How I Got Into Music (2)

It’s interesting that in my first post about how I got into music, I forgot one of the most formative, or rather de-formative, experiences in my musical career.

At age seven, I went for an obligatory audition for the school choir.

Not at all sure that I wanted to be in the school choir, I went into the room with some trepidation.

The music teacher, a florid, larger-than-life character with striped trousers, hit a single note on the upright piano.

‘Sing it,’ he said.

Very nervous, I warbled what was obviously not the same note.

The teacher hit another note.


Pretty much the same sort of result.

‘You can’t sing,’ said the teacher.

I was ushered rather unceremoniously from the room.

I said in my last post that I only really got into music seriously at age 49.

After an experience like that, it’s a wonder I got into music at all.

* * * * *

I did a lot of acting at university and was tempted by a professional career.

My one great regret in terms of ‘career’ and ‘work’ is that I did not give it a try.

I did a PGCE (post-graduate teacher training) instead of a year at acting school.

Incidentally, if you are young and facing such a decision and are tempted by what your family would call a risky profession, I would strongly encourage you to go for it.

Nothing would prevent you from becoming a teacher later on, and your additional work experience outside the classroom would be invaluable.

But something else that I forgot that I did for a very long time was that I participated in an opera at university. Vaughan Williams’ ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’

Just in the chorus, of course.

It was only years later, when I was doing a short course in singing with some other people and we were all grouped as sopranos, altos, tenors and basses around the piano that memories of the opera slowly came back. So obviously not an indelible experience. Not an unpleasant one either.

And the short experience of the later course, while pleasant, did not tempt me further towards choral work.

The teacher did say that I had a magnificent baritone voice, though, which would suggest that the pilgrim did not have a monopoly on progression.

* * * * *

I spent two years teaching full-time in an ex-grammar comprehensive school in Hertfordshire.

During that time, I directed three plays and coached a rugby team in addition to teaching English. My life simply wasn’t my own.

On one school day, I was so tired, I didn’t wake up until one o’clock in the afternoon. You can imagine the groveling in front of the headmaster.

Fortunately, I had my escape planned.

I got a grant to go and study for an MA at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

When I left the school, the headmaster told me I was immature and not committed enough.

* * * * *

After a brief passage in New York, autumn 1981 found me in Fredericton, N.B.

English and American Literature with Creative Writing was a bit of a mouthful of a course, but great fun to do.

I’d chosen it because it was one of the rare graduate courses where you could do creative writing. We had courses in writing poetry and drama as well as the usual academic stuff.

The university had a student radio, CHSR-FM. I was listening to it one day and thought to myself, “I could do better than that.”

It’s easy to criticize, but another thing to try and do better.

So I challenged myself to put my voice where my mouth was, so to speak.

I started presenting jazz and Canadian content shows every week. I played ‘Round Midnight’ by Miles Davis a lot and discovered the Payola$.

I must have been doing something right because the local taxi company contacted the station for an advert and insisted that the voice on it was mine.

So we sat down and tried to come up with a slogan for the ad.

We ended up with, “Bla-Bla taxis take you further than your destination,” whatever that means. Sounded good though.

Wasn’t me who came up with the idea. It was a fellow girl newsreader, who was a bit shocked that as a graduate student of English I wasn’t better at coming up with a punch line.

(to be continued)



Richard Conrad Morgan
Richard Conrad Morgan

How I Got Into Music (1)

Me at age eight.

I only seriously started getting into music at the age of 49.

There were signs of interest before, of course.

In 1963, we finally got a black and white TV. We were the last family in the road to get one.

I remember the Kennedy assassination very well. I was seven and judging by my parents’ reaction, it seemed like the end of the world.

But we also got a record player – one of those new-fangled things where the record dropped on to the turntable and the needle lifted and set itself down automatically.

The first album we bought was “Please Please Me” by the Beatles. Very exciting.

I really did grow up with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Although the Stones were considered rather decadent in our resolutely middle-class environment….

* * * * *

I was lucky enough up to grow up in a house with a good-sized garden, so I could sing in the bathroom a lot.

At one point, I drove my parents crazy singing, “Onward Christian Soldier,” over and over again.

In retrospect, it was fair revenge for making us go to church as kids.

An esthetically pleasing church, but the services were so boring for a child.

I was convinced I couldn’t sing.

We always seemed to be singing the hymns at the upper level of my range, near the break, and my voice got tired very quickly.

No fun. I already preferred singing on my own.

* * * * *

On some of my school reports, I got an A for music.

There’s even a jazz project marked in one that I remember nothing about.

After getting hooked by Aka Bilk’s “Stranger on the Shore,” I badgered my parents to let me start clarinet lessons, which I took from the age of 12 until I was 16.

The strange thing is, it never felt like a jazz instrument to me and I eventually stopped taking the lessons, citing the sixth form work load as the reason.

The clarinet was rented, never bought.

At some point in my adolescence, some neighbours gave us a double album of Louis Armstrong.

Not liking the musician in question, my parents asked my brother and myself if it would matter if they changed it.

Already out-voted by three to one, I said, “Ok,” but I remember this incident because I already actually rather appreciated Louis Armstrong.

I can’t remember what the replacement LP was.

* * * * *

While at university in Bristol, I discovered Mahler and played quite a lot of guitar. A typical student activity and I had no pretensions about it.

I bought a cheap classical which I then sold off to get a pleasing acoustic guitar and dabbled a good deal. Never took lessons though and rapidly hit a plateau.

And the guitar ended up at a friend’s house in Exeter where it remains to this day.

I already enjoyed singing in the bath.

A group of girls passing on the staircase on their way to breakfast applauded once when I was having a bath in the floor facilities at my hall of residence Clifton Hill House.

I was into writing at that point, the first of my creative careers. Mainly poetry.

Eventually, I got quite a few published in magazines and had some success in poetry competitions.

My finest hour was when I won the same national competition (the Mary Wilkins) for the second year in succession.

You had to use a pseudonym for the entries with your real name in a sealed envelope so that the judges wouldn’t be influenced by your reputation.

I was told that the judges were all convinced that my poem was written by a woman, which seemed like a pretty good compliment to me. They were flabbergasted when it turned out to be the same person as the winner the previous year.

But poetry, like music, tends to be a young man’s sport. I wrote my last poem in 1986 when I was 30.

The last, that is, until I wrote one in 2016.

But when I finally got around to writing songs, that apprenticeship of poetry writing was priceless.

(to be continued….)



Richard Conrad Morgan
Richard Conrad Morgan