Wednesday, 18 August 2010
I was so honoured to be one of the 3 guests when my first and most influential singing teacher, Betty Middleton received her MBE from the Queen at Buckingham Palace. I am sitting at my desk and can see one of the official photographs taken on that wonderful day.
She was a complete inspiration, second Mum, tough disciplinarian and friend. If my pupils could say even a quarter of that about me I would be a lucky woman indeed. It is tricky to know where to begin when speaking about her. She was about 5 feet tall, quite round, and with piercing eyes behind her half moon glasses. She had no children and so we were all her children, although she tragically lost a baby boy as a young mother.
Her husband was called 'my Harry' - note the 'my' - whenever she spoke about him it was always in that affectionate and inclusive way. Infact without Harry she could never have had the life she did! He was a Bank Manager of the old school, rather like Captain Mainwaring in Dad's Army, and I imagine asking for a loan in his office was as terrifying as facing a rather cross firing squad!
He indulged her, and taxied her to every concert we did, and each festival we entered, once he was retired. The music room was in her warm and cosy Victorian house called White Cottage, in Windsor Road, Saltburn, and was just over the hall from the living room, where Harry spent much time. Now, I wonder how he put up with all the racket ! The decibels from some of us aspirant soloists must have driven him mad, although he may have worn earplugs I suppose!
Middy, as she was known to the world, was the finest teacher, and now at my age I realise how much sense she spoke, how gifted she was at 'making it happen', and how much she loved us.
She gave us all such love for the words and the poetry of the song, and she made it all so vibrant and exciting. She also made us sweat and worked us very hard. Never any harder than she worked herself. She fed us; her cooking skills were legendary, Toffee Tootle, home made potted beef for sandwiches, sponge cakes and gingerbread, all baked from 6am in the morning before she even started her teaching day - how can any of us follow that?!
Middy's mother was a well known singing teacher in Hull called Madame Constance Hall, which has a marvelous ring to it ~ do you think I could get away with it ? Nah, I'd be accused of 'building my part up'. You simply cannot beat a heritage like that, sitting in with a fine teacher from birth is the most complete apprenticeship for any job. She had the beginnings of a great singing career, and performed with eminent musicians such as the violinist Campoli, but this glittering career was cut short at 28 years old when her mother died, and without hesitation she took on all her pupils and choirs. In an instant she was a teacher and choral conductor. A job which she relished and made her own until she was over 90!
Often when I teach I hear her on my shoulder (along with Sr. Margaret ~ boy I must have strong shoulders!) saying 'those words are not clear enough my dear', 'that jaw is not dropped', or 'come on Ann they are not working hard enough...........' so next time any of you hear me say that, you will know it is actually Mid and not me!!!
Don't shoot the messanger!
Be grateful for the much missed and much loved tyrant on my shoulder ~ it is all because of her.