Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Some information comes to light on the composer Donald Ford

Back in 2012 I wrote a post in which I wondered about Donald Ford, the composer of the delightful song, To Daffodils. I couldn't find any more on Google about this man except that he'd written He is Tender with the Beasts, Nod, and Romance, to words by Wilfred Gibson, Walter de la Mare and Robert Stevenson respectively. There was also a list of ten pieces for children on the Presto Classical site

Since then I've had some acquaintance with the song, Nod, which I can't say is my all-time favourite: it has an intentionally dreamy accompaniment which isn't much fun for the pianist to play. So be it. 

Anyway, a curious thing happened in relation to that original blog post, which I'll kind of have to work backwards in telling you about. The other day, while reading the paper, I discovered that on the Facebook site, under the Direct Messages area, there's an 'Other' section. I think FB mostly uses this to throw spam items in, but occasionally a post from a real person gets stuck in there unwittingly. 

Because I'd never known about this section, I'd never checked it, and seemingly FB doesn't notify you about it - though that may be because I haven't clicked something somewhere in their system. Anyway, after reading about the Other section I had a look, and found a message from someone that had been written two years ago! They'd probably thought I was very rude for not responding. 

It said: Mike, Read your bit about the Donald Ford "mystery" - he's no mystery, he's my uncle. And you are right, he wrote a host of songs, some sung [and recorded] by Dame Janet Baker and John McCormack. I have copies of most of them, and have recorded them myself. If you need info I have it...His son was my cousin Barry Ford, old child actor, London theatrical agent and casting director for ITV before retirement. 

This note came from Angela Byerley Haw, and I've since got in touch with her and found out some more about the talented Ford family. She's sent me some more information on Donald Ford and other members of the family. The following paragraphs are an edited version of what she sent to me. 

Donald Ford was born in 1891 at Forest Gate London, and died in 1966 in London. He published a little book about accompanying voices, and did some choral direction. He worked for Chappell and Co in London, and they had a huge fire in the 20s or 30s which destroyed some of his work. 'Family talk indicated Chappells was not good to him.' [The only fire I can find that Chappell's had was in the sixties, but there may have been an earlier one too.]

Donald's brother Aubrey was a violinist and died young, and his older brother Leslie was a well known painter mostly of 'Thames river scenes, views of barges etc, and had a rather dark character.' You can see Leslie Ford briefly in this old Pathe movie from 1956. He's the one with the cigarette butt on his lip. 

One of Don's Ford nephews was also a painter of greater achievement, and at one time painted commissions for Harrods. He was Marcus Ford. Don's only child, Barry Ford, was Angela's first cousin through his mother, Angela's Aunt Elsie Byerley Ford. 'Barry died in 2004, after many years in the theatre business, and as a casting director. 'The whole family as well as the Byerleys were a jolly bunch, all very talented in the arts and musical performance.' 

In another note, Angela wrote that Ford was quite a prolific composer, and wrote a great deal of music for children - mostly choral works - as well as educational music for those learning to play the piano. She also recorded some of his music for her cousin, Barry. 'I remember [Donald] accompanying me on the piano, for "A Song of Homecoming", an appropriate choice, in 1963, on my first trip back to England after nine years in the USA, and he was at the airport to meet me.' (Angela still lives in the USA, and is about to make her 'last trip' back to the UK.)

Don married Angela's aunt Elsie Byerley, a woman who shared his musical passion, as did the entire Byerley family, who were old friends and neighbours of the Fords in Forest Gate. Donald also wrote some casual pieces of note much value in order to make some money, under the name of Harner Williams, a combination of the names of his mother's side of his family.

It's been great to find out more about this talented man, and his equally talented family, and perhaps more will come to light in due course. 


snorus said...

This is wonderful.

I LOVE the song NOD. I sang it in an Eisteddfod in Hobart Tasmania when I was about 13 and it has always stuck with me.

I have recently been trying to locate an original copy of the music but it seems very difficult to get. I can only find two (very expensive) used entries for it online.

I think it's so sad that so much brilliant music must get forgotten about over time.

Thanks for sharing your story here.

Mike Crowl said...

Yes, it's certainly sad that brilliant music gets forgotten, especially when it's replaced by music that isn't as good! LOL

I'm sure there will be original copies of Nod around...just tracking down will be the issue. I know several music teachers. I'll try and find out if any of them have it and would be willing to part with it.

snorus said...

That would be wonderful.

There is a copy available on Ebay for approx. $40 for a used copy!

It's a little hard to justify spending that much on one piece.

Mike Crowl said...

I haven't had any response as yet; maybe the Covid thing is putting people off from checking their stacks of music! I'll let you know if I catch up with anything.

Mike Crowl said...

Hello again, I'm afraid I haven't had any joy finding a copy of Nod. The only possibility - where there was actually a copy in a book of songs - turned out to be a false trail. Right words, wrong composer.
Sorry about that, and hope you manage to pick it up for a reasonable price somewhere.