Sunday, 21 June 2015

Autobiographical NB sometimes you have to tell the truth

Episodes 40-42 of the collection of stories forming my early autobiography are based on personal experience, of course, and for that reason are bound to contradict some of the stuff that has been written about the voice teacher who dominated my studies and caused much of my misery during my study years.

I have given her a pseudonym, as I have many of the characters I write about. I don't want to sully her memory, but I had a really terrible time with her. I only realized later how much she must have disliked me. I know I disliked her, but attempts to get out of her teaching class after failing my voice exam in the first year - an totally unknown step taken by her rival teachers who distributed the passes and were desperately wanting to punish her whatever it cost. I was undeniably her best student, had won many prizes in that first year, had even sung the songs for the exam at a public concert at the collage shortly before (a florid Handel song no one else ever sang) and been invited by Walter Legg, the head of EMI, who judged one of the big prizes, to sing with Giulini at the Royal Festival Hall the final and only full rehearsal for Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, for which the soloist could only attend the performance (unfortunately she did arrive in time)!. The drama of my going to the Principal of the college after the summer break, during which I had had other things to think about, such as my father's death, resulted in Miss Plum threatening to leave the college if I left her - only because my quitting her would have been humiliating for her, as she argued. After a quiet pow-wow with the principal I agreed to stay with her. I had no real choice.

I will never forget those terrible weeks. I was still numb with grief. I never told my parents the problems that voice teacher had made for me. The only person who knew was my old voice teacher, Tommy Pritchard.

In retrospect I know I should have left the college altogether, but in those days you did not do that and anyway, that would have given my mother so much satisfaction! She would have been in the right, after all. I should have gone to an ordinary university and studied anything but music. So I stayed on at the college, was never again put through the misery of failing anything and finished with the concert exam, which is the highest award possible at such an institute and awarded to only a handful altogether each year.

After leaving the college I also left the UK, financed by one of the big scholarships I had won. I do not even want to write about what Miss Plum did then. I have no tangible proof, but I know that she was still out to "get me" and I poured oil on the flames by not going back to her for more of the terrible vocal lessons I had had to learn at her behest. Another bad decision, but vocalizing myself hoarse before performances at Covent Garden would have been awful, so I did not want them. The result of that decision was that she did nto attend a performance herselfe, but send her so-called secretary, a vicious woman who looked after Miss Plum, including doing the cooking.

To get a fair idea of the true relationship between those two women would be pure spoeculation. I visited Miss Plum with my son a couple of years before she dies, thinking I should be more magnanimous even if she wasn't. She ignored my little boy and complained incessantly about having to support the had-been secretary, who how had the Alzheimer syndrome and was having to be financed in a care home. Miss Plum grudged and resented having to finance someone who had looked after her every wish for decades. Subsequently a few kind former pupils went in and did things because they were kind and sorry for her. I can't forget Miss Plum sitting there in clothes with food dribbles down the front, scowling and complaining about not getting the attention she deserved. I was disgusted. On reflection, I'm rather glad this is the final memory I have of her. I suppose it is a kind of retribution. And I'm not even quite sure if she knew who I was...

I cannot decide whether I actually write about that time in the context of autobiographical sketches. Maybe I never will.  Even writing these few lines I find myself shaking my head in wonderment that my student time is so burdened by these memories.

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