Teacher has gone…but the music still lingers.

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.

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The Iron Lady – it’s about so much more than just Thatcher

DAVID WOODING reviews the hot new political movie

THIS fascinating movie shows Britain’s most divisive political figure in a new light – as a real human being.

If you’re a nerd, fan or critic expecting a potted history of Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in power you’ll be disappointed.

This poignant film barely scratches the surface of the real-life dramas which shaped her Premiership. The Falklands War, the poll tax riots, the miners’ strike and the Brighton bomb are all a sub-plot to a rather sad but charming story about getting old.

It vividly depicts how giants of history are really just frail, ordinary people underneath. And Meryl Streep’s incredible portrayal of Mrs Thatcher achieves what the Tory icon often failed to do herself – by winning  our admiration, sympathy and respect.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady is about so much more than the rise and fall of a legend.

It’s about the tragedy of old age, the struggle by women for equal rights and the rise to power of a grocer’s girl from Lincolnshire.

Thatcher’s amazing life is seen through the prism of an old lady struggling with dementia, mourning the loss of her husband Denis and having flashbacks to the days when she ran the country.

Tories have been swift to express their uneasiness with the subject matter while Lady Thatcher is still alive – and Labour tribalists baulk simply at the idea of a film about a woman whose legacy they detest.

But you must put the political ethics to one side and watch this as a piece of pure cinema. Forget the historical inaccuracies, too. Maggie never wore a hat in the Commons, she was not with Airey Neave in the car park when he was blown up and I’ve never before heard she barked “sink it!” when generals asked  what to do about the Belgrano.

Director Phyllida Lloyd certainly knows how to use artistic licence to great dramatic effect. She once produced a quirky version of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the ENO, in which the Rhinemaidens were mini-skirted, fishnet-stockinged, spiky-heeled pole dancers and the heroine Brunhilde became a suicide bomber. I was sceptical about that – but it worked. Lloyd’s idiosyncratic style works wonders in The Iron Lady, too.

Sadness

There’s also great use of music from  Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Bach to Bellini and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance?”

Meryl Streep’s portrayal spans 40 years and the flashbacks give a balanced picture of the woman – her determination, vision, weaknesses and failings – all in nugget-sized  episodes, rather than detailed analysis. The 90-minute film also takes us  back six decades to Thatcher’s childhood working during wartime in her father’s grocery shop.

The movie sends out a powerful message about the tragedy of dementia – and the sadness of loneliness endured by many in old age.

It may struggle to turn Thatcher’s critics into full-blown admirers. But if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll admit to feeling rather more warm towards her after seeing this.

At the very least, thousands more people will see Lady Thatcher for what she really is – a human being.