When I was ten years old I was in what Americans would call 5th grade. (In England we started “1st grade” at aged 5.) Mr. Sidney Richards was my classroom teacher at Eastville Junior Mixed School in the Greenbank/Eastville area of Bristol.
Mr. Richards was also the music teacher for the whole school. His wife was the piano accompanist. I loved to sing then (as I do now). “Sid” and his wife introduced me to good music.
We learned to sing a vocal arrangement of part of Schubert’s String Quintet in A major, D. 667, ''The Trout''.
We were introduced to the lovely setting of Psalm 23 to the tune “Bothers James’ Air”. (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGBXSJqhdBg )
Mr. and Mrs. Richard exposed us to the full range of traditional English folk songs as “discovered” and arranged by Cecil Sharp.
They enabled us to sing music by Mozart and Dvorak.
We sang for the B.B.C.
All this was public education at its very best - enabled by the post World War II socialist governments of Great Britain.
Syd and his wife proposed a visit to the Opera at the Bristol Hippodrome. Mum and Dad, though constrained by the strictures of the fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren, decided that I could attend (on the basis that it would certainly do me no harm).
This was my first ever visit to a Theatre. The performance was not Grand Opera, but an Operetta by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan - “The Mikado”. The Richards’ had taken care to instruct us that this Operetta, though set in the Court of a Japanese Mikado was in fact a satire on Queen Victoria’s London Court.
I was entranced from when the curtain was raised until the finale. I know this a bit from memory, but more from what Sid Richards told me many years later.
For you see, next morning we had been required to write a composition (essay) on our visit to the Hippodrome. This I did.
Much later (when I was in my early twenties) having fond memories of Mr. and Mrs Richards, I visited them in their Summerhill Road (St. George, Bristol) home.
Sid told me that he could still remember the sense of wonder which I had conveyed in my composition.
That sense of wonder came again to me this afternoon when I attended “real Opera” here in Sarasota. I’ll write about that tomorrow.