How great to read the latest blog from Gareth Newman on these pages. I was at Bangor in the late 1960s and remember conducting him in the orchestra for G&S Society productions of The Sorcerer and H.M.S. Pinafore while he was still at school – happy days!
I came to Bangor straight from school armed only with a grade A at A Level and a grade six Merit on oboe, but I was welcomed with open arms as they hadn’t had an oboe player for many years. I was in the same B.Mus group as the illustrious Gwyn L Williams (whose superb trumpet playing wowed me from day one!) and quickly joined as many groups as I could.
My very first term gave me the chance to perform Moods at a Student Composers concert – a suite for oboe and piano that I had written whilst at sixth form – and to join the ad hoc orchestra for a concert organised by lecturer John Hywel. The featured work was Mozart’s concerto for Flute & Harp, where I met Telynores Dyfrdwy, Ceinwen Roberts (still a very good friend) who agreed to take me on as her first harp pupil. I had seen an ancient harp box stashed away at the back of the music room whilst looking around during Freshers’ Week, and Professor Reginald Smith Brindle gave me the go-ahead to restore the C19th gothic harp inside, to playing order.
The music department organised for me to travel to Manchester for oboe lessons with advanced students at the RNCM, but these were sporadic. In my second year, Russell McMahon joined the teaching staff and my double reed prowess developed at a much faster rate. My harp playing also blossomed, and Ceinwen and I performed my Scherzetto (for harp duet) at another Student Compositions concert. I also entered the inter-college Eisteddfod at Aberystwyth and came third (out of five) in the open harp competition, after less than two years’ tuition! In my second year, I signed up for piano lessons too, but I wasn’t really inspired, despite living directly opposite the new practice rooms in the Crescent.
One of the most exciting things about music making at Bangor was the wide variety of new music I came across.
I particularly remember playing Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms (cor anglais, doubling on piccolo!) and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. I notice this centenary celebration of the founding of the Music Department at Bangor featured a performance of John Hywel’s composition The Seven Ages Of Man, and I well remember being in the audience for its first performance - Powis Hall, I seem to recall, with John himself as narrator.
Another fond memory is of the majority of the choral society decamping en-masse to the local hostelry and breaking into four-part harmony with the Hallelujah Chorus or similar. Music seemed to ooze out of every pore of the students, regardless of what subject they were studying - but that’s Wales for you!
I thought of myself primarily as a composer and created a 30-minute ballet for my final year. This was based on the spurious Tale of the Willow Pattern Plate and boasted an orchestra including soprano and alto saxophones, harp and celesta, as well as including my take on a fugato as the piece neared its climax.
My music calligraphy had always been good and I answered an advert from Stainer & Bell in my second year, resulting in some useful pocket money as a copyist preparing new works for publication. I had thought I might go into publishing full time, and even had an interview at S&B, but in the end I had no particular plans in mind when I graduated in 1970.
A few weeks after I left Bangor, I attended Founder’s Day at my old grammar school, whereupon the headmaster said he had a vacancy in the music department for a teacher with responsibility for instrumental music. Two days later, I was offered the job at my old school, with many of my friends from student days now in the sixth form. What a turn up for the books! I stayed there for just over three years, during which I met and married my wonderful wife, Sue. Musically, I brushed up on my viola playing and took my Grade eight oboe and Grade seven piano on the same day (gaining a distinction and merit respectively, in case you are wondering!)
Brass tuition at the school was beyond me, so we hired in the Band Sergeant Major of the Royal Engineers band at Chatham, who seemed sufficiently laid back to tempt me to enlist too. The RE Band already had four oboists, but the Director of Music had just been appointed to take over the Band of HM Coldstream Guards in London, so I went for an audition and soon found myself playing my oboe at the changing of the guard, at both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle! I was in the Band during her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, and also played viola during investitures and other ceremonial functions.
I was still composing and arranging, and became the official band copyist (this was in the days long before the Sibelius music writing computer programme had been invented). The band performed many of my compositions and arrangements in their concerts, and on Friday Night Is Music Night (Radio 2) and Strike Up The Band (Radio 3). I also had my first experience of the recording studio with them at Maida Vale and Abbey Road. They encouraged me to register with the Performing Right Society to ensure I received royalties, and I also started to get the occasional commission.
After four years, I was ready for a change and moved to North Suffolk as a peripatetic double reed specialist, although I had to teach myself flute, clarinet and saxophone in a matter of weeks too. I taught in the Lowestoft area until taking early retirement in 2006 – the last seven years as Senior Woodwind Tutor.
A few years after we moved to Suffolk, I had saved sufficient earnings from private pupils to finance another harp and gradually started teaching on that too. I self-published some harp compositions written for my pupils, and these are now published by Spartan Press Ltd, along with works for string, wind and brass ensembles that I had used in my teaching. Many of the harp pieces have featured on the exam syllabi of Trinity College and ABRSM for many years, and I continued to develop my personal performance skills with Grade eight on bassoon and harp (having achieved my ARCM in oboe teaching whilst in the army).
Post retirement, I completed my Sonata for Harp (2010) and am awaiting the premiere this October of my Pipe Dreams for double reed trio and string orchestra, in which I plan to be the cor anglais soloist. Sue and I celebrate our Golden Wedding in 2022 and it doesn’t seem possible that we didn’t even meet until three months after I graduated from Bangor! Music has been my whole life and career and I am eternally grateful that I received such an excellent start at Bangor. I even used the lockdown last autumn to improve on my piano skills, and achieved a Distinction at Grade eight – not bad for a 73-year-old on his fourth instrument!
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Bangor.
Stewart Green, 2022