A Tale of Two Lessons

Considering that Ian has enjoyed a lifelong passionate relationship with music, it is difficult for him to remember many formal music lessons from school. One recalls a single memory from primary school (perhaps the infants) where the teacher was particularly excited by the recent release on vinyl of Gustav Holst’s The Planets and allowed the class to listen to what felt like the entire double album (a lot to take in for a young lad).

We were all used to seeing Mad Pete wandering the school grounds

When a particular movement finally came on (think we had been waiting for Jupiter), we (the class) were all invited to interact with the generic percussion instruments that had been handed out at the start of the session and we had all been staring at in disciplined silence on each of our small desktops (no idea where the teacher found all the tambourines and shakers from, as we had never even seen a single musical instrument before). One recalls the momentary rush of excitement through the group (mostly born from pent-up boredom) as everyone created cacophonous noise during the sections we were encouraged to do so…

Something that the rich kids did ...

The next recollection of a formal music lesson comes many years later as a young teenager, where the group had seemingly been studying Bizet’s Carmen for a few weeks. One recalls a somewhat blurred mental image of being ‘quite good with the dots’ and hearing the odd word of encouragement from the teacher for understanding the theory, but this music (on the page) seemed a million miles away from any concept of music the teenage composer could recognise as entertainment, and besides, the teacher NEVER actually seemed to play any of the music, which is a shame, as Carmen is such a lyrical piece. Classical music was quite simply ‘something that the rich kids did’ and was never heard coming through the windows of the council estate Ian called home.

Mad Pete

During this one lesson (which may well be a whole year of lessons compacted into one concise memory), Ian recalls engaging in an exercise of copying notes to and from staff paper in duplicating ‘parrot fashion’ and again being generally bored and disassociated from any recognisable concept that we were actually studying music, when the sliding shutter doors to the music theatre opened slightly and through the gap in the front and centre of the room (now with the attention of the entire class), Mad Pete poked his head and grinned quite insanely. The group chuckled, Mad Pete made a few other comments and had a little ‘banter’ with the teacher, but no one really considered this as unusual behaviour, or even ‘out of the ordinary’ in any way. We were all used to seeing Mad Pete wandering the school grounds, classrooms and hallways.

Mad Pete was the local ‘mad-man’ from our estate. Every estate had one; in fact I think this may have been a compulsory requirement for council estates during the 70s and 80s? Oddly enough, no estate ever seemed to have two resident ‘mad-men’, so perhaps they were actually given official licences and registrations?

Anyhow, in typical late 70s/early 80s style, Mad Pete (would you believe) somehow landed a job as the school janitor in the local comprehensive school and had actually been given a permanent residence located within the school grounds. Whilst it was OK to bump into Mad Pete and even talk to him around the crowded corridors of the school, all the pupils would avoid the janitor’s house at all costs and cross the streets if we saw him walking through the estate of a night on his travels between the school and the pub …

A Life in Music

Unfortunately, as hard as one tries, these two unrelated memories summate the total recall of the formal music education one received within the public education system.

Dr. Ian Percy


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