I was a “Grunter”. This was official nomenclature at the Masonic Junior School and freely used by music masters for ease of reference as in, “Right! grunters over here. School choir here etc.”
The Head of Music was called Clotworthy, and a more suitable name is hard to imagine. He took us for a weekly singing lesson at the back of the School Hall, seated at his grand piano. That was the sum of music education for most of us. Individual instrument tuition was for selected children or it was optional, I do not recall exactly. Tragically the weekly singing lesson was compulsory. This is how it worked.
We filed in in alphabetical order and sat in a row along the front (classes were small. 2A consisted of 13 children). The lesson plan was invariable as far as I remember, a pitch test followed by class singing of various old faithfuls: “Men of Harlech”, “The Licolnshire Poacher”, “Who is Sylvie, What is She?”. You may know the kind of thing…
The pitch test was the horror for me as I could not then (and still struggle to now) pitch my voice to a single note. This was, however, exactly what was required. Clotworthy would ping a note somewhere in the middle octaves and each child would have to stand up in order and reproduce the note. Perfection resulted in a score of 10 down through to zero for the sort of sub-human grunt that I seemed only capable of producing.
So the lesson started something like this;
Clotworthy: calls out “Brown” and strikes a note
Brown: stands and produces fair imitation
Clotworthy; “6! Good effort. Sit down. Cliff!” Strikes another note
Cliff: who is best in class stands and produces a spot on rendition.
Clotworthy: “10 out of 10. Excellent, boy. Davies” titter goes round class in anticipation. C strikes note.
Davies: stands with air of desperation and makes sound of rusty door hinge forced to open
Clotworthy: “0. Grunter.Next”
Hamilton stands and so on
The only two variations in this sorry routine that I remember were when once I stood up as usual and randomly croaked a note from my limited repertoire (rusty hinge, creaking cartwheel, bullfrog, stray cat etc) but was rewarded with a “4”. I was stunned. However, it proved a lucky shot. I was unable to build on this promising development and at the end of term my report showed a score of 4/100 for the term’s efforts.
On another occasion Clotworthy called “Davies”, I stood opened my mouth but before a sound emerged he said “0”, which collapsed the class in laughter. He was quite overcome with his own wit and actually laughed himself. A rare sound. His wife probably had a good night.
There were occasional attempts at a different approach: a new Music master joined the staff to teach instruments at some point and obviously had the bright idea of trying to do something with those of us who were not singers. He came in to the lesson and Clotworthy called all the Grunters (3 of us) to go with him and he put a violin in our hands and gave us an introductory lesson. He obviously spotted that I had some talent and was very keen for me to pursue violin lessons. However, at the Masonic School to carry a violin was a death sentence. You might as well carry a teddy bear or suck your thumb, which were other effective ways of inviting bullying and I had no intention of going down that road. So I stuck to my guns and refused.
It was not until I left school that I found some outlet for my small reservoir of musical talent. I bought a cheap piano and found a brilliant retired musician at Exeter, Harold Stringer (RIP) who got me playing and up to Grade 6 standard. Now a day hardly goes by without I spend some time at the keyboard.
Can’t say Mr Clotworthy has occupied my thoughts to any degree, however.