MICHAEL GEORGE COCKERHAM
September 29, 1954 – August 27, 2022
The life of Michael Cockerham, former Director of Music at Monkton Combe School and part of Chris Rogers’ Grange House team, could be summed up in just two words: ‘music’ and ‘family’.
He was not just an organist, pianist, accompanist, oboist, saxophonist, conductor, choirmaster, composer, examiner, or singer. He was all of these, and able to switch roles from one to another quite effortlessly. He was a born teacher: witty, good at nurturing talent and coaxing the very best out of people. He took as much pleasure in a student’s success as they did themselves – whether it was a nervous six-year-old or a diploma candidate giving a wonderful performance of a Beethoven sonata.
Michael was a family man par excellence, completely involved in nurturing his two daughters. A notice he put up in the kitchen read ‘Children spell love T-I-M-E’. It was a reminder to avoid letting the necessities of life overshadow what was really important – the family.
He made up catchy tunes to play on the piano for his daughters to jig along to – even before they could walk. He was also very good at putting on different voices for different characters while reading bedtime stories.
Michael was born in Leeds to Bob and Barbara Cockerham. Soon afterwards, the family moved to Solihull where his younger brother, Paul, was born.
Michael went to King Edward’s School, Birmingham, where his musical talents were swiftly recognised and nurtured by Roy Massey, the director of music and organist at Birmingham Cathedral. Michael sang in numerous choirs and played the piano, organ and oboe.
While still at school, he was awarded an Associateship of the Royal College of Music in the organ, and a Licentiateship of the Royal Academy of Music in the oboe. He then won a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, despite never having had any formal coaching as a singer. After graduation, he gained a postgraduate certificate in education from Westminster College, Oxford.
His first job, which began in September 1977, was Assistant Director of Music at Monkton Combe School. The director, Harold Jones, introduced him to music festivals at St John’s, Bathwick, where Michael met Jane. They married in 1983 at St John’s Bathwick, and settled in Winsley, where Nicola was born in 1989 and Joanna in 1990.
Harold Jones writes:
It was a fortunate day for Monkton Combe when Michael Cockerham joined the staff of the Music department. He was formidably qualified in organ, piano, oboe and singing and his genial personality made him a popular teacher and performer. As well as his musical activities he took part in the general life of the school (including a memorable performance in Sound the Trumpet from Purcell's Come Ye Sons of Art) and was always willing to give extra time to a nervous or demanding student. He ran the Chapel Choir with conspicuous flair and made it one of the leading choral ensembles in the area. He also conducted the Symphony Orchestra and directed a number of performances of music in various styles - including a memorable account, fully staged, of Guys and Dolls. He also took part along with other musicians from Monkton in a number of performances by Bath Opera. He will be sadly missed, but we remember him with admiration and affection.
On Harold’s retirement, Michael had been promoted to Director of Music but, by 1992, he needed new challenges and moved to Cheltenham College, followed by Bearwood College in Berkshire.
In 1995 the family returned to Winsley after Michael was appointed Director of Music at Bath High School, later the Royal High School, Bath.
He loved teaching O and A level music, giving individual tuition on various instruments, playing sax in a jazz band, training choirs and being responsible for big end-of-term productions such as The Magic Flute, Grease and Oh! What a Lovely War. He was also organist at St Nicholas, Winsley.
In 2009 he retired – the constant vivace pace of musical life which he set at the school, had caught up with him and he felt he had given as much as he could. Michael became an examiner for Trinity College of Music, London, and revelled in travelling widely; to Scotland, the Isle of Wight, Northern Ireland, Cornwall and India.
However, the constant rounds of ‘Recorder, Grade 1’ began to irk, and so he trained to examine diploma students and found his metier. It was, he said, like listening to a recital. All he had to do was sit back, delight in the playing and concoct a few salient notes using his special ‘examinations’ fountain pen.
Michael also directed Wells Cathedral Voluntary Choir from 1998 for 22 years. During this time, the choir toured cathedrals such as St David’s, Chichester, Durham and Winchester, appreciating the pleasure of creating fabulous music together in such beautiful buildings as well as filling in for services at Wells Cathedral when the main choir was on holiday.
Tragically, Michael had to resign in December 2019, when he was diagnosed with a carcinoma of his oesophagus. Bouts of chemotherapy followed, with surgery in 2020, in between episodes of Covid shutdowns. Bristol Royal Infirmary was quite magnificent. However, as time went by, scans revealed widespread metastases. He died very peacefully at home, with great dignity, quiet acceptance and deep grace, just a few weeks short of his 68th birthday. He is buried in St Nicholas, Winsley churchyard.