We mourn the loss of our wonderful musical family member and friend Martin Bates, who has been influential in the lives of so many.
A Go Fund Me collection has been set up for the establishment of an annual music prize to be awarded in Martin’s name. It is intended that this prize will be managed separately from the Philip Bates Trust so that musicians over the age of 25 will also be eligible. The Go Fund Me page is here: https://gofund.me/b6cf1c1b
Martin was born in Birmingham and was always involved in making music as a pianist, accompanist, conductor and church organist for a wide variety of performances around the Midlands area. This was in addition to his ‘day job’ as Head of Music in Birmingham secondary schools spanning a teaching career of 34 years.
While a pupil at Saltley Grammar School Martin won a scholarship to the Birmingham School of Music where he studied piano with Constance Warren, moving on to Manchester University in the early 1970s. During his degree course he also studied under the noted concert pianist Hedwig Stein at the Royal Manchester College of Music. As a solo performer his great loves were Bach, Brahms and Rachmaninov.
After university he returned to Birmingham where he became répétiteur for Ex Cathedra and accompanist for Birmingham Schools’ Chorale, both under the baton of Jeffrey Skidmore. He also enjoyed playing continuo for baroque concerts and accompanying several choral societies in the Birmingham area. More recently he played for the Advocati choir consisting of musicians in the legal profession under the baton of Sir John Saunders. He was the concert accompanist of choice for Birmingham Savoyards and St Alphege School Solihull’s children’s choir SongSquad.
Martin was Head of Music at three Birmingham secondary schools during his teaching career: first Queensbridge School, then Moseley and finally John Willmott School, where he stayed for 19 years after job sharing initially with Jeffrey Skidmore. He is remembered fondly by many ex-pupils and staff for his kindness, dedication and inspiring enthusiasm for music.
While a secondary school music teacher Martin particularly loved the fun of creative examination work with older pupils and directing the annual school musical. Altogether during his teaching career he was the musical director for over 35 shows and many ex-pupils have attested to the difference being part of these shows made to their lives. Indeed, some felt that the school show helped to keep them focused and positive and prevented them going ‘off the rails’.
As a composer Martin wrote over fifty pieces, some of which reached wider audiences through recordings, radio and television. In particular “King”, a rock musical based on the life of Martin Luther King, was written for Queensbridge School in 1981 at the request of Don Field, then Head of School. “King” was subsequently performed at Birmingham Old Rep, filmed for national television by Central TV and more recently revived at the MAC in Canon Hill Park.
Several pieces of choral music were written for Ex Cathedra including “Three Songs for Christmas” These have been performed many times at Ex Cathedra’s Christmas Music by Candlelight concerts and recorded by the choir: they also travelled ‘across the pond’ to be included in three concerts by the Orpheus Chamber Choir in Dallas, Texas. The 30-second ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ was commissioned by Birmingham in its bid to stage the 1992 Olympics and was first performed in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Martin was the conductor of Heart of England Singers for over thirty years, directing them in many successful concerts. Until the lockdown four concerts were given each year: two major ones such as Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ or ‘The Armed Man’ by Karl Jenkins, a lighter summer concert and a Christmas carol concert. For a number of years the choir was twinned with Stadtkantorei Barsinghausen, a choir based in Germany, and visits were made between Barsinghausen and Birmingham every two years resulting in memorable concerts and friendships being formed. Subsequently a connection was also made to Horsforth Choral Society through Martin’s sister Margaret who lives in Leeds.
Sadly, Martin and Sue’s son Philip died at the age of 19 and, together with his sister Rachel, they set up a charity in his memory. The Philip Bates Trust supports young people involved in the arts up to the age of 25. Martin always enjoyed playing at the annual “Touch of Basil” concerts organised by the Trust, where he could be seen accompanying a wide variety of vocal and instrumental music from the standard “classical” repertoire through to rock, jazz and experimental newly written material. He also introduced the items in his own unique and inimitable style. Philip Bates Trust has also collaborated with Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in organising a composition competition, Philip Bates Prize for Composers and Songwriters, and Martin was one of the adjudicators.
Since retiring from classroom music, Martin concentrated on piano teaching and became the organist and musical director of St. Mary and St. Margaret’s Church in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham. He was instrumental in raising money for the restoration of the historic pneumatic action Conacher organ at the church, partly through organising Sunday afternoon concerts where he often accompanied soloists himself. He also worked as a mentor for young teachers through the Teach First scheme.
Martin Bates will be sadly missed by his many musical colleagues and friends, the pupils he taught and his fellow teachers, but most of all by his wife Sue, daughter Rachel, granddaughters Beth, Lucy and Alice, sister Margaret and the wider family.