Obituary: Jean Reid Graham, MBE, soprano and choir leader

Jean Graham
Jean Graham
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Born: 26 May, 1931, in Bonhill, Vale of Leven. Died: 6 July, 2013, in Paisley, aged 82

Jean Graham was an accomplished soprano and one of the United Kingdom’s foremost choir leaders and music festival adjudi- cators, including at the National Mod. Raised in Balloch on Loch Lomondside, Graham, the only child of Andrew and Maisie Graham, was educated in Jamestown Primary School, Vale of Leven Academy and Jordanhill College of Education.

Graham’s mother was a very good amateur singer and encouraged her to sing. As a child and young adult, she competed successfully as a soloist at musical festivals around the country. Once she charmed Sir Hugh S Roberton, of the Glasgow Orpheus Choir, by singing for him at a competition. She said that as a child she had no idea who he was, but since the great conductor looked like her grandfather, she was relaxed in his company and sang beautifully.

At school, she was involved in a life-changing bicycle accident. A number of operations and long hospitalisation interrupted her studies, although she took her Highers as an external candidate and went on to teacher training college. She studied for a number of music diplomas and by her early 30s she had been appointed LTCL (Licentiate of Trinity College, London), LRAM (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music) and FTCL (Fellow of Trinity College, London). By this time she was making her mark and teaching music in Dunbartonshire primary schools.

Her conducting career began in the 1950s. While studying, Graham started the Upper Bridge Street Church Junior Choir at her family’s church in Alexandria. This choir went on to become the Loch Lomond Singers with separate choirs for juveniles, juniors and seniors, and this in turn became the core of the multiple award-winning Dalvait Singers, which was formed in 1972. Graham took her final bow with the Dalvaits to cheers and encores at a packed concert at Trinity Parish Church in Renton in March this year. They had brought their wonderful music to concerts in community halls and churches across the country for 40 years, while raising large sums of money for charity. They had also been musical ambassadors for Scotland, earning plaudits and prizes at home and abroad.

Graham showed tremendous dedication and loyalty to the musical education of her “girls”, the generations of young women who have formed her choirs. Their singing under her direction gave huge pleasure to the thousands of people who have listened to the Dalvaits over four decades.

Children loved Miss Graham and received huge encouragement from her during a remarkable 50 years of teaching music. Her service to music and the community was recognised when she was awarded the MBE.

She said at the time: “When I began teaching, not many of the boys wanted to do music and probably thought it all a bit high falutin’. I won their attention by discussing the results of teams from Arsenal to Alloa and that was what captured their attention. I absolutely love football and sport of all kinds – and, of course, I love music and I cherished my pupils and won most of them round.”

Graham, who was an accomplished soprano soloist in her own right – a pupil of Mina Forrest, Barrhead, and Olive Groves, London – intended moving to London to further her singing career. But while the Loch Lomond Singers were on tour in Germany her mother died suddenly and later family commitments prevented the move.

Mentored by Mary Hogg, then music adviser for Dunbartonshire County Council, she completed her degree and was appointed to teach at Notre Dame High School in Dumbarton, where she eventually became principal teacher of music. There she worked closely with her colleague and friend, the late Anna Cameron, the choir’s principal accompanist.

Over the years, senior pupils from Notre Dame and other sources joined the Dalvaits and many of the former Loch Lomond Singers and ex-pupils remained part of the choir.

Graham had outstanding success with all her choirs and they participated in music festivals throughout the UK and abroad, winning major Ladies and Open competitions. They appeared in a number of radio and television programmes, including Songs of Praise. They won prestigious competitions at the Southport Music Festival, Inverclyde and Renfrew Music Festival, the Saltire Scots Songs competition, the Freckleton Music Festival, the Glasgow Music Festival and the Cork International Music Festival in Ireland.

Particular highlights included a 1983 civic reception from Dumbarton District Council, a Silver Jubilee Concert in 1997 and the fact that some truly international stars took part in their annual concerts, including Anne Lorne Gillies, Bill McCue, Collette Ruddy, John Heddle Nash jnr, Covent Garden and Scottish Opera singer David Ward from Dumbarton and organist Nigel Ogden.

A whole new career opened up for Graham just prior to her taking early retirement from teaching in 1989. She took up adjudicating and this led to her appointment as a member of the Federation of Music Adjudicators.

She was also an adjudicator for the National Mod and judged the Gold Medal and the Lovat and Tullibardine competitions on many occasions. She loved the work and it was widely recognised that she brought out the best in the competitors, always finding something kind to say to those who had perhaps not performed the way they would have wished.

No matter where Graham travelled, she made friends and her Christmas card list was testament to that. The members of her Dalvait Singers were not just her friends – they were also her family. They supported her in her latter years when she grew increasingly frail. In the last six weeks of her life in hospital, no-one could have had more visitors and attention. She will be sadly missed.

The Dalvaits paid a final tribute to Graham on Sunday at the Carmelite Monastery in Dumbarton where the choir practised in recent years. Her funeral service, conducted by the Rev Ian Miller and the Rev Barbara Quigley, a choir member, takes place in Riverside Parish Church, Dumbarton, today at 1pm.