It was in this setting that after the major Choral works had been performed that we would listen to records chosen by Mr Smith to appeal to, and musically educate, young boys. One day in 1956 we sat in silence and I heard for the first time in my life the compelling beat of the snare drum tapping out that ostinato rhythm as the music increases in intensity from pianissimo to its fortissimo ending.
Since that time Bolero has become much more widely known having been used by Torvill and Dean for their Gold Medal performance in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. But for me on that day in 1956 I was hearing it for the first time and I was captivated. You see, Mr Smiths educational strategy worked for me. Whenever I hear that snare drum begin its quiet incessant beat I am, like Proust with his Madeleine, transported back to a time and a place and a teacher to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for enormous amounts of spiritual and musical enrichment over the last 60 years.
I should add that we were treated to lots of other music that might be considered ‘accessible’ – Lieutenant Kije, Peter and the Wolf of course, some Mozart, Love for Three Oranges, and other pieces long forgotten but all important in those formative years. Not only did Mr Smith talk about music enthusiastically but he would also launch into discussion of painting and design. One particular lesson he pointed out how aesthetically pleasing an incandescent light bulb was. Now some might think that was an unusual topic for a music lesson but it was characteristic of the broad liberal ethos that infused the school. His point was of course that we should be alert to the design and beauty of everyday objects. In other lessons he would bring along prints that he owned of modern paintings and talk about Picasso, Braque, Cezanne and others. So yet further debts of gratitude that I owe to an old fashioned school master who taught me all those years ago.
So ‘Thank you Mr Smith’.