Women Who Inspired Me

Today is International Women's Day and to mark the occasion I would like to take the time to talk about the women who inspired and influenced me during my music education and career.

I've mentioned before how, over the years, I've had a number of saxophone and clarinet teachers. Each of their approaches to learning the instrument was/is unique and when I started teaching, I was able to take these various approaches and combine them into a unique teaching style of my own. The first of those amazing teachers was Christabel.


Without Christabel's enthusiasm I can honestly say I wouldn't be the music professional I am today; I might not even have done music at all. At the age of eight, Dad decided it would be a good idea to rent one of Chew Stoke Primary School's old, beaten up clarinets. I didn't want to learn the clarinet; I'd been put off the idea of learning an instrument having had such a terrible time trying to learn the recorder with the scary Mrs Connolly (scary for her strict ways of teaching in the classroom of year four) at lunchtimes.

I was very nervous as I walked into that first lesson. It was a shared lesson with two other pupils and I believe it was only for twenty minutes but it wasn't long before Christabel had me smiling. I enjoyed the lessons so much that I practised every day after school, which soon led to me being quite far ahead of the other two pupils. Whether Dad was pleased with this or not, considering he had to pay more money for private lessons with Christabel, I'm not sure. The key point here though, is that Christabel saw my potential (I wasn't a clever child), was able to coax it out, and continue to nurture it so that when I left primary school (and, sadly, her lessons), there was no hesitation in wanting to continue to learn while at secondary school.

Four years later, I bumped into Christabel again when I joined the county choir, where she was the piano accompanist, and was pleased to see she was still as enthusiastic as I'd remembered and she was very happy to hear I was still playing the clarinet. At every practice, Christabel would ask how the playing was going and be happy to make any useful suggestions when I had any questions about songs I was playing. Three years later, after fighting cancer for a long time, Christabel passed away. We were all heartbroken. For someone who's life had been cut short, she'd managed to spread her enthusiasm for music and life to so many and will never be forgotten. Thank you, Christabel, for making me the musician I am today.


There's about a five year gap between Christabel's clarinet tuition and Quita's, where I was taught by the internationally renowned jazz artist Ben Waghorn at school, who I can thank for my increased interest in jazz but upon picking up the saxophone in year eight, clarinet lessons fell by the wayside. Dad noticed and decided to find a private tutor outside of school who could train me towards taking grade seven on clarinet, which is where Quita comes in.

Every new teacher I've had, no matter what age I've been, I have always been nervous before meeting them. Much like with Christabel, Quita dissipated this nervousness very quickly in the first lesson for two reasons. The first was she loved doing clarinet duets and believed they were a great way to practice your listening skills (which they 100% are by the way). Secondly, her knowledge of the instrument, its techniques and repertoire, was so impressive. Because of my interest in jazz, and having picked up the saxophone, juggling both instruments, Quita immediately noticed a few bad habits that had crept into my clarinet playing and soon corrected them.

Not only did Quita successfully get me through my grade seven, she also got me through my grade eight a year later. The funny thing was, in my last lesson before I left for university, Quita admitted she had been just as nervous about teaching me as I had been in that first lesson all those years ago, as I was the first advanced player she'd had. She needn't have worried however, she knew everything I needed to know, got a distinction out of me at grade eight, and I now use a lot of the techniques she uses in her teaching methods because they get results every time. Thank you Quita for your amazing insight into the clarinet.


Out of all my teachers, I think Sarah had the hardest job. By the time I got to the University of Huddersfield, I can't say I'd had a really good saxophone teacher. Yes there was Ben, and then there was John Woodhouse at Lancaster University but since both those teacher's lessons had only ever been about twenty minutes long, I left lessons wanting more from them.

Huddersfield was, thankfully, completely different. Here, lessons were every week, they were an hour long, and were with internationally renowned classical saxophonist, Sarah Markham. Sarah's teaching method in year one of university was to essentially get rid of all the bad habits by starting from the technical basics again, being really picky about it; I'll never forget Sarah's metronome which was basically an angry lady shouting 'ONE! TWO! THREE! FOUR!' *shivers*. Still, it worked; by the end of first year, my playing had much improved.

One of the most inspiring things about Sarah is that, not only is she a really nice person (but also tells it how it is if you're not playing at your best), she emanates self-confidence in her abilities. As her student, you knew that whatever Sarah taught you was gold, so you'd better learn and master it quickly so that you can learn the next bit of quality knowledge.

The opportunities Sarah offered as well... wow, it was incredible. There was the saxophone ensemble with the eclectic repertoire; Sarah's encouragement to form a saxophone quartet and her continuing interest in it; the recital piece feedback sessions with the other performance module saxophonists; the invitations to the Royal Northern's Saxophone Day events, as well as the concerts Sarah would organise at the university; this was a saxophonist who wanted her students to live and breathe the saxophone just as she did because only by doing that did you truly understand what it meant and took to be a great instrumentalist.

Although Sarah was training me to become a performer, skills that I'll never forget and will continue to nurture and improve, she, out of all my teachers, inspired me the most to become a teacher; to be able to share such incredible knowledge; to see a pupil's ability thrive and their enthusiasm for the instrument grow. Thank you Sarah.

Happy International Women's Day!

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