Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brier, Percy (1885–1970)

by Robert K. Boughen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Percy Brier (1885-1970), musician, was born on 7 June 1885 at North Pine (Petrie) near Caboolture, Queensland, son of George Blyth Brier, schoolmaster, and his wife Amelia, née Welsby, both of whom were English migrants. He was educated until 1898 at the Yeronga State School, Brisbane, where his father was headmaster, and later attended the Brisbane Technical College at night. Brier began to study the piano under Miss Birkett in 1893; by 1898 he had decided on a career as a musician. As a pupil of Mrs Harry Reeve in 1900, he secured 99 per cent in the senior examination of the Trinity College of Music, London, and topped the lists. He learned harmony and counterpoint from A. A. Burford in 1901, and won a scholarship to study at Trinity College under Bainbridge, Ogbourne, Pearce, Saunders and Warrener. He was awarded the licentiates of Trinity College and the Royal Academy of Music in 1904, and next year became an associate of the Royal College of Organists.

Returning to Brisbane in 1906, Brier began the professional practice of music. As an organist, his main church appointments were at the City Tabernacle Baptist Church in 1912-19, and as acting organist at St James's Church of England, Sydney, in 1926. As director or deputy, he conducted the Queensland State and Municipal Choir, the Apollo Club, the Brisbane Austral Choir, and the Indooroopilly Choral Society which he had also founded. He was popular as an adjudicator in musical competitions throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales, and also in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. From 1922 he was an examiner for the Australian Music Examinations Board and travelled widely in this capacity, especially in his home State.

Brier was a founder of the Musical Association (later the Music Teachers' Association) of Queensland, and was its president twelve times between 1924 and 1951. He established the Queensland branch of the Guild of Composers in 1940 and was later its patron. On his retirement in 1963 Brier estimated that he had taught 912 students, many of whom achieved some prominence. Possibly the most distinguished was James Mursell, musical psychologist at Columbia University, New York.

An old-fashioned composer with Victorian roots, Brier was gentleman enough not to become publicly ruffled by musical innovations. He published only Intermezzo Giocoso (for piano), but left in manuscript two piano concertos, many songs, choral and chamber music, and some organ solos and church music. He also wrote three small textbooks, printed privately, and a historic compilation, The Pioneers of Music in Queensland (1962), extended to One Hundred Years and More of Music in Queensland and published posthumously in 1971. It was followed by his Autobiography of a Musician in a limited edition in 1973.

Brier was a convinced High Anglican from his youth and subsequently served his local church, St Andrew's, Indooroopilly, as parochial councillor, rector's warden and lay reader. When hurt or offended he could retreat behind a chilling hauteur and a slightly precious old-fashioned manner of speech; normally he was a polite Christian gentleman. With ordinary students, he was always patient — with a dry wit, a ready laugh and an intellectual approach which sometimes seemed pedantic. To the gifted student he was an inspired and inspiring teacher, using his own personality only as a catalyst to prompt the student to think for himself.

On 1 July 1915 Brier had married Eva Baynes (d.1943) in the City Tabernacle. 'I an Anglican, my bride a Congregationalist, the officiating minister a Methodist and all in a Baptist Church!!!', he wrote in recollection. Survived by one of two sons, he died of vascular coronary disease on 9 May 1970 at Scarborough; he was cremated and the ashes interred at St Andrew's Church. The University of Queensland awards an annual prize for composition in his memory, and a Canberra street is named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • Canon, Feb 1958
  • Brisbane Courier, 29 Apr 1925
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 12 May 1970, 23 June 1975
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert K. Boughen, 'Brier, Percy (1885–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brier-percy-5357/text9059, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 18 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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