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was a delightfully harmonious thread that I clearly recall as a
great blessing as it weaved its way throughout this formative period
in my life.
There was piano and
song at home and in school. There was choir-singing at church and
school. There was dancing and dance music at school, village parties
and the winter weekly Scottish Country Dance Club.
Fan a wis jist ‘boot ten years auld i' Cambusbarron syne,
gaen tae kwintry dincin an' sat me claise the baun,
Hearknin tae dince music a' sich faavrits o' mine.
Frae accordion an' piano thit wur bencape i' the laun,
Playin super reels an' jigs an strathspeys oot thur skin,
Fur loats the veelage folkies an’ the pas-de-bas they din,
Syne skips oar slips oar slides as weil bit nivver did they rin,
nicht lang tae bricht-lik tunies thit vampit ‘gin an’ ‘gin, an’ gin.
Thon makit feet a-tappit as Jim McLeod aye a-watchit,
His left haun as it prancit he nivver doonwyes glancit.
Thit fer fascinated me, fa jist loo'd a’ thon braw choards,
Thit makit ma feet tappit i’ time ipoan the boards.
There were also my
weekly pianoforte lessons with Mrs Stocksley in the village. There
were the occasional public solo outlets for my sweet boy-soprano
voice - even though my debut singing Sir Hugh Roberton’s ‘My Grandpa
Has Whiskers’ was not too widely acclaimed - but never, never for my
eventual ‘groaning-growling’ bass. There were happy after-match
sing-songs in the rear seats of buses hired to take my team-mates
and me to various school and club rugby and cricket games.
There were outings to
local light opera performances and choral concerts. There were the
fairly regular Sunday family visits to my mother’s kin in Falkirk
which were seldom without a few pleasant hours, either listening to
Uncle John Telfer’s most recent ‘78’ record purchases, or
occasionally becoming immersed in the joys of Mum, at the piano,
accompanying her younger brother, a highly talented artist, and
artiste, Uncle Willie Telfer, playing the violin.
Crucially, however, at
home, so that I could again enjoy participating in church singing
and choral events at school, there was my Mum so patiently nursing
my deepening teenage voice at the piano as she gave me countless
hours of practice reading and ‘la-la-ing’ the ‘bass-parts’ of the
staff notation in her Scottish Psalter.
Although I lost the
quality and promise that my pre-puberty voice had displayed, and
subsequently never showed any talent whatsoever for instrumental
expression, rhythm and timing, I just loved, and still do today,
listening to the ways various voice parts and instruments can be
integrated. I also enjoyed experimenting (in private – mainly in my
bath!) with my ‘horrible’ voice, and attempting to vamp on the piano
- despite having very little ‘ear’ for knowing when to change
chords, and thus having to rely on scribbled in D7, G, Cs etc on
The discovery that, if
I sang fairly quietly, my voice, so lacking in timbre and precision,
merged acceptably in choir performances, became a real blessing
then, as it did in later years too. Perhaps my pinnacle of
participation was reached in 1969, twelve years after my schooling
had ended, when I was included in the bass section of the St Cyrus
Church Choir’s presentation of selected parts of Handel’s ‘Messiah’.
Nowadays, my love affair with most forms of music continues as it is
fuelled by the electronic miracles that music midi, wav and mp3
provide via stereo headphones connected to my computer.
Apart from church
music, especially gospel songs, my main interest in the 1950s was
Dixieland jazz and I still treasure the first 45rpm record that I
bought then – The Dutch Swing College with Sidney Bechet playing the
soprano saxophone! My favourite instrumentalist in my more mature
years became Stefan Grapelli, and, still today, anything played by
him that I can get my hands on are sheer delight to my ears!
However, in recent times, Sue Keller, with her inimitable
interpretations of ragtime standards on the piano, is threatening
Stefan’s place in my pecking-order of virtuosi !
My fondness for
mixed-voice choral singing was first weaned under the influence of
JD Macrae, a talented church organist and Head Music Teacher at the
High School of Stirling. This lovable eccentric was, I think,
Canadian by birth, but we were certainly fortunate that, for some
reason or other, he crossed ‘the pond’, and then, during his stay in
Scotland, with his unfailing sincerity and exquisite touch, endeared
himself to school pupils and audiences alike.
His successor during
my final year at school was the effervescent, and highly ambitious,
Bramwell Cook. He was a tiny man who made up for his lack of inches
with an enthusiasm that seemed to bubble him up to new heights as he
motivated us in his school choir to practise for radio auditions and
choral competitions … and then latterly in the summer term of 1957
to perform ‘Dido and Aeneas’ for three nights to sell-out audiences
at the Museum Hall, Bridge of Allan. As I think back on that
exciting week, I squirm a little at the image I recall of myself and
other tough rugby players in the chorus scantily dressed in
soldiers’ ‘mini-skirted’ costumes, legs artificially tanned in brown
dye, faces plastered in make-up and javelins jittering on the stage
on our nervy debut night – especially as the dress rehearsal had
been abandoned during the previous evening as an unmitigated
disaster! Singing was difficult enough without having to make
exhibitions of ourselves to our peers as utterly ‘wooden’
On the church front
from 1957, until I married and left the area in 1963, I really
enjoyed the broadminded and exciting contributions to church praise
given by our then organist and choir-master, Bill Evans, at the
Allan Church, Bannockburn. Bill played a lot by ear and his
improvisations on any tune that you cared to hum to him raised my
early liking of syncopation to even greater heights.
I cannot possibly end
this series of musical memories without giving an extra-special
mention to the ‘one and only’ Herbert Christie. As Assistant Teacher
of Music at the High School of Stirling in my six years there,
‘Herb’ was the ideal foil to the more classical predilections of JD
Macrae and Bramwell Cook. He was steeped in ‘Music Hall’ and, as a
part-time theatrical-agent, he smoothed the paths to stardom for a
goodly number of Stirling’s budding crooners – the most notable
success perhaps being Danny Street. ‘Herb’ was given all the
hard-to-control, broken voiced, boisterous, boys’ classes to
‘entertain’! These he handled with great panache and humour, and,
mainly due to a diet of negro spirituals, he soon had hordes of
recalcitrant schoolboys, not only eating out of his hand, but
providing concerts for school funds in their formations as ‘massed
choirs’ (never mind the quality … see the width), duettists,
close-harmony trios and quartets and the like … marvellous … even us
in the conformist academic streams went to great lengths to have our
over-laden study time-tables altered to accommodate at least one
relaxing period per week of singing with the charismatic ‘Herb’.
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