Derek Moore Morgan
born: April 1915
died: December 2007
Sea water may have coursed through his veins but teaching was in his genes. For many years music critic for The West Australian, Derek Moore Morgan came from a large Northern Irish family steeped in the educational tradition.
An only child, he was born in Forrest Hall, a village near Newcastle-on-Tyne. His father had a prep school in the village and his grandfather, Canon William Moore Morgan, was headmaster of Armagh Royal School.
Early showing a gift for music, the young pianist played at local festivals and later for the northern BBC, as well as winning diplomas from London College of Music in his mid-teens. He graduated B Mus from King’s College, Durham University in 1936. By 1939, he had also earned B Mus and doctoral degrees (for which he composed a symphony) at Trinity College, Dublin.
Derek seemed destined to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. But there was a prior calling. When World War II broke out, Derry joined the British Merchant Navy as a radio officer sailing with Atlantic convoys early in the war and later serving on vessels taking coals, not to but from, Newcastle down England’s east coast to London, a dangerous journey with German E-boats constantly on the prowl for prey.
This seagoing trait is evident in the generation following Derry. A son, Patrick, joined the Merchant Navy as a cadet when he was 17 – and daughter Cynthia became a WRNS 3rd officer. She was born during an air raid in 1944 to Derry’s first wife Nancy Smith who died young of TB in 1947.
After the war, Derry was appointed Director of School Music at Dorking Grammar School and taught there with distinction for 29 years.
By many accounts, Doc (as he was affectionately known to his students), was an inspiring, dynamic teacher. His future wife , novelist and short story writer Barbara Yates Rothwell (who was also to serve as music critic on The West Australian) was at the time a sixth former and choir accompanist, thus able to see his teaching method close up. She recalled that “no one who sat through his classes would ever forget the sight of Doc standing at the piano, banging out the orchestral parts of some great classic work – Handel’s Messiah and Coronation Anthems, perhaps, or Mozart’s Requiem – bellowing out the bass part in a raucous, slightly off-key voice. Whether his style of teaching was planned or whether it simply emerged from his volatile, vibrant personality is difficult to say.” And annual Christmas carol services in the local parish church were routinely packed to the doors.
In 1967, however, the cumulative strain of years of shouldering the responsibilities of running Dorking Grammar’s music department on his own and, perhaps, residual stress of war service brought on a serious breakdown.
Derry returned to work after convalescing for four months – but it wasn’t the same although there was still the old spirit that had so splendidly inspired his student.
Change was on the cards. And when Barbara suggested immigrating to Australia – a daughter had settled in Australia some time before – his response was “Why not?”. They came to Perth in 1974. Derry never returned to the UK.
Barbara recalls how, fifty and more years on, letters still arrive at Christmas from grateful students mentioning the joy experienced at those long-ago choral sessions.
Those many years teaching in the UK were to prove invaluable in Derry’s work for the Australian Music Examinations Board in Perth where his genial, avuncular manner did much to put nervous candidates at their ease.
Although music was his main game, Derry was handy with wood, the evidence of that apparent in the bookshelves he installed in the family home in Yanchep. He’d also occasionally play a round of tennis when he could find an opponent
Derry never learned to drive a car and it was Barbara who, in the interests of road safety (as she put it, tongue in cheek), would ferry Derry to and from their Yanchep home. Barbara says “Derry began learning to drive in his 40s. He could do the steering part perfectly well but he thought the road belonged to him so I begged him NOT to drive”. In so doing, she took on a monumental task ferrying Derry to and from concert venues in and near the CBD; it was a 100 kilometre round trip, done countless times over the years.
Derry is survived by Barbara, children Cynthia, Patrick, Helen, Keith., Alison and Fiona and grandchildren.
At the funeral service, there were recordings, made during years at Dorking Grammar, of Derek conducting extracts from Brahms’ A German Requiem and his own Christmas carol Behold a simple, tender Babe, described by emeritus professor David Tunley as “hauntingly beautiful” and the many reviews he wrote for The West Australian as “invariably informed by fine musicianship“ .