I want you to think of a teacher who had an impact on your life. Perhaps they gave you a place in the sports team? Maybe they backed your small business idea? Perhaps they inspired you in science class. Now keep them in mind as you read this, because later on, I’m going to set your challenge.
Neneth Lyons singing ‘Somewhere’ on X Factor
I had the most wonderful TV viewing experience just the other day. My wife and I were sitting at home watching The X Factor auditions. The shows were recorded earlier this year in front of audiences in Manchester and London as well as other locations around the UK. There are large crowds cheering on the acts. It is, for all intents and purposes, a really daunting exercise for somebody to come onto the stage and perform in front of a bunch of strangers.
Many different artists of all shapes and sizes from every imaginable walk of life get their turn. Young and old, male and female, solo and group acts all perform in front of an audience of several thousand.
Towards the end of this particular show, a Filipino lady stepped out onto the stage, microphone in her hands trembling, and walks to the middle to introduce herself to the judging panel. A few minutes pass, her introduction done, she tells us that she’s going to sing ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story. “Oh my! I hope she’s good, because that song is amazing”.
She did not disappoint! Far from it. The singer’s name is Neneth Lyons. Her video has so far notched up almost 1.3m views on YouTube. Watch it and see for yourself why it was such a great performance.
That song took me back thirty years
Now why am I telling you this? Well, that that song holds special meaning for me. You see, it takes me back 30 years to my secondary school in Weobley, Herefordshire. So what?
Well, something happened at home that meant I was attending that school one week and then I wasn’t there any more. In fact, by the following week, I was in a totally different school. For several years, I suffered bullying and harassment. I didn’t fit in, having joined the new school part way through the academic year after all the friendships had been made. All of this happened when I was about 12 or 13 years old.
And the hardest part? I never returned to Weobley. Nor would I see my school friends again. To this day, I have some of the text books stored somewhere in a box. Before the move, I topped the class in several subjects. Excelling in my French and German studies. I also really enjoyed music class.
Or perhaps more accurately, I enjoyed music class with Mrs. White. She had a fantastic way of enthusing us about music. She introduced us to different types of music and different artists.
My most vivid memories though are of her playing (vinyl) tracks from the Peer Gynt Suite, or In the Hall of the Mountain King. We were to pick out the various parts of the orchestra and name them. Or there was the Carnival of the Animals or Peter and the Wolf with its different characters.
At Christmastime just before I left Weobley, I was chosen to lead the school into the church for the Christmas carols service. How scary! But what an amazing honour that was. On the programme of the last concert I was involved in at the school – you guessed it, Somewhere from West Side Story!
Why this matters
Today, living to the South West of London, I sing in an amateur choir, Guildford Choral Society. Our wonderful choir, under the baton of Jonathan Willcocks, our esteemed Musical Director, celebrated its 175th anniversary earlier this year.
We hired the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to help us celebrate. Not only that, but we took on two significant challenges. First, we performed Hubert Parry’s ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’ without copies. Then, along with almost 500 other adult singers and 200 children, we performed Berlioz’ mammoth Te Deum.
It’s taken a while in my life to realise this, but my love for classical music, stems from those music classes at Weobley. We didn’t listen to classical music at home when I was growing up. Whilst my Mum’s parents did own quite a collection, we weren’t there very much to listen to it. My Dad’s parents weren’t into that sort of music and neither were my folks.
Saying thank you
Knowing the concert was coming up in June, I set myself a goal at the beginning of the year to try and track down Mrs. White. Without being insensitive, I am in my forties, and I was concerned to know she was still with us. You see, I wanted to thank her and in so doing, invite her to come to the concert as my guest.
It took a while before the school took my enquiry seriously and I ended up calling them. Either way, they were able to find the details of my former teacher. Then they passed my details along to her and the ball was set rolling.
Several weeks passed and in April, I found myself in a phone conversation with this marvellous lady. After recounting what had happened that resulted in me being wrenched away from the school, my friends and my teachers, she understood more clearly why I had been so keen to find her and thank her.
She regaled me with her story. How she had founded The Britten Singers in the 1970s and that it’s still going strong. How she is heavily involved with the Three Choirs Festival. She told me sadly she wouldn’t be able to come to London for our concert as it clashed with her own rehearsals.
I told her that my love of music, and in particular classical music, was largely thanks to her. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for being someone I admired and had looked up to. I thanked her for inspiring me and for giving me a great love of classical music.
My challenge to you
Mrs. White told me as we wrapped up just how grateful she was that I had taken it upon myself to find her and reach out to say ‘thank you’. It occurred to me that teachers and lecturers alike see thousands upon thousands of people pass through their classroom(s) during their teaching career with very little chance of knowing what happens to us afterwards.
So here’s the thing. Which teacher made the most positive impact in YOUR life? I want to encourage you to share a comment below. Better yet, why not see whether you can find them and thank them yourself like I did. I was a deeply personal and satisfying thing to do.