Just after Christmas this year I wrote the draft of a play because I was asked to but now is not required. It is a semi-fictitious account of what was going on at St Bede’s College in the period I was there 1957-1963. It was written as a one woman show and is a draft version, the director and producer did not even read it, so I will not waste the effort I put into the original writing. I will tell it in four instalments and I would like you the reader to criticize or remark on the Text. The abuse mentioned is real and does not tell the whole of the story, some of the characters are fictionalised, some are not. The play is called the Music Teacher.
THE MUSIC TEACHER – PART 1
It is the end of the Summer term of 1960, Miss Julie Kirk is sitting at the piano in the Practice Room, next door to the Music Room in St Bede’s College in Manchester. In the Music Room Mr Gordon Frost, the Head of Music, is taking the Senior Choir through its paces with a rousing version of Faith of Our Father’s. (she goes over and closes the adjoining door the singing tails off)
(She goes back to the stool and starts to address the audience)
I have been very lucky really, I had a lovely childhood as an only child and an even better youthful life and up to now I have thoroughly enjoyed myself, although always living a tempered existence and never letting my talents get the better of the spiritual me.
I was born into a devout Catholic family in Alkrington, a district of North Manchester between Blackley and Middleton on the Rochdale Road out of Manchester. If you were going to be born into grandeur in North Manchester, Alkrington was the place for genesis and Mainway where we lived was the finest boulevard in Alkrington.
My mother, Mrs Evelyn Kirk, was the music teacher at Notre Dame High School for Girls on Cheetham Hill. The school was staffed in the main by the Sisters Of Notre Dame of Namur, a teaching order of nuns that had originated in southern Belgium but who like a lot of religious teaching orders in the 19th century had sent a delegation of nuns over to Manchester and other northern towns to cater for the education of the children of the massive influx of Irish people who had emigrated to England to escape the famine at home.
My father was a consultant surgeon of ear, nose and throat at Crumpsall Hospital, both venues within easy striking distance of our house which was an elegant five bedroomed detached, I suppose, Edwardian style house. One of its attributes being a downstairs toilet, this downstairs loo was always a talking point with my friends at school and they often came round to try out the facility.
We were all from North Manchester, herded together by our religion, but as you came out of town north along Rochdale Road, you ran the whole gamut of financial life. From the pitifully poor in Collyhurst and Harpurhey which were jungles of back to back houses waiting for the demolition man and inhabited by the poor souls who kept Manchester’s industrial wheels turning in the post war boom and who were hoping to move into the new high rise blocks mooted for Collyhurst and the concrete deserts being built in Langley on moorland overlooking Middleton. The road continued through the improving Blackley village and the pre-war council estates of Higher Blackley, but once Victoria Avenue was crossed, you entered a country idyll of farmer’s fields and small woods, greenery everywhere and scattered little enclaves of modern houses. Alkrington was built to suit the management of Cottonopolis as Manchester was known and our downstairs toilet was a place of pilgrimage. Most of my friends who visited, lovely girls all, had no toilet to boast of, only a shared privy with half the street. We were all as I said united by our religion, our school, Notre Dame High School for Girls on Bignor Street on Cheetham Hill and our downstairs toilet. First on the left as you entered the house by our front door.
Not only was I lucky, I was talented as well. My mother’s genes had come down to me and it seems that my musical abilities were beyond the comprehension of most. My mother started teaching me piano when I was six, on that lovely John Broadwood Baby Grand piano that my father had bought my mother on their fifth wedding anniversary in the summer of 1939, when the world was still in a shaky peace and I was three year old. I grew up to the sound and feel of this instrument, it was like an elder sister to me. Unfortunately (pointing at the upright she was sitting at) the College does not consider timbre a must in their piano and as long as it is tuned the sound does not matter.
After O Levels I went into the Sixth Form our numbers greatly decreased and while studying English, French, History and Music for A Level, my mother sent me for extracurricular lessons at the Northern School of Music. Here I was amongst equals and I loved it. The piano was by now not my only instrument, I loved the organ which I played at church every Sunday and on Feast Days. I also loved the piano accordion and I was top hole on the tenor saxophone. I seemed to have the ability to pick up a new instrument and within a week I had mastered the basics.
My time in the sixth form led to a load of new experiences, I was often away playing in concerts for young musicians during which the boys and girls thing came into play. In the younger school we were shepherded by the head mistress and mother superior, Sister Mary of the Dolours, men or boys did not enter its sphere of thought, although one or two girls in the fifth year came up with some hair raising adventures that they had had with the local lads. It was hard to believe a lot of it but in sixth form those hair raising tales became the norm and although excited initially, I soon grew to be very, very careful of young men.
Triumphant in my A Levels I graduated to the Northern School Of Music to study piano and organ; so proficient was I on the saxophone that I was co-opted onto a traditional jazz band some of the students had started, to earn spending money, playing in pubs and at clubs round Manchester. We were good, excellent in fact, as good as Humph Lyttleton’s band but we were to conservative, we could not push ourselves, to bound up in the classical style but I learned a lot.
At the end of my fourth year at the Northern School I heard I had won the Charles Halle prize for piano excellence and was invited along to do solo performances at various concerts which paid fees but these concert fees were never enough to pay all my bills, so I started looking around for full time work with a musical theme. I was told that St Bede’s College was looking for an assistant music teacher to help out the veteran teacher Mr Gordon Frost, a man with a great history and name in music circles in Manchester. I wrote to the Rector, Monsignor Duggan, who was as much part of the furniture of the College as Mr Gordon Frost.
St Bede’s was a prestigious Catholic school staffed by priests and male lay teachers and its main job seemed to be turning out priests, accountants and lawyers for the burgeoning Catholic population of Manchester and the Diocese of Salford. I by this time had slipped a few degrees in the fervency I had for the Church but I was still a fairly convincing practicing Catholic. Mr Frost interviewed me, a charming gentleman of the old school with a high pitched squeaky voice, always in cap and gown, with a black morning coat and pinstriped trousers, white shirt and black tie. He told me the drill, initially I was to train the Junior Choir, teach certain classes in the lower school in music appreciation, help out where I could in the music department and take certain talented boys for tuition in the piano mainly outside of normal school hours. The time table would not have suited some but it was ideal for me as it allowed me to take up one or two other extracurricular activities. The money offered was not as much as I had expected but I took the post knowing well that Mr Frost would be retiring shortly and I knew it would launch me on the musical career I so wanted. I never saw the Rector, Monsignor Duggan, and I was told by Mr Frost that as I was the only lady on the staff, there was no ladies toilets but if the need arose, to go and see the nuns. There was a team at the school who cooked for the staff and cleaned and polished the priest’s quarters. Oh I wished that I could bring my downstairs toilet with me instead of having to find a nun when things became critical.