13. 1939 –1945 The outbreak of war and wartime musical activities


When war broke out James had been engaged to play in three separate Promenade Concerts in the Queen’s Hall.  The first in August took place successfully, but the next two scheduled after September 3rd, were cancelled.  It was anticipated that London would be subjected to immediate bombing and so all theatres and similar venues were closed and the whole music department of the Broadcasting Company were evacuated to Bristol.  The Brighton connections disappeared as well and the school closed.  Music was not considered important at that critical time.  James was left with no London pupils and no regular employment. He moved back to Oxford and soon met up with a fellow musician Thomas Armstrong who had been a student with him at Music College and was now Heather Professor of Music in the University.  James was soon able to take on number of local pupils and Oxford gave him the opportunity to give recitals again in the city. On February 14th 1943 a special Bach concert was held in the Sheldonian Theatre in aid of the Oxfordshire Prisoners of War Fund. Dr Thomas Armstrong and Betty Reeves joined James as the soloists in the Concerto in C Major for three pianos.  The other items were Bach Brandenburg concertos No. 5 in D Major and Bach Concerto in C Major for two pianos played by James Ching and Betty Reeves. The Oxford Chamber Orchestra was conducted by John Webster, organist at St Mary’s Church in Oxford.  The Duchess of Marlborough was present at the concert.

During the period of the war James remained in Oxford and at this time became very interested in the writings of Freud and Jung. He began working on a book exploring the psychological causes of anxiety and nervousness in playing, singing or speaking before an audience.

In 1940 James brought out a detailed manual on The Playing and Teaching of Bach, published by Forsyth.  The Musical Times reviewed it in April of that year saying ‘Mr Ching is a distinguished pianist with a reputation as a Bach Player.  (His broadcasts were among the very best).’

During the war James continued to give regular recitals and the Eastern Evening News on February 8th 1940 has a review of one given at the Johnson-Taylor studio in Norwich.  He used the recital to speak about his theories for piano technique as put forward in his book ‘Pianoforte Technique: Foundation Principles’.  The critic wrote ‘…an appreciative audience heard him play works by  Bach, Cesar-Franck, Chopin and Rachmaninoff (sic) which afforded him wide scope for showing his own great technical skill…’

He also found extra work from the BBC Music Department based in Bristol.  He was invited to contribute to a Sunday morning series of talks introducing musical excerpts from a range of composers to a wider audience.  He ran a series where he played music to a member of the general public unfamiliar with classical music and afterwards discussed the reaction to the music with them.  A report from The Listener in 1941 applauds ‘James Ching, microphone talker. His words are musical in flow and sense’.

In 1942 the artist John Haggis painted James at the piano in oils with the inscription ‘James Ching playing Bach’s music at Tewin September 1942’.  He also drew this charcoal sketch.