Obituary: York’s very own “Mr Music” John Warburton, 90

John was best known and best loved for his captaincy of the city’s annual Community Carol Concert where he brandished his conductor’s baton with precision and his kept the audience entertained for almost 50 years.

A musical prodigy, John gained the second highest distinction mark among Associated Board of Music candidates throughout Great Britain for Grade VI piano at the age of 12 and went on to have a distinguished career, not least as teacher at Tadcaster Grammar School, where he was head of music.

John, who had Alzheimer’s disease, died last month. His funeral service will take place later in April.

Born November 6, 1932 to Arthur and Dorothy and brought up in Blackpool, he was the eldest of three brothers: John, Clifford, and Donald.

He was a much-loved husband of 37 years to Sue, and to Gladys from his previous marriage of 24 years.

A dad to Gillian, Andrew, Edwin, Joanne, and Angelina and step-dad to Helen and Vicki, John was also grandpa to Al, Nick, Louisa, Jack, Daniel, Callum, and Ashlie and great-grandpa to Lily, Dylan, Harry, Mason, and Cooper.

His widow Sue said: “To the outside world John was a larger than life character with a huge laugh and sense of humour to match.

“He gave generously of his talents, time and boundless energy. He was an inspiring teacher, choirmaster and conductor.

“But to me he was the kindest most thoughtful husband whom I loved deeply and who told me every single day of our 40 years together how much he loved me.

“Although my heart is broken I can still rejoice in the many happy memories we made over the years.”

York Press: John Warburton conducting the annual Community Carol Concert in 1973John Warburton conducting the annual Community Carol Concert in 1973

His daughter Joanne said on behalf of all his children: “Dad’s passing has been felt so widely and by so many whose lives he touched. We have been overwhelmed and lifted by the many messages and letters of condolence that we have received.

“But for us, his children, he was and will continue to be our inspiration: he guided us, taught us, encouraged us, supported us, but most of all he loved us. Our loss is immense and we shall miss and love him eternally.”

York arts critic Charles Hutchison described John as a “titan of York’s music world” and said: “The conductor is king, said John Warburton, and he was the king of conductors, an institution at York’s Community Carol Concert as much as the annual event itself.

“Those whiskers and waistcoats gave off a gentlemanly air, one that he brought to ever-enthusiastic leadership, in whatever field, from education as a music teacher, to entertainment in amateur theatre, especially at York Theatre Royal, to playing the organ and performing witty monologues. Farewell to a titan of York’s music world.”

John came to York in 1959, via Woolwich Arsenal barracks, where he had a three-year engagement with the Royal Artillery Central Band which included marching at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 while playing the Tuba, later taking up the harp for Military Philharmonic appearances.

He took up his first music teaching post at Wombwell, South Yorkshire, and then took up a post as Head of Music at Tadcaster Grammar School where he worked for 30 years.

John was a leading light on the York music scene for many decades and notched up many additional musical achievements.

As York’s most famous conductor, he was:

• Chorus Master/Conductor of the Wesley Choral Society

• Chorus Master/Conductor of the York Celebrations Choir, created to celebrate York’s 1900th celebrations, making frequent appearance on Yorkshire Television’s Stars on Sunday

• Musical Director/Conductor of the York Youth Operatic & Choral Society

•Musical Director/Conductor of the York Amateur Operatic and Choral Society for more than 30 years, becoming President of the society in its centenary year

• Musical Director/Conductor of the York Annual Community Carol Concert. Making just short of 40 appearances over 50 years

• Mentor and inspiration to the countless numbers of individuals who received his piano and choral tuition; paving the way for their many successful careers. Lynn Dawson, who sang at the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981, was a graduate of John’s time as musical director of the York Youth Operatic and Choral Society.

In whatever spare time he had, John liked listening to classical music from his garden ‘man cave; with a drop of whisky. Was an avid walker in his early years, and following passionately the cricket of his home county; Lancashire, and the football of his home town; Blackpool.

York Press: John at the Community Carol Concert in 2014John at the Community Carol Concert in 2014

Friend and entertainment partner Graham Kay said John had willingly and selflessly devoted his time to bring musical direction to many local amateur groups.

“These ranged from The Tadcaster Musical Theatre Society for a couple of years, and then the York Youth Musical Theatre Group from its inception in the 1950s, the York Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (YAODS) from 1967 for 25 years, and the City Opera Group which later became York Opera.

“Under his guidance and musical instruction numerous people have been encouraged to participate in the thriving York musical scene who otherwise might not have had the opportunity.”

He added: “John’s charity work has also seen him directing and providing accompaniment for smaller singing groups as well as sharing platforms with individuals such as the late John White and also with myself, visiting care homes and giving entertainment at various other venues.

“John’s contribution to the musical life of the city has been immeasurable.”

Kevin Holland first met John when he joined York Youth Operatic and Choral Society in 1975, where John was the musical director.

He said: “John was also the first musical director – unpaid – for York City Opera Group, now known as York Opera, an adult society that was created in 1966 for the singers who were ‘too old’ to stay in York Youth Operatic and Choral Society.

“He brought the same musical inspiration and dedication to that society, putting in hundreds of hours of work over every year to create what is regarded as one of the most talented amateur opera groups in the UK.”

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