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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 Cathedral!'

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 colours.'

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 Kenneth.

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 Marie Heine.

'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 been unwell.

Marriage encouraged 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 head simultaneously.'

Shepperton Studios 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.' said Kenneth.

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 today.

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 British Music Society


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