Men who matter - Mr Murray Rumsey of Quorn
Loughborough Echo 9th December 1938
Mr. Rumsey’s natural modesty would never allow an admission on his part that musical matters in the district – particularly, perhaps, on the religious side – owe more to him than to most people.
He explains the beginning of his lengthy association with music by a brief statement that, at the age of fourteen, he “discovered he had a voice.” Many people there are – here and elsewhere- who have since been glad of that discovery. Here is a man who, in a musical sense, has mixed with the great ones of the earth. He made early contacts with people who had known Mendelssohn, and who were steeped in the lore of giants of the past, and his entering the Royal Academy, in 1895, for a five years’ course, facilitated the satisfying of this young singer’s thirst for more and more knowledge of them and their works.
The subsequent years were full of incident; so full, indeed, that one almost wonders when he found time for sleep. He was a lay-clerk taking part in a daily Choral Evensong at St. Saviour’s, Cathedral, Southwark, and a qualified deputy at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. On occasion he deputised at the Chapel Royal. With such experience, it is not strange that his information and views on church music and routine are to-day received as authoritative, and that choirs and others interested in the musical side of religious services eagerly welcome his appearances at lectures.
Here is a specimen day of those years in London, quoted by Mr. Rumsey at random: Two services at Westminster Abbey, two at St. Saviour’s Cathedral, one at St. Margaret Pattens, two professional appearances at the Coliseum and two attendances at a friend’s wedding at Denmark Hill. It must have been a tired “best man” who sought his pillow that night! By the way, Mr. Rumsey claims that he has made a speciality of acting as best man – an honour which has been his to uphold no less than ten times.
Many-sided were his activities. Above most things musical, he loved glee-singing. In 1896, the alto of one of the church choirs came to him with the news that a party of them were going “busking” for a month, and wanted a tenor. Would Murray take part? Murray would, and did. Off they went, to Margate and Westgate. They “busked” at all times and in all places (maybe, he thinks, because there was less police interference in those days!) and returned at the month’s end with all expenses paid and £2 in hand. A similar trip the next year, although not so profitable, proved equally enjoyable and exciting.
The Robert Burns Club, in London, awarded a prize each year for the best setting of a Burns lyric, and the winning composer requested Murray Rumsey to sing this for him at the Club’s annual dinner at the Holborn Restaurant. Compliance with this request necessitated lengthy study of Scotch accent, for an effective rendering of the lyric, but it was worth the trouble. This was Mur Rumsey’s first and last sight of the ceremony of bringing in the haggis.
Membership of an operatic society brought him further interest, and experiences which were often exciting enough at time (such as his aquatic escapades on the stage while rescuing the heroine in “The Lily of Killarney”) but they provide pleasant visualizations nowadays, in the comparative quietude of his life in Quorn.
Mr. Rumsey’s ventures were sometimes unprofitable from a financial standpoint, but rich in variety and experience. There were, for instance, the ill-fated exploits of the “Roman Singers” – a party of three or four friends and himself, who financed the show, and organised things on a grand scale. They engaged a number of artistes – some on commission on profits and some on salary – and a manager of sorts. All things being ready, the “Roman Singers” booked a tour. (Mr. Rumsey smiles wryly as he thinks of it!). This included Whitstable, Margate, Ramsgate, Herne Bay and the South Coast.
A ROTTEN LEG OF MUTTON
Margate was reached on a boiling hot August Sunday, and our friend sat down to dine off a leg of mutton that was literally rotten. The next morning he returned this to the butcher, as proof of its condition, and the result of a tiresome argument was the exchange of the offensive leg for a pound of sausages! The business side of the tour was already proving unsatisfactory, but the party carried on. At Littlehampton there was a revolt of the members of the party who were paid on commission. In vain their employers pleaded that, since there had been no profits, there could be no commission. But the singers demanded payment, and paid they were, even though this left the directors of the show without a bean. Further troubles followed; at Newport there was an empty theatre – due, it must be explain, not to the quality of the “Roman Singers,” but to the inefficiency of their manager. So Mr. Rumsey feasted that night on fish and chips at his lodgings – and kept smiling. At Shanklin, their landlady registered a protest: payment she must have and an old bachelor friend brought timely aid.
By the time the company reached Sandown things had reached such a state that the directors collected their watches and chains and pawned them, in order to provide funds. But it was of no use. Ill-luck dogged them, and a somewhat hurried departure was made from Ryde to Lytham, with the result that the party dashed on board the waiting boat and forgot the “traps” left in the pavilion. Hasty instructions were given for their despatch, but nine weeks elapsed before the luggage came to hand, and meanwhile they had to manage without the shot-gun and other incidentals necessary to their performances.
SADDER AND WISER BAND
The return journey took 18 hours. Hereford was eventually reached – no money in hand – then Ilfracombe, and finally home – a sadder and wiser band of “Roman “Singers.”
Mr. Rumsey can relate many other experiences of this type, but none, it must be hoped, so disastrous. He was invited to join a round-the-world tour with a party of glee-singers (This was in 1902) but for health reasons he was compelled to decline. So passed an eventful and interesting life, until 1911, when – being at a loose end – he accepted his brother’s invitation to spend a fortnight or so with him at Quorn Vicarage.
That fortnight has grown into 28 years! Murray Rumsey has become an inseparable part of Quorn, and the townships and villages for miles around know him well and welcome his visits. His chief interests since coming here, he says, have been the Church, the Press, and music. The diocese has no layman more indefatigable; for many years he has been a licenced lay-reader, and most of the local parish churches have at one time or another been visited by him. The high standard of service – born of his long experience – is exemplified to congregations not without appreciation of his efficiency and eloquence. An innovation popularised by Mr. Rumsey was the introduction of singing from the pulpit, but he rightly insists that this must not be attempted by the unskilled.
From 1912 to 1927 he represented the parish of Quorn on the Peterborough Diocesan Conference, and on the Ruridecanal Conference at East Akeley, to which he was secretary for a number of years.
He regularly attends the annual summer school for lay-readers, held at Selwyn College. But Mr. Rumsey’s interest in church matters goes far deeper than that of lay-reader and official; the front room of his house is set apart as a regular meeting place for Bible classes, choir boys classes and the like. The participants of these assemblies may or may not realise the superlative quality of the instruction which, but for the presence of Murray Rumsey, Quorn could not provide. And glee-singing – his early love – has been practiced in that same room for the benefit of local enthusiasts.
For sixteen years Mr. Rumsey acted as agent and collector for the Doctors’ Clubs in Quorn, Barrow, Woodhouse and Woodhouse Eaves. He also held an industrial assurance book for five years, and even, for a year, acted as out-door salesman for sewing-machines, bobbins of thread, needles and accessories. Well may it be accepted that he started out on his daily rounds with one or two satchels well filled. And it may also be taken for granted that he became a familiar figure in the parishes: in Barrow-on-Soar alone he had at one time as many as 100 calls to make.
For the greater part of this time he was connected with the Echo as a district correspondent. Eventually he was offered a permanent post as district correspondent by the late Mr. Joseph Deakin, and he was enabled to give up his various sidelines, and concentrate more upon newspaper work. His writings are characteristic of the man. They convey – by suggestion rather than by pedantry – news, impressions, reasonings and side-lights, of an absorbing degree of interest.
THE BATTLE OF SONGS
He still sings – whenever opportunity offers. His singing is by no means confined to churches – the smoke-blackened rafters of public-house ceilings have often echoed to his voice. Hathern, for instance – a traditional community of musicians – well remembers that intriguing “Battle of the Songs” which was fought at the “Three Crowns,” between Sam Price, a local favourite, and Murray Rumsey. To the latter had come a challenge: Sam Price could sing more songs than he. This challenge was after Murray’s own heart – his acceptance entailed a number of journeys to Hathern, on summer evenings and winter evenings, to take part in the contest. In effect, the singing-match was more than a memory and vocal test for the combatants. It was a competition between songs of a localized popularity and those culled from the wanderings of a musical rover. The Hathern audience learned, if nothing else, that there are songs as charming as those – ancient and modern – we sing in Leicestershire. However, the result of this unique challenge was a victory by Murray over his opponent – of 34 songs to 29.
The ethics of public-house patronage is summed up by Mr. Rumsey with the assertion that, in his experience, the friendships and conversation of the pubs are usually more desirable and less vicious than the simpering and gossip of drawing-rooms. He is interested in public-house songs; and while considering them capable of improvement, and deploring their sometimes maudlin sentimentality, he finds them productive of a wholesome comradeship and home enjoyment not to be found in some more highly-placed and less-abused spheres.
His lectures and musical subjects are given willingly and impartially; to choir gatherings, Toc H, Womens Rotary and other movements. Music is the source of life to him; if he hears a street musician he thinks nothing of assisting then and there with a vocal rendering. And he has no hesitation at all in going round with the hat to the audience afterwards ............for the benefit of the itinerant player who, most likely, is much better off financially than Mr. Rumsey himself. It is because there is such an intensely human side to him that he does not mind having helped in an odd case where help has not been needed. The main point, to him, is that he took the chance of giving help, and at the same time enjoying a song in the open air.
A USEFUL HOBBY
Wood-turning has been his hobby for the past ten years. His workshop contains examples of his skill, but these productions are mostly of such a nature as befits their bestowal as presents, so that perhaps he does not trouble to draw up a balance-sheet to show his profits from the hobby. And while the visitor is eyeing the potentialities of his lathe, Mr. Rumsey entertains with technical details of substances and grainings of different kinds of wood and other data, showing that he has not taken up this hobby without careful study.
In speaking of his life, Murray Rumsey chooses to forget that he has given a large sliced of it for the benefit of others. He has that enviable gift of seeing the funny side of things, but his humour is devoid of malice, and one might safely infer that no reasonable request for his assistance or advice would be turned down. In his dealings with fellow men, he gives and demands a square deal, and to even the casual acquaintance it is evident that this man set his course – making adjustments with good grace and cheerful philosophy – against obstacles: ignoring the opinion of others, if satisfied with his own principles....... Those organisations are indeed fortunate who have Murray interested in their cause.