Eric McGavin’s arrival at Boosey & Hawkes in 1950 marked a resurgence of interest in the museum set up at the Boosey factory in the late nineteenth century by David James Blaikley. He was a proficient clarinettist, and was first employed to work in the tuning room (as the successor of Brian Manton-Myatt), where he carried out final checks and ensured that the top range clarinets, such as the Symphony 1010 model, were properly set up for their new owners, who included luminaries such as Gervase de Peyer and Jack Brymer. McGavin’s lifelong passion however was music education. He was a visionary in this field, pioneering methods for group teaching and for adapting wind instruments so that they could be used by students with disabilities. His contribution to music education is still very much alive in the UK today in the form of the National Youth Wind Orchestra, which he founded in 1968 as the British Youth Wind Orchestra, and his work was recognised by the Royal Academy of Music with the award of the title honorary associate (HonARAM). It was not long before McGavin’s unique talents and energies in this field were recognised and harnessed by Boosey & Hawkes and the post of Educational Advisor was created for him. Through his work in this post, McGavin travelled extensively, teaching students and promoting Boosey & Hawkes instruments in Australia, New Zealand and Africa as well as throughout England.
The collection at Boosey & Hawkes was central to this work and under McGavin’s curatorship, it served as an active resource for students, researchers and performers. McGavin’s use of the collection could perhaps best be described as ‘hands on’, and his wide ranging abilities as a player enabled him to illustrate talks about music history with demonstrations on various instruments, including conch trumpets and vocal horns as well as clarinets. He would often begin these talks by playing a blade of grass held between his thumbs and would then progress through a narrative of instrument development during which he drew upon various instruments in the collection. School groups were frequent visitors to the museum, including those from Hemel Hempstead Grammar, where McGavin taught music for eighteen years. He ran an active programme of school visits, taking parts of the collection on the road in his Morris car. McGavin also brought the collection into the homes of British TV viewers during the early 1960s through his appearances on Tuesday Rendezvous with guitarist Bert Weedon. McGavin welcomed professional performers curious about the history of their instrument and made museum instruments available for them to play. Visits by Jack Brymer and Gervase de Peyer are documented in photographs.
McGavin was Life-Vice President of The Schools Music Association and founder of The British Youth Wind Orchestra. At the age of 19 he played in the Grenadier Guards band.