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Saturday, 12 February 2011

Assembly Lines

I was reading about a trend, in some workplaces, for staff to have to gather together each morning for the latest team briefing, and it occurred to me how similar this was to the Assemblies we had to attend, each morning, when I was a child.

Assemblies were a rigid element of each day at school, only avoided by those excused on religious grounds (the assembly, in those days, being fiercely C of E in tone and content) or those who were so late as to have missed the start (often me, for whom a direr penalty than the School Assembly waited). 

Everyone would troop into the School Hall and line up in their forms, youngest at the front and oldest at the back, with the teachers lined along the walls to spot any misbehaviour, whilst the most senior staff were grouped on the stage waiting for the star of the show, the Headmaster/Headmistress, to make their entrance.  They would sweep in, usually with their Deputy in tow, and we would all stand to something approaching attention whilst they made their way to the stage and took charge of the proceedings.
The format of the Assembly was usually pretty much the same.  An introduction from the Head, a hymn, a reading of some sort, another hymn, some notices (“Miss S. requires deposits for the coach trip by Friday lunchtime” usually, or once, more memorably, “Would the child who lost a wallet in the playground, please form a queue outside the Head’s office after Assembly”), and then the reverse flow of staff and students out of the hall.
I used to quite like the music and hymns part of the Assembly.  Not because I am any great shakes in terms of singing but just for the sheer uplifting quality of most childhood hymns (with the exception of “All Things Bright and Beautiful” which I found unbearably twee even then).  If you were lucky, music for the Assembly would be provided by the Music Teacher and his trusty piano.  If you were unlucky, the Music Teacher would be off (or sulking, Music Teachers being quite emotional beasts) and the piano would be in the less than capable hands of one of the teachers “who can play a bit, if required”.  If you were really unlucky, the School Orchestra would have been pressed into service, which would mean a motley crew of children gathered together at the front of the hall to mete out cruel and unusual punishment to some unsuspecting musical instruments.  Hell on Earth would be an appearance by the School’s Recorder Group, which would be a fate worse than death for anyone within earshot.
At Uxbridge Junior School we had a teacher (Mr. Jackson, I think) who played the piano for the morning assembly with a real passion.  My personal favourite of his was “Jerusalem”, a stirring tune at any time but Mr. J put everything he had into his rendition.  He would attack the piano as if it had done him some unspeakable wrong in the past, and this was pay-back time.   Even now, when I hear the tune, I can picture him sitting at the piano, silver-grey hair flying in all directions and his features becoming ever more florid, as he thumped out the final triumphant chords.  It’s entirely down to Mr. J that “Jerusalem” remains one of my all-time favourite hymns. 
Another one that lived in my memory was “He Who Would Valiant Be”, not just because it has a good tune but also for the entirely bizarre reason that it has the lines “Then fancies flee away, I’ll fear not what men say” which my infant brain interpreted as having something to do with my cousin Frances from Holbrook (don’t ask, I have no idea why!)
The worst possible Assembly was the House Assembly, where the hymn singing had to be lead, unaccompanied, by the poor, benighted House Master, not all of whom were gifted with any form of musical talent.  It’s at times like that you begin to see the positive side of the treble recorder.
Right, all together now, “And did those feet in ancient times…”

See Riotous Assembly for the next irreverent instalment

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