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Music Matters

It’s 1989, or thereabouts. We live on Ffordd Garmonydd. My bedroom is huge (though I wouldn’t appreciate that until much later) with the bed up against the wall opposite the door. My eldest brother, Mark, plays the cornet. It’s late, so I’ve been sent to bed, but Mark’s not in and mum & dad are downstairs. I sneak into Mark’s bedroom and take his cornet. My mum finds me sitting up in bed blowing rather unsuccessfully into it. I couldn’t play it, but I did notice that the sound that my breath made changed as I pushed the weird-looking buttons.

My mum, quite rightly, gave me a rollicking for taking the cornet. She also made a mental note of the fact that I had an active interest in this cornet thing. The next thing I knew I was taking cornet lessons with Mr Ducket. I’m not sure that I particularly liked Mr Ducket, and I’m pretty confident that that was my failing rather than his! On reflection, he was fairly strict but seemed to be quite a nice guy…if only I’d practised! That was a frequent issue with me. I’d seldom practise, which meant that there was little improvement from one lesson to the next. I remember having a book that I was supposed to write in every time I practised playing so that he could see, each week, how much time I’d spent on it. I remember one week when I had nothing else to do, so I spent an entire day playing. I logged it as 6 hours of practising. He didn’t believe me.

Mr Ducket was the first of a number of music teachers I had. There was a Scottish lady, whose name I really wish I could remember (edit: I’m pretty sure it was Maureen Cameron) because she was brilliant, and because she pronounced my name as “Carol” (because she rolled her R really well).

But I’m digressing, a little.

When I was in secondary school, one of the music teachers — Colin Fisher — seemed to be particularly keen for me to join the school band. I didn’t share his enthusiasm. One day, as xmas was approaching, Mr Fisher took our music lesson. He taught us an xmas song that I really liked (Nadolig Llawen i Chi Gyd, as I recall). I asked him if I could have a copy of the sheet music.

“Yes,” he said, “on one condition. Come to band practice on Monday.”

So I did.

Band practice used to happen from 3:30 until around 5:15 (as I recall). I remember being pretty scared when I first arrived. People who have come to know me in the past few years might find this difficult to believe, because I’m quite outgoing now. The thing is that I can put the extrovert act on a lot better these days than I could then, especially since there’s little to hide behind when it comes to something like playing in a band, especially when it’s a band like the one in St David’s!

I should probably take a moment to explain why the band at St David’s High School was different to a lot of school bands. We were classed as a military band. There were 80 of us, and we used to lead the xmas parade (and other parades) through Wrexham town centre. That meant marching practice as well as learning the pieces. Wrexham had a lot of war veterans and they’d be quick to complain if the marching was wrong. We didn’t want to give them cause to complain but, more importantly, we wanted to get it right.

So, here I am at 13ish years old joining an 80-piece band on a Monday evening.  *Gulp*

I’ll be honest with you, dear reader, I wasn’t a cornet player in the band for long.

Oh, yeah, that wasn’t because I wasn’t any good at it. I was asked if I’d like to move over to the trombone instead, which I did. There were 3 of us (out of 80, remember) playing trombone. Then I was asked if I’d be willing to give the tuba a bash, because the school was going to be short of tuba players soon. So I moved from the trombone to the tuba. Out of 80 musicians, there were 2 tubas. I was one of them.

During my time with the band we competed in the National Festival of Music for Youth on a number of occasions. We filled concert halls and we received standing ovations. Mr Fisher made us the best that we could be, and I had the most amazing time in that band. We worked really fucking hard, but the results of what we did were incredible. And I don’t mean that they were incredible for a school band. I mean they were incredible. I know that we were among the best in the country. I know that Mr Fisher worked really bloody hard to make sure that we gave everything we could, and I know that we really, really did.

It’s 2013. I’m sat in my bedroom. I have a wife and three kids who have never heard me play. They have no idea of what’s passed. Occasionally I remember, and I remember how incredibly lucky I was to have a teacher like Mr Fisher and to be in the band he created. If you’re reading this as one of those people you’ll know what I’m talking about, and I’d like to thank you for being part of such an important chapter in my life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to listen to John Williams in Concert, because I need to get a goosebump fix!

Paul Mabbott
February 9th, 2018 at 2:38 am

Mr Fisher was my teacher at a comprehensive school in Manchester during the early to mid 1970s.
I played the trombone and he encouraged me greatly, so much that I went on to make a career of it.
It made very pleasant reading, this blog entry. Mr Fisher must be knocking on a bit by now – if he’s still with us that is (I do hope so).

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