Parish of Leatherhead - Geoffrey Peter Harvey 1944-2009

Geoffrey's funeral took place at St Mary & St Nicholas, the Parish Church of Leatherhead, on Friday 6th November 2009.

The service was taken by Canon David Eaton, formerly Vicar of Leatherhead. There was a 40-strong selected choir.

The organist was Barry Eaton.

Before the Service: Bach, Chorale Preludes

Introit: Choir: Psalm 150 (Stanford)

The Sentences

Hymn: Christ is made the sure foundation (JM Neale, from the Latin: Westminster Abbey, Henry Purcell)

Eulogy, by Richard Hughes

Just a month ago, Geoffrey celebrated his 65th birthday. To honour the occasion, I, along with another of Geoffrey's old St. John's colleagues, Bill Chubb, treated him to dinner. It was a splendid dinner at a stylish restaurant in Ripley. The service was impeccable, the ambience of the finest quality, the wine well chosen, and the food prepared to an exemplary standard.

But, it must be said, the portions were somewhat petite. And the smallness of the beautifully sculptured pieces of meat was made more apparent by the vast Limoges porcelain plates upon which they rested. Geoffrey, we know, had a large appetite and was a very fine cook himself. I recall him on that evening staring at the tiny pieces of meat somewhat quizzically and then, quietly, surreptitiously, casting a glance around the room to see if any other diners were sharing his thoughts. Always impeccably well-mannered as we know, but also as we know, of forthright opinions, Geoffrey’s view of nouvelle cuisine was all too apparent to see – yet, of course, without a word of criticism to his hosts.

And two days later, as was always the case, came the prompt, neat letter of thanks. I received it just a month ago and am glad to have it as a last memento.

"Dear Richard", he wrote
"Whether this reaches you before you go to France, it comes with many, many thanks for your generosity in entertaining me so royally last evening. I enjoyed it very much and felt most honoured. It is good to think that I have some extra money coning in in the form of a pension – perhaps I will be able to do more entertaining. Have a good time in France, the weather seems set fair ... Again, many thanks to two wonderful friends. Now Bill and I will have to save up for your 65th.
All good wishes.
As ever, Geoffrey".

Of course, my 65th, should it happen, will be without Geoffrey. And the 'extra money coming in in the form of a pension' was not to be. Geoffrey had been anticipating this injection of additional revenue. He retired at 50 so the teachers’ pension was not substantial. He did much freelance work which he loved and this supplemented his income. But he needed to keep half an eye on his finances. And Geoffrey was hardly frugal. He loved good and plentiful holidays, fine food and wine. He had never been a burden on the State so he was looking forward to getting a little bit back. It was not to be.

Geoffrey has gone. Swiftly. Before his time. And that leaves us shocked and empty. We know that there had been some health scares but Geoffrey always shrugged them off and bounced back. Indeed days before he died he was telling hilarious tales of the inadequacies of the Italian health service.

But, though saddened by the departure of a beloved friend and inspirational teacher, we know the last thing Geoffrey would want would be glum morbidity. So imagine him conducting us at rehearsal. "Come on, look as if you are enjoying yourself! If you don’t, no-one else will".

And think that we will never see a frail Geoffrey, an ailing Geoffrey. He left us with his presence still large in our vision, still ringing in our ears.

I am, only too aware that there are many people here immensely more qualified to talk about the central theme of Geoffrey's life, his music, than I am. Geoffrey was a wonderfully talented musician and teacher and many here will testify to that. But for me I think Bach and Vaughan Williams and Stanford make the point. I will concentrate on Geoffrey the friend and colleague.

Geoffrey attended Rydal School in North Wales. It was a rather bleak and rugged sort of place and not the environment where you’d expect Geoffrey to thrive. But he did. He looked back with much affection upon his school. And, by accident, I discovered an unknown side to Geoffrey from his schooldays in Rydal. Some years ago I was visiting friends in the North and was introduced to Johnny Ogden, who in the course of conversation said he had attended Rydal School. “Did you know Geoffrey Harvey by any chance?”, I ventured. “Yes” he replied “Well, I knew Geoff Harvey.” Now there is some considerable distance in the concept of a ‘Geoffrey’ and the concept of a ‘Geoff’. But he went on: “brilliant musician. Got an Organ Scholarship to Oxford. Always played in Chapel.” So clearly ‘Geoffrey’ and ‘Geoff’ were one and the same.

And then the Rydal contemporary went on to relate the tale of the one-legged Bursar.

The Bursar of Rydal in the early 1960s had lost a leg in the war. Thus he had an artificial one.

Each Sunday the Bursar attended Chapel where he had a reserved pew. The distance from the Chapel entrance to the reserved pew was quite considerable and as the Bursar made the journey through the Chapel, his artificial leg gave off a distinct squeak – the noise of which became quite an event within the school community.

One Sunday at Evensong, Geoffrey, playing the voluntary prior to the service, came up with his own composition; he devised a jolly little piece of organ music which allowed a pause for the squeak of the artificial leg to make a contribution. Thus it was that the Bursar made his way to his pew to the refrain of a lively tune of which his leg played a significant part.

The boys and, it must be said, the Staff, found it difficult to contain their hilarity. "Yes," reminisced the Rydal contemporary, "Geoff Harvey was legend" which is a good way of putting it. I think we'd all agree. Geoffrey Harvey was legend. When I reminded Geoffrey of the one-legged Bursar of Rydal, he put his hand to his forehead. "How on earth has this ever reached Surrey?", he asked. "I got into the most dreadful trouble." So, mischievous school boy.

Also, Geoffrey Harvey, product of Wigan. Geoffrey was immensely proud of his Northern roots. He was proud to have been a shareholder in Wigan Rugby League Club. But you probably need to be a native of the North West of England to appreciate how significant was the name 'Harvey', his surname. Geoffrey's family business had been one of the largest bakeries in the North of England. It appeared on loaves of bread in every grocers. Some years ago, Geoffrey and I had been to see Richard and Stephanie Rhodes at Rossall. I was driving us back and took a detour to see my mother in Southport. "I'll be bringing Geoffrey Harvey", I said. 'What", she replied. "You mean Mr. Harvey, the baker?" At my mother's I detected the aroma of aerosol, the signs of freshly vacuumed carpets, the finest China was out. For my mother it was akin to a visit from royalty.

Yet, proud though he was of his Northern origins, he came to love Leatherhead, the town which was his home for over 40 years and the location of the only school he ever taught at. When he retired, some thought he might move away but Geoffrey was insistent; he would stay here, in the town he had adopted. But he’d keep his distance from St. John’s School. Thus he constructed a schedule whereby he ventured out to the shops or to do local business when he knew the school was fully engaged.

He did not want to bump into colleagues - not because of unfriendliness but because though he had stayed in the town, he had another life now. The journey from common room colossus to small town anonymity is a frequent one for long-serving schoolmasters who retire.

There was no anonymity for Geoffrey - he came to play a huge role in the local community - conducting choirs and orchestras, playing at weddings and funerals, receiving commissions to compose music. But always in control of the agenda so he could head off for holidays when he pleased, frequently with his dear friend, Phyll Scott, often to his beloved Venice. To the end it was a fulfilled life.

And so Geoffrey has gone. He leaves a most dreadful void. But he is with us here in Leatherhead, close to music, close to friends. close to the school where he spent his career. We are all enriched by having known him. Those who were coached and conducted by him always knew they were in safe hands – that after the ups and downs rehearsal, the final product would be good. More than good.

Let it be so for Geoffrey. Geoffrey was legend. God bless him.

Choir: And I saw a New Heaven (Bainton)

Hymn: Come down, O Love divine (Banco of Siena, tr Richard F Littledale: Down Ampney, R Vaughan Williams)

Reading: Ecclesiastes Ch3 vv1-15, read by David Kingham

Vox Ultima Cruce (words by John Lydgate. music by GP Harvey)
for Those who shall meet no more - Tarry no longer
The Poetry of Christ from Rejoice in the Lamb (B Britten), soloist Simon Wall

Reading: 1 Corinthians Ch13 vv1-13, read by Richard Rhodes

Homily - Canon David Eaton

Richard has given a fine tribute to Geoffrey that we will all recognise.

Geoffrey has made music at St John’s but also in many local churches. He played regularly here, particularly after the death of David Oliver, who was our Director of Music. He played with Peter Holt at David’s funeral. They discovered that they were born within a stone’s throw of each other in Wigan.

I was always pleased to have Geoffrey at a service, whether on a Sunday or a wedding or a funeral. He was an extremely safe pair of hands because he played so well and with such authority. And also because I enjoyed his company; he was always agreeable to work with, never pompous or at arm’s length – and we shared the same tongue-in-cheek approach to some of the things clergy and organists are asked to turn their hands to these days. Don’t ask.

Many churches and clergy have every reason to be grateful to Geoffrey for his music and for his very collaborative and easy manner. Not all organists, I have discovered over the years, offer both.

His own taste in music is reflected in this service, from which it is clear Geoffrey was of course a proper musician: he valued the inspiration which classical music in particular takes from the Christian story.

Geoffrey had great warmth as a human being, he was never just a pair of hands at a keyboard, he was likeable and enjoyable to be with and that is why so many people have gathered here today.

With St Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross was one of the two great medieval Spanish mystics. John was a poet and his poetry captures the intimacy with the divine that mysticism, at its best, leads you to. ‘The dark night of the soul’ is John’s phrase. Like the Song of Songs in the Bible, John uses the metaphor of human love to describe our relationship with God. He says it is like the love between a bride and a bridegroom. As a groom gives himself to his bride, so does God give himself to us.

Our second reading today spells this out in St Paul’s eulogy on love: "Love is hard, suffering long, bears all things, seeks not its own". This is how we are loved by God.

St John of the Cross describes it like this:

Since he is wise he loves you with wisdom.
Since he is good he loves you with goodness.
Since he is holy he loves you with holiness.
Since he is just he loves you with justice.
Since he is merciful he loves you with mercy.
Since he is compassionate and understanding he loves you with gentleness and sweetness.

St John of the Cross also draws on other metaphors to speak of our relationship with God. He says

My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
Strange islands,
Silent music

By the Beloved he means God himself. Here too are pictures of the divine to us. These are not mechanistic scientific pictures, but instead ones drawn from the creative arts and natural world order. Bring with God is like being in the mountains or in a valley wooded and solitary, or to be amongst unknown islands which are alluring and beckoning, or to hear on the air silent music.

It is this last metaphor which is particularly pertinent today, because in the music Geoffrey loved, there is this deeper resonance. We appreciate it for its own sake; but we also know there is a silence in music; because when we listen well we cut out all other sources. Our focus is on the music and we are deaf to the world around us. It transports us, at its best, to other worlds, we soar through tracks unknown. We are lifted to a higher plane. And this is how we may know God.

In the depth of our being, bonded by love we find the source of life: the one who has given us life, and the one to whom we give our lives in return, the one to whom we repair when life is over.

When we listen in the silence and exclude all distractions, God is the music in our hearts. When we listen well we are filled with His presence, as music fills a room or a concert hall. When we put aside our world, albeit for a fleeting moment, we are transported to a world unknown and yet familiar. When we speak of God reason has its place, but knowing God is a matter of the heart. We travel there in many ways, but one of the richest is all that music opens to us, all that music paints in sound, about the God who loves us and holds us in the palm of his hand and in his heart.

When all that happens then music becomes like silence and we are overwhelmed by it and silence becomes like music, it restores our soul and silence is the language of God.

Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, wrote:

When we love someone, don’t we just love to be with each other.
Now and again we may say a word of affection,
we will be attentive to each other and listen to each other,
But it is essentially a place of silence.

Geoffrey knew these things. The music in this service is all of his choosing. He would never be satisfied with the trite or the simplistic. He recognised the depth of human experience, matched only by the solidarity and empathy of God in the dark nights we all encounter.

Geoffrey’s premature death brings great sadness and loss. He will always be someone we will remember with thanksgiving and affection. His faith was shaped by his music and in music he found the divine. It is in that faith he now rests.

My Beloved is the mountains,
The solitary wooded valleys,
Strange islands,
Silent music

May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Prayers of thanksgiving and remembrance from the Book of Common Prayer

Hymn: The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended (John Ellerton: St Clement, Clement Cottevill Scholefield)

The Commendation

Recessional: The Choir sang Nunc Dimittis (Stanford in G: soloist Christopher Underwood, conductor John Sutton)

The Family accompanied the coffin to the graveside in the churchyard for the committal.

Nun Danket (S Karg-Elert: organist Barry Eaton)

Donations to Leatherhead Parish Church.
Geoffrey's family invited those present to join them for a reception at the Church Hall.

Geoffrey Harvey, 1944 — 2009, Gentleman musician
Peter Lutton's memories of a colleague.

I applied for the post of Assistant Director of Music at St John's in September 1975, meeting Geoffrey for the first time in Ted Hartwell's office waiting room in Copthorne. I played Bach for them and I remember having a rather gentle interview. Lucky enough to get the post, I played for the December Carol Services that year as Geoffrey took over finally from Victor Yates two days before!

Geoffrey and I worked together for the next 19 years and I learned a great deal of the nuts and bolts of school music making from him. That one would expect, but even more important perhaps was the wisdom and experience that Geoffrey had in abundance. He often exhibited a knowledge and understanding of boys' behaviour that was most sympathetic and compassionate, even with sometimes the most recalcitrant of lads. He was not afraid to take a different view from the consensus of a discussion and so I leaned to respect his point of view greatly.

He was fortunate to be able to 'retire' early, to do the freelance organ work he so enjoyed. He could be his own boss and could pick and choose from the work he was offered. He helped me enormously, first at Weston Green, and more recently at Bookham, by covering for services when I was on duty at St John's or by doing weddings and funerals almost whenever needed. We all know how much he helped at many other churches, not least here. What a gap he is leaving.

Providing the music for church services is a very important form of ministry and the energy and time that Geoffrey dedicated to this will not quickly be forgotten in this part of Surrey.

We have lost a gentleman of music and a gentleman of life, the latter defined as one who uses a separate spoon for the marmalade and a separate knife for the butter, even when eating alone. I will never forget Geoffrey's method of timing the gap in the middle of a plainsong psalm verse, measured by the words 'strawberry jam pot'.

Thank you, Geoffrey, for all you were and still are to all of us.

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