Gwyn Arch- 5 April 1931 - 6 June 2021


SCCS Musical Director 1965 - 2014
SCCS President 2014-2021



Gwyn Arch, who died on 6th June, peacefully at home, brought endless musical pleasure, with his different choirs, to audiences near and far.


Gwyn was born in April 1931 in Southampton.  His father, Tom, was an ordained Missioner to the Deaf and Dumb; his mother, Laura, was a poet.  Gwyn’s earliest years were spent in Birmingham, with a brief period of wartime evacuation to Wales.  In 1939 the family moved to Suffolk, where Gwyn attended Ipswich School, and where he learned to play the piano and began to compose music. This stood him in good stead when he was called up for National Service in 1949. His piano playing was welcomed by his friends and proved to be a passport to as much free beer as he wanted!

In 1951 Gwyn went to Selwyn College Cambridge where he read English. He spent all three years as pianist for the University Jazz Band, and started a dance band.  He then went to Wadham College Oxford to study to be an English teacher and here too became the pianist for the University Jazz Band.  It was at Oxford that he met Jane, whom he married in 1957. 

Gwyn’s first teaching job was at Rickmansworth Grammar School.  Here he was able to develop many of the skills that stood him well in later life.  He ran choirs, orchestras and bands, he gave piano lessons, and he took many pupils on trips across Europe.  He also wrote plays and musicals and achieved a considerable and national reputation.

Bulmershe, the new teacher training college in Reading, advertised for a Director of Music, and despite being an English teacher Gwyn’s application for the post was successful. So Gwyn and Jane and their two sons arrived in Sonning Common. He formed the internationally successful Bulmershe Girls’ Choir and he developed the major part of his musical output, which has been arrangements (over eight hundred) of music for choirs of different sizes, shapes and abilities.  Gwyn took very early retirement in 1985, which gave him time to continue some musical adventures that had begun at Bulmershe, including Reading Male Voice Choir and South Chiltern Choral Society and start some new ones, including Central Berkshire Girls’ Choir.

In 2006 Gwyn Arch was awarded the MBE for services to music.  Gwyn changed the way singing was taught in schools for everyone.  Singing in schools often consisted of nothing more than practising hymns and learning traditional unison tunes from The National Songbook. Gwyn inspired the student teachers he taught to share their love of music with their charges, as he did with them, and he composed and arranged songs, cantatas and musicals that children loved to sing.    Almost without knowing they learned to listen to one another and to sing in harmony.

Gwyn understood that making music was much more than following notes and words on a page.  He knew that making music collectively is one of life’s great pleasures and that choral singing can help singers, and listeners, through whatever twists and turns their life‘s journey takes. Gwyn’s choirs have raised thousands of pounds for different charities. Local audiences have been introduced to music of all styles and formats, thanks to Gwyn’s excellent arrangements and his ability to spot a new song or a new work that would give pleasure to singers and audiences alike. What other village choirs can ring the changes between Bach’s B Minor Mass and fabulous  arrangements of George Gershwin and Cole Porter, as South Chiltern Choral Society has done?  Reading Male Voice Choir gives concerts locally at least monthly and regularly tours Europe.

Most people will know David Arch, Gwyn and Jane’s younger son, who is the band leader on Strictly Come Dancing.  But Jonathan, their older son is a skilled cellist, as is his daughter Lucy.  David’s son, Thomas, plays guitar in bands and his daughter Jessie works on the production side in television.  Jane, until recently, sang with the South Chiltern Choir.  They all survive Gwyn, whose music will live on for many years to come. Gwyn said once that he was so grateful, when talents were being handed out, that what he got was a talent for sharing music with others. And this, above all else, is exactly what he did.

Liz Harrison

Gwyn's final concert with South Chiltern Choral Society on 5 July 2014

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