An influential local musician, and the longest-serving conductor of chamber choir The Huddersfield Singers, has died aged 72.
Philip Honnor was born in Glanamman, Wales, and spent his formative years at boarding school in Crediton, Devon, where he established friendships that endured for the rest of his life.
He gained early musical experience as a treble in church choirs, but it was at school that his musical interests really blossomed: there he developed his talents as a jazz pianist, and was a founding member of the school jazz band, the Creedy Vale Stompers.
It was his improvisation skills that secured him a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1961, where he studied piano, double bass, singing, composition and conducting, eventually graduating with a first-class degree. He went on to study for a Certificate in Education at London University and then a BPhil in composition at York University, and was also a songman at York Minster.
He became Head of Music at Huddersfield New College in 1971 and spent the next decade there, eventually moving to the School of Music in the Technical College in 1982. In both institutions he was heavily involved in developing strong choral and orchestral traditions, as well as teaching composition and jazz improvisation.
His colleague Dr Mark Ellis recalls Philip as “brilliant, witty and supportive; an accomplished, versatile and erudite musician” who “made a unique contribution to music at the Tech. He trained the choir to an impressively high standard and founded the Jazz Ensemble, which he directed with tremendous enthusiasm.
Mr Honnor was also a skillful composer and arranger of choral and jazz pieces. Over the years, many generations of music students benefited from his musicianship and dedicated teaching.
He maintained his jazz interests over many years and accompanied many of Britain’s finest players, including Bobby Wellins, Peter King and Guy Barker. However, he made a particular mark as a choral conductor when he took charge of The Huddersfield Singers at the start of 1990. After more than a century as the Huddersfield Glee & Madrigal Society, the respected choir had recently turned itself into a chamber ensemble with a new name. With typical dedication, Mr Honnor went on to become the choir’s longest-serving conductor, occupying the role for 23 years until the end of 2012.
His musicianship never failed to yield critically acclaimed performances, and his experience made him a technically excellent conductor. However, his vast knowledge of repertoire was probably his greatest asset, and he had an uncanny ability to devise interesting, innovative programmes that suited the choir, delighting both singers and audience.
He is survived by his wife, Sylvia, and daughter, Bethany, and by his sister, Rosemary. His funeral takes place on October 6 in Stevenage,Hertfordshire.