My Life Blog

by

Edmund

« neither saint nor king »

I've lived in many impressive places in four different countries: in England: Norwich, Oxford, Hereford; in Canada: Nova Scotia (Kingston, Aylesford, Lunenburg) and Montréal; in the United States: Boston; as well as Cologne and Frankfurt am Main in Germany, where I am living right now. It's a strange feeling to realise that I've lived longer in Germany than anywhere else! And what's home, should you ask? Someone, who had lived in many countries, was once asked by the BBC, where, for him, home actually was. He answered, "your home is where your heart is." And Lunenburg, Nova Scotia will, for me, always be home.

England

Norwich

I am quite proud of my East Anglian background! I was born in Drayton, near Norwich, England, so it's not so surprising that I was given the name "Edmund". When I was in my teens, I used to ask my somewhat embarrassed mother if I was conceived at Bury St Edmunds, but she assured me that I wasn't! Due to my interest in old languages, I once bought a copy of La Passiun de Seint Edmund, an amazing book for one reason: an Anglo-Norman account of an Anglo-Saxon King and Saint is, indeed, quite rare. The story of St. Edmund was apparently so powerful that it was told in Anglo-Norman at a time when things Anglo-Saxon were all but being eliminated. Through his fame, the Anglo-Saxon name "Edmund", although relatively rare, has managed to survive.

Cathedral cities seem to top my list of places where I've lived, my first memories of one being Norwich with its magnificent norman Cathedral. I had the honour of being christened there by Bishop Percy Stevens (who was Bishop of Hunan-Kwangsi, China, and a friend of my father's). My parents took me to services there when I was about 3 or 4 years old. I remember being completely taken by the whole thing: the choir and the singing, the clergy and, of course, all the costumes they were wearing! It seemed to be destiny that I too would become a chorister one day.

Wheatley, Oxford

When I was five, our family moved to Wheatley, which is just outside Oxford. My memories of Oxford are the University, the Ashmolean Museum, (yes, Christ Church Cathedral, but more so Magdalen College and New College), and the traffic jams caused by the car workers going home from Cowley. When I was about nine years old, talk came up about my becoming a chorister somewhere. I loved music (I sang a lot with my father, who accompanied me at the piano; and also played the recorder and violin) and it seemed a good idea to me! I took a test at Magdalen College, Oxford, but didn't get a place. Many years later, I happened to be writing to Bernard Rose, organist there at the time, about a manuscript (which, alas, he informed me was lost...), and he looked me up in his lists: he had found me to be most musical, but I didn't get in because of my "intonation": meaning, that I had a rather too strong Oxfordshire accent - most unsuitable for a college at Oxford! Oxford and Oxfordshire obviously have little in common!

Hereford

Everything in England happened for me in periods of five years: at ten, I auditioned for Hereford Cathedral Choir and was successful in getting a place. I was put in the Cathedral Preparatory School to be prepared: my local accent was simply done away with. As a chorister, I had five years of daily services and rehearsals (about two or three hours of singing each day, and three services on Sundays), which was a wonderful musical experience. Hereford has one great advantage over many other Cathedral choirs: the Three Choirs Festival, one of the oldest music festivals in the world, started ca. 1719. There, I not only learned most of the anglican choral repertoire, but also most of the great oratorios as well. It was a magnificent early training in singing and music. I estimate that I sang about 2000 services or more at Hereford in the five years I was there. [If someone were to attend church once a week, every week, it would take him around 38 years to achieve this!]

Alas, Hereford Cathedral School was not very good in those days, and I slipped down the downward path of the "B" form. Except for my Canadian mathematics teacher (Mr. J. R. Heald), few teachers really took an interest in me. If I had stayed at Hereford after my voice broke, I would have probably got just one O-level: music. University looked an unlikely possibility for me.

Canada

Nova Scotia


My mother's brother, Hubert (Dr. H. W. King), announced ca. 1969 that he was thinking of moving to Canada. "Why don't you come too?" was his question when he made the announcement. I immediately thought the idea was great. I disliked my school immensely: I'd had enough of bad teachers, a lack of discipline, bullying, fights, and boys running away from school. My father had already talked of my going to another, more suitable school. My thought was "then, why not in Canada?" It would be, for me, the best move I could have ever made. And we beat Hubert by six months!

In August, 1970, having taken a train from Hereford to Liverpool, we sailed with the Canadian Pacific Ship "The Empress of Canada" to Montréal. What an adventure of a lifetime for a young lad of 15! We had a minor hurricane in the Irish ocean, and I was just about the only one who made it to meals for a few days. My poor parents (even my Dad, the sailor) were pretty ill. But, once we were out in the Atlantic Ocean, we pretty much had a duck pond to Canada. Every day I went to the upper deck in the hope of seeing my first glimpse of Canada. Land ahoy! After 5 days land was sighted: we saw Newfoundland on the horizon and soon after entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence (here's a map!). We sailed along the St. Lawrence River (the picture here of the Saint Lawrence River between Quebec City and Lévis was one of my first views of Canada), passing Québec City at about midnight, which was very exciting! I already knew that Canada was going to be "home". There were simply no doubts in my mind at all. The next day, we arrived at Montréal at noon, and were checked in as "landed immigrants" ("landed ignorants", I used to call us!). I saw policemen with guns for the first time in my life! But, the adventure wasn't over yet: two interesting train trips were still ahead. The first was a long and beautiful ride to Halifax (we passed Québec City once again), a trip which I've done many times since, and which I still love. The next day we arrived in Halifax, and took another train to the Annapolis Valley - the last segment of our long journey. None of us was ready for the next surprise: after a while, we noticed that in Windsor we were going along the street - but we weren't in a street car! I feel very privileged to have been able to take this trip for many reasons: not just for having the opportunity to go to Canada, but for the ship and train trips themselves - some, alas, don't exist any more. In Kingston, we were met by Bob Swim (former Principal of West Kings District High School, where my father would teach, and my sister and I would go to school) and discovered the wonderful, open, Canadian friendliness straight away. Although we were wiped out by all the travelling (now about 10 days, with fourteen cases and bags), he showed us everything that we needed to see: the town, the shops, his house...and much more! Probably a great way not to have jet lag!

In September, we started at West Kings. Again, I knew that this was going to be for me. Alas, they made one big misassumption: because I was from the "Old Country", they assumed I had to be better, and put me in a class with kids one year older than myself. However, it wasn't a complete disaster: I marvelled that all the teachers took an immediate interest in me. Why? In England, when you got bad marks, you just moved on to the next year. In Canada, it means getting held back. Obviously, it's not only bad for the student: if a teacher has too many failures, it could reflect negatively on their performance too. I had always been bad at Maths, but Mrs. Trites, my first Maths teacher in Canada, seemed quite sure she was going to get me through Grade 11 Maths. How? She noticed that I seemed to have learned little Algebra or Geometry in England. She simply suggested that I sit in on my sister's Maths class for a while - she being one year younger. In England, I would have rather died than do this! They seemed to find it normal here, and I was never teased about it once! And, the girls in this class were pretty, and also my own age. In my own class they were one year older, which, for the girls, probably seemed more like 3 or 4.

Yes, the other big difference at school here was girls! Since I was 10, I had only been to sex segregated schools and sung in boys choirs (and that's all St. Paul's fault...). The only girls who I'd known to this point were my sister and her friends - and she did her best to keep them for herself. At fifteen, I remember being awed by these females: unlike English girls, they seemed more mature and self-confident. I remember so well that bright spark, Daphne Nette, who so tragically died a few years later, sparing with Mr. Richardson. One didn't do that at an English school! Another, who was also in my class, had such long (and lovely) legs, that she used turn them out sideways for what seemed like miles from her desk - making it quite difficult to concentrate at times. I had two big problems: firstly, my taste was too good, and, secondly, I was terrified of them! For over five years in England. I'd hardly talked to a girl, and now, I was expected to somehow ask them, sounding suave, mature, and self-confident, to the school dance! (We didn't have them in England either!) Once, when one lovely young student in my sister's class dropped all her books in the stairwell, I completely froze and couldn't help her. She said that a gentleman would have helped her pick them up - I was floored and felt terrible. Thank God I didn't stay at a British "public" school until I was 18!

But, concentrate I did! I even passed Maths in my first year - something which I'd never done in England (thank you Mrs. Trites!). I just missed passing Grade 12 Maths the first time (Mr. Bethune gave me 1% less than the pass mark!), but, as is normal in Canada, I just repeated the course and passed easily the second time through. (I actually repeated all of Grade 12 through my own choice: to gain back the year which I'd skipped in 1970. I had a great year, even taking typing, which was to be a great asset later in life: look at the length of this blog! That's why I belong to the class of '72, but stayed in school until 1973...in case you're wondering!) After three years of working quite hard, (something in Nova Scotia had motivated me) I had adequate grades to get me into university. Indeed, I was even able to choose to which university I wanted to go.

In 1973, I was planning on studying violin, either at Mount Allison or Acadia University. Then, I just happened to sing a few notes for Prof. Marie McCarthy at Acadia. She really impressed me and was so warm and encouraging. "You're probably a tenor - and they're worth their weight in gold" she told me. She mentioned that they were doing an opera (Dido and Aeneas of Purcell) the following year, and were looking for tenors. Well, I was sold, and that's where I went. They were two wonderful, but frustrating years. I learned so much. I did sing in the opera, both University Choirs, played violin and oboe in the University Orchestra, not to forget piano and, on occasion, saxophone in the Acadia Jazz Band. I was very happy. Then, after just three months, my oboe teacher (Prof. Robert McCarthy) was fired without reason. He was completely and utterly framed. It was, of course, assumed that if he left, his wife would go too. The next 1 1/2 years were spent fighting for the rights of Prof. McCarthy. One Saturday evening, three or four of us sat around in the empty student room, wondering what we could do. A hunger strike was suggested and that's what we started! (I'd had stomach problems since high school, and had to stop after three days, but after a few days, the number of hunger strikers had grown incredibly). We even made the CBC national news! The following year, we had a campus-wide student strike: about 80 % of all students boycotted classes for several days. The fight to get Bob McCarthy reinstated took about 5 years. It all went to binding arbitration: he won, and was reinstated. Alas, for me and my studies at Acadia, I was forced to leave at the end of my second year. It was probably hard for Marie McCarthy and other professors to see so many of us go, but, we had little choice. In my third year at Acadia, I was faced with taking all my courses (except Voice and Oboe) from the very same people that had framed Prof. McCarthy. As I had demonstrated against these four professors (the "Slaughterhouse-Four", as Prof. Gmeiner once called them!) so often during the last two years, I felt that in no way would I have been treated or marked fairly for any of their courses.

Montréal

That led to auditions at McGill University in Montréal, and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. It was at this time that I met Prof. Jan Simons of McGill. Again, I had the nice, but difficult choice of which university to attend. Eastman had much prestige, but wouldn't give me a choice with which professor I would study voice. Jan Simons said that if I were to attend McGill then I could be in his class. And that's what I did - getting both my Bachelor's and Master's degrees there.

Montréal was a wonderful time for me. I really enjoyed the bilingual side of life there. It's a beautiful city with so much to do and see, not to mention eat. It's a great city for restaurants! The years at McGill were very rewarding and beneficial: the teaching of Jan Simons had a profound affect on me, especially all his advice concerning Lieder singing. I took the opportunity to learn fluent french at this time. One of my most valuable experiences was singing with L'Ensemble Claude-Gervaise: a québecois ensemble specialising in french and québecois music, with quite nationalistic views, and I was the only singer and an anglophone at that! I learned so much. My singing career got a real boost singing with the Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal. I was very lucky to get so much solo work so young! Thank you Christopher Jackson for giving me those early chances and for also being such a great musical influence on me. I sang with the Men and Boys Choir of St. Matthias' Church, Westmount, for many years and that was a wonderful experience too: since 1970 I had missed English Church Music alot, and here was a chance to sing it every week with a very good choir. I learned so much from the organist and choir director Stephen Crisp. I was always so grateful that he looked through my compositions, especially the hymn tunes. Some of my recent successes in hymn writing go back to the things which he taught me. Stephen was such an encouraging musician. Some of his descants still ring in my ears! And I made many good friends there too - several of whom I still in touch with. I'd love to get back to Montréal soon and see them. Thanks, Brian, for the years of jokes which you've sent me! Some of them were even good - especially the one about the Pope and Hillary Clinton!

USA

Boston


In the early 1980s, I wanted to see what was going on musically in the US. I spent two years in Boston, singing as a soloist with the Boston Camerata and at the Church of the Advent. I wasn't brought up high church, but I really enjoyed that experience. It was real theatre, sometimes there were up to seven priests - all with smells and bells! I remember so well the Easter morning mass: it started around 5 am. The service began with candles in the dark church, no lights, no organ. One year, as the organ began to roar with the beginning of the "Gloria" the sun suddenly shone brightly through one of the very highest windows. A moment which I won't forget easily!

Germany

Cologne


In 1983, I felt the time had come to move to Europe for a while. The "a while" was going to be a few years in Germany, and then we'll see - perhaps moving on to London or Paris. Well, I'm still there 24 years later! I spent 13 of those years in Cologne, living mostly out of a suitcase, in trains and hotels. Another Cathedral city with its magnificent Gothic "Dom", although I much prefer the 12 romanesque churches there!

I got my present job teaching at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt in 1990, and commuted between Cologne and Frankfurt for 7 years. Then, I just got burned out. I just couldn't travel anymore. So, a move was made to Frankfurt, another city with a great cathedral, in 1997.

Canada

Lunenburg


I will always be homesick for Nova Scotia. I have wanted to go home for years, but it's a move that, unfortunately, will have to wait. When I retire from the Hoch Conservatory, I'll sing a Schumann Liederabend on Robert Schumann's birthday (8th June, the day after my 65th) and that'll be it: 37 years Germany and 30 years of teaching at the Hoch Conservatory! That's when I'll probably be heading home - no cathedral, but the lovely restored St. John's Church. 78 Fox Street, that's where I'll be! I'm there usually in the summers: please do visit! If the double front doors are open, I'm there!