Music lover hits the right note

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By Shelley Topp

Christopher Marshall. Photo: North Canterbury News
Christopher Marshall. Photo: North Canterbury News

A music lover “born with a silver spoon in my mouth” says he is indebted to those who helped him organise concerts for more than 30 years.

Christopher Marshall, who lives in Ohoka, confesses he doesn’t play a musical instrument.

“I don’t have an aptitude for it,” he says. He cannot read music but loves listening to it.

It was his voluntary service to music that earned him a Queen’s Service Medal in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

He says the honour is “very gratifying and gives publicity to the music and what we are providing”.

But it hasn’t come without help, he stresses.

“I did a lot but I couldn’t have done any of it without my friends and my wife and the people who came on committees. It was a team effort, as these things always are.”

The honour also recognises Christopher’s longstanding support for New Zealand musicians and composers.

He has loaned musical instruments without charge to some of New Zealand’s leading orchestral musicians and provided financial support to many of New Zealand’s premier classical music organisations, including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the New Zealand String Quartet, Chamber Music New Zealand and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, as well as many emerging young musicians.

Christopher was born in North Yorkshire, England. He was an arable crop and livestock farmer.

Christopher and his wife, Jill, who was born in Hawarden, came to New Zealand in 1983 with their son, Michael, then aged 4, because Jill wanted to be closer to her family.

They had attended many indoor classical music concerts in English homes before coming to New Zealand to live, and wanted to be able to host similar events here.

The couple brought a baby grand piano with them, and had their Ohoka home, named Bridgewater, purpose-built for indoor music concerts.

The couple held 57 concerts at Bridgewater between 1987 and 2000, initially in conjunction with the Ashley Community Arts Council and, later, the Waimakariri Community Arts Council (WCAC).

“Brian Hoult is the WCAC chair and I helped him with the concerts,” Christopher said.

Christopher has also organised 149 other concerts over 24 years as part of the Sunday Classics and Christopher’s Classics series in Christchurch, which were established in 1996 mainly to get a bigger stage.

However, he also wanted to focus more on top New Zealand musicians who were instrumentalists or chamber groups and who were not getting tours in those early days from the Wellington-based Chamber Music New Zealand.

‘‘Leading musicians weren’t getting exposure in Christchurch and I thought it was needed,’’ he said.

‘‘We were forgetting our own, not completely, but the emphasis was on international people.

‘‘Even though our own musicians were equal to the international touring people, they weren’t getting the exposure and there wasn’t a series to support them.

‘‘We started in the Great Hall at the old university with a concert and we had about 20 people. So from there we have grown to getting between 100 and 150.’’

The concerts are now held at The Piano: Centre for Music and the Arts, in Christchurch, but were put on hold because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Christopher has also funded an annual scholarship to the most outstanding graduate of the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art in Christchurch, and received the Marie Vandewart Memorial Award from Chamber Music New Zealand in 2018.

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