‘Eat great food and drink fine wine’, acclaimed St Helens-born conductor’s advice to students

John Rigby delivers his speech to students at Edge Hill University
John Rigby delivers his speech to students at Edge Hill University

A St Helens-born classical music conductor - whose credentials include spells at the helm at a West End production of The Phantom of the Opera’s US tour - has been awarded an Honourary Doctorate by Edge Hill University.

John Rigby began his career in musical theatre and has been musical director for a long list of prestigious productions. He is currently the Musical Supervisor for The Phantom of the Opera US tour and for Les Misérables in London and Korea.

Accepting his award from Vice Chancellor John Cater, John recalled the advice he was given before his first performance of Les Misérables.

“It’s fair to say that when considering some of the tasks I might have performed during my life, giving a response to such a distinguished award didn’t even come on to my radar.

“I can’t help but think of the advice I was given on conducting my first ever performance of Les Misérables many years ago. On reaching the podium I found a note left by the orchestra that simply read ‘John, wave arms until music stops. Turn around and bow’,” he said.

“It highlights the point that without the involvement of other people, a conductor is merely somebody stood alone in a room waving their arms around. When you’re relied upon as being the person stood at the front, I think the contribution of those around you cannot be valued highly enough. I’ve come to realise my effectiveness for being the guy stood at the front is entirely governed by what I’ve absorbed from the world and the people around me,” John said.

John finished his speech with parting advice for the graduating Education students.

“Enjoy life, live it to the fullest, travel, eat great food, drink fine wine, listen to music, enjoy the arts, continue educating yourselves, learn a language, learn to dance, learn to bake.

“Rely on your friends, family and colleagues. Value them and their advice, learn from them and enjoy their company, and let them support you.

“And when all else fails, wave your arms until the music stops then turn around and bow,” he said.

John’s formidable list of current projects include Die Fledermaus for Opera Holland Park, Viennese Whirl with the Orchestra of Opera North, Bond & Beyond, Classical Spectacular, Jingle Bell Christmas, the 2017 Johann Strauss Tour, Movie Classics and White Christmas for Raymond Gubbay Ltd, the 2016 Leeds Castle Classical Open Air Concert, Last Night of the Autumn Proms and Summer Classics with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and A Very Merry Mooney Tunes with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.

When asked about his personal contribution as a conductor to classical anthems, he said “to try and demystify them in some way and present them in a way that is accessible for people to appreciate, and realise that classical music needn’t be elitist, nor does it need to be dumbed down”.

Edge Hill University will award ten Honorary Degrees during its 2016 summer graduation ceremonies. Each of the recipients - leaders in a range of areas spanning film, law, politics, music, education, and philanthropy - will be recognised by Edge Hill for their contributions to society that resonate with the University’s values, teaching and research.