Howard Rogerson has been an MU member since 1969. His story highlights the impact of music education on personal development, as well as concerns about the future of the UK’s music education.
Discovering the clarinet
On the maternal side of the family, music had been a significant part of our lives through chapel attendance and home music-making. On my paternal side, my brother and I were the fourth generation of parish church choristers.
At the age of seven, I became a probationer and was subsequently admitted into the church choir. In my home town of Morley, the junior schools sang in a joint choir in a music festival in the large and elegant town hall. We were accompanied by the West Riding Symphony Orchestra, run by the local education authority. It was an amazing experience for us all, as we heard symphonic music so close at hand.
It was here, behind the back row of the woodwind players, that the clarinet tone really captivated me. I was asked if I would like to start to learn an instrument – my request was clearly going to be the clarinet.
I began taking clarinet lessons in September 1959 for 2/6p an hour, plus a bag of apples, when in season. The head of my school, who had no musical inclinations whatsoever but was an educationalist, had already gathered instrumental teachers from the West Riding County Council (WRCC) Education Service for violin, cello, brass and woodwind. So, in 1960, I was having two lessons a week and managed to pass my Grade 5 ABRSM exam within 18 months.
Education reform and inspirational teachers
The Chief Education Officer for West Riding Yorkshire, Sir Alec B. Clegg, had taken on the challenge of the new Education Act and was pioneering music and arts in education throughout the WRCC, then the largest local authority in the country. He left a legacy of free school instruments and free lessons.
A school orchestra developed as more students received lessons, and the music teacher was an inspiration. There were so many young performers that a part-time music teacher was engaged, who also gave me occasional clarinet lessons.
On achieving Grade 5, I joined the WRCC Schools Orchestra. This was a wonderful experience. The Music Advisor and a number of the peripatetic teachers attended, so we experienced symphonic and chamber music repertoire, and gave grand concerts around the northern part of WRCC.
WRCC also ran a Secondary Modern Schools Choir which enabled me to perform the first part of Mendelssohn's Elijah in Leeds Town Hall in November 1962. Naturally, this choir was accompanied by the same WRCC Symphony Orchestra of professional players and teachers.
A new teacher at school, who encouraged our choir singing and school concert performances, advised my parents, who were at a loss as to what to do with me, to let me audition for Huddersfield School of Music at the College of Technology. I accepted a place commencing in September 1963.
A career of performing and teaching music
My clarinet career took off in Manchester in 1969, having joined the Musicians’ Union to perform with the then named BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra.
Concurrently, I was employed to teach clarinet by Lancashire Education Authority (EA) and Cheshire EA to teach at schools in Urmston and Sale. I also taught at two Direct Grant Grammar Schools in Withington and Bury.
I was also booked to perform with Gilbert and Sullivan for All as it toured the country. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company invited me to join them as second clarinet, then first clarinet and repetiteur. After my first year there, negotiations took place between the MU and D’Oyly Carte and touring ballet companies to use the touring orchestra completely during the subsequent London seasons. I held this position for four years until leaving to go freelance and teach for Inner London Education Authority and Bromley EA.
While in London, I performed with a wind quintet doing tours of the South West, as well as freelance work with Welsh National Opera (WNO), English Music Theatre, English National Opera and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
It was during my time with WNO that I met conductor David Lloyd-Jones. He told me about a new opera company about to form in my home city of Leeds. In Autumn 1978 I was offered a second clarinet position in the full-time English National Opera North and English Northern Philharmonia. I remained with the company full-time for 10 years and a further 12 years as an extra player.
On leaving full-time with Opera North, I was offered a full-time teaching position with North Yorkshire Music service as I taught all woodwind instruments. During this time, I also taught clarinet at the University of Huddersfield.
On retiring from teaching, we moved to live in an ex-family house in Morecambe, and I formed the Promenade Concert Orchestra to perform the light music repertoire. After 16 years, some 60-plus concerts and thousands of people coming to hear us, we remain the only concert orchestra between Manchester and Glasgow on the West Coast, and pretty well throughout the north of England.
We need opportunities to play music
The point is that none of the above would have happened were it not for free state education, free instrumental lessons, and a well-funded music education strategy. The opportunities I had are unavailable now, and access to music education is ever decreasing as funding cuts continue.
Everyone wants music – but who will be making it?
People are lacking the opportunity to discover themselves through arts and music, culture and emotions, personality, development and stretching the mind to greater possibilities, knowing as we know that music uses both sides of the brain and extends the individual’s mind and expression. Everyone wants music – but who will be making it?
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