Chris Shurety: A lifelong love of classical music that began at QE

“It is a great honour to be nominated for this award,” said Chris. “It really serves as recognition for all those many musicians, both amateur and professional, who have contributed so much of the past 25 years to making CoMA not only a reality, but also such an extraordinarily exciting musical journey.  We have taken our first steps. There is much more to come I am sure.”

Last year, he established the Festival of Contemporary Music for All, a collaboration between CoMA, leading professional ensembles, national music organisations, amateur and youth groups. Taking place in six regions across the UK, this was widely adjudged to have been an enormous success and the Festival is now a biennial event. In 2018 there will be 20 locations, including five across Europe. “The Festival is the biggest thing I am working on now,” he says.

As a teenager, he loved jazz and was a regular at Barnet jazz club, but he traces his passion for classical music squarely back to Queen Elizabeth’s School, beginning with the time when his Geography teacher, R M ‘Sam’ Cocks, a member of the Royal Philharmonic Choir, offered him a free ticket to a Prom featuring Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. He adds: “There was no teaching of musical instruments at the School, but my interest was reinforced through a great collection of LPs, probably owned by Music teacher Charles ‘Dick’ Whittington. He also recalls Biology teacher Eric Crofts practising his bassoon while the boys dissected worms and frogs – “It seemed an entirely natural thing to be doing.”

His passion for Music was clearly contagious: “A small group of us used to set off after school every Thursday for what was then the Radio 3 Thursday Invitation concerts.  Lots of contemporary music there!”

Like many OEs, he speaks affectionately of Head of Art Hew Purchas, who died last year. “I was the only sailor in School, but amazingly the School had a Cadet dinghy at Aldeburgh reservoir, so instead of the usual sports, I used to cycle there on a Wednesday afternoon to be met by [Hew Purchas], who used the occasions to paint. He was lovely, other-worldly. He was influential in making me into a practicing artist [see photo]…and today I have a boat moored on the river Orwell.”

Other activities Chris enjoyed at QE included:

  • Geology
  • Walking, especially in the mountains. “I started a Mountaineering Club whilst at school but guess it has ceased to be in this world of litigation…”
  • Books and projects. “I used to organise the school library’s displays.”

“I’ve always been somewhat extra-curricular,” he says. He adds that he was far from a model pupil: “I rebelled and got regularly punished for it. I was told by my English teacher (Colin Carter) once that I had received more beatings than any other pupil in the School’s history – although presumably he meant its recent history; surely not since 1573! As I left, I know the School was putting those days behind it, with the appointment of the new headmaster, Timothy Edwards, in 1961.”

Leaving School with Biology, Chemistry and Geography A-levels, he went to Southampton University – chosen for the sailing – initially to study Geology, but he later switched to Botany. “I followed this with research into ryegrass ecotypes at Aberystwyth and into the physiology of serum proteins following trauma, at Odstock Hospital, Salisbury.

“Influenced by the politics of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I became a community development worker in Kirkby, Liverpool, then Tower Hamlets and later in Greenwich, where eventually, in 1989, I led on environmental issues on behalf of the Council.”

By this time, however, his decision to take up learning to play the violin, viola and cello in the early 1980s was becoming increasingly significant in his life. Having already founded the East London Late Starters Orchestra in 1983, in 1993 he left Greenwich Council to become Director of CoMA.

Chris has four children in two families – aged 48, 46, 19 and 16 – as well as a number of grandchildren.