Noel Pavitt Clapham
1917 - 1994
Noel Clapham, a talented musician, served effectively as head of the music program and director of the Symphonic Choir at Australasian Missionary College, now Avondale College, for four years, from 1952 to 1956. It was a challenging assignment, coming during a critical time of transition following an era of outstanding choral achievement by the choir under George Greer, regarded by some as the greatest choir director at the college since it had been founded.
Clapham was born in Hastings, New Zealand, on March 31, 1917, the younger of two sons of George and Beatrice Clapham. When his father died the year after Noel was born, he and his mother and brother lived with his maternal grandparents. After graduating from the University of New Zealand with a B.A., he enrolled at AMC in 1941, where he completed the primary teacher’s course.
He taught at Carmel College in Western Australia for six years until 1947 when he married Joy Ashton, recently hired music teacher, in January. He completed his master’s degree that year and started teaching at AMC in 1948, teaching English literature during another teacher's study leave.
Although his primary area was history and geography, he was able to meet the challenge of teaching English and, from 1952 to 1956, also directing the choir, in which he and his wife had been members during the critical four-year transition following the departure of Greer. While he initially had felt uncertain about following Greer, he enjoyed the experience
During his leadership, the first on-site long-playing recording of the choir was made. This innovation contrasted sharply with previous recordings of the choirs, which had been done in a recording studio and then manipulated to add reverberation. This change, coupled with rapidly improving records, yielded a more accurate and pleasing result.
At the end of his four years as interim choir director he reluctantly handed over leadership of the ensemble to his successor, Alan Thrift, an alumnus who had had more musical training and experience. While he continued doing classroom teaching in his areas of expertise, he also accepted an invitation to form and direct a choir at the Avondale Memorial Church.
From 1964 to 1968 the Claphams lived in the United States, where he taught part-time at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, and pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska. He also completed a Diploma in Educational Administration at the University of New England during this time. On the family’s return to Australia, he became head of the humanities department at AC, a position he would hold for the next fifteen years, and also resumed leadership of the church choir.
During his earlier time as music head in the four years after Greer’s departure, he had worked for two years with Charles Schowe, pioneer music teacher at the college. That experience, as well as his own extended tenure at AC, one of the longest on record, informed his writing about the college in the 1990s. Sadly, this recording of his recollections was cut short by a terminal illness.
Clapham was noted for his sense of humor and love of language, music, teaching, and theological insights, including openness about and promotion of the doctrine of righteousness by faith. He taught full-time until 1982 and part-time another twelve years.
The Claphams had a daughter, Bronwyn Slade, and a son, John. Noel was 77 years old when he died at his home in Cooranbong, NSW, Australia, on December 8, 1994, following a lengthy illness. Two years later, at the time of the school’s centennial, Joy was one of four living music teachers honored with a centenary gold medallion for their service.
Sources: “A ‘Christian Gentleman’ Dies,” South Pacific Division Record, 11 February 1995, 12; Obituary, SPD Record, 13, 14; Avondale College centennial history, Avondale, Experiment on the Dora, Milton Hook, Avondale Academic Press, 1998; “Avondale Celebrates 100 Years,” SPD Record, 20 September 1997, 11.