- Vernon Griffiths
- Born: 1894 Deceased: 1985
- Fully Represented SOUNZ Composer
Vernon Griffiths was born in West Kirby, near Liverpool, England in 1894. Following war service in France, he graduated from Cambridge University and taught at Downside Schoool, Somerset and St Edmund’s Christchurch Teachers’ Training College in New Zealand and moved there in early 1927.
In Christchurch he established Saturday morning classes in music theory and instrumental playing to bring music within the reach of all. His scheme was extraordinarily successful. He also established and edited for four years “Music in New Zealand”, the first national journal of its kind. In 1933 he went to Dunedin to become Director of Music at the King Edward Technical Colllege. There he quickly established a part-singing choir involving the whole school, in addition to an orchestra of 100 or more and a full military band. He composed and arranged a huge repertoire of music appropriate to the abilities and interests of teenage students. His Dominion Song Books became a staple diet for schools throughout New Zealand.
An account of his work in Dunedin is given in “An Experiment in School Music Making” [1941, NZ Council of Education Research]. The Dunedin Scheme attracted world-wide attention. Percy Grainger described it as “astonishing”. He graduated Mus.D (NZ) in 1937 and in 1942 became Professor of Music at the University of Canterbury. In the twenty years he was there he led many reforms in academic teaching while retaining his interest in the community through industrial and rural music-making – including conducting a Railway Workshops Choir. He also introduced Musicians-in-Residence at the University.
Music-making in the community was the inspiration for Vernon Griffiths to compose a wide range of music. His output reflects his skill as a conductor and an organist; he played one of the early performances of Holst’s Hymn of Jesus. He was awarded an OBE in 1957, an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Canterbury University in 1975, and a Composers’ Association of New Zealand Citation for services to music in 1980.
Major compositions included cantatas
Peace and War for choir and brass band, Ode of Thanksgiving, Song of Joy, 3 Masses, Dominion Song Books No’s 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, Nelson’s Bass Tune Books No’s 1, 2, 3, 4, Many songs for solo and unison Organ music.
Further information about Vernon Griffiths can be found in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography at http://www.dnzb.govt.nz