I was at Southview School during the war.
When we were called into the main hall, to be given a talk, it was usually about collecting salvage for the war effort, buying Savings Stamps, or what we should do in case of an air raid.
But one day to our surprise a man came with a gramophone to give us a talk about music.
We trooped in from our classrooms, carrying chairs.
This was going to be better than ordinary lessons which we took with the same teacher every day.
The only break we got from that routine was when we listened to schools broadcasts in the hall, on the big wireless set with its wooden fretwork front and smell of hot dust as the valves warmed up.
I remember exactly what he looked like and what he said.
He had a gramophone that didn’t need winding up with a handle like the one in my Grandma’s front parlour.
He talked about Elgar and how his musical variations were portraits of his friends and his dog.
We heard other music based on dance rhythms.
Percy Grainger’s ‘ Molly on the Shore’ brought the glint of a tear to the eye of our Irish exile teacher, Miss Duffy.
He explained what a bouree was. ( a good word that: I liked collecting new words )
I wished the man would come every week.
However, in assembly next day, the Headmistress announced that we were to be taken to the Town Hall for a concert.
Everyone who went home for dinner was to be back at school in good time.
Other schools were coming so we had to be on our best behavior and not ‘show ourselves up’.
There were groans.
You would have thought we were going to be tortured.
I thought it would be lovely to have the man and his gramophone playing all the music right through, without interrupting it for the explanations as he had the previous day.
We walked in a crocodile, two by two.
I held the woolly mittened hand of my friend Mavis.
It was hard to keep hold of her when you couldn’t feel her fingers. She didn’t think it was going to be so exciting as the time we were taken to the ‘pictures’ to see Henry the fifth with Laurence Olivier.
Inside the hall we were ushered to our block of canvas and metal chairs marked Southview.
The echoing high space was full of children.
Despite being threatened about being on our best behavior the noise was deafening.
Metal chair-frames clashed together.
Gloves and pixie-bonnets were rolled in coats and stowed under seats.
The stage was covered with a forest of chairs and music stands. There was hardly going to be room for the man and his gramophone.
Then he came out onto the platform and held up his hand for quiet.
The noise stopped like a wave rolling out.
" Children, I am so glad to see you all here this afternoon.
I am sure you will welcome….” he swept back his arm and onto the stage
came a great many people dressed in black suits like my uncle Ben wore
when he played with his dance band.
They carried all sorts of strangely shaped instruments.
It is hard to believe that I had never seen a real orchestra.
I had seen Glenn Miller in films and live brass bands.
On the radio I must have heard violins but never thought about how the sound was made.
The musicians sat down, the man who gave us the talk told us the name
of the piece of music, turned his back, raised his arms and they began
It was so overwhelming I thought my chest would burst.
This was pure heaven.
The tears streamed down my face.
Miss Duffy who was sitting next to me passed me a hanky.
I must have been audibly sobbing.
Who arranged it ? Where did they find a whole orchestra in wartime England ?
Whoever it was they gave me one of the most memorable experiences of my life and the gift of classical music.
Afterwards, walking back to school in a delirious cloud, Mavis
asked me " What were you crying for. Didn’t you like it.?”
And I could only sniff and say " Because I was so happy "