Brian Bonsor MBE

HAWICK has lost one of its most famous sons and weel kent faces with the death, after a long illness, of Brian Bonsor MBE, music teacher, composer and arranger. He was 84.

Brian was best known in his home town as a class music teacher at Hawick High, where he taught for 17 years, holding the posts of both assistant and principal teacher.

However, the route into his chosen profession was far from straightforward, for the rector at the time refused to allow his academically gifted pupil to study music at school, considering his talents more suited to the study of physics and chemistry.

The son of a hosiery manufacturer, Brian had no desire to carry on the family firm at Bonsor’s Mill. His father was disappointed with Brian’s decision, so suggested that he should instead go into banking.

A compromise was reached, and, on leaving school, Brian became an indentured law apprentice in Haddon & Turnbull’s legal firm in Hawick. However, the Second World War intervened and he saw active service with the Royal Navy on a minesweeper.

This was a blessing in disguise as it allowed him, after being demobbed in 1947, to pursue a career in music. Teaching was a respectable profession, according to his father, so Brian was allowed to train to become a music teacher, studying at Moray House in Edinburgh.

He gained the LRAM in 1947 and he worked towards the external BMus from London, but his studies were interrupted by tuberculosis in 1951/52. On making a full recovery, he gained the inter BMus in 1956 but he was unable to complete the degree due to the sudden death of his father in 1959 and the illness and death of his mother in 1963. He gained the LMus at Trinity College, London (in theory and practice of composition) in 1957.

In 1970 Brian was appointed adviser in music for Roxburgh and Selkirk, which was extended to cover the whole of the Borders after regionalisation in 1975. During this time, he was involved in the preparation of the first Scottish national examinations in music and was appointed to various national working parties for music.

He took early retirement in 1983 to concentrate full time on his passion of composing and arranging music.

Brian devoted much of his spare time to the promotion of music, making a tremendous contribution to the musical lives of many people in Hawick and the Borders. He founded the Roxburgh Recorder players in 1961 and for many years was their musical eirector. This group later became the Roxburgh Branch of the (national) Society of Recorder Players and still meets in Hawick. He was made an honorary life member in October 1998 in recognition of his service.

He also conducted the Border Orchestra (1963-66) and the Roxburgh Singers (1971-82), while he was very active over the years in Hawick Music Club, serving on the committee and as president in 1953 and 1968. He was awarded honorary life membership in 1973, the only person to be honoured in such a way. He was the honorary secretary of the County of Roxburgh Music Committee between 1970 and 1993 and was involved in the compilation of the Border Music Calendar.

Brian’s name, however, became inextricably linked with the recorder. He taught himself the instrument in the early 1950s and studied briefly with Carl Dolmetsch in Haslemere. He was appointed a tutor of the internationally renowned Recorder in Education Summer School in 1959, serving also as a director and holding the post of chairman until he resigned in 1998, its 30th anniversary.

He was appointed director of the Society of Recorder Players in 1967 and was guest lecturer and teacher at the first Australian national recorder festival in Melbourne in 1994. He accepted invitations to conduct, lecture, teach and tutor in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

Much of his work has been published, with more than 80 titles in print. Brian established Bonsor Music which produced many titles, the most famous of which is arguably Enjoy the Recorder, which the vast majority of schoolchildren learning the instrument will have used. The underlying philosophy of the book was to learn through enjoyment.

The enormous contribution Brian Bonsor made to the promotion of the recorder and music in general, in the Borders and overseas, was recognised in the Queen’s Golden Jubilee year when he was made an MBE for services to music teaching.

Outwith music, Brian spent many a pleasant afternoon at Buccleuch Park where he was a wicketkeeper for Hawick and Wilton CC before his eyesight deteriorated and he retired from playing to become scorer. He was once a keen photographer and member of Hawick Camera Club

A private and modest man, Brian always seemed surprised at the pleasure his music gave others. A true gentleman whose loss will be felt not only in Hawick but the wider music and recorder world, he is survived by his wife of 40 years, Mary, son Stephen, daughter Alison and six granddaughters.

- S J B

Musical tribute – page 20