium through composing, arranging, conducting, and promoting its music.

At university he met Colin Martin, forging a lifetime friendship through their skills as pianists, recorder-players, teachers, raconteurs, writers about music, and, in Dennis’ case, violinist and composer, too. Together they established firstly the Northern Recorder Course (which met at Easter at Ripon, Cramond, York, Padgate and Chester) and secondly the Stockport Recorder College. The NRC is a regular fixture in many recorder-players’ calendar, and during 35 uninterrupted years (they retired in 2000), their dedicated planning and guidance hosted many of the significant European players and teachers as well as many of the UK leading lights. Many will recall the hilarious repartee between these remarkable inspirers of the recorder world, and in particular I remember a beautiful performance of the Leigh Sonatina (Dennis recorder, Colin piano) and the Poulenc piano duo in the course tutors’ concerts. Sometimes Dennis and Colin dipped deep into their own pockets to ensure it continued to run such was their commitment to their principles; the course still flourishes and is a glowing testimony to their unique blend of humanity, humour, musical insights, and standards.

Some years the recorders would mix with a string course, often directed by Reginald Stead, then leader of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic): Dennis’ connection with that orchestra became one of his many regular contributions to musical life in Manchester, with his membership of the Friends of the BBC Phil, for whom he wrote numerous articles.

He was also a tireless leader of the University of the Third Age music meetings in Sale, providing insights, humour, and the occasional tone of irascibility!

The first Recorder Orchestra on the NRC took place in 1973, and became one of the distinctive and substantial features of the course, a proving ground for his own and others’ new compositions, and a laboratory for the ideas of layout and sound which led to the foundation of the Manchester Recorder Orchestra, a 70-strong ensemble meeting monthly since the early 80’s and performing in the prestigious concert halls of the North West (Royal Northern College of Music, Lowry Centre, etc.), and further afield.

The Stockport Recorder College still works every Saturday morning during term-time as a free recorder school for students in the south Manchester area; the timetable each morning ensured each student from aged 11 to 18 and from Grade 2 to post-diploma received one hour technique, one hour large ensemble, a half-hour small ensemble (one-to-a-part) and a half-hour theory and aural session. At its peak of activity in the 70’s, over 100 students appeared regularly each week, delightedly, to share the magic atmosphere of learning and achievement, leading to the first weekly Recorder Orchestra in the UK, possibly in the world?

His compositions were numerous – he wrote for many instrumental combinations, but particularly favoured recorder works, several of which are published, and for the Recorder Orchestra he is without doubt the most prolific composer in the world, including at least 6 symphonies, several works with other solo instruments, variations, and diversions, and dozens of arrangements of classical hits and novelties. It is to be hoped that these will all gradually become available in print for the now dozens of recorder orchestras in the world to share.

He was a dedicated school music teacher in Sale, Manchester, holding posts at Sale Boys Grammar, Urmston Boys Grammar and most substantially at William Hulme’s Grammar. During these years he introduced hundreds of pupils in class to the recorder, and encouraged individuals to develop their technical skills with lessons up to the diploma level of the Trinity College.

It was in this last post that he taught me, and one day in 1969 he uttered the magical words “what we need is a National Youth Recorder Orchestra”, and I was delighted to be able to help this dream come true in 2002.

As a pupil I recall many entertaining moments: one small example of his dedication to his pupils will bear witness to his remarkable devotion to the development of his charges. When I was offered a chance of an Oxford University place if I went to do (and if I passed!) some special papers one January (I’d only done O-level music due to school timetabling issues which Dennis was fighting sturdily!) he came to my house every day after Christmas for a week for four hours a time to cram me with the necessary higher-level harmony and counterpoint – I’m more than glad to say his efforts were rewarded and significantly made me the musician I am today.

Many, many more musicians can add their own similar thanks to this giant of the recorder world: musician, teacher, composer, performer, conductor, arranger, inspirer, enabler, creator, founder – we have known Dennis through his music, and will have played under his baton at those entertaining and uplifting workshops, day courses and conferences. His inspiration to generations of players of all ages, and the legacy of the strength of the Recorder Orchestra principle and ideals not just in the UK but around the world, will continue to promote our instrument and its music ever further.

Thank you Dennis for all you have done – we will miss you.

Colin Touchin (pupil 1966 onwards .. )

Last updated 10 April 2019