By DAVID WOODING
WE often talk about the need for inspirational teachers to help drive up standards in our schools.
Sadly, there aren’t nearly enough. But I was lucky to have come across one who made a big impact on me.
Ken Marshall was the man who introduced me to one of the enduring loves of my life – music.
He was a dedicated professional who would make that extra effort for any pupil in whom he spotted potential.
And I was among a group of 11-year-olds who seemed to show an interest after hearing a piece from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.
So along with others, I was invited to Mr Marshall’s home on the first Saturday of every month to squat on the floor of his front room and listen to the works of great composers boom out of his two-foot high stereo speakers.
If we were honest, some were just curious about having a peek inside “Sir’s” home. Or perhaps it was the orange squash and biscuits served by his lovely wife, Joyce.
But we were all swept along by Mr Marshall’s infectious personality – and the music.
In between snatches of masterpieces – he only played enough to entice us – we listened enraptured as our wiry-haired, gravel-voiced tutor told us stories about the lives of Beethoven, Dvorak and Brahms.
He was knowledgeable, funny and enthusiastic and we learned so much more than just music. We learned about manners, use of language and how to sit still.
Mr Marshall wasn’t even my teacher. I was invited along by a former pupil of his I met when we started at the same senior school.
I had to take a typed note to be signed by my parents which outlined the Music Club rules. I still obey rule one to this day and chastise others who don’t. No talking when the music is playing.
So it came that through rain, wind and snow I would make the 40-minute Saturday morning trek to feast my ears on Mr Marshall’s music collection.
Before long, I had passed the fidget test and was allowed to go to a live concert. Mr Marshall had worked a bit of a scam with a friend who worked in the cafeteria of the Queen’s Hall in Widnes.
Whenever the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra came to play, he would smuggle a few of us in to hear the concert for free, kneeling on seats in the coffee bar to peer through a giant, decorative hatch in the wall to see the musicians playing below.
It was in this somewhat awkward position that I listened, usually in awe, for the first time such great works as Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Sibelius’s fifth symphony, Hindemith’s Nobilissima Visione, Britten’s Les Illuminations and the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
I was hooked, and saved up my pocket money until I had 99p to buy my first LP – a Classics for Pleasure recording of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. I’d only heard the first 10 minutes of the work in Mr Marshall’s front room – but it was the first time I felt my spine tingle.
Thus began a lifelong friendship…and an odyssey, exploring the work of dozens of composers who have provided an endless source of pleasure and fulfillment.
Later, I began to attend concerts myself and now realise life would be empty had Mr Marshall not opened the door to the joy of music.
So I was deeply saddened to learn that the kind, encouraging man who put me on this wonderful path has died.
There will be many other former pupils whose lives were influenced by Mr Marshall who, like me, will want to say farewell and thanks for enriching our lives.
You may be gone but the gift you gave will stay with us always.