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Monday, 16 July 2018

Musical Moments: 52 Ancestors - Week 29

My family's love of church music,  featured HERE in an earlier theme of "52 Ancestors", so for this week, I am looking back at my own musical memories for Week 29 of Amy Johnson Crow's year long challenge.

"I am in an  all singing/dancing chorus, swirling my skirts,  in a  London West End show  - such as Carousel, Oklahoma, West Side Story or 42nd Street .......
But It Was All One of My Wildest Dreams!  

Back to reality! Playing the triangle in my infant school percussion group  is my earliest musical memory.  I was non too pleased at being given  this instrument.  Like everyone else, I wanted the favourite choice  - the sleigh bells.  

I made my singing debut in my primary school nativity play where I sang the first verse of "We Three Kings of Orient Are".  I had no wish to sing solo every again!. 

My next stage performance  was at a Brownie's concert when, clutching our teddies,  we sang "The Teddy Bear's Picnic". 

In my primary school days,  every Wednesday afternoon we gathered in the hall for community singing and I learnt such patriotic songs as The British Grenadiers, Hearts of Oak, The Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, Bluebells of Scotland and my favourite Men of Harlech, sung with much gusto.  Sea shanties were also popular as we swung from side to side to sing What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor?   Are these now all forgotten,  as I doubt that children are familiar with them today? 

I began learning the piano at the age of eight, largely because it was a sore point with my mother that her older sister and much younger sister learnt, but she missed out. 
 So she was determined that I had the chance, and the piano, complete with candlesticks, was transported  from my grandfather's house to our cold front room, which only had a fire on for special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas - not conducive to nimble fingers across the keyboard! 

One of my worst musical experiences, at the age of 12, when my piano teacher enrolled me to take part in a local musical festival - I hated it, but reckon the adjudicator must have felt worse having to listen to  us children playing (or murdering) the same piece of music over and over again. I vowed never to go through that again. 

didn't  progress beyond Grade 3 as we moved house across country and I never took up lessons again, but the love  of music stayed with me.   my limited piano playing ability  (for hymns, community singing and party games) did come in useful in applying for a job as a school auxiliary.   

My mother
My parents and aunt were the people I have to thank for making music so much a  part of my life from an early age, introducing me to musicals, operetta and ballet (my most  favourite art form).  I was lucky to grow up in Blackpool, Lancashire which  had regular touring companies to the Opera House and Grand Theatre.  
I loved "The Gypsy Baron" and wanted  a gypsy costume and headdress with long coloured ribbons  - the nearest I got was full skirt  trimmed with rows of  ric rac.  My first ballet was "Coppelia" - an ideal choice for a little girl with the feisty heroine in a lovely pale blue tutu,  the handsome hero - and more gypsy dances.  

 In my teens, my mot her and I went  to see the ballet  "Sleeping Beauty" and I was mesmerised by the magic of it - from the orchestral overture,  the transforming scenery, the costumes and of course the dancing.  "La Boheme" was the first grand opera I saw and my hanky was well and truly soaked as I wept at the death of Mimi.  Ditto seeing Carmen and La Traviata. 

We weren't a particularly musical family, but my mother sang in the Townswomen's Guild Choir and my father sang in the church choir.  Radio & TV  programmes such as "Melodies for You, 100 Best Tunes, Friday Night is Music Night  and Songs of Praise  - were regulars we listened  to or watched.

Singing in a choir (school, church, community)  has been a key activity throughout my life from primary school days onwards, whether it was folk songs from round the world, spirituals, carols, sacred music, opera and operetta choruses,   or songs from the shows - musical tastes that still mean a lot to me today. I was very happy to be a chorus girl, with no pretensions to be a soloist - I knew my limitations!  It is a marvellous form of music making, whatever your age, a great creator of the "feel good factor",  and there is nothing to beat singing with the full blooded accompaniment of an an orchestra or  organ.

High school introduced me to Gilbert & Sullivan (another of my mother's favourites)   and I was hooked, singing in most of the operas over the years.  At University, I joined the  Savoy Opera Group and the annual G & S performances were the highlight of my years there - I loved taking part in them - the dressing up (the girls made their own costumes), the singing and some dancing. 


Here I am ina scgool performance  of "Patience" which is a skit on Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic  movement. I am one of the  "Twenty lovesick maidens we" - second standing figure  on the right, plucking my cardboard lyre.


In the public gallery in "Trial By Jury" 

 In "HMS PInafore" - I am second on the right, twirling my pink parasol.

My other musical highlight was a few years ago when I  was  one of over a 1000 singers, plus orchestra and organ  in a "Come and Sing" performance of "The Messiah"  in the iconic Royal Albert Hall in London - an exhilarating,  moving  and unforgettable experience in front of a packed 4000 audience.  I was on a high,  walking back to our hotel.   

I have now decided it is time  to "retire" my voice, but music still plays an important part in my life.  "Classic FM" is my favoured radio channel and a natural accompaniment to being at the computer.   

The  musical moments and memories live on.  


With a lesson that no experience is ever wasted - in a university exam for Modern British Social History, I was faced with a question  about how did music in the period  reflect issues of the time.  I had some  knowledge about Felix Mendelssohn (love of all things Scottish), Edward Elgar (patriotism and post-war despair) and the popularity of oratorios (Victorian attitudes to religion). / 

But I came into my own with Gilbert & Sullivan with their many witty satires  on such Victorian institutions as the navy, the legal profession,   the military,   the police, the Houses of Parliament, the peerage, bureaucracy, women's education, social status,     the pre-Raphelite movement and the craze for with all things Japanese.  There was no shortage of material to write about.  I passed with credit! 


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks


  1. I loved your musical biography! My mother was a huge Gilbert & Sullivan fan as well. I took piano lessons at the same age as you. What killed it for me were the theory worksheets.

  2. What a delightful reminiscence! Wish you had the audio to go with it!


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