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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Peters, Jack Vernon (1920–1973)

by Joyce Gibberd

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Jack Vernon Peters (1920-1973), organist and teacher, was born on 20 September 1920 at New Brighton, Christchurch, New Zealand, only child of New Zealand-born parents Samuel George Peters, engineer, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Bailey. Jack attended Otago Boys' High School, Dunedin, and Canterbury College, Christchurch (Mus.B., N.Z., 1948; Mus.D., University of Canterbury, 1959). He enlisted in the New Zealand Military Forces on 7 October 1941, and served in North Africa and Italy. Twice wounded in action (1943) while attached to the 26th Battalion, he was discharged from the army on 19 December 1945.

At St Luke's Anglican Church, Christchurch, on 3 April 1948 Peters married Barbara Mary Richards; they were to separate in 1963 and to be divorced in February 1968. Awarded a bursary to study at the University of Durham (Mus.B., 1950), England, and at the Trinity College of Music, London, he gained a diploma of choir training and a diploma in church music from the Royal College of Organists, and was elected a fellow of the R.C.O. and of T.C.M. In 1953 he was appointed lecturer and organ teacher at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide. He was promoted senior lecturer in 1963 and reader in 1966. An inspiring teacher, he mesmerized his students with the brilliance of his lectures in harmony, counterpoint and orchestration. His compositions included Serenata Fuga for wind quintet, Symphony No.1 and various songs.

As the university's organist (1955-72), Peters gave numerous recitals, including the demanding organ sonatas of J. S. Bach and the mighty compositions of Max Reger. His extemporization on themes prepared by other musicians produced thrilling works. From 1955 he was also organist and master of choristers at St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide. He refused to compromise in the way he presented his music. On 10 June 1962 when he could no longer tolerate Canon Loan's out-of-tune chanting, he refused to play, and told the choir to return to the crypt and disrobe. For this action he was dismissed.

On 14 March 1968 at the office of the principal registrar, Adelaide, Peters married 23-year-old Eleanor Frances Nelson; this marriage also ended in divorce. From 1968 until 1972 he was, in turn, organist and emeritus organist at the Pirie Street Methodist Church. In 1967 he became city organist. He had said that the Adelaide Town Hall organ had 'one of the best tones in the world, but playing it is like driving a Rolls Royce without a steering wheel'. In 1968 the Adelaide City Council decided to have the organ rebuilt. At Peters' suggestion the $69,000 contract was given to Laurie Pipe Organs Pty Ltd, Melbourne. Following complaints about the reconstructed organ, a committee found deficiencies which required the services of 'conscientious' and 'skilled' workmen, but no action was taken. Peters was not blamed for the situation.

Of middle height and medium build, with a puckish grin and sense of humour, Peters had a quixotic brilliance and a touch of genius, but was a dreamer who was unable to cope with the difficulties of life. Alcohol dependent and unreliable, he had 'tantrums like a child', but was quick to apologize to those he offended. He died of complications arising from cirrhosis of the liver on 22 February 1973 at St Andrew's Hospital, Adelaide, and was cremated; the two sons of his first marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. McCredie (ed), From Colonel Light into the Footlights (Adel, 1988)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 25 June 1959, 13 May 1967, 7 Feb 1970, 10 Aug 1972, 23 Feb 1973
  • minutes and reports 1967-73, Adelaide City Council Archives
  • J. V. Peters correspondence 1952-73 (University of Adelaide Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Joyce Gibberd, 'Peters, Jack Vernon (1920–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/peters-jack-vernon-11378/text20327, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 27 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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