This obituary was compiled by Noreen’s son, Peter Goresymnes, and has been reproduced with his kind permission.
Noreen STOKES, the respected Adelaide concert pianist and teacher, died peacefully on Sunday, 11 March, 2012, at Resthaven Leabrook in Adelaide. She was born on 13 December, 1917, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she lived until the late 1930’s. The family initially lived in Fort Street before moving to Jameson Street. Noreen attended the Dominican Convent where, apart from her mother’s teaching, she had her first piano lessons with Sr Cecelia and, later, Sr Raymond. Her parents were George Morris Stokes and Vivienne Agnes nee Bennett. Throughout her life she retained Stokes as her professional name.
As a child, and throughout her student years, Noreen was known as “Bobbie”. Her first piano teacher was her mother who supplied her precocious daughter with a constant stream of new music scores. Noreen soon began dominating the Bulawayo Eisteddfods and was appointed organist at her church. She began formal piano lessons at her convent school but was already sight-read well enough to fool her teachers. As a nineteen year old, she was chosen to accompany the prestigious visiting Russian violinist, Leo Cherniavsky, who, twenty years later in Singapore, requested that she accompany him again.
Winning a four-year Beit Scholarship to the College of Music (University of Cape Town) freed Noreen to take lessons with as many pianists as she could, including Minnie Seabridge and Colin Taylor, Adolphe Hallis in Johannesburg – and even some lessons with Herbert Freyer of London’s Royal Academy who happened to tour South Africa at the time. Noreen discovered that she needed to completely revise the keyboard technique she had been taught in Bulawayo.
During her first year as an undergraduate student at the college she was appointed as Departmental Accompanist for examinations and public concerts, and held that position for the duration of her studies. She also performed exclusively as a soloist, playing many of the standard concerti with Cape Town’s municipal orchestra. She won numerous prizes, as well as the Van Hulsteyn Scholarship for best performance (she chose Chopin’s Ballade No 4). In particular, Noreen loved the piano trip repertoire and was a member of two trios, both of which toured. To earn extra money during her studies, she performed chamber music in the foyer of Cape Town’s Carlton Hotel. She was elected as head girl at college and even found energy to act with the Cape Town Little Theatre.
During 1941 Noreen enlisted in the war effort. Sergeant Stokes helped to locate enemy shipping approaching Cape Town by cranking the wooden handle of a new-fangled machine called Radar. Noreen impatiently waited for the war to end so that she could travel for lessons at London’s Royal Academy. In the meantime she continued performing and began teaching piano, spending a year at Eveline High School in her home town of Bulawayo.
Finally, in 1946, Noreen was able to sail to London on board an ex-troopship. On board she met Eric Symes whom she later married in Gibraltar. London, in 1947, was still under war-time rationing and was experiencing the coldest recorded winter for 100 years. Undaunted, Noreen took lessons with pianists such as Arthur Alexander, Hilda Dederich and Edith Vogel, as well as touring for the British Arts Council and performing at Wigmore Hall.
In 1950, Noreen’s husband was transferred to Singapore. The colony, during those years, was frequented by many world-class artists from Europe and America, often en route to Australia. On her arrival in Singapore, Noreen was promptly appointed as accompanist for Radio Malaya. For ten years she was the pivotal musical personality throughout Asia, performing frequently with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, and numerous artists such as Leon Goossens, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Alfredo Campoli, Max Rostal, Marilyn Richardson, Constance Shacklock, Lauris Elms, Gabor Reeves and harmonica virtuoso, Larry Adler (with whom, years later, she was to tour Australia).
In later 1959 her family migrated to Australia. At the suggestion of William Lovelock, Noreen chose to settle in Adelaide where she was ABC Accompanist from 1961 – 1975. Noreen taught piano for various Adelaide institutions such as the TAFE School of Music, the Adelaide College of Advanced Education and the Elder Conservatorium, performing and recording extensively with many Adelaide musicians including the Adelaide Piano Trio with Robert Cooper and Waldemar d’Almeida. She was Director of the South Australian Keyboard Summer School from 1991 – 1996, Patron of the SA Accompanists’ Guild, Vice-President of both the SA Society for Keyboard Music and the SA Music Teachers’ Association, as well as Vice-Patron of the Adelaide Eisteddfod Society.
In 1995, Noreen was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Australian Music Examinations Board, having served as Chief Examiner from 1962 – 1993. In January 2000, she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to music.
Noreen is survived by her two sons, Peter and Adrian, as well as grandchildren, Dale and Liberty, and her great grandchildren, Dennekka and Sonny.