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Ford, Charles Edgar (1881–1961)

by Frank Callaway

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Charles Edgar Ford (1881-1961), organist, composer and music examiner, was born on 26 November 1881 at Upper Penn, Staffordshire, England, one of six children of Samuel Ford, a builder and teacher of music, and his wife Alice Phoebe, née Showell, a singer. Edgar received basic musical training from his father, a 'Professor and Teacher of the Art of Voice-Production, Singing, and Elocution', who conducted elementary and choral classes at the Wolverhampton Free Library. Father and son toured England giving recitals in 1894-95 after Edgar had developed into an accomplished soprano with a range of almost three octaves. Educated at Wolverhampton Technical School and through the Burlington Correspondence College, he moved to London, studying the organ under Alfred Madeley Richardson at Southwark Cathedral (where Samuel Ford was assistant-organist in 1903-08) and composition under Dr Charles Herbert Kitson.

At New College, Oxford (B.Mus., 1908; D.Mus., 1913), Ford set to music A. W. E. O'Shaughnessy's ode, 'We Are the Music Makers', and wrote a musical composition on Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, 'The Skylark', as part of his doctoral requirements. On 25 August 1909 at the parish church of St Peter the Apostle, Kent, he had married Agnes Ruth Miller (d.1972). Earning a living as a music teacher, in 1917 he was appointed organist and choirmaster at the parish church, Roehampton. He took a lively interest in the National Union of Organists' Associations which published his Te Deum Laudamus in G Minor as a supplement to its quarterly Record that year. In 1918 the Record published his essay, 'The Sacred and Secular in Music: Their Interdependence', which argued for greater catholicity in the use of music in church. Three years later he became organist at St Saviour's Church, Ealing.

As an examiner (from 1920) for Trinity College of Music, London, Ford was able to indulge his love of travel; his examinations of young Indian princes and princesses boosted his fund of anecdotes. He was a distinguished-looking man of average height, with 'a fairly deep' voice, who was meticulous about appearance and speech. Strong minded and independent, he was well read, and enjoyed company and playing bridge. While he continued to be an active composer, it was in the capacity of an examiner that he had first visited Australia in 1917. Ford is said to have been a divorcee and to have married in South Africa in 1926 Judith Beryl Keane (1894-1979), a poet from Western Australia. In 1941 they took up residence in Perth where he was organist at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral and gave numerous recitals. For the next twenty years his examining tours took him interstate and to Asia, Africa and New Zealand.

Romantic and conservative in style, and displaying fine craftsmanship, Ford's compositions included many pieces for piano and organ, solo and part-songs, as well as some larger choral works, such as his two Masses with organ, and several cantatas with orchestra, notably Zuleika and The River. Inspired by the Swan River, the latter cantata was a setting—for soprano, mixed chorus and orchestra—of words by his wife. He also set some of her poems as solo songs with piano. His chief orchestral compositions were Springtime in Puppet Land, Bushland Magic, Strange Nullabor, Tawarri, the suites Summertime and Rhapsody of God, and an uncompleted symphony.

Survived by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, Ford died on 19 July 1961 at Peppermint Grove and was cremated. The University of Western Australia, the State Library of Western Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney, hold most of his compositions. Through their estate, the Fords established a fund to support musical activities at the University of Western Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Orchard, Music in Australia (Melb, 1952)
  • J. Glennon, Australian Music and Musicians (Adel, 1968)
  • J. Murdoch, A Handbook of Australian Music (Melb, 1983)
  • Music and Dance, 52, no 3, Sept 1961
  • Who's Who in Music and Musicians' International Directory (Lond), 1962
  • Wolverhampton Chronicle, 31 May 1916
  • Herald (Melbourne), 22 Oct 1935, 3 Apr 1940
  • West Australian, 20 July 1961, 17 July 1979
  • private information.

Citation details

Frank Callaway, 'Ford, Charles Edgar (1881–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ford-charles-edgar-10218/text18063, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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