By Sarah Gent, The Witham’s Programming and Marketing Manager
I was shocked to hear that our friend John Lowles passed away on Saturday 2 May 2020 and wanted to write a tribute to him as a thank you for his dedication and commitment to The Witham over the years.
I discovered from John’s son Alan that he moved to Teesdale almost exactly fifty years ago this month. I have only known John for five of those years but, in that short time, I have come to greatly admire his knowledge, gentle encouragement and deep commitment to classical music, to The Witham and also to our local community.
John was a very generous supporter of our arts centre. I personally appreciated his help and advice very much. He shared an in-depth knowledge of music and musicians with the simple desire to enable more people to enjoy the resulting concerts. From fundraising and advising on the classical music concerts at The Witham to sharing our concerts, John’s work increased the number of people who were able to enjoy a high calibre of music here in our rurally remote community.
John worked tirelessly to help raise funds for a new piano at The Witham through a series of concerts at St Mary’s Church, which, unfortunately due to a funding crisis that threatened to close the arts centre, we weren’t able to purchase. However, he understood this and then offered, with the agreement of the donors, to support the artistic programme by contributing to musician fees and repairing the Broadwood piano at The Witham.
It is largely down to John that our Sunday Classics programme is turning into a real success story. For example, in February, we booked the pianist Melvyn Tan and, thanks to John’s connections, Melvyn played for a quarter of his usual fee. We had a lively audience of nearly one hundred who really enjoyed the concert. John was good enough to thank me for making the concert happen, but I felt then, and feel now, that it was as a result of his input.
John not only advised us on the music we programme but offered practical, friendly support to visiting musicians when they were performing at The Witham. In fact, when Melvyn visited Barnard Castle, John not only offered him lunch but also gave a lift both ways from Darlington station.
My colleague Suzanne (our Café Manager) has been delivering baked treats to some of our dearest customers and John was certainly one of those. In fact, he rang her just a week earlier to say thank you for the latest delivery.
In recognition of John’s life and his contribution to classical music, we are planning to dedicate one of our Sunday Classics concert in his name as a fitting tribute to this quiet, kind man who did so much for music locally.
We will all miss him and send out deep sympathies to John’s family at this difficult time.