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David Flood remembers Duncan Perkins

David Flood remembers Duncan Perkins

It is a symptom of how important Cathedral music is too many people’s lives that for our dear friend, colleague and former senior Lay Clerk Duncan Perkins nothing beyond a free holiday in France would get in the way of Evensong.

Duncan entered the life of the Cathedral choir in 1974, permanently from 1975, and died, still in service, on 17th August, only a few days after his 69th birthday.  He had been in so many ways the bedrock of the choir: providing not just the most solid bass notes a conductor could wish for but also the central focus of so much of the camaraderie and great musicianship for which we have become so famous.

Duncan was a true professional, for whom every performance was vitally important and to which he would give his all.  He had his favoured composers, musical genres and pieces of course but he treated every piece with the same all-embracing dedication.  Well known for the lower register rather than the higher notes, he would often complain that too many more modern composers could save on ink by not printing the lower two lines of the musical stave when those notes were not used in their work.  He was the source of so much good humoured wit and fun: a huge encourager of new colleagues but also tempted to try and see if he could lead them astray on occasions, just to see how in command they were.  Above all, he would give the most astonishingly affecting performances with so much depth of awareness and understanding.

Duncan avidly timed the performance of the psalms for the day; whether they were full choir, plainsong or men’s voices and who was directing them.  His copy of the psalter, to which he quite often would not need to refer, maintained the records of the fastest and slowest performances and the context in which they had been, letting us know when one of us a broken a record.  He would accept a copy of the Stanford canticles in C, for example, but would not open it for rehearsal or service, still giving the most dedicated and responsive performance.  He didn’t like new copies of standard repertoire because they were distracting.

Most recently he was persuaded to take to the stage as a member of Canterbury Cathedral Garden Opera: at first a little nervously, as Don Antonio in Figaro but then with alacrity and great energy in other roles, culminating in a hilarious portrayal of Leporello in Don Giovanni.  We had unleashed something new in him and he was so pleased to have found that he could do it.  So are we.

He was a wonderful host, generous giver and receiver of hospitality and we had many wonderful parties in his company.  He was a good and often experimental chef and the keeper of a superb cellar, some of which was way older than he remembered.  He enjoyed the good things in life: music, friends, travel (particularly in his beloved France), fine food and drink, the challenge of cryptic crosswords and fine literature.

We will miss him very sorely. That kind of voice, twinned with that kind of person is a rare gift in any choir and to have had the joy of his singing and company in this wonderful place which he loved so much is something which will long be cherished and remembered.  Ruht wohl.

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