19 Sep 2018

Obituary: organist Betty Black

From Upbeat, 12:00 pm on 19 September 2018

Renowned New Zealand organist and music teacher Betty Black has died, aged in her 80s.

Betty Stewart - as she was also known – was a significant figure in New Zealand music, advocating for harpsichord and organ, doing solo performances and accompanying some of the country’s top choirs, including Wellington’s Orpheus Choir.

Organist Betty Black at the Royal College of Music

Organist Betty Black at the Royal College of Music Photo: Supplied

She performed across the country, including at St James' Anglican Church Lower Hutt, in Christchurch with Wallace Woodley at Durham Street Methodist Church or in the Town Hall or Christchurch Cathedral, in performances with the Royal Christchurch Music Society and later at Auckland's Clevedon Presbyterian Church.

Betty also recorded several times for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation (now RNZ), including the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach. The recording was done at the Magnus Motors Studios - the then temporary accommodation for the National Orchestra whilst Broadcasting House was being constructed.

The NZBC brought the harpsichord to Wellington in 1956, for use by the National Orchestra under conductor James Robertson.

Betty Stewart gained her teaching registration at the Royal College of Music in London. During her time there in the 50s and 60s, she performed a range of concerts, including a performance arranged by the NZ Music Society (UK) of Handel's Organ Concerto No 2 in B flat and Poulenc's Organ Concerto in G minor accompanied by the Riddick Orchestra with NZ conductor, Ashley Lawrence.

She lived in Christchurch, Wellington and spent her later years in Auckland, playing the organ for choirs and church services.

A celebration of her life is being held at 2pm today (Wednesday 19 September 2018) at Clevedon Presbyterian Church.