Trimble, Joan (1915–2000), pianist, composer, and newspaper proprietor, was born 18 June 1915 in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, elder daughter of William Egbert Trimble (1882–1967) and Marie Trimble (née Dowse). Her grandfather William Copeland Trimble (qv) was editor and proprietor of the Enniskillen-based newspaper The Impartial Reporter. Her father studied singing in Dublin and London and had Feis Ceoil gold medals; he suspended his studies at TCD in 1902 to come home and assist his father after a disastrous fire at the newspaper premises. In June 1914 he married Marie, third daughter of Mr and Mrs Richard Dowse of Harcourt St., Dublin. All the Dowse children were musical: no fewer than eleven brothers and sisters studied at the RIAM and eight of them were scholars and exhibitioners; as a violinist, Marie had a particular bent and talent for ensemble playing.
Joan Trimble was to follow professionally in the footsteps of both her parents. She showed early promise as a pianist and violinist while she was a pupil of Enniskillen Royal School for Girls (later Enniskillen Collegiate). She and her younger sister Valerie entered the RIAM together in 1931. Joan was awarded piano, violin, and composition scholarships while studying there. She won a scholarship to TCD and in 1936 graduated BA and in 1937 bachelor of music. Valerie had gone to the Royal College of Music in London, and Joan joined her there to study composition with Herbert Howells and Vaughan Williams and piano with Arthur Benjamin. The sisters were encouraged by Arthur Benjamin to give performances as a two-piano duo. They made their debut in 1938, and their ability and rapport with each other made them successful and gave them a concert career, which included appearances in the lunchtime concerts organised in the National Gallery in London during the second world war by Myra Hess and Howard Ferguson (qv). In the 1950s and 1960s, besides being busy concert artists, they became household names through their regular weekly broadcasts on the popular ‘Tuesday serenade’ with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Stanford Robinson; the ‘Jamaican rumba’ composed by Arthur Benjamin became their signature tune.
Joan Trimble had opened her composing career with two songs, ‘My grief on the sea’ in 1937 to words by Douglas Hyde (qv) and ‘Green rain’ to words by M. Webb in the following year. Some of the best-known of her compositions in the late 1930s and early 1940s – ‘Buttermilk Point’, ‘The humours of Carrick’, ‘The bard of Lisgoole’, ‘The green bough’, and the more extended ‘Sonatina’ and ‘Pastorale’ – were written for herself and her sister to perform, nearly all in the Irish idiom which informs her distinctive style. Her ‘Phantasy trio’ for violin, cello, and piano won the Cobbett prize at the Royal College of Music in 1940 and, having composed ‘The pool among the reeds’ for clarinet and piano and ‘Rosa Breathnach’ for violin and piano in the same year, she was awarded the Sullivan prize for composition. Encouragement to compose for larger forces was provided by BBC Northern Ireland; she was one of the composers invited to write orchestral arrangements for the ‘Ulster airs’ scheme in 1939–40. They also commissioned from her ‘Erin go Bragh’, a march rhapsody for brass band, in 1943, and in 1949 a song cycle, ‘The County Mayo’, written for the Irish baritone Robert Irwin to poems by James Stephens (qv), some of them his translations from the Irish of Antaine Raiftearaí (qv), a poet who was to be the subject of a notable later commission. 1953 saw a group of compositions: two songs for two voices and piano, ‘The milkmaid’ to words by T. Nobbes and a setting of Blake's ‘The lamb’, commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland ‘Children's Hour’; a setting for solo voice and orchestra of ‘How dear to me the hour when daylight dies’ by Thomas Moore (qv); and the accomplished ‘Suite for strings’, commissioned by the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra and performed, with Arthur Duff (qv) conducting, in the Phoenix Hall in Dublin. In 1956 the BBC in London had broken new ground with one-act operas specially commissioned for television; Joan Trimble's ‘Blind Raftery’, to a libretto by Cedric Cliffe, was commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland and performed in May 1957.
The flow of compositions ceased thereafter for some years. There was an ‘Air for two Irish harps’ in 1969. Then, as interest in her career and her music revived, she accepted a commission from the Northern Ireland arts council to mark her seventy-fifth birthday, and the result was her ‘Three diversions for wind quintet’, acclaimed at the time and widely performed since.
In the second world war both Joan and her sister became Red Cross nurses. In 1942 Joan married John Greenwood Gant (1917–2000), a Yorkshireman (born in Bridlington) who was a captain in the RAMC with the 5th East Lancashires. After the war they lived in London, Joan continuing with her musical career, he as a general practitioner. They had a son, Nicholas, and two daughters, Joanne and Caroline. Her sister Valerie married John Williams, a fellow musician, and they had four children: a daughter, Rosalind; twins, Kate and Patrick; and a son, Jonathan. Valerie died in London in 1980.
Egbert Trimble became editor and proprietor of the Impartial Reporter in 1941 on his father's death, and on the formation in 1954 of William Trimble Ltd became its managing director. He was high sheriff for Co. Fermanagh in 1951, and when he died, in London in February 1967, he had become deputy lieutenant of the county. Joan was determined to keep the newspaper in the family, took over his role of managing director, and later became chairman of the company. During the 1960s and 1970s she had been employed as a professor of accompaniment and general musicianship at the Royal College of Music and worked as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. For several years she made regular business trips between Enniskillen and her home in London. In 1978 her husband had to retire from practice for health reasons, and they came back to live in Enniskillen. There were long years of a disabling neurological illness ahead of him, during which he had Joan's devoted care. In the last few months of his life her own health broke down. He died on 22 July 2000, Joan a fortnight later on 6 August 2000.
Writing music over a long career, in the increasing clamour of competing schools and theories, Joan Trimble expressed her own robust and coherent credo: ‘I have always written music “subject to neither schools nor period”. As a performer-composer, communication with the listener is essential and response follows. Shape and form, rhythm and clarity, as well as freedom of expression, are all important. I am free to be myself, regardless of fashion’ (quoted in The Times obituary). The obituarist said that ‘the best of her music, attractive and always beautifully crafted, deserves the appreciation that she won early in her career and which is beginning to revive.’ No commercial recordings of her early work or of the piano duo performances were made; when Joan Trimble came into the BBC NI studio in 1984 (to be interviewed by Roy Johnston) she had with her only a few precious tapes. A good deal of her music has now been recorded on CD. Her papers are deposited in the Contemporary Music Centre, Dublin.