Anthony Cooke

ANTHONY John Cooke, a visionary schoolmaster who made an immense contribution to the cultural life of Yorkshire has died aged 81.

His personal and professional connections were nationwide and international, and there are many who are thankful for his enterprise and energy.

For a quarter of a century he was director of music at Leeds Grammar School from where at least eight pupils went on to become University Organ Scholars during his tenure. Many more pursued other successful music careers, including international counter-tenor Robin Blaze.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

For generations, Leeds Grammar School sustained a Chapel Choir singing choral services on Sundays as well as for normal weekday daily worship, which Mr Cooke directed and accompanied.

He came from the West Midlands to settle in the then West Riding after early work at Highgate School and, in his home city of Birmingham, as Organist and Choirmaster of Edgbaston Old Church and Music Master at Aston Grammar School.

He was educated at Birmingham’s King Edward VI School where he came under the influence of the formidable Dr Willis Grant, Cathedral Organist as well as the school’s Director of Music.

In 1949 Mr Cooke went up to Oxford as organ scholar of Keble College. As well as the Oxford MA, he also gained the Bachelor of Music and Fellowship of the Royal College of Organists, as well as its choir training diploma. He was one of very few still living holders of the once highly-prized Archbishop of Canterbury’s Diploma in Church Music. His playing was a feature of the first LP recordings made by Leeds Parish Church Choir under Donald Hunt, its organist and choirmaster from 1958 to 1975. He is also heard on the Huddersfield Choral Society and Black Dyke Band recording Christmas Fantasy on the Chandos label, playing the Huddersfield Town Hall organ.

It was always said in Leeds that Mr Cooke took the Grammar School post once it had been agreed at his interview, in 1964, that a Steinway Model D piano – the maker’s flagship instrument - would be bought by the school.

Significantly, Leeds Grammar School Concert Society – formed under his direction with many of the leading music-lovers of the day – attracted some of the world’s greatest musicians to the then new school hall on Clarendon Road – now Leeds University Business School.

For many years he was Organ Adviser to Ripon and Leeds Diocese, and after retirement was organist of St Wilfrid’s Church, Pool-in-Wharfedale.

He was a leading member of Leeds Organists’ Association and Leeds Rotary Club, including a time as president. He was a supporter of the Royal School of Church Music and for a long period Console Steward for practical examinations of the Royal College of Organists.

He was for 30 years secretary and treasurer to the Benevolent Fund of the Incorporated Association of Organists, and was well attuned to the requirements of organists in need.

For four decades he was a committee member, then trustee, of the Friends of the Music of Leeds Parish Church.

He was also very generous, and was a recent major donor towards the cost of the new organ in Keble College Chapel, attending the opening recital by the pianist, organist and composer, Jeremy Filsell last year.

His other interests included railways and transport generally.

Mr Cooke, who never married, is survived by his brother David.

A funeral service will be held at Leeds Minster at 12pm next Wednesday.