John Lubbock is the founder and principal conductor of the Orchestra of St John’s which boasts some of the most exceptional musicians in the country. OSJ have performed all over the world including Carnegie Hall in New York, the Berlin Philharmonic Hall and London’s Royal Albert Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Royal Festival Hall with world famous soloists. John began his musical life as a chorister at St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle and then went on to study singing at the Royal Academy of Music. Not surprisingly, an important part of OSJ’s repertoire is choral music.
John is one of the people I interviewed for The New Frontier. (He was 71 at the time). He has kindly given his permission for me to use the following extract from the book.
I do about 70 to 75 days a year for Music for Autism and about 30 public concerts with OSJ. I’ve never wanted to do a huge number of concerts. I like to have one programme in my head at a time, then do it and move on to the next one. Some conductors will be rehearsing and conducting a concert while also studying for the next one. I do not want to do that. I want one programme at a time. I suppose I average about two concerts a month as well as my Dorchester Festival programme and three Christmas/New Year performances of the Messiah. I’m also the principal fund-raiser for both the OSJ and Music for Autism – both very time-consuming. I have some wonderful, generous sponsors, but it’s still never-ending and wearing.
I’m a Trustee of six trusts and foundations, which involves quite a lot of work – all to do with children and music and handicap in one way or another. Amongst these are the Thomley Activity Centre for children with special needs, where Music for Autism has provided and equipped a music building; the Music for Life Foundation which enables gifted but disabled musicians to access music making of the highest calibre (some have performed with OSJ and OSJ Voices), and the Clear Sky Foundation, which provides play therapy for emotionally damaged children.
My mother was a marvellous example to follow as regards caring – what she did, rather than what she said. She had inherited money and we lived in a big house, but she was never patronising or grand. She showed me that with privilege comes responsibility. She fostered in me a very strong social conscience and the idea of giving, either of your money or yourself. The joy and the satisfaction and the pleasure of giving is far greater than you could ever get from buying something for yourself. I remember a lady in Newcastle who wrote to me. She had an orchestra of thirteen autistic children. They had been asked to play in the Schools Proms in London. Well, as a boy, I was lucky enough to take part in the Schools Proms and it’s an unbelievably amazing experience.
She needed the bus fare to London, so I sent her a cheque. I still remember how happy it made me feel that I could give those children one of the most wonderful experiences of their lives. As they say, you’ll never get poor by giving. There is so much need out there, so many people who need our help.
I find the teachers and carers of these autistic children so, so inspiring. There’s no off-time with these kids. For instance, in ordinary schools, lunchtime is time-off for most staff, but in special schools, lunchtime is very hard work – they all eat different things; a lot of them can’t eat for themselves and have to be fed. And these staff are paid very little. They are to be greatly admired.
I have music and I have the wider community of autistic children. These are the things that take me out of myself so that I don’t really think about ageing at all. This conducting game: when you’re ninety, you’re just beginning to crack it. There’s probably no other profession where you can do it for fifty years. I’ve had an orchestra for fifty years and am expecting to continue for a good few years yet. Some of the orchestra members have been with me for forty years and the understanding you build up is simply priceless. I think, as the years go by, I get better and better as a conductor – how I interpret and understand the music, getting the best out of the players – there’s always more to learn and that, too, keeps me going.
There have been no negatives in my later life that I could say were related to getting older. Raising money for the orchestra is stressful. That weighs on your mind, but that’s nothing to do with ageing. I have no restrictions because of my age. I work as hard now as I’ve ever worked in my life.
Advice for those hoping to be still making a positive contribution to society in later life? It would be what I’ve said about the pleasure of giving and giving back. There are millions of charities that one could give to or work for, or which could benefit from one’s expertise voluntarily given. After a certain point there is no correlation between happiness and money. In fact, quite the reverse in many cases. If I won the lottery it would be the most incredible joy and pleasure to have that money to give away. There’s so much need out there. You could transform thousands and thousands of lives.