KENNETH V. JONES
It's as if my life
is some kind of dung hill, and I’ve
got to keep digging
Published here with
thanks for his permission to Kenneth
V Jones and acknowledgement to ‘Experience
Sussex’ (June 2004)
Helen Davis speaks
to the grandfather of five who says
he has no plans to stop working
A CELEBRATED composer
and conductor who lives in Bishopstone
has just celebrated his 80th birthday.
Kenneth Jones is still
voraciously exploring life. The man
who coached Ava Gardner to play the
piano and taught Jimmy Galway to sight
read is now getting to grips with the
internet. 'I'm doing an excellent course
at Denton. I was amazed to find that
my name comes up 480 times when typed
into a search engine,' said Kenneth.
He is using the computer
to sort his works - and there are a
tremendous number of them: four sonatas,
44 piano works. six song cycles. 85
film. play and television scores, church
music and numerous books, to name just
a selection of Professor Jones' achievements.
His glittering career
began in Kent, under the caring eye
of his guardian Sir Sydney Nicholson.
Kenneth progressed to King's School,
Canterbury in 1938, on a foundation
scholarship. 'King's was a wonderful
place, so different, it gave you a wider
scope: he said: 'But I bet I'm the last
person to drive a diesel engine in Canterbury
The school was evacuated
to Cornwall during the war, and one
of the last tasks allocated to young
Kenneth before the move was to help
carry sand into the cathedral for use
against incendiaries - and a model engine
seemed the best way ...
Carlyon Bay brought
new experiences for the 16-year-old.
King's scholars learnt French and German,
so they were given the job of interrogating
refugees who came into Cornwall by boat.
They also conducted armed patrols in
case of invasion. ' We killed a lot
of cows by mistake - a little bit of
imagination on a dark night and they
were soldier's faces: said Kenneth.
Music was a constant
even in this new life. He had sung services
twice each day since the age of ten
and played the piano, organ and keyboard.
'The King's Headmaster was very enlightened:
said Prof Jones. 'He allowed me to practise
the organ every afternoon instead of
games but only after I'd got my rugby
A musical career was
inevitable - but Britain was at war,
so 17-year-old Kenneth worked for a
year as an assistant organist and choirmaster
at a prep school in Tenbury, before
volunteering for the RAF. He was interviewed
by a famous viola player, Bernard Shore,
who told him: ‘You must forget about
music now for a little while.'
Yet the RAF sent Kenneth
on a six month course at Queen's College,
Oxford, studying music and philosophy.
'I was told that if I was prepared to
die for my country then it was worth
knowing what I was dying for’: explained
Four years of service
as a navigator on Sunderland flying
boats, stationed in Africa and the Far
East, saw another major change in Kenneth's
life: he met and married his wife, Anne
'We met in Harrogate,
over Debussy, in the Chief Librarian's
house on August 20 1944: said Anne:
'Kenneth was lying under the piano.
We married exactly seven months later
on March 20 1945.'
Kenneth and Anne intend
to celebrate his 80th birthday on the
anniversary of their first meeting -
May 14 went uncelebrated as Anne has
Kenneth to study still harder. In 1947
he entered the Royal College of Music,
where he studied composition, conducting,
piano and organ. for three years. He
was clearly a gifted student, as this
was followed by a travelling scholarship
to study in Rome and Sienna.
I lived on that £100
scholarship for six months,' said Kenneth.
'At one point I was unfunded for three
months, but luckily Sir William Walton
gave me £50 so I could complete the
course. It was a wonderful experience
- the freedom and exchange of ideas
after the insularity of the, war years.
I learned to memorise music, which is
essential to conduct properly, but it
is difficult to hold 30 staves in your
and the London Symphonic Players gave
Kenneth the opening breaks in his career
in the early 1950s. He started coaching
singers and performers as well as writing
film scores for the studios, and became
assistant conductor for the LSP. 'There
was no career path at the time - I did
a little bit of this and a little bit
of that, from being organist at Golder's
Green crematorium to conducting the
Philharmonia,' said Kenneth. By now
he and Anne had two children, Frances
(born 1949) and Anthony (born 1953).
The "bits and pieces'
Kenneth refers to soon built into an
impressive body of work. He was made
a Professor of the Royal College of
Music in 1958, the same year that he
founded the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
and was appointed an examiner for the
Associated Board. Compositions and scores
poured from his pen. In 1962, for example,
he wrote five film scores as well as
composing eight works of his own.
'There was no school
of film production in those days,' said
Kenneth. ‘You just picked it up as you
went along. Shepperton and Ealing were
great centres - you'd be called from
one studio to the next.' By the 1960s
he was running two orchestras, two choirs
and writing six features a year. 'It
was a bit too much, but that was the
way to do it, to keep in with everything.'
He diversified even
further in 1966, when he rescued a prep
school from closure. 'My son was at
Rokeby School at the time', said Kenneth:
'There was a lot of pressure everything
was being compressed by big organisations
and the unions. I wanted to preserve
a sense of choice.'
He had to work hard
in unaccustomed fields to raise £50,000,
and dealt with lawyers and accountants
to establish the Rokeby Educational
Trust. Rokeby School is open and thriving
Kenneth Jones continues
to work and has no plans to stop - but
he is now sorting through all his works
to try to get them in order. 'In the
past I've skipped corners, now I'm rounding
them off. It's as if my life is some
kind of dung hill, and I've got to keep
digging,' he said.
Now a grandfather of
five, Kenneth believes that his wartime
generation experienced things that are
no longer possible. 'Today's young men
can't trail blaze through Ceylon the
way I did - but we lost precious years
of our lives. The best advice I can
give today's youth is to work - just
work - and enjoy it. Remember the angels
don't come for nothing, and an angel
dances on every halfpenny.'
With thanks to the