The Portsmouth Music Scene
Florence Greaves was responsible for re-starting the Portsmouth Competitive Musical Festival after the 2nd World War.
The Portsmouth Music FestivalThe PMF was founded during World War I in an attempt to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Portsmouth in 1917. It was affiliated to the newly formed British Federation of Festivals in 1922 and grew in popularity in the ensuing years. After World War II, four people who had previously been working within the Festival, including Miss Florence Greaves, met to discuss its future. They had only £15.00 in the bank but were blessed with enormous enthusiasm. The revived festival has continued to go from strength to strength.
Today, the PMF annually hosts performances from over 4,000 people from the community, who enjoy making music, dancing and/or acting. These contributors are almost all amateurs who wish to give pleasure by their performance and to learn from the adjudicators and from other performers. It is the largest annual community event to be staged in our city, and possibly the most educational and informative. There is no pressure ‘to pass the exam’, the preparation teaches discipline and team work and increases skills in communication, all of which are positive attributes to have in life today.
Since 1992, the PMF has been very fortunate in the support given to it by its sponsors, advertisers and by the Festival Friends’ scheme. It has also developed many partnerships with local organisations that offer special opportunities, awards or prizes to performers. Chief among these have to be the Portsmouth Festivities Recital Prize, the Solent Symphony Orchestra Concerto Award and the sponsorship by the Milton Glee Club of a young player to the European Youth Music Summer School. These opportunities for our young people are an important link between the Festival and its colleagues.
While costs have risen enormously, so has the standard of performance and the expectations of both the participants and audiences. We continue in the hope that the founding fathers of this Festival would be proud of how their work as grown and been developed within the community of Portsmouth.
A PERMANENT "little theatre” in Portsmouth for music, drama and the arts is the secret ambition of Miss Florence Greaves, Secretary of Portsmouth Musical Festival.
Miss Greaves; who has been the driving force behind fire festival since she resurrected it after the war, now wants everyone in Portsmouth who is interested in art for art's sake, to get together.
'We have proved that there are plenty of music lovers left in Portsmouth, now we need a centre of our own," she said when I interviewed her at the festival headquarters.
VolunteersShe wants volunteers to help convert, or build it necessary an intimate little theatre where amateurs can gather all the year round for rehearsals and productions. " To say that there is no interest is music and culture left in Portsmouth is absolute rubbish," she told me, "I hate to hear Portsmouth maligned like this."
Miss Greaves, a concert soprano, wants to pioneer the idea of a little theatre although she fears many people will accuse her of "hitching her wagon to a star." "If only we could get enough "people interested for long enough. I am sure we could find permanent headquarters. that could be used by choirs, orchestras, drama groups and so on." A converted barn, or large old fashioned house where a small stage and curtains could be installed would be ideal, she said. Among the friends who have backed her and helped her change Portsmouth Musical festival from a three-day event to a two-week affair with 1,800 entreats. Miss Greaves feels she can get support for this second ambition of hers.
Overheads"The cost of overheads, hiring halls, In Portsmouth, are tremendous, she said. "But if we could find an odd place, or a suitable plot of ground I am sure that there would be enough builders, electricians, carpenters and needlewomen among our ram to undertake the job ourselves," Another Project which Miss Greaves would like to accomplish is a finale to the festival, with all the competitors performing in a grand work under one conductor, so that the audience could grasp all that the festival had achieved.
Turning to the organization of the festival, at which she is known as the "Skipper;" Miss Greaves said she almost had to develop a Jekyll and Hyde personality to deal with all the problems that arise. She is already planning next year's festival before this one Is over. Her husband, Mr. H. Primmer, has acted as entries clerk since the festival was revived in 1949. In those days there were only 16 cups, now there are 79.
Cutting CostsMiss Greases has a nucleus of t ten volunteers who, by their efforts, try to keep down the cost of the festival, which is not subsidized. Her first connection with the festival was before World War 2 when as a small child she was allowed to sell programmes. Afterwards she resurrected it, as an annual event, giving singers, instrumentalists and amateur actors the opportunity to bear opinions on their performances from eminent adjudicators at a fraction of the usual fee.
Her own singing career includes an appearance at the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth, in a concert conducted by Sir Dan Godfrey. Her accompanist at her first recital was the Mrs. Grace Bullin, who was well-known in flourishing Portsmouth music circles.
May 31st 1975, Florence Greaves
COMING OF AGE OF THE PORTSMOUTH MUSIC FESTIVAL April 15th 1969.
THIS year Miss Florence Graves celebrates her, 21st year as secretary of Portsmouth Musical Competitions Festival Society. When it was first revived shortly after the war, the Festival in its first year attracted 263 entries. Last year there were over 2,000 and this year Miss Greaves expects there will be more.
Increase in size is the main change she has seen. In the early days, she said, she was hard put to make the Festival last for two and a half days. "I had to pad it out on the third day to make it last over the Saturday." Now it takes a month to get through all the, classes and events. And as the size of the Festival increases, so the work of the secretary increases," It's a full time job now," says Miss Greaves, There are so many more festivals being held these days that we have to book the adjudicators more than 12 months in advance. I am already starting to organize next year's festival.
There is a fashion nowadays to have non-competitive festivals, especially for children, but Miss Greaves is not in favour. "People, children especially need competition to stimulate them. It isn't a matter of wanting to come first and beat everyone else, but these children put more effort into things if they are competing. They know if one choir sings better than theirs, or not as well."
Each year there has been more interest in the Festival and entries have increased, 'but during the last five years or so they have rocketed. There is a move back to creative activity, a reaction against television Miss Greaves said. And as the size of the Festivals has increased, so has the standard gone up too. But this 2lst year is a time for looking forwards as well, as for looking back. Among the helpers who. now outnumber the competitors of the early days, Miss Greaves hopes there is someone who will be Interested enough to take over the running of the Festival when she retires. And her great dream is for the Festival to take place in a Portsmouth Arts Centre. I think she has already drawn up plans for it.
" People say why don't we use the Guildhall? but that would not be suitable. We need somewhere to hold the intimate events -- the chamber music and the classes for small children singing in public for the first time, as well as somewhere larger for orchestral events and choirs. And we need somewhere for people to rehearse there is nowhere in Portsmouth at the moment. Having a decent venue for the Festival means that more people will come too, so we would get more support from the public."
"This is what we want. People to come to watch the events. To provide an audience for the competitors to play to. They can send a cheque for £100 and very nice too, but we wish they would come and put their bottoms on a chair for an evening."
Portsmouth loses a great musician
Miss Florence Greaves, organising honorary secretary of the Portsmouth Music Competition Festival since its post war restoration in 1947, died yesterday 26th May 1975, age 73.
In private life Mrs. H. S. Primmer, this "First Lady of Music in Portsmouth," as she has been described, lived at 46, Victoria Road South Southsea, which during the period of preparation for the music festival, became the headquarters of the event.
Her husband Mr. Primmer told The News: "Florence had been very ill for about three months. She died in a nursing home. The name of Florence Greaves was synonymous with the Portsmouth Music Competition Festival, but she had also been with many other music ventures, notably the Portsmouth Ladies' Choir, which she directed. During World War II she drove an ambulance. She was a prime mover in the League of Friends of St Mary's Hospital, Portsmouth. Again, during the war, she and her Florence Greaves Singers' went around entertaining the troops. Florence Greaves was a dramatic soprano soloist in an era when musical concerts in churches and halls occurred almost nightly in Portsmouth.
Mr. E. T. Symons, former Editor and one-time music critic of The News and a former Chairman of Portsmouth Music Competition FestivaI, has written the following biographical tribute to Miss Greaves.
Some called her " Lady Music' and others 'Portsmouth's Queen of Song', but all are agreed upon the magnitude of her contribution to the city's cultural life.
Reduced to plain fact, they referred to Miss Florence Greaves, who for more than half a century was in the forefront of Portsmouth's musicians, in a variety of ways.
Let us examine her public career as a vocalist, music teacher and administrator. In all capacities she gave of her best, and by normal standard j that meant al very find best indeed. Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. AIfred Greaves, she was born in High Street, Old Portsmouth, on November 27th, 1902, and was christened in old St Mary's Church, Highbury Street demolished after World War II. Educated at Portsmouth Town School, at the age of 14 she became a pupil or piano, and voice with Mr. R. H. Turner, then organist and choirmaster at St Thomas's Church, now Portsmouth Cathedral.
Much of her subsequent development was due to the interest taken in her by the late Mrs. Grace Bullin, first wife of Mayor Sir Reginald Bullin (he had not been knighted then) who herself went regularly to London to receive piano forte lessons from the famous English pianist York Bowen in the next studio was Sterling Mackinlay, well-known teacher of voice production and it was to to him that Mrs. Bullin took her protege on her visits to London.
Soon after the close of World War I, Miss Greaves went to Cardiff to study operatic singing under Edward Davies, of Royal Carl Rosa Opera Company fame, who, I remember, used to be billed as the only British tenor to have sung in Milan. Davies had certainly assumed the mantle of the ageing Ben Davies, most famous of all Welsh tenors.
Cardiff as befitted the capital of Wales, was at it's peak of musical prowess. Edward Davies Iived at Roath Park, overlooking the lake and nearby was Madam Clara Novello Davies, mother of the immortal Ivor, who had achieved national fame overnight a few years earlier with his song, "Keep the home fires burning' one of the great musical successes of World War I and a taste of the splendid musical plays which were to came from his pen. Cardiff's Blue Ribbon Choir was at it's peak, and so were Arthur Angell’s Sunday evening concerts at the Park Hall. The atmosphere of this throbbing musical city must have had an enduring, influence in forming the musical character of it's visitor from Portsmouth.
There returned to Portsmouth, a splendidly equipped young musician with a Mezzo-soprano voice, of remarkable qualify, bereft of the plumminess which sometimes afflicts such singers, but capable of a wide range and subject at will to fascinating changes of colour light and shade which, used in conjunction with good looks and a commanding stage presence, served the owner faithfully to the delight of audiences for the next half-century.
When Florence Greaves married Harold Primmer a Portsmouth Cathedral on September 5th, 1928 many old friends attended to wish the couple a happy future. The Rev. WH David, a former Vicar of Old Portsmouth, emerged from retirement to conduct the service and former church organist Mr. Turner did likewise to play the organ.
As the years progressed Miss Greaves became more and more involved with music in Portsmouth and surrounding districts. She was constantly in demand as a professional singer and also became firmly established as a teacher of voice production and the piano.
In the early1920's she established three choirs among the children at the Marine Orphan Home, St. Michael's Road Portsmouth. She also Ied the Sunday school choir at Green Rxxx Rooms, Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth During World War II she was conductor of the first Women's Voluntary Service choir in England, and this Portsmouth body enjoy the distinction of having Lady Reading as it's president. Miss Greaves also found time to con duct two choirs at St Mary's Hospital, one for cadet nurses, and the other for senior nurses. Nor was this the end of the story. Miss Greaves also conducted the Police Wives' Choir and the still going strong Portsmouth Ladies Choir of 45 to 50 voices, including a junior section.
The Greaves - Primmer contribution, to Portsmouth's musical life would have been important if only for the great works she and her husband have done behalf of the Portsmouth Musical Competition Festival Society, which they revived at the end of World War II. Miss Greaves as honorary secretary and her husband as honorary treasurer, the Society had its headquarters at her home in Victoria Road South, Southsea. The festival, held annually, brings to Portsmouth distinguished adjudicators who can advise the city's youth on the path to success in the arts.
What has given the parents most satisfaction in he Greaves - Primmer story is the success of their son Brian Alfred Sidney Primmer, for some years now, Iectured in music at Durham University. A Master of Arts and a Bachelor of Music, his appointment crowned a career that started as a chorister , at Chichester Cathedral, followed by study at Hurstpierpoint School and the winning of an open scholarship at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he graduated. Today he, is one of the country's leading authorities on music, with much demand on his services as adjudicator, lecturer and author.
Brian born 1929, died on 29 November 2008.
He was very musical while at Hurst and distinguished himself by winning a music scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge.
Brian followed a musical career and was sometime director of music at Dover College and later a lecturer in music at Durham University.
At Oakham School in Rutland, he was music master from 1950 to 1959 this must of been his first music position after graduating from University. He was a brilliant, if eccentric musician, and inspired a generation of schoolboys to love music.
Brian wrote several arrangements for the school choir, and was a talented composer. Not only was Brian a talented musician, he regularly stripped the school organ down to fix sticking notes etc, and remember some choice words coming from the depths of the organ as pipes and bits were ejected, only to be reassembled later as a working instrument. In those days, the music master was expected to turn his hand to everything. Brian Primmer was church organist in Sandwich, Kent.
Dover Choral Society Concert at Dover Town Hall Works: Handel "Messiah" Performers: Dover Choral Society, Patricia Kent, Ann Reynolds, Lawrence Watts, Richard Golding, Brian Primmer (harpsichord), Joseph Dudley (trumpet), orchestra led by Sidney Clout, conducted by Ross Anderson
In the 1970s, the society was privileged to perform Berlioz's “Te Deum”, both in Durham Cathedral and later in York Minster under the direction of Mr Brian Primmer. This work was also performed as part of celebrations for the installation of Dame Margot Fonteyn as chancellor of Durham University.
Mr Primmer was succeeded in 1987 as conductor by James Lancelot.
Brian Primmer c.1970-1987 at Durham University Choral Society.
May I too add my tribute as one who for many years has been, very closely associated with Florence Greaves in her work connected with the musical life of Portsmouth, and in particular through our work together in the varied forms the Musical Competition Festival has taken in the city.
This association stems from the work of the Portsmouth Welfare Association for the young in 1919, when I was chairman of the Music Competition Committee of that organization Florence who was then in her teens and I nearly twice her age had choirs competing in those early Festivals and have since competed in numerous festivals.
Through World War it these competitions were in abeyance, until resuscitated in 1947 through the initiative and enthusiasm of Miss Greaves.
Her ability and amazing, enthusiasm, shown in all she undertook as a soprano of outstanding charm and excellence, as a member of the executive of the area association of competitive musical festivals as a most successful and inspiring conductor of senior and junior choirs and as a most competent tutor of voice production can only fill one with admiration.
Some young persons, however, inspired by Miss Greaves's ability and enthusiasm, may feel constrained to assist in furthering the great work she brought to such fruition.
Ethelbert Harvey. Park Avenue, Purbrook.
May 31st 1975, Florence Greaves