Ave atque vale: Sue Wanless retires from the University

After many years devoted to championing extra-curricular music as part of life at the University, Sue has decided to lay down the conductor’s baton.

Image: Molly Hollman

For thirty-two years, Sue has been at the helm of the Music department,  conducting the University Chorus and Symphony Orchestra each year in the epic annual Colyer-Fergusson concert in Canterbury Cathedral, as well as the University Camerata and other chamber groups.

University Chorus and Orchestra
University Chorus and Orchestra in Canterbury Cathedral: Photo: Robert Berry
Image: Molly Hollman

From a humble beginning, rehearsing fifty singers in the Senate Building, through to the cavernous acoustics and logistical challenges of performing in Eliot College dining-hall, and eventually into the landmark Colyer-Fergusson building, music has become a flourishing, vital part of the University’s creative life.

Rehearsing in Eliot dining-hall in 2010.
Digging the first hole
The Honourable Jonathan Monckton and Director of Music, Susan Wanless in May, 2011.Image credit Mick Norman

Over four hundred members of the University community, both students as well as staff, are involved each academic year, as well as members of the local community. Aside from a busy life on campus, Sue has also  been part of the panel of judges for the Canterbury International Festival’s annual music bursary competition for young performers.

Sue in rehearsal with compser, Matthew King, in 2018

Thanks to a wonderful donation from the Colyer-Fergusson Charitable Trust, the Colyer-Fergusson building opened its doors to extra-curricular music in December 2018,  revolutionising the opportunities for rehearsal and performance with its award-winning concert-hall.

The gala opening of Colyer-Fergusson, December 2012. Image: Matt Wilson
Rehearsing in Canterbury Cathedral

Thanks to Sue, each year students leave the University with fond memories of having performed in the Nave of the Cathedral, Colyer-Fergusson Hall, and (last November) across the Channel in the city of Calais. And it’s not just the music; joining in with music leads to the creation of friendships amongst the student community that last a lifetime.

In previous years, Sue conducted fully-staged productions of works as part of the summer opera projects, and created the former annual ArtsFest that transformed into the current Summer Music Week, a vibrant week- (and, in recent years, more than a week!) long musical celebration of the end of the academic year, concluding with the popular Saturday Gala concert complete with popping champagne corks, popular orchestral and choral favourites, and fond (and often tearful) farewells as another generation of University musicians graduates, performing in the concert-hall for the final time.

The annual Summer Gala concert in Colyer-Fergusson Hall. Image: Matt Wilson

And it’s not just about waving your arms; there’s also the programme notes to write, the lunchtime concerts to book, the liaising with other departments and schools across the University, the bills to pay.

So it’s farewell to Sue after many of commitment and dedication to enhancing the lives of countless students (and staff) at the University as she heads to the nineteenth hole. We’re sure the future holds many, many rounds of golf and post-golf refreshments – as Sue heads off the eighteenth green for the final time, we are sure everyone joins us in wishing her all the very best. Thank you for the music…

Sue on the spoons…

5 thoughts on “Ave atque vale: Sue Wanless retires from the University”

  1. Dear Sue,
    it was a privilege to have known you and a repeated joy to have benefited from your steering of music at UKC. I hope the next phase of your life will be full and rewarding. Play on …

  2. Sue, You will be very much missed. Singing in the University choir was always for me a wonderful experience, thanks to your unabating energy and determination to get the best from us all. And listening to the university orchestra was also a continual joy. Thank you for all this, and may you enjoy retirement as much as I have. Now may go and pop a copper kettle on for a proper cup of coffee whenever you feel like it.

  3. Happy retirement Sue! What a tremendous department you led. Thank you for your support and encouragement during my time as a student and for inspiring me to continue my music making – outside of my studies, purely for the joy of it. Lifelong friends were made, and so very much fun was had. Wishing you all the best x

  4. My favourite memory of Sue is towards the end of one Chorus rehearsal. The timing was slightly off as the majority of singers had their heads buried in the music instead of watching her beat. Frustrated, she stopped waving her hands around, reached for her belt buckle, slowly removed said belt, and then held it above her head, motionless.
    A series of titters ensued as, one by one, people realised what was happening. To which Sue exclaimed, “I was wondering how long it would take you all to look at me!”

    Just one example of the great humour that Sue always brought to every rehearsal. Whether in the Chorus, the Messiah from Scratch, or the Summer operas, Sue created some magical and very memorable experiences. Music was definitely the best part of my time at Kent, so thank you Sue for everything you’ve done!

  5. Bravo! What a great thing to have done.

    My words don’t do it all justice, but Thank You Sue.
    For the wonderful moments, the memories, and of course the music!

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