Teachers....and how they influence our lives. Part 2. Miss Milligan.
Music was my first love....
Nope. Margaret Rutherford was not one of my teachers, but whenever I think of my Primary school music teacher, Miss Milligan, it is always Margaret Rutherford's face than comes to my mind. That kind of lived-in face, which kind of suggests that she has seen alot of life and experience. Strong featured, maybe even severe, yet kindly and capable of warmth and a comforting smile.
Miss Milligan was a lady. If I hadn't already had a lovely granny of my own, I might well have picked her to fill that vacancy. All she cared about was music. She loved it, and she wanted everyone else to love it too. In me, she had a willing pupil, coming, as I did, from a very musical family, so it would be fair to say that I was one of her pet students.
The first solo I ever sang under her tuition was when she cast me as the Little Drummer Boy in the school Nativity play. Well, call me particular, but as a learned student of the Children's Bible, I was quick to point out to Miss Milligan that, to the best of my knowledge, there was no mention of a Little Drummer Boy attending the birth of Jesus.
"Well it's very clever of you to notice that," she acknowledged, "But you see, because you have such a sweet voice, I added the character into the story in order to give you a solo to sing."
Naturally, I thought this was very kind of her, although I wasn't quite convinced that she was allowed to rewrite a book as sacred as the Bible, but I graciously accepted the role. It did raise a few eyebrows, I was informed, when during our Christmas Religion class test, I answered the question, "Who wrote the first 4 books of the New Testament?" with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and a few bits by Miss Milligan!
As well as teaching us an appreciation of music, Miss Milligan attempted to get every child in the school interested in playing a musical instrument. Several in my class were learning the guitar, while most of us had a stab at learning to play the recorder. One or two could bash out a few simple tunes on the piano, but inevitably, there was always someone with no ear at all for music. In my class, it was a boy called Dermot. Miss Milligan, however, would not be thwarted.
"The Arts!" she told us, when we were in an older class, "The Arts make up a perfect square, each side of that square being a separate category. Art, literature, drama and music. When someone has no music in them, their square becomes a triangle, and THAT instrument was designed, it seems to me, specifically for people who lacked the fourth side!"
So Dermot, like so many tone deaf students before him, played the triangle. Usually it amounted to a single "Ting" as the final beat of a piece of music, but at least it ensured that no-one was every left out of music projects. What a clever lady.
Having already made reference to her ability to edit other peoples writing, what impressed me even more about Miss Milligan was her own creativity. We did a school musical every year and they were always written and composed by her. They were usually about 45 minutes long and contained maybe 5 or 6 songs, and I was in awe of her talent. Having now written several musical theatre pieces myself in recent times, I have an even greater appreciation now of the effort that she put into being a music teacher, and that is what made her so special.
Did I learn much from her? Of course I did, and I believe that every child that ever passed through her music room, even Dermot and the other tone-deafers, would say the same thing. She loved her subject, and she loved to teach it. It wasn't her job...it was her life. Lucky were we, to be a small part of it!