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Articles: Tribute to Andrew Johnson Nigel Kerry

Andrew served as CAOS Secretary from 2004 until his death in November 2019. Here Nigel Kerry pays tribute to a man who displayed a lifelong commitment to the promotion of music and the arts.

I try to avoid committees as best I can. However, I am fortunate to sit on two that canter through the business very efficiently. They also have the added advantage of sticking limpet-like to the agenda while being punctuated by regular outbursts of jollity. It’s not a coincidence that Andrew Johnson was Secretary of one and Chair of another. He was blessed with a clever, quick, impish sense of humour that he used with great dexterity to put people at their ease and to defuse any situation that was at risk of becoming fractious. He also wielded it skilfully to disarm any trace of pomposity which he could detect from long distance. But behind this warm, gentle affability lay a profoundly deep thinker, a highly talented wordsmith and printer who had an abiding love for the western artistic culture. All of this was informed by his Catholic faith which constantly stimulated and deepened his sensitivities toward the arts and inspired his untiring creativity.

Born into a musical and artistic family, Andrew attended school in King’s Lynn. His love of music was nurtured further by the annual arts festival in the town, which brought to his doorstep the leading international orchestras, ensembles, soloists, actors, poets and painters of the day. Following school, Andrew went on to Exeter University to read English.

Andrew eventually became Head of the English department at Bottisham Village College, where he bestowed upon his pupils his love of and enthusiasm for language, art, music, theatre, architecture and fine press printing. In his spare time, he played the harpsichord and clavichord (which he had taken up as a young man) while adding to his large, eclectic library.

His love of printing took on a new dimension when, in retirement, he established his own private printing press (The Gabriel Press) This was an ambitious undertaking, but anyone who was fortunate enough to receive a Christmas card created by Andrew will testify to its success. His designs revealed skilful artistry and intelligent design informed by patient, scholarly research. Like Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard, who created the Hogarth Press, Andrew did everything himself, including the actual printing. He became a member of the Oxford Guild of Printers and the Fine Press Book Association.

Andrew had a great enthusiasm for the organ and its repertoire. When the Abbott & Smith instrument designed by Charles Stanford at Our Lady & the English Martyrs (OLEM) in Cambridge was completely renovated in 2002, Andrew became Chair of the Appeal Committee which he steered to a successful conclusion with great skill and diplomacy. In 2018/19, Andrew took a leading role once again in the project to renovate the huge pedal chest, cleaning of the pipework and the partial gilding of the façade pipes. Alas he did not live to see and hear the splendid results.

When CAOS was created in 2004, he was delighted to be invited to become our Secretary. His warm personality was well-reflected in his correspondence and the welcome he gave to teachers, students and observers on our courses. He took delight not just in his listening but in his learning. He displayed a boyish excitement upon hearing a piece for the first time and seeing how it could be performed to its best on a given instrument.

Andrew became co-founder and Chair of the OLEM Choral and Organ Music Trust in 2013. Thanks to his enthusiastic advocacy and tireless work behind the scenes, the church is now fortunate to enjoy a music programme larger than some cathedral music departments. In 2018/19 Andrew used his influence once again to persuade the authorities to commission a four-stop chamber organ for the church, from the new company, Soundcraft Pipe Organs. His artistic skills were further employed in his intricate designs for the beautiful casework reflecting some of the architectural features of the church.

Andrew had a deftness of spirit as well as the pen. A man of integrity, he had a perspicacity and shrewdness which made him a good listener and a wise counsellor. He was sensitive to the sonorities of life, intuiting naturally the need to cherish what was valuable and laughing at the ephemeral. His long, happy marriage to Penny, herself a talented artist, was a wonderful example of the beauty of friendship and the delight it can bring.

Andrew’s Funeral Mass was celebrated in the Chapel of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. How appropriate it was that it was filled with the music he loved; Gregorian chant, choral music by William Byrd and organ works by Bach.

The church is intending to honour Andrew by commissioning a new stained-glass window in his memory. CAOS will also be announcing in due time a fitting, permanent tribute to one whom we greatly miss, but are profoundly thankful for having known and loved.


Nigel Kerry
May 2020