It is with great sadness that we report the death of Dr Hilary Bracefield, who passed away on 22 April after battling with a long illness. The following obituary was written by Professor Jan Smaczny.
Hilary Maxwell Bracefield (1938-2020)
Hilary, a proud New Zealander, was born in Dunedin on 30 June 1938 and educated at the University of Otago where she was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (1959) a diploma in Music (1964) and a Master of Arts in English (1969). In the early 1970s she undertook research into the aesthetics and philosophy of early eighteenth-century English music at the University of Birmingham with Nigel Fortune. She had a wide range of pedagogical experience, but the main part of her teaching career was as a lecturer in music at the Ulster Polytechnic from 1976 (incorporated with the University of Ulster in 1984) and later senior lecturer; from 1988 she was head of the music department based at Jordanstown until her retirement in 2003.
A dispassionate retailing of the bare facts concerning life, education and career simply will not do for Hilary Bracefield. Over the last forty years she was one of the most widely-known figures in musical scholarship in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Years before I arrived in Belfast as Harty Professor in 1996 I had encountered her at musicological gatherings and in the various furrow-browed fora that keep our scholarly establishment connected and creative. Among much else she was a council member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians (1980-1986 and again from 2001) and the Royal Musical Association (Vice-President 2004-2011). Never one to sit on the sidelines, Hilary was above all a contributor and as such was a valued presence at conferences and in council meetings. Among her achievements was her key role in founding the RMA’s Irish Chapter in 1987 with its far-reaching impact on musical scholarship in Ireland and which was succeeded with a triumphant inevitability she strongly supported by the Society for Musicology in Ireland in 2003. As ever, she was a welcome presence at the SMI’s annual plenary conferences and in due course her service to Irish Musicology was recognized with honorary membership of the SMI and the Irish Association for American Studies; in 1999 she was awarded an honorary Masters degree by the Open University for services to musical education.
Hilary’s passion for contemporary music led to her involvement as an editor on the pioneering contemporary music journal Contact and she was later a director of Ireland’s Contemporary Music Centre (CMC). But it was perhaps her role as a leader where contemporary music is concerned in Northern Ireland that the weight of her legacy lies. My former colleague Professor Piers Hellawell writes:
"Hilary Bracefield was a consistent force for good in the widening of new music appreciation for at least four decades in Northern Ireland. Not only did she espouse a huge range of repertoire through teaching at the University of Ulster, but encouraged its performance through her tireless committee work for the Belfast Music Society (chair 1988-1990); as a founder member of the Sonorities Festival Committee, she played a major role in this landmark new music event for over twenty years. As a committee member she was devoted, not limiting her support to bright ideas at the table, but also rolling up sleeves and setting out chairs; she was regularly the last to leave after clearing up after a concert. We should note also that she believed in performing new music; no one who saw Hilary playing John Cage on a toy piano can forget it. Her Mushroom Group was a forerunner of today’s CoMA Ensembles, involving students in the playing of Riley’s In C and numerous other works in the experimental tradition. Today’s vigorous new music scene in Northern Ireland includes leading lights – promoters, ensemble directors and composers – who owe to Hilary their introduction to new music."
Hilary will be missed, but also celebrated as a mentor, contributor and above all a person who cared deeply about the communities she served. True to her name, she brought cheer and merriment in her wake and, of course, hilarity.