Founding Principal Dr David Neville
Founding Principal of the Choir School St John’s College
Cathedral Director of Music and Organist 1980-2016
David was a gifted musician and composer, and touched many lives in his career as founding Principal of St John’s College, Cardiff, and through his more than 35 years of service as Organist and Director of Music at Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral.
David was born in Cardiff in 1949 and was educated at the boys’ Catholic grammar school, St Illtyd’s College. His love of music began at an early age with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti and he was a boy chorister at Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral and sang at its reopening in 1959. David studied Chemistry at the University of Bristol, where he met his wife, Diana, and formed the Wills Chapel Choir which performed in broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and sang a number of high profile concerts and services at Bristol, and elsewhere in the UK such as Ely Cathedral. David undertook further study at Cambridge University and relished his time at Pembroke College. He was greatly involved in its musical life and was a choral scholar at Jesus College.
On returning to Wales, David was Assistant Conductor of the BBC National Chorus of Wales and served as Head of Chemistry, Head of Science and Deputy Head in four large secondary schools. In 1980 he was appointed Director of Music and Organist at Cardiff Metropolitan Cathedral. The Cathedral’s voluntary choir of boys and men flourished and in 1982 he directed the music for the visit of Pope John Paul II.
It was his vision to create a choir school for the Cathedral that would lead him to take on the great challenge of regenerating the closed De la Salle prep school. From humble beginnings, and with only 85 pupils and a modest seven room single-storey building, David created St John’s College in 1987. Under his leadership, St John’s College has become recognised as one of the UK’s leading independent schools. It comprises more than 520 pupils aged 3-18 and maintains the best A Level record in Wales over 16 years. It has been rated ‘Excellent’ by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, and is frequently top school in Wales in The Sunday Times ‘Parent Power’.
With the daily rehearsals afforded by the new choir school, the Cathedral Choir quickly gained a reputation for the finest standards of performance, touring continental Europe and making several recordings under the Herald label. David’s three sons all sang in the Cathedral Choir and were educated at St John’s College before taking up choral scholarships at Magdalen College, Oxford, and King’s College, Cambridge. The Cathedral Choir flourishes under his sons, Dominic and James. For his services to cathedral music, David received the Papal Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1991 and in 1997 he was a first recipient of the Archbishop of Wales Award for Church Music, chaired by George Guest CBE. In December 2015, David received a Papal Knighthood of the Order of St Gregory in recognition of his lifetime of service. David’s last service at the Cathedral was a live broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in January 2016 before an audience of 1.6 million.
As an organist, David played at the cathedrals of Chartres, Amiens and Notre Dame Paris, the Grote Kerk in Haarlem and at many of the great churches of Johann Sebastian Bach. David possessed a supreme harmonic understanding that found its most expressive voice in his inspired organ improvisations. As a composer, David wrote works on a vast scale for chorus and orchestra, including The Wreck of the Deutschland directed by the internationally renowned conductor Vernon Handley at Hereford Cathedral. He was commissioned by the Welsh Arts Council, the Elgar Festival and the BBC, and his compositions have been performed in BBC broadcast and at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. In the year 2000, David was commissioned to compose a royal fanfare for the National Millennium Service attended by Princes Charles, William and Harry. In December 2016, the David Neville Gallery was opened by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales at the official inauguration of The Cornerstone in Cardiff. The Cathedral Choir sang a selection of repertoire including David’s inspired arrangement of Silent Night, and Prince Charles was very warm in his praise.
David’s sudden death was deeply mourned, with hundreds attending his Requiem Mass. Beyond his many achievements, David is remembered most fondly for his humble acts of kindness, his wise counsel and his inspiring leadership, and as a loving husband, father and friend. David was a great man of deep faith, whose worship found its fullest expression in a life of service and in the sacred music of William Byrd and J.S. Bach.
Tributes to Dr David Neville
Dr David Neville dedicated his life’s work to the creation of St John’s College and the development of the Metropolitan Cathedral Choir.
For thirty-five years David Neville held the honorary position of Director of Music and Organist at the Metropolitan Cathedral, and upon his appointment as a Papal Knight in December 2015, Canon Peter Collins, Dean of the Metropolitan Cathedral, announced:
“On behalf of the Cathedral Community I extend our warmest congratulations to Dr David Neville KSG upon receiving a Papal Knighthood within the Order of St Gregory from His Holiness Pope Francis. The honour has been bestowed in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the life of the Archdiocese over the past thirty-five years through his role as Director of Music and Organist at this Metropolitan Cathedral Church of Saint David. As founder Principal of St John’s College, designated as the Cathedral Choir School, Dr David Neville has created a structure of musical provision for the Cathedral that is the envy of my fellow Cathedral Deans.”
An address given by His Grace the Archbishop George Stack on BBC Radio 4 in May 2016:
“Earlier this month I was privileged to conduct the funeral of an extraordinary man. For 29 years Dr David Neville was the hugely inspiring and well-loved head teacher of St John’s College in Cardiff. He was also a gifted organist – music was his first love – and he naturally imbued the school with the same love of music and also provided a first rate Cathedral choir of pupils and adults. Whilst considering the theme of our Daily Services this week on Loyalty, and in particular today on ‘Covenant and Grief’, I thought of David and the many mourners at his funeral who spoke of and who had been inspired by his vision and dedication, by his love and loyalty, not just for his family, but also his school, his Church and his Catholic faith.”
“It is no accident that loyalty is recognised as one of the most important virtues. Even in ordinary life, whether in giving or receiving, loyalty is a value we recognise almost instinctively. And it is one of the qualities so highly valued by the people who knew, and who were taught and inspired by David Neville. To be able to depend on other people, knowing that no matter what difficulties or challenges we face, no matter what mistakes we make; knowing that we can rely on someone to affirm and support us, to love and forgive is something very precious.”