At the age of eight I remember looking at my school teacher and deciding that was what I wanted to be.
Soon, teaching became a passion and from early teens a constant throughout my career. A substantial private teaching practice as a teenager led to the study and acquisition of teaching diplomas – initially in piano, organ and choral conducting – followed by a Certificate in Education – passport for class music teaching in Secondary Schools.
At the age of twenty three, after a short spell at Birmingham’s George Dixon Grammar I became Head of Music at Dudley Grammar School – soon to amalgamate with three others to form a huge ‘comprehensive’. There was little time for leisure. Home teaching continued alongside duties as assistant organist at Birmingham Parish Church and conductor of Dudley Choral Society.
The move to Eire as Organist and Master of the Choristers for St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, came with substantial teaching commitments at conservatoire level with the Cork School of Music. Then I was accepted as examiner for the ABRSM when listening to other teachers’ candidates offered insights that strengthened my teaching.
After ten years as a Cathedral Director of Music (Cork then Belfast) I returned to freelance in England where teaching continued up front.
Although not really a singer myself, teaching singing gradually became my specific area of expertise. Whilst some earlier pupils became cathedral organists, professional conductors or international concert pianists, later students have flooded the Oxbridge colleges and conservatoires as choral scholars, plus singers working with elite singing ensembles or the world of opera.
It was good to be recognised by the ABRSM as a singing specialist in 1996. My time as ‘Mentor’ on their professional development course for singing teachers offered the chance to share knowledge and experience.
Most of the individual teaching has been from my home studio where I have seen many children from start up through the ABRSM grades, with dozens gaining diplomas in their teens. A high percentage gained distinctions. There have also been several students from conservatoires and universities – plus many professional singers with vocal problems to resolve.
Then there were amateurs of all ages who just wanted to learn for the pleasure of developing their voices and exploring the range of repertoire. These have included people from all backgrounds like salesmen, clergy, psychologists, headmasters, medical consultants, lawyers, academics and even a window cleaner who followed me from Cork to Leeds!
One student wanted help to overcome a stutter and gain the confidence to chat with his mates in the pub! He worked in a disciplined way, became a competent sight-singer and achieved his main goal!
I love the educational challenge presented by each person. The spin off has been to enjoy watching them ‘fly’ as they leave the shelter of my care. Many are like ‘children’ even though I now have ex choristers who are grandparents!
It is difficult, if not impossible, for a musician to retire and already I have engagements in Ludlow to play the organ for parish church services. Some pupils have indicated that they hope to pop in for the odd lesson. Who knows, I might even pick up some new ones!