Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Orchard, William Arundel (1867–1961)

by John Carmody

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

William Arundel Orchard (1867-1961), musician, was born on 13 April 1867 in London, son of William Edward Orchard, merchant's clerk, and his wife Annie Eliza, née Parry. He was privately educated and aged 19 went round the world steerage with £600 provided by his father. On his return he abandoned the study of architecture for music—the piano, organ, viola and singing. As an unattached student, he graduated B.Mus. in 1893 from the University of Durham, and was music master at St Paul's School, London.

In 1896 Orchard spent six months in Perth as director of the choir of St George's Cathedral, before moving to Hobart as organist and choirmaster at St David's Cathedral and conductor of the Hobart Philharmonic Society. On 8 October 1897 in Hobart he married May Sharp (d.1909), who bore him two sons and a daughter. Returning to England, he was music master at Forest School, Essex, and began to conduct the Colet Orchestral Society with Sir George Henschel. In 1901 he went to Palmerston North, New Zealand, where he was music master at Craven School and conducted the operatic society.

In 1903 the (Royal) Sydney Liedertafel (Royal Sydney Apollo Club from 1916) brought Orchard to Sydney as its conductor. He also conducted the Sydney Madrigal and Chamber Music Society in 1908-15, a time which he described as 'one of the happiest periods of my musical career', and, although not Jewish, directed the Great Synagogue choir in 1913-23. On 5 April 1911 he had married Annie Beatrice (Nancie) Adams at Watsons Bay.

In 1908 Orchard conducted the inaugural five concerts of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. In 1910 he and Joseph Bradley submitted to the University of Sydney an abortive scheme for a chair of music, and in 1912, with G. de Cairos Rego and G. Faunce Allman, Orchard was a founder of the Musical Association of New South Wales (president, 1913-14, 1917-18). When the Holman government decided in 1914 to establish the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music, Orchard joined its advisory council and, with Hugh Ward and Alfred Hill, selected Henri Verbrugghen as foundation director. From its opening in March 1916, Orchard was responsible for ensemble singing and the courses in musical literature and the history of music. Verbrugghen resigned in 1922 and Orchard succeeded him in August 1923.

He built up the strength of the conservatorium orchestra (and indirectly the Sydney Symphony Orchestra) by persuading the government and private donors to provide sixty-six scholarships for students studying orchestral instruments. Orchard and others regarded this as his most significant achievement. Active as a conductor, he was responsible for many Australian première performances: his repertoire was varied but his taste conservative and few of the contemporary works in his programmes are now considered specially significant. In August 1929 he conducted the conservatorium orchestra in the 'First Classical Broadcast Concert' for the Australian Broadcasting Co. and on 1 July 1932 conducted Elgar's Enigma variations in the inaugural broadcast of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Another innovation was a series of sixpenny Saturday afternoon concerts at the conservatorium.

In 1929 he insisted that Isador Goodman (from South Africa via London) be appointed to the conservatorium staff. The opposition to Orchard on this issue, mostly on the grounds of self-interest, was spearheaded by the Musical Association. Over the years he was much criticized by Sydney musicians, especially by Griffen Foley who abhorred his training methods.

Over statutory retiring age, Orchard reluctantly relinquished responsibility to Dr Edgar Bainton in May 1934. In Hobart in 1935-38, he planned and taught the first degree course in music offered by the University of Tasmania, which lapsed on his departure. He founded the Musical Association of Tasmania in 1938 and was its first president. Back in Sydney Orchard was for about twenty years visiting examiner in Australasia for Trinity College of Music, London. He published two books, The Distant View (1943) and Music in Australia (1952).

His compositions, characteristic of the dated English style of his day, include songs, chamber and choral music, an opera (based on Wilde's Dorian Gray) and at least two operettas. Although he referred to the need to encourage composition in Australia, ironically his own style and attitudes significantly retarded local knowledge of overseas musical developments.

Orchard graduated D.Mus. at Durham in 1928, was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Music, London, in 1931 and was appointed O.B.E. in 1936. Conservative in his social views, Orchard enjoyed the company of the wealthy and powerful (living for many years at Hunters Hill, then Darling Point). He was nicknamed 'Bunny'. On 7 April 1961 he died in the Dominion Monarch while returning to Australia and was buried at sea off Cape Town, South Africa. His third wife Eleanor Marshall, née Penman, whom he had married on 10 April 1946 in Sydney, the children of his first marriage and three daughters of his second survived him. His portrait by W. A. Bowring is in the National Gallery of Victoria.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 6 Mar, 25 July 1897, 31 Dec 1898
  • Manawatu Evening Standard (New Zealand), 29 Jan 1901
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 17 July 1906
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Aug 1923, 13 Dec 1928, 31 May 1934, 1 Jan 1936, 8 Apr 1961
  • West Australian, 9 May 1934
  • E. Wood, Australian Opera, 1842-1970 (Ph.D. thesis, University of Adelaide, 1980)
  • Orchard papers (National Library of Australia)
  • ABC Archives (Sydney)
  • University of Tasmania Archives
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John Carmody, 'Orchard, William Arundel (1867–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/orchard-william-arundel-7913/text13765, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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