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News > Fondly Remembered > Mr O'Byrne, OH Staff 1986-2010

Mr O'Byrne, OH Staff 1986-2010

We are very sorry to share the news of the passing of Mr Tim O'Byrne with you
Very sad loss of Mr O'Byrne
Very sad loss of Mr O'Byrne

Tim O’Byrne was interviewed by Bryan Bass in December 1985 and began as Director of Music in the summer term of 1986. He was made Director of Studies by John Morris and Deputy Headmaster (Academic) by David Elstone.

The Music Department that Tim acquired from Desmond Swinburne consisted of Gillian Davison who taught the violin and some class music in the Junior School, myself teaching all the woodwind instruments and Sue Mavity teaching cello. There were a few hours of brass and percussion teaching and Denis Jack, Ian Franklin and David Scotney helped out with ensembles. Tim taught academic music throughout the whole school from Years 4 to Year 13 in those days.

He and Bryan Bass decided to build and develop the department and so within a year, Diana Bushby was appointed as Music Teacher in the Junior School in 1987 and in 1990 Janet Clarke became Tim’s assistant and would be responsible for the Choirs and singing lessons. When Bob Childs followed Ian Holmes as Head of Brass the team of six musicians who were responsible for all of the musical celebrations in the centenary year of 1993 were in place. One Governor was known to have admonished Bryan Bass and accused him of setting up The Hymers College of Music and looked quite pleased with himself until Bryan told him what a splendid idea that would be.

The musical highlights of the centenary year were the Founder’s Service at Brandsburton, the School Centenary Service at Holy Trinity Church and the huge celebratory concert at Hull City Hall. Tim was involved in the planning of all of these and much of the success of that year is down to his eye for detail, style and execution. He generously invited back a previous Head of Music, Graham Watson, to conduct the huge massed choir of current and former pupils, a gesture which was typical and much appreciated by all.

Tim appointed some first class musicians to the Music Staff over the years. Richard Quick followed Gill Davison and Dixon Laing succeeded Andrew Snell who had followed Bob Childs. Diana Pocock and then Marion Riley came to assist Janet and Martin Couzin and Pietro Lusvardi have followed Sue Sidwell and so it goes on.  Janet, now Kelsey and Mark Pybus were fortunate to be able to expand and continue what Tim started. 

In his time as Director of Music, a great many of Tim’s former students have entered all branches of the Music Profession.  Tim Frost, Michael Gale, Matthew Glenn and Caroline Elliiot have all become successful Heads of Music themselves. The late Paul Frankish became Musical Director of several West End Shows and Beth Mackay worked with Opera North, Ben Walton became Director of Studies and a Lecturer in Music at Jesus College Cambridge, Jonathan Leathwood occupied an academic post at the University of Denver in the States, Helen Tordoff is a successful professional violinist  David Childs is a world famous euphonium soloist in the Brass Band world and Daniel Jemison became Principal Bassoon in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and thence to the London Symphony Orchestra. 

All were successful A Level musicians at our school, but think also of the hundreds of pupils who just enjoyed contributing to the musical life of the school under Tim‘s direction.

Many of those instrumentalists were accompanied at the piano by Tim in National competitions like Jonathan Downing in the Audi Young Musician; the BBC Young Musician of the Year when Tim appeared in the televised rounds with Daniel Jemison who made the Woodwind Final. His accompanying at the Vocal Showcase was exemplary and much missed.

That summer of 1986 was the first year Tim was involved in cricket and twenty five years later, hundreds of Under 14 cricketers had benefited from his coaching skills, passion and love of the game. He travelled with Rugby teams and was a fine golfer. As a Director of Music who coached sport he made it OK for sporting pupils to be seen around the place carrying a violin case. When Chris Fitzpatrick, the Director of Sport was seen to play the clarinet in the Staff Shows or my Wind Band, the difference at Hymers for sporting musicians and musical sportsmen was very important; this had not happened before.

Tim was a regular staff member of staff on School Trips; he learned to ski on a Hymers Ski Trip. He organised Brass Ensemble trips to Holland for many years, some of these even took place on the weekend they were scheduled to.

He went to Barbados with the cricketers and I understand earned the soubriquet Alan Frescoe after developing a tendency to sleep out on the verandah; especially after a few Dark an’ Stormies or Rum Punches.

He also assisted on the Junior School trips to Normandy with his wife, Nia.  

He worked with the Drama department on productions by Neil King and Richard Grayson, supplying music for the various plays and musicals over twenty five years. I remember particularly the magnificent Guys and Dolls and Oh what a Lovely War! His piano playing in a 1930s style As You Like it, cut down versions of Calamity Jane, 42nd Street and many others was quite wonderful.

Tim put in place so much that is taken for granted now; he reinvigorated the Friends of Hymers Music Society which raised money for school music. He devised and reinvented the fundraiser called Sherry and Carols, re naming it Music and Mulled Wine and moving it into the Main Hall from a rather un-Christmassy Dining Hall. It remained the single biggest fundraiser in the calendar. He was also involved from the start in providing music for the Lord Mayor’s Service at the Street Life Museum and later at the Guildhall.

The structure of Orchestra, String Group, Wind Band and choirs for each stage of the school, Junior, Intermediate and Senior was devised by Tim and is still largely in place now, several Heads of Music later. The increasing size of the Visiting Music Staff necessitated a designated point of contact separate to the Director of Music which was my job for several years.

I don’t think Tim ever wanted to be a Head of Music for ever; there comes a point I assume, when you just cannot bear the thought of planning another Christmas Concert ending with four verses of O come all ye Faithful.

He taught Business Studies at Hymers and became a Governor of the William Gee School, later as Vice Chairman. He was appointed a School’s Inspector in 1997; very useful when Hymers was inspected for the first time.

So he left us in the Music Department and became Director of Studies. New challenges, new targets and new reasons to spend more hours at school, sorting it all out. Except that he never really left the music department and continued to play for us and advise us when asked.  . He joined the Executive Committee of the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra at my request, dispensing wisdom, common sense and practical musical knowledge there for many years. His devotion to the music at St. John’s Newland was greatly appreciated too.

Then finally he became Deputy Headmaster; I was able to knock at the door which had been Norman Walker’s, John Morris’s, John Tinnion’s and was now his. I put my head round the door and said “Everything comes to he who waits” and closed it quietly.

You will gather perhaps that Tim and I go back a long way. There have been a great many hours of shared laughter, shared musical tastes and shared bottles. Our families are very close and linked by Godfatherly duties; he with our daughter Sarah Lucy and me with their son Edward. There are many of you reading this today who will have also shared friendship and hospitality with the O’Byrnes at Park Avenue.

Whenever I emerged from City Hall after Speech Day, having put the musical instruments and stands on the van, I would make my way over to the Ferens Art Gallery for a glass. I would see Tim every year at the front of City Hall with his brolly, seeing every last pupil into their cars for a safe lift home before he joined us at the reception. It was the same with the school buses, it was the same in the snow; Tim was out there sorting it out. He represents what some of us remember as the way we were.

That is not to say we should stand still and not move with the times or have no new ideas or not embrace new thinking; that would be the world he sought to change.

He certainly did that and we are all the poorer for his passing.

Our thoughts are with Nia and the family; Katie, Tom and Edward.

Andrew Penny                                                        

August 2021

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