The maestro from Hawera

He wrote music for the town's 50th birthday

ARTHUR FRYER
Last updated 05:00 30/11/2013
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Frank Hutchens

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"I remember him coming to high school when Rosemary and I were there," said Brian Barkla, when asked if he knew about Frank Hutchens. "But after nearly 70 years I cannot tell you what the programme was, but I remember he performed with a friend."

Brian and Rosemary Barkla, former students of Hawera Technical High School, recall a special school assembly to hear a recital by two Sydney musicians on two pianos. This was in the mid-1940s and they recall it was a very lively performance by Frank Hutchens and his colleague, Lindley Evans, of the New South Wales Conservatorium. Hutchens was a New Zealander, a professor at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music, and Evans was a teaching colleague who had grown up in South Africa.

For Hutchens this visit to Hawera was a homecoming, because 40 years before he had left home having gained a Junior National Scholarship at the Hawera District High School and an admission to the Royal Academy of Music in London at the age of 13.

He was born in Leeston, Canterbury, in 1892 and the family moved to Hawera in 1896, where his Cornish- born father, Richard Lavers Hutchens, taught music and conducted the Methodist Church choir. He learned to play the piano from an early age from his father. Frank went to the nearby Hawera Primary School where he proved to be an unusually able pupil.

From the age of seven he was a regular and star performer at school concerts, not only playing the piano but singing too. From that point on he was in great demand for concerts put on by the Wesley Methodist Church and concerts by lodges and local musical groups. At the age of 10 he regularly played the organ for the Methodist church where his father was choirmaster, and for weddings, such as the very pretty wedding of Mr HJ Berry and Miss McAlpine, the former organist of the church, in December 1902, where he impressed the congregation with his spirited rendering of Mendelssohn's Wedding March which he played with considerable verve and confidence.

In September 1904, when Frank was 12, Ignacy Paderewski, the world- famous Polish concert pianist, visited New Zealand as part of his tour of Australasia and having read of his itinerary in the Hawera and Normanby Star Frank wanted to meet him. The little boy travelled to Wellington to ask the Premier, Mr Seddon, to get him an interview; Mrs Seddon was most taken with Frank and a meeting was arranged. Frank played a Beethoven's Sonata, some of Chopin's waltzes and, by special request, his own composition, The Hawera Cadet March.

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The world's greatest pianist, who before the audition was in a melancholy mood, was most delighted and declared that the boy had true musical genius and recommended that he be sent to Europe for further study.

At the final school break-up ceremony in December 1904, the headmaster, Mr Strack, announced to the audience that Frank would be leaving school for London and the Royal Academy of Music in the New Year, and on behalf of the school gave Frank a purse containing five guineas.

Before he left Hawera Frank was to receive a purse from the Wesley Methodist Church of 31 guineas and many gifts of money from the groups for whom he had performed.

He travelled on the steamship Ionic to Plymouth in England, receiving yet another purse from passengers who had enjoyed his regular recitals.

At the Royal Academy of Music he gained prestigious scholarships, the Sterndale Bennett, the Thalberg scholarship, the Chappell gold medal for pianoforte playing, and he gained enthusiastic reviews whenever he took part in concerts in the capital or provinces.

When news that Frank had won the Sterndale Bennett scholarship was printed in the New Zealand press the Bugle Band of the Hawera Cadets formed up, marched through High St into Regent St and played Frank's composition, Hawera Cadet March, outside the home of Mr and Mrs Hutchens.

In 1908 he was appointed a sub- professorship at the Royal College of Music, the youngest ever appointed at only 16 years of age. Unfortunately in 1911 he learned that his mother was ill and decided to return home. There was little work available for a concert pianist in New Zealand so in 1913, shortly before his mother's death, he decided to return to London.

On the way he stopped in Sydney where his friends, including fellow New Zealander Alfred Hill, persuaded him to stay and become a foundation professor at the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music.

In 1924 he began a two-pianoforte partnership with Lindley Evans, performing at concerts, broadcasts and music club recitals across Australia and New Zealand for the next 40 years. This was done outside of their teaching programmes and the money raised went to a fund for promoting young students of music.

They were regarded as the most successful composer-performer team in Australia of their time.

In 1955 Frank married a former student, Joyce White, whom he had taught in 1927 and who gave great support for his work promoting music.

Frank was awarded the OBE in 1962 for his leadership roles in Australian music

There is no doubt that it was one of those famous performances that Frank Hutchens and Lindley Evans gave around Australia and New Zealand that brought them to the Hawera Technical High School and to be remembered by Rosemary and Brian Barkla and their fellow students.

Frank was still actively teaching and performing in 1965 when, at 73 years of age, he died in a car crash, bringing to a sudden close a highly successful career in music.

He never lost contact with his home town, Hawera; for though he had only spent the 10 years of his childhood in the town he regarded it with affection. In 1932 he had written a piece of music for the town's 50th birthday and had it performed.

- Taranaki Daily News

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