Born in Wellington in 1945, Anthony 'Tony' Jennings was something of a child prodigy, accompanying church services at the age of eight, and forming his own choir at 13.
At 14 he started lessons with Maxwell Fernie and soon after became organist and choirmaster of St. Peter’s Church, Willis Street. He conducted the Victoria University Choir and formed the Wellington Bach Choir.
In 1971 he won a Belgian Government scholarship for postgraduate study at the Royal Brussels Conservatoire, graduating with the highest distinctions, including the Gold Medal of the Kingdom of Belgium. He came into contact with some of the leading exponents of the nascent baroque revival, and recognised an approach to performance entirely in keeping with his own blend of scholarship and inspiration.
Some regretted what they saw as a narrowing of his musical horizons as his fascination with the baroque period grew. He believed the opposite. In the Baroque, all human experience was there for the discovery, expressed in a language which he came to recognise as his own. For him the Baroque was a way of celebrating life.
Anthony’s return to New Zealand in 1974 to take up a full-time position at Auckland University’s School of Music was preceded by further study at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he gained the Diploma of Advanced Studies (harpsichord) with high distinction. While in England he also held the post of Assistant Organist to Peter Hurford, the English authority on organ playing and design, at St. Alban’s Abbey, Hertfordshire.
Anthony’s 16 years in Auckland are still remembered for the vitality and sheer profusion of music-making at Holy Trinity Cathedral, where he was Director of Music, and in particular the five International Organ Festivals he initiated there; the stylish performances of his baroque orchestra, The Auckland Concert and his choir Harmony and Counterpoint; and his many solo and ensemble performances.
In his role as teacher he twice took his entire class on organ crawls to Europe. His musical ideals remain the heritage of his impressive number of students, many of whom still occupy leading positions in New Zealand and overseas. The beautiful organ he designed for the University’s Maclaurin Chapel, a replica of a seventeenth century Dutch instrument, is a tangible memorial to his knowledge and skill.
When Tony left Auckland to take up a position at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, his departure was lamented by audiences and colleagues who realised that they had lost a uniquely talented musician. He died, aged only 50, in 1995.