How I met Andrew Downes

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Andrew and Cynthia Downes in Cambridge, Andrew's first year, 1969/70

An account by his wife and publisher, Cynthia Downes, posted on November 12th, 2018

When I was 7 years old, I went with my parents to my grandma's house to watch her newly acquired television.  I'll never forget seeing a young Russian girl playing a violin concerto on the screen.  I think it may have been the Mendelssohn.  From that moment I was smitten by this gorgeous instrument.  I longed to play it.  My parents were not in a position to buy such an instrument or pay for lessons.  (My Dad worked for British Railways and earned very little.)  We lived in a council house.

Cynthia's parents, Cicely and Geoffrey Cooper, in the garden of their council house in Bilbrook, near Wolverhampton. 

When I was 11, I was lucky enough to go to Bilston Girls' High School.  In my first week, our form teacher asked: "Who would like to play the violin?"  I, along with several others, shot my hand up.  We were given a free instrument and free lessons.  This was under a Conservative Prime Minister: Harold Macmillan...

I practised hard.  My Dad gave me a lot of support and encouragement by listening to me and telling me if I was improving.

Bilston was in the County of Staffordshire, which had an amazingly good Music Service, run by Miss Maude Smith.

My friend, Julie, and I were invited to join the 3rd County Youth Orchestra, then the 2nd (which we led) and ultimately the 1st County Youth Orchestra.  In this 1st orchestra we played symphonies, overtures and concertos. 

One day in 1966 Maude Smith told us she was organising a trip to Czechoslovakia with the orchestra.  We were so excited!  My Dad saved up every week to pay the £40 for the trip.  He also got me free tickets on the railways, to reduce the amount we had to pay.  We travelled across Europe by train. In Czechoslovakia they were steam trains!..

I didn't know at the time, but Maude Smith was looking for a 4th horn player for the orchestra.  Her Deputy, Alex Fawcett, found out about one Andrew Downes, and asked him if he would like to join the orchestra on the excursion.

Cynthia Downes (nee Cooper) leading the Second Violins, Andrew Downes on Second Horn, Staffordshire Youth Orchestra, 1968 (2 years after the Czech trip).

Visiting Prague was like going back in time.  Hardly anyone was in the Old Town Square and the shops were empty.  We needed to change travellers' cheques and experienced the Czech banks for the first time: they joined papers together with glue from a pot and a brush!

Later that day, I was sitting on a park bench with two other girls from the orchestra, when Andrew Downes (whom I didn't know), with 2 other boys, came up to us and asked if we knew where the bank was.

It was when we were visiting Prague Castle that I heard a voice behind me saying: "Give us a kiss!"  He said it several times.  I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I replied: "There's a time and a place for everything!"

A few days later I was getting off the coach and tripped over a wire.  I badly hurt my knees and had to go to hospital for tetanus injections and to have my legs bandaged.  This made my legs too stiff for climbing the 4 flights of stairs for our student accommodation.  Andrew and his friend, Brian, carried me up and down those stairs many times!

Back in England, Andrew began coming to the 1st County Youth orchestra rehearsals, which took place on the first Saturday of each month.  We both caught the same coach there, along with other orchestra friends we had made and had a great time on those journeys, sitting on the back seat.  Andrew was the life and soul of the gatherings, making us laugh the whole time.  He often used to say he intended to marry me.  I took his comments with a pinch of salt!

We had 2 more trips with the orchestra, to Berlin (1967) and Poland and then to France and Switzerland (1968), before we left school for university.  

Photos taken by Cynthia Downes of Andrew Downes on the boat going to Ostend for their second trip abroad, to Germany and Poland (1967).

The Orchestra in Paris, 1968:

Cynthia Downes under the Eiffel Tower.

Andrew Downes 4th from right in Switzerland. Photo taken by Cynthia.

I didn't know that Andrew was a fine singer, and so it came as a complete surprise when he told me, just before we caught the coach to orchestra one day, in our final year in the orchestra, that he had won a choral scholarship to St John's College Cambridge!  He was a member of the Midland Boy Singers, which met on Friday nights.  I had been busy attending further County Youth Orchestra rehearsals and County Teachers' Orchestra rehearsals on these Friday nights and, so was unaware of Andrew's burgeoning singing career at this time.

Between school and University Andrew sang the leading role of Macheath in 'The Beggar's Opera' and then sang with the Midland Boy Singers in the Wigmore Hall, London. He totally deserved the favourable reviews below, in the local paper and in the Times (no less). 

Andrew and I went off to University in October 1969, Andrew as a choral scholar, studying music at St John's College, Cambridge.  I read French and German at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Every so often I went to Cambridge to see Andrew at weekends.  Andrew couldn't visit me, because as a choral scholar he had services in St John's chapel.  I found the atmosphere at St John's magical and the chapel services in which Andrew sang breathtakingly beautiful.

Royal Holloway was very special too. I loved the French and German there.  In my free time I sang in the Chapel Choir and played in all the orchestras going, including the London University Orchestra, which gave its concerts in St John's Smith Square.  I continued with my violin studies with the visiting violin teacher at Royal Holloway, Mary Mitchell, who played in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Cynthia Downes outside Founder's Building, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Above: The Chapel Choir of Royal Holloway. Cynthia Downes (nee Cooper) is on the 4th row, right hand side.

Below: programmes of concerts involving Cynthia as violinist and singer. 

My 3rd year was to be spent in France.  Just before I left, Andrew asked if we could get engaged.  I said yes!

During my year in France I worked as an Assistante d'Anglais in a Lycee in St Etienne, a coal mining town in the foothills of the Central Massif. Apart from in my lessons, I spoke French the whole time there and am still fluent in the language.  I spent as much time as possible in Germany too and am quite fluent in German also. 

In France I spent all of my free time playing in orchestras, singing in choirs and playing chamber music.  Below are mementos of some of my activities.  

Cynthia Downes in a Polish costume (yellow skirt):

Cynthia Downes, 2nd row, second from the end, left hand sid

Cynthia Downes, 3rd from left:

After my degree I spent a year at King's College, University of London, doing a PGCE.  There I sang in the gorgeous Chapel Choir.

Meantime Andrew had an extremely successful time in Cambridge, singing solos in recitals, oratorios and operas.  At the end of his time there, he sang the title role in Handel's Julius Caesar and I was one of the costume makers!

Andrew Downes (4th from right, middle row) singing with St John's Chapel Choir, Cambridge, on ITV, Christmas 1969.

Andrew then went on to the Royal College of Music to study composition with Herbert Howells and singing with Gordon Clinton.  He began teaching, to finance himself, firstly in a rough Secondary Modern School and later at Thames Valley Grammar School, where he wrote for his pupils his Christmas Cantata, opus 4 (although Andrew wrote a lot of music before and during Cambridge, he counted his opus numbers from his time with Herbert Howells).  I went to the first performance, which Andrew directed.  I wasn't the only one to be 'knocked out' by this amazing work: audience and pupils alike loved it.  I have arranged most of the movements for my own music groups ever since.

Here is a snippet from the 6th movement, Jesus Christ is born this night, recorded on my primitive tape recorder on my lap at the premiere:

In September 1974 I took up my first teaching post at Queen Elizabeth's Girls' High School, Barnet, London.  I studied the violin while I was in London with Hubert Veasey from the London Symphony and Philharmonia Orchestras.  Coincidentally, Hubert knew Andrew's uncle, Herbert Downes, who was Principal Viola in the Philharmonia!
One day during that year, Andrew arrived at the flat which I was sharing with a friend to say he had been offered a Lectureship at the Birmingham School of Music to start in September 1975.  He had found a house in Blakedown, North Worcestershire.  Could we get married and share the buying of it?  So he always said he married me for my money!

I got a job as a French and German teacher at King Edward VIth High School for Girls, Handsworth, Birmingham, to start that September, and we married on August 9th.

Just before our wedding, Andrew was invited to sing the role of David in Handel's Saul in the Goettingen Festival in Germany.  This was huge for Andrew.  The part of Saul was sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  Andrew had 9 arias to sing.  When he came on stage for the final rehearsal, he found the hall packed with audience!  So he had to sing 18 arias in full voice that day!  He earned a lot of Deutschmarks for it, which he changed into French francs for our honeymoon in the Dordogne, France!

Here is Andrew singing in a recital at Upton Parish church in 1975:

Andrew Downes Composer · Andrew Downes Composer as a Countertenor in 1975

Andrew Downes' Wedding to Cynthia, August 9th, 1975, St Nicholas Church, Codsall.

Counterpoint: Sheila McQuattie (singing in Andrew Downes' place), Philip Griffiths, John Tudhope, John Walker Anthony Edwards, Christopher Dean; performing Andrew Downes' What shall I do to show how much I love her?.

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