Musical youth - Memories of our tuneful schooldays, from recorders to violins
PUBLISHED: 15:43 13 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:53 13 April 2019
Did playing the recorder, piano, trombone or triangle at school start a lifelong musical passion - or did your interest last for just a few weeks?
Do you remember being issued with a recorder at school, or sitting down at the piano for the very first time?
For many people, making music at school is a memory to cherish, providing the overture to all kinds of exciting musical experiences.
James Wright from Ipswich started out on a career as a musician as a result of his schooldays. He was a pupil at Rushmere Hall Primary School, and recalls: “I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to play the violin from the age of seven. My music teacher was peripatetic teacher Miss Carter (Anna Bertha Carter), hence her initials ABC.
“I come from a very large family and there was little disposable income back in the 1950s, so my first violin was purchased by instalments of two shillings and sixpence a time until it was paid off. I still have the payment book!
“At the age of 12, I was able to learn the trumpet, later going on to play in orchestras and dance bands.
“Everything was fine until I arrived at one concert to play in the brass section of the orchestra. Turned out the conductor for the evening was none other than Miss ABC! Since she knew I was one of her violin students, there was no way she would allow me to take part unless I reverted to the string section.
“I still have both instruments - not too hot on the trumpet but can still scratch out a tune on the violin. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given the opportunity to enjoy playing music.”
Another musician inspired by his experience from school is Richard Mack from Lingwood, Norwich, who has a SoundCloud page and also uploads music to YouTube, both under the name Singaband.
He said: “I learned cello and then double bass at school. I self-taught guitar, accordion, violin, sax etc as adult, and various midi composition/production softwares.
“Picking up new instruments is much easier with reading & theory knowledge from school, but I wouldn’t want to put anyone off starting to study music as an adult. I guess the key point is that there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning an instrument. At some point you have to put in the hours.”
School music was also the start of everything for Mark Harwood, former engineer of Springvale Studios in Ipswich, who has now retired after a lifetime in music.
He recalls: “I learned piano and oboe at Ipswich School. My teachers were Mr Ince and later Mr Parry, who were brilliant, inspirational teachers.
“I went on to a choir school, then North East Essex Tech, doing mostly electronics. I then played in local bands, got a job as a sound engineer at Polydor records, then toured with a lot of bands like Slade, the Jam, Rainbow etc. I then started my own studio and PA hire company at Springvale Studios, Sproughton.
“I ran that full time, in partnership as Hammer Hi Tec Ltd, and by myself in the end, for over 30 years, until heart health and a spinal problem forced my retirement. At least today the amplification is a lot smaller and lighter than it was back in the days of Rainbow and JBL concert systems!”
Although he now lives in South Carolina, former Suffolk schoolboy Jason Hearn has fond memories of his music lessons, which led on to his career in music. He attended schools including Downing Primary, Whitehouse Primary and Debenham High School, and said: “I played the recorder, then tried singing, then drums.
“I played in multiple bands, then ended up touring the US in a band called Echo 7. We toured with 3 Doors Down, Finger 11, Chevelle, Queensryche, and opened up for Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Disturbed etc. Now I do occasional studio work.”
Norfolk reader Julia Wilkin recalled: “I was born in 1963 and went to Trowse Primary School from 1968-73, I think, before we moved to Hellesdon and I started high school. We had three classes at Trowse, the very young, middle class and then the older ones.
“Mrs Flitter was the middle class teacher and also did music. She was a lovely lady and she ran the recorder class. I had a treble recorder, it was wooden, and my mum had to save up to buy it.
“I still have it somewhere. Although I wasn’t left-handed, I couldn’t play it the usual way and had to do it with opposite hands. Good job the bottom part of recorder could turn. I remember going to Mrs Flitter’s home with the group for afternoon tea as a special treat. We thought we were so important.”
Jane Kemp from Ipswich said: “I took up recorders at four years old. At 12 I learned saxophone, then clarinet, flute, fife, then ocarina. I have enjoyed a career in music for many years. Add in singing, and I so love my job! I get to entertain with my sister Julie Aleksic, who like me started with recorders, then added trombone, and singing. We’ve played for our first primary school teachers and we’re amazed that they knew who we were. Recognised after 50 years!”
However enthusiastic youngsters may be, listening to them practise instruments can sometimes be a trial for family and neighbours. Archant columnist Lynne Mortimer recalled: “I learned to play the violin at primary school, at the behest of my headmaster, who believed I was extremely musical.
“We lived in a terrace and when I practised in my bedroom (whence I had been banished) the neighbours complained because the sound – I can’t really call it music - went down the chimney.
“When I went up to high school, I looked forward to giving up playing, as I didn’t have a violin of my own. But my headmaster gave me his violin and so I felt compelled to carry on for a bit. I didn’t really get any better. With my small, 11-year-old hands, the notes seemed so far apart on the strings and I could never achieve the vibrato.
“In the end, I did give up and, apart from the swanee whistle which I use when I fancy talking like the Clangers, I do not play an instrument. It is a small regret.”
Brenda Bloomfield, a member of the Norwich Remembers Facebook group, also admitted: “I drove parents mad with a short-lived recorder.” Another group member, Mike Newman, said: “I tried the fiddle. Parents soon stopped that, ended up on the triangle!”
Sometimes, school music leads to special experiences to remember for a lifetime. Hazel Howard said: “I played the recorder, descant and treble. I played in an orchestra of children in St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, in a performance of Noye’s Fludde written by Benjamin Britten. We had rehearsals in Duke Street, at the old school, probably around 1961.”
Carrie-Anne Willis, a member of the Ipswich Remembers Facebook group, said: “I started playing the recorder at seven years old, at Cliff Lane. I then started playing violin at the age of nine. On going to Holywells High School, I then started playing clarinet alongside the violin. We were given free music tuition. This then led to playing the drum kit and also the Djembe drum and samba!
“Music at school was the best. It allowed us to express ourselves. Our Djembe group played 3 times at Snape Maltings and we recorded a samba CD with the Suffolk School of Samba.”
Margaret Marsham, originally from Ipswich, said: “I played the recorder, clarinet and sang in the school choir at Chantry Secondary School, as it was then, and I still use my recorder to practice my choir pieces to this day. I’ve been singing in a choir for the past 30 years since moving to Norfolk.”
On Twitter, Michelle Biggins from Colchester said: “I played recorder & still have a collection of them. I tried the double bass for a while and also learnt to play the trombone aged 13, and played until I was too pregnant with my son, aged 32. At 42, I dream of the day my hectic life will allow me to reintroduce music into my life!”
And author Amanda Crozier, who lives in rural Suffolk, recalled: “At school, I played descant and treble recorders, violin and oboe. I had piano lessons at home - self taught guitar. Creativity has followed me into adult life. I do cross stitch and tapestry, make bead woven jewellery and last year my first novel, book one of a trilogy, was published.”
Not everyone has fond memories of music in schools, though. Alex Millard tweeted: “Unpopular opinion: I hated learning a musical instrument. Parents forced me to learn piano because they regretted never having the opportunity. I dragged myself through it for four years and quit as soon as I started GCSEs. However, I have always loved singing, and sang in multiple choirs.”