You were at Prior's Field for 14 years - how did your role change during that time?
Well, I started teaching flute at Prior's Field in 1988 and continued in that role for four years. The music department was starting to expand and I was offered the chance to teach the curriculum as an assistant to the Director of Music, Ms Celia Harrisson. I suppose my strengths lay in the practical components of the curriculum, together with composition. I enjoyed involving the lower years in composition projects which were practically-based. I remember using some of the music budget to buy sweeping brushes and other hardware items, so that we could replicate the music that was used in the show 'Stomp'. We also composed our own versions of the Rite of Spring and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice after watching 'Fantasia'. I was Director of Music for the last five years at Prior's Field until 2002 and thoroughly enjoyed this role.
What were facilities like when you first started and how did they improve?
The facilities were not particularly good for music in 1988 as we were spread out throughout the school, often teaching in rooms that no one else wanted to teach in! I even remember teaching in an unwanted bedroom for a time. Instrumental music was not particularly strong but definitely improved after the Sixth Form block was converted and expanded for the Music Department. Decent pianos were purchased and we also had some sound-proof rooms for drum kit lessons. The main teaching room was a very useful space and doubled as a rehearsal room for choirs and all instrumental groups. Music lessons became very popular and we were able to offer the girls individual lessons in piano, singing, woodwind, brass and percussion. Prior's Field benefitted from having some very dedicated peripatetic teachers and their work was invaluable in improving the instrumental standards at the school.
What are your best memories of Prior's Field?
I have so many good memories of Prior's Field. Many of the staff were very supportive of the Music Department and I made some very good friends with my colleagues. The girls were great and were able to contribute to the life of the school through many extra-curricular events which I will mention later. It was so good to be able to see the less confident pupils making improvements and realising their potential through performing. I suppose the best memory I have was the morning of each carol service where I would arrive early in the Music Department, armed with a slow cooker, and have the mulled wind brewing by about 8.15am. A wonderful aroma attracted many of the staff but the girls were only allowed to enjoy the smell! It was the only time our cello teacher arrived promptly!
What were the highlights of the music concerts the school took part in? You ran a lot of extra-curricular Groups like the flute group, jazz group and orchestra. Tell us about that.
The larger concerts were generally most memorable where we were able to demonstrate the achievements of the music department. The junior and senior choirs would perform, together with smaller vocal ensembles and soloists. The orchestra, jazz group, jazz quartet and flute group also performed. Everyone who learnt an instrument was encouraged to join one of the ensembles and we were able to include keyboards and oboes into the jazz group. It was often difficult to schedule rehearsals as the PE department often needed the same girls for their practices and fixtures. Some of the smaller ensembles were rehearsed before school, which generally worked well, but I had to rely on Mrs Ferguson to extricate some of the boarders (Aya Totani in particular) from their rooms!
The jazz evenings were very popular and, again, we appreciated the support of some of the peripatetic teachers who played with the jazz group. The two tours to Italy with the jazz group were really memorable. As it was so hot, the concerts were scheduled for later in the evening, so there was plenty of time to sightsee (Venice, Florence and Verona) and one of the hotels had a roof-top swimming pool which was very popular. We also liked to encourage the younger singers and instrumentalists and a series of teatime concerts were arranged so that some parents were also able to come along.
One of the main highlights of my time was being asked to compose a work for the Centenary Service at Guildford Cathedral. The choir was brilliant and they were joined by Henrietta Greaves (OG 1989-1996) who had left Prior's Field a short time before.
What have you been doing since leaving Prior's Field?
I have been able to do a variety of different things since moving to Scotland in 2002. I continued with some instrumental teaching through working for the Music service in Dumfries and Galloway and also established a private teaching practice at home. I often arranged and composed music at Prior's Field and I was able to expand this by publishing my own music with the help of my husband. Our music has been used in schools and colleges throughout the UK and also quite extensively in the USA. Examining has also kept me very busy, starting off by examining the composing and performing modules for AS music. More recently, I have been examining the Classical and Jazz syllabus for Trinity College Music. This has been so interesting as I have had the opportunity to travel all over the UK and also to India and Sri Lanka. The photo below shows the examining room in a beach hotel in Sri Lanka - quite an experience! Unfortunately due to the current situation, these trips have temporarily been suspended, but I have been examining the digital grades from the comfort of my home and hope to travel abroad again in the not too distant future.
The examining room in a beach hotel in Sri Lanka
Mrs Humphreys taught me when I was at Prior's Field, so it only seemed right to sit in front of her once again in the science lab to interview her bef… More...