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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Hitting the Wrong Note


Continuing my painful memories of crime and punishment at Anglesey Secondary Modern in Clarence Street, Burton, a couple of tuneful (ish) stories come to mind.  Both concern the Music Teacher at our school. 

I don't know whether it is a condition of service that Music Teachers should be temperamental and larger than life, but this was certainly true of our postholder.  He was one of a number of teachers we had, who would really have been happier teaching in a minor public school somewhere.  Instead, he got us.

Teaching Music at Anglesey was always going to be an uphill struggle.  Apart from the recalcitrant pupils, I very much doubt that there was much of a budget for the subject.  The only instruments that most of us were allowed anywhere near were the old standard treble recorder, for which the only thing that can be said in its favour is that at least it's not the violin. 

For much of the rest of the time, we sang.  Actually, I use the term 'sang' rather loosely.  We made a noise which, on the whole, might be charitably regarded as singing.  Even this was not without its pitfalls.
You may remember my story about my old friend, Archie, who attempted to subvert the natural order of things in the school assembly by saying The Lord's Prayer exactly one word behind everyone else?  Well we had a similar subversive influence in our Music lessons.

I can well remember our first Music lesson in the old Nissen Huts on the edge of the Sports Ground in Clarence Street.  For some unaccountable reason, Music was one of the lessons in which the genders were separated, probably to spare the finer feelings of the girls.  As we lads launched into our first song, with the teacher giving it his all at the piano, we became gradually aware of a noise like a cow in labour from somewhere at the back of the room.  It soon became apparent that Jock was the culprit.  Loudly and confidently, he sang a particular monotone that bore no resemblance to the tune at all.  The Music Teacher urged us to continue singing as he worked his way around the classroom in search of this painful noise.  Eventually, he tracked down the culprit and we waited for the inevitable chastisement.  However, to our surprise, the teacher proclaimed that Jock was clearly tone deaf, in the proper sense of the term, and was more to be pitied than blamed.  From then on, Jock was excused singing.  I don't think I was the only one who suspected that this was more a case of a musical 'Archie' than a true impediment, particularly given the favourable outcome, but I may be doing him a disservice.  Certainly he looked rather smug about the whole affair.

The second musical incident had me at the epicentre.  We were attempting to render some tune or other, as a class, on the treble recorder.  The resulting noise bore some resemblance to an infinite number of cats with their tails trapped in a mangle.  The teacher stood this for as long as he could bear, but eventually gave up and yelled for us all to stop.  Trembling with emotion, he pronounced "Stop it!  Stop this dreadful noise.  There's only one of you that has the slightest idea of what you're doing"  We all looked around to see who this might be, "and that is Philip there, he's been playing quietly but carefully whilst you lot have just been making a row"  He pointed at me, and my heart sank in my chest.  You see, for some months I had been getting away with murder in Music by simply fingering the recorder in what I fondly hoped was the right sequence, but not actually blowing. "Stand up, Philip, and show the others how it's done."   I stood up and hoped for a miracle.  It didn't come.  I can still recall, with a sense of despair, the spluttering wailing that emanated from my instrument and the howls of laughter from my classmates.  Needless to say, I was not called upon to deliver a solo again.

This article appeared in the Derby Telegraph's Bygones column in February, 2013 and will be part of the forthcoming book, "A Kick at the Pantry Door".  You can read more of the same in Steady Past Your Granny's and Crutches for Ducks