Sydney Brass

Sydney Brass

Professional Australian Musicians
Festive Music for all your Celebrations

Cliff Goodchild, 1926-2008

by Brian Evans
(The Brass Herald, Feb 2009)

This article was originally published in The Brass Herald magazine (February 2009 edition), and reproduced with permission.


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Paul Goodchild



“The best tuba player in the world”. That's how Sir Charles Mackerras once described Cliff Goodchild principal tuba of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra for 36 years. Clifford Dominic Goodchild was born September 11th 1926 and passed away on July 21st 2008. His funeral on July 28th was to a “packed house” - hundreds and hundreds in a standing-room-only high mass at the Church of Mary Immaculate, Waverley (NSW, Australia).

Cliff Goodchild
Cliff Goodchild celebrates
his 80th birthday in 2007.

Members of the St. Francis of Assisi Church Choir, presented moving renditions of Mass for 4 voices by William Byrd and Howard Goodall's The Lord is my Shepherd. Sydney Brass, in sextet form, led the congregation in a rousing rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of the Old Hundredth - later presenting one of Cliff's favourites, Canzon Per Sonare No 4 of Gabrielli and being joined later by Cliff's son, Paul, in a very moving flugel solo.

The 40+ piece brass band, made up of past and present members of the Waverley Bondi Beach Band (WBBB), and colleagues from the SSO, marched him out of the church to a rousing rendition of Blaze Away after which Cliff was slow marched down the street to the March from Scipio.

Later, at the graveside, members of the band performed Danny Boy and Paul gave his Dad a heart-rending Last Post.

Four eulogies by Jennifer and Russell Mattocks (SSO Colleagues), Jerard Barry, Mathias Rogala-Koczorowski (WBBB) and Paul Goodchild ensured that all present properly celebrated a life that touched thousands and created a legacy for generations. (Thanks to those listed above for providing their writings, to assist with this obituary)

Cliff was justifiably well known as a great tuba player. He could just as easily be known for his years of work encouraging young brass players to “sing” through their instruments and “practice that passage a thousand times” - or as a champion of new Australian music - or just as a trailblazer who tilted against the windmills of the conservative Australian brass band establishment. He was also a staunch union man who was always a strong advocate for his colleagues, serving as President of the SSO committee for 19 years - not to forget his being a proud and loving husband and father. Each of these would satisfy most people as life achievements but have them manifest themselves in one person demonstrates what a unique and special person Cliff Goodchild was.

Cliff Goodchild
(L-R) Paul Goodchild, Elgar Howarth & Cliff Goodchild.

His early life was spent under the care of the Sisters of St Joseph, firstly in Dapto and later at Kincumber on the New South Wales (NSW) Central Coast. His early musical education was on the piano but only band was offered at Kincumber. Cliff was thrust onto the tuba to replace a boy who had been kicked out of the band for an indiscretion in the dining room. By the age of 17, in 1945, he was Australian EEb Bass Champion.

After leaving school, he studied tuba with Ernest Kerry, practicing during the evenings in the basement of the Sydney GPO. Leaving his Post Office job to join the Royal Australian Air Force Band, he later joined ABC Military Band, under Stephen Yorke in 1946. Finally, Cliff won the position of principal tuba with the SSO in 1951 where he stayed for the next 36 years. Cliff considered this to be the golden age of the orchestra. Great conductors such as Otto Klemperer, Igor Stravinsky and Igor Markevitch visited Sydney to conduct. He lived through the period that was tarnished by the notorious Sir Eugene Goossens scandal as well as what he considered to be the halcyon days under Maestro Willem van Otterloo. Before he joined the orchestra, after some engagements filling in for his predecessor, Goossens sent him the message “...that's the way a tuba should be played”.

Across such a long career, he performed all the major orchestral works as well as being involved when the SSO was still performing opera for the early version of Opera Australia. Cliff appeared as soloist with the orchestra in the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto several times, beginning very soon after the work was written. Whilst it was not necessarily his favourite work, he was limited in choices in those days. Such limited choices in tuba and brass repertoire would be the catalyst for a lifelong campaign to promote the writing and performance of new music for brass - especially by Australian composers - commissioning or premiering works by composers including Raymond Hanson, Eric Gross, George Dreyfus, William Lovelock, Barry McKimm and David Stanhope.

Cliff Goodchild
Cliff Goodchild performs with Colin Evans.
(Colin Evans originally misattributed as Danny Kaye)

Always a lover of brass chamber music, in 1958 Cliff formed the Sydney Brass Ensemble with other distinguished players from the SSO. John Robertson and David Price (trumpet), Clarence Mellor (horn) and Russell Mattocks (trombone) formed a fine quintet which was very active presenting concerts and live radio broadcasts. They became very adept in the works of Ewald and Arnold, once again suffering the dearth of high quality repertoire.

The golden jubilee year of Sydney Brass was marked with the release the CD Sydney Brass Playes David Stanhope. Cliff's son, Paul, has continued the tradition and Sydney Brass is still a very active ensemble. To launch the CD, a social function was arranged at which the three surviving members attended. (Alas Robertson and Price are no longer with us). It was a joyous occasion with Cliff in fine form, sharing anecdotes and offering sage advice to all present.

Although he was usually dismissive of Imperial honours (he would jokingly refer to an MBE as a “Military Band Expert” and an OBE as “Other Bugger's Efforts” - apologies to the Brits...) he did proudly accept the Australian honour, Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 1986, for service to music. He was wearing it proudly at the above-mentioned Sydney Brass event. In 1973, he was one of four SSO members who were presented to HRH Queen Elizabeth on the occasion of her officially opening the Sydney Opera House.

His OAM was in no small part due to the immense impact Cliff had as a major force in the emergence of bands as an integral part of school music education. He directed the Waverley College Band for 50 years and was Director of the NSW School Band Festival from 1964 until his recent death at the age of 81. Other schools where he directed bands included Sydney Boys High, Marcellin College, Randwick and Coogee and Kensington Public Schools - all whilst holding down his full-time tuba position.

From humble beginnings, where only a handful of bands competed, the NSW School Band Festival now boasts an annual entry of well over 200 bands, in 24 sections, each named after an Australian Composer or jazz musician and spanning 5 days.

Cliff never lost his love of the amateur brass bands from which he had sprung. He founded the Waverley Bondi Beach Band in 1959 (first using instruments “borrowed” from Waverley College) and conducted it for 46 years. He encouraged and mentored thousands of musicians of all levels. Some achieved success in professional careers, not least his own son Paul, who is Associate Principal Trumpet of the SSO. Cliff and Paul served together in the SSO, before Cliff's retirement and Cliff was justly proud of Paul being “one of the best classical trumpet players in the country today.” - a description given to Cliff by his SSO colleagues. He was proud that Paul has carried on the Sydney Brass tradition and has taken over as conductor (Cliff never liked the term “bandmaster”) of the WBBB.

Quoting amateur tuba player, Jerard Barry: “For those of us with careers elsewhere, the wonder and awe of making music under the master and his inspiration will be forever cherished”. Cliff also made sure that rising stars from outside his bands were given a platform. Emerging young players such as Michael Mulcahy, (Chicago Symphony) and Hector McDonald, (Solo Horn of the Vienna Symphony) were presented as soloists with the WBBB .

Cliff once said of teaching, “I get tremendous satisfaction out of it. I think there's nothing more thrilling than to get a group of young people and start them from scratch, have them playing and all making music and over years see them become professional players, amateur players, teachers.” Mathias puts it so succinctly “He will be remembered by the hundreds of musicians who learnt and played under him as a larger than life character who imbued them with an enduring love of music and made an indelible impression on them.”

The Sydney Brass name was loaned to a larger group in the early 1970's when an elite ensemble of Sydney's leading brass band musicians was created to perform brass band works and supply additional brass resources for the SSO Promenade concerts at Sydney Town Hall. For many years, Cliff railed against the arcane and inward-looking attitudes of the brass band establishment. His goal was always to bring bands to a wider audience and break the shackles of the contesting paradigm. Sydney Brass appeared at the 1971-73 Proms, performing the classic brass band works of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Musgrave and the like.

Cliff Goodchild
Cliff Goodchild plays tuba with the Sydney Brass Ensemble.

Importantly, the band premiered Raymond Hanson's Van Diemen's Land. Cliff had championed this work, getting it commissioned for possible use as an A Grade test piece. Cliff was always quick to re-tell the story of how the Band Association rejected the piece out of hand, saying it looked like a kiddy's picture book and was too easy. As a young repiano cornet player in that band, I can attest that it was no such thing. The band tackled this challenging piece with great enthusiasm and the occasion of its premiere was a great triumph for Cliff - he had brought great, new Australian brass band music to a stage larger and more significant than anything the band movement establishment could have dreamed of.

Despite his regular clashes, it should be noted that Cliff was never a complaining outsider. He served with distinction in many capacities, including secretary and president with the Band Association of NSW, culminating in joining with Mathias Rogala-Koczorowski to organise the 1988 Australian Bicentennial tour of the Black Dyke Mills Band.

Cliff had many strong links with brass players around the world. He was always quick to arrange receptions for visiting ensembles, hosting the likes of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, Matteson - Phillips Tubajazz Consort, American Brass Quintet and the Kansas University Brass. His association with Elgar Howarth led to Cliff being able to provide “lost” arrangements by Alexander Owen of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman and Tristan and Isolde which had been left in Australia by Besses o' th' Barn Band during their world tour of 1906. They can be heard of Grimethorpe's 1995 CD, “Wagner”.

Cliff Goodchild was a can-do person. Enthusiastic to the nth degree, he was always looking to move ahead and create. Sometimes that got him into to trouble. As he would say, “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”. He is remembered as someone who was in perpetual motion. Many thought he would simply expire one day, in the midst of one of his many (many!) activities. But no, he died peacefully at home, in his bed, after noting that he felt a little tired. To the end, he was providing advice and encouragement. On the afternoon of July 21st, he was still concerned to make sure his precious NSW School Band Festival was being run well, so he reminded the organisers to “Keep at the buggers to get their scores in on time”. He truly was active and involved for his whole life.

Goodchild is survived by Monica, children Paul and Louise, daughter-in-law Yvette, grandchildren Morley and Alana, brother Rex and many nieces and nephews.

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Author: Brian EvansBrian Evans is Principal 3rd trumpet/cornet of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra. He is also Secretary of the International Trumpet Guild and President of the Australian Trumpet Guild. He is host for the 35th Annual ITG Conference to be held in Sydney Australia, July 6-10 2010.

Brian began brass playing in 1966, playing tenor horn in Cliff's Sydney Boys' High School Band. He went on to be principal cornet in the SBHS band, which was Australian school champion band in 1971 (held as part of the currently- named NSW School Band Festival) and also led Waverley Band during it's A-grade heyday in the mid 1970s. He will always be grateful to Cliff Goodchild for the start that he gave him and the inspiration and encouragement which spanned five decades.

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The Brass Herald
(Feb 2009 - Issue 27)
The Brass Herald - Issue No. 27

The Brass HeraldThis article was originally published in The Brass Herald magazine (February 2009 edition, Issue No. 27, on facing pages 44 and 45), written by Brian Evans and reproduced here with the kind permission of Philip Biggs (Editor) and Brian Evans (author).

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