Meet the Team – Daniel Gordon
Daniel Gordon has been the HCS accompanist since 2003. A man who can make the piano sound like a full orchestra and play anything on sight, he is one of the solid foundations of the HCS sound.
Do you come from a musical family?
Yes, though my parents weren’t particularly active as musicians: they were interested and gently supportive – that’s the crucial thing. Mum had a good ear, and used to sing to us when we were young. Prior to WWII, Dad had played the clarinet, and his family included some semi-professionals. My late sister was a natural who sang and played viola and saxophone, but her life’s missions were elsewhere. My brother is also a natural – his career has been mainly as head of large music and arts departments in schools; he was Organ Scholar of New College, Oxford, and later organist of both the Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals in Wellington, New Zealand.
When did you start learning the piano?
In 1971 – eek! That’s more than half a century ago. (So I should be rather better by now…). Actually my early years were rather more about singing. I also played the flute quite seriously, and did some orchestral work on double bass and timps/percussion.
Tell us a bit about how your career developed.
“Please don’t try this at home” might be appropriate here… I never intended to be a professional musician, and still do a double-take sometimes. I had a very musically-intensive education, but at university I studied theoretical physics and philosophy. I worked in applied geophysics and computing for several years after that. They were exciting times. At Leeds University, I had colleagues from the newly opened-out Eastern Bloc, and colleagues from the UK who had worked in secret military establishments here. It was a good community. I was teaching postgraduates, and writing software to support research. And most of all, I met Clare there.
After being made redundant, I planned to continue in similar areas. However: I’d made a few informal contacts at the university’s music department. This was only because I was new to Leeds, and wanted to have piano lessons again. I went there one day, and asked if they could recommend a teacher: I duly went to the wonderful Rene Waterman. It was then a case of being in the right place at the right time – I did some accompanying for Rene, and she passed my name on to the department, who were using some volunteer accompanists for odds and ends. It all grew from there.
Choirs have always been a big part of my life, from my local parish church when I was about 6, through to great Choral Societies and many things in between. Initially this was as a singer, but even at the age of 10, I was doing a bit of accompanying for the junior choir at Westminster Abbey (and playing for silent films). So choral répétiteuring feels very natural for me. From there it’s another natural step to choral conducting – something I was keen to delay until I had lots of flying hours at the piano, but I am doing a bit more now: currently I’m conducting the Huddersfield Singers (a chamber choir with links to the Choral), with some orchestral work included.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve been so lucky, and done so many very different musical things, so it’s impossible to name one. The Queen’s funeral brought back memories for me, because I was in the choir last time there was a Royal State Funeral at Westminster Abbey – for Mountbatten, in 1979: a highly-charged day. The Choral’s last big concert before the pandemic, with the Hallé, was also a very special moment for me: many things came together for me that evening: the culmination of a lot of work with the Choral, of course, plus more Abbey connections (I sang solos in St. Nicholas at Britten’s memorial service in the Abbey in 1976), and my first time playing in the Hallé.
Clare and I have had some great times singing together: a televised recording of Belshazzar’s Feast, with Leeds Festival Chorus and BBC Symphony chorus and orchestra – that was an intense and brilliant weekend in Leeds Town Hall. Also an opera night at Temple Newsam: as the sun set behind the great house, the 40,000-strong audience on the grass lit candles – and you could hear a pin drop at times.
I’ve played in some very exciting concerts with our great friends, Black Dyke and Nick Childs. And there’s also the 10 wonderful years I had as accompanist of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, with another great musician and friend of the Choral, Darius Battiwalla. And of course my ongoing membership of the Choral’s family – another lovely group of highly talented people – professionals and amateurs alike. A highlight can indeed last for decades!
I’ve been very privileged also to work with, and learn from, yet more inspirational figures, and I will always be grateful for that legacy: Anna Shuttleworth, Jo Fairley, Philip Wilby, Douglas Guest, Simon Lindley, Alan Angus, Evelyn Howes, Eno Koço, Martyn Brabbins, Simon Halsey, Jane Glover, and many others. The core of my work has been supporting choirs, and supporting student soloists, from the piano. As life has gone on, this has taken on more and more meaning for me, more than the big occasions, however worthwhile one might hope those are. The annual student-recital marathons at Leeds University are special times for me. I increasingly struggle with their intensity and with my stamina. But these events mean so much to the students, and they have a very long lead-in. Perhaps sometimes, somewhere along that road, it’s possible to give the students some sort of more meaningful support that they can carry with them through life. I hope so, anyway.
How do you relax when you’re not working?
Walking, cycling, sitting and taking the place in, and chatting, when we have a bit of time. Torridon, Shropshire (where Clare is from) and some lovely local spaces (Kirkstall Abbey, Golden Acre and the Chevin), are havens for us. Clare and I have an allotment and a tiny garden. They provide a lot of pleasure, occasional frustration… and some fresh food, when things go well.
I even listen to music for fun now and again!
Thank you for for reading this. My very best wishes to you all, and to all members of the Choral’s family, near and far.