Maxwell Fernie, OBE

Maxwell Fernie OBE is remembered as an organist extraordinaire, teacher, conductor, and authority on Gregorian chant, sixteenth century polyphony, organ construction and tonal design.

Born in Wellington on 25 April 1910, Fernie received his first schooling from the Marist Brothers in Newtown and later at Wellington College. He became a leader in church music while still a young man, taking up the position of Choirmaster and Organist at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Wellington.

At the outbreak of World War II, Fernie served with the second New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt and Europe.  At the end of the war he stayed on in England to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London, gaining several prizes.

Fernie returned to Wellington in the early 1950s as the director of music for Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese, a position he held until 1953 when he was called back to London as Organist and choir instructor at Westminster Cathedral.

After five acclaimed years of intensive organ playing, music making and teaching, he returned to New Zealand to become the Director of Music at St Mary of the Angels, Wellington, New Zealand where he supervised the building of the new organ constructed to his design.  Fernie's development of sixteenth century polyphony at St Mary of the Angels became a model for Roman Catholic Church choirs.

In the following years, Fernie schooled choirs, taught piano, organ and singing, and trained celebrated musicians.  His notable students included Ivan Bootham, Patricia Lawrey, Anthony Jennings, Peter Walls, Denis Smalley, Geoffrey Coker, Roy Tankersley, Christopher Hainsworth and Barry Mora. As well as being a well-known broadcaster and lecturer, he founded and conducted the Schola Polyphonica Choir (specialising in 16th Century polyphony) in 1967.  

Fernie was Wellington City Organist for 27 years and played the Town Hall's Norman & Beard Grand Organ on numerous occasions for civic receptions and supervised its restoration in the 1980s.  From 1963 till 1988 he taught a new generation of young organists at Victoria University of Wellington, helping to bring about an organ renaissance in New Zealand.

He continued as Director of Music at St Mary's until his death on 22 May 1999.  His name lives on in the Maxwell Fernie Trust, which provides scholarships for young organists and choral conductors, and in the Maxwell Fernie Organ of St Mary of the Angels, Wellington.