Sunday, 15 April 2018

James Coleman (Lay Vicar 1900-1942) and The City Music Publishing Co., Lichfield

Included with the memories that George Greaves sent was a copy of an anthem by James Coleman, published in 1934, who George remembers being the Senior Lay Vicar. This small detail led to a little further research, and two strands to this post. Firstly, about James Coleman, and secondly about the anthem and its publisher.

James Coleman was born in West Bromwich in 1876 and came from Southwell to Lichfield as Lay Vicar in 1900, where he remained until Sunday 20 September 1942 when he died suddenly on his way to the Cathedral.

Beyond the record of his installation into the Lay Vicar's Stall belonging to the Prebend of Eccleshall on 13 July 1900, and a note in October 1919 that the absence of a third Bass Lay Vicar - or his deputy - meant that £14-11-0 should be paid to both Mr J Coleman and Mr H Parker to recompense them for the extra work they would have to have done, Coleman appears to have drawn little attention from the Cathedral authorities. This may be down to the story behind a note in the Chapter Act books from 28 September 1906 which records that "The Dean reported that he had been obliged to summon James Coleman, a Vicar Choral, before Chapter to receive a formal reprimand; the circumstances are embodied in a document contained in a sealed envelope deposited with the Muniments of the Chapter".

A colleague, Frederic Hodgson, describes Coleman's voice as a "real basso-cantante, rich and voluminous" and his singing as being "refined and polished", and outside Lichfield, he was well known and his name appears nearly monthly in The Musical Times, in round ups of local performances and in the listings of singers available for work. His advertisements are regularly more extensive than others, and quote glowing reviews of his performances from both national and regional newspapers. There are around a hundred of these in the archives of The Musical Times and are too extensive to reproduce here. However, The Musical Times did print his obituary in November 1942:
JAMES COLEMAN, a baritone well known in the Midlands, aged sixty-six. He was vicar-choral of Lichfield Cathedral from 1900 to his death. During the last war he conducted the Whittington Garrison Choral Society, and recently he directed the newly-formed Lichfield Operatic Society.
Alongside his performing, he also appears to have been a prolific composer as the final page of the copy of the anthem he gave to George Greaves shows. The copy of the anthem, a setting of the first two verses of Psalm 139, O Lord, thou hast searched me out, includes an inscription reading 'To Master Greaves, with the composer's best wishes, Oct. 10/34'. It is possible download a scanned copy of the original printed anthem, and a clearer typeset edition for the musically curious.

Moving away from Coleman himself, the last page of the scan mentions that the score was published by "Lichfield : The City Music Publishing Co.". My immediate (albeit cynical) assumption was that this was some manner of musical vanity press, but a little exploration online - courtesy of library catalogues and Google - suggests it was a more significant establishment, although I am told that Coleman was involved in music publishing... The searching is, in no way, exhaustive, so any further information about the company would be welcome.

The earliest reference to The City Music Publishing Co is a book by a W Kelly, entitled Blackpool, published in 1913. However, the earliest musical references are a copy of a song, My hope by Isabel Ashforde, published around 1915 and In a Sylvan Glade, a "caprice for the pianoforte" from 1916 by Samuel Bath; it is worth noting a female composer being represented in 1915. One Caroline F Boddy is also listed amongst their publications as the principal composer (alongside a H Brearley) of a song entitled The Happy Little House in 1918. A 1920 piano work, Floramyne by Gilbert Stacey, includes an address for the company at 7 Southampton Row, London, WC1.

There are various records of Coleman's work listed against their publications, but the most significant inclusions in the company's catalogue (especially in the Cathedral Music world) are various editions of the Durham Cathedral Chant Book by Philip Ames and Conrad Eden, published between 1939 and 1962. The City Music Publishing Co. does not, therefore, appear to have been solely for the promotion of local talent or restricted to the early part of the century.

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