Beggar at the Feast

At our High School, music was a bit of a joke, though not in the Mozart sense. I can’t remember any pupils being offered tuition on any musical instrument.  The school was 1960s monochrome. Extracurricular activity meant football for boys, netball for girls, though for the adventurous both sexes had volleyball, but separately. The school ceased to exist on the day I left, honestly!


This was in Coatbridge more famous for Iron and Steel, Albion Rovers Football Club than high culture, so no Opera House. Indeed, the highest rated aspects to the town were those dirt racing Speedway stars – Coatbridge Monarchs, an excellent Swimming Pool and in Drumpellier, a top class cricket side. The town received some notoriety, for having won the ‘carbuncle’ architectural award twice.

Beggar’s Opera

Our head of music was Miss M., a lovely human being, in a very difficult situation. Not many pupils wanted to sing by S2, so music was too often the location for the weekly class riot. She was undaunted because she encouraged us to stage a simplified version of the Beggar’s Opera. It was the only public musical offering I can recall in my years. We did try at rehearsals – to sing in tune, then follow the basic stage directions. It was rather mundane, possibly off-key, however I will forever remember Miss M’s face aglow with delight when the applause began. She had facilitated a public musical offering, whatever its flaws. I can recall that clearly all 50 years later, so it made an impact on the performers as well.

The Power of Music

I will explore why music touches us so deeply, ask about its roots and why it can communicate with us profoundly at the heights and depths of life, even when words fail us. My sole qualification is that once upon a time I sang, a beggar in an opera.

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  • Teaching of the arts continues to be much underrated and therefore underfunded. This is despite all the research pointing to the links between pupil engagement, achievement and attainment across the curriculum when the arts are valued and taught.
    I thoroughly enjoyed participating in music in school as a young teenager and thank our Mr H for his efforts – he did a great job. I can probably still sing all of the words to the songs in Lionel Bart’s Oliver if challenged!
    In my own teaching I always tried to engage my pupils with singing, and used the NYCoS singing games right from P1. This was neither acknowledged or appreciated by the school leadership, but the kids loved it. Two of my P4 classes were lucky enough to receive weekly tuition in violin. But it is hard to encourage pupils when there were only sufficient resources to allow them to take a violin home once every two weeks. Both classes gave a five minute performance at the end of the year and I will forever remember the sense of pride and joy that gave them, especially B. While they were given the opportunity for one year, there was little on offer for any follow up. I can only hope it made for a better year for them and perhaps has given one or two of them an interest in music that will develop over time.

    • Hi Ross, Good points and strengthened from your personal hard won experience.
      I had plan to address this topic in the next few weeks.

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