The Inst choir was a study in making a silk purse out of a collection of sow’s ears. An entirely voluntary choir in an all boys school that focused a great proportion of its extra curricular energy on winning rugby matches. The odds were not hugely in its favour.
In another life, Mr Phillip Bolton would have made a good stab at recruitment in the private sector. He had the unenviable task of auditioning boys of hugely varying musical talents and getting them to join the choir. Mr Bolton possessed a finely tuned ear, able to hear an bum note instantly. During the recruitment of members, he had to disable his ears’ wise counsel. He reasoned that even the most out of tune boy would eventually come good. This optimism was admirable, if often misplaced.
The size of the choir reflected the diversity of the boys within it. There were sturdy rugby players who couldn’t quite understand how they had lasted seven years in the choir and musical prodigies who enjoyed every moment. Rehearsals took place three times a week, before school, at lunch and on occasion after school.
We were crammed into a classroom sitting on chairs and high benches. Trebles and altos sat at the front, fresh into the school and with high voices to match. The voices lowered and the sprouting of teenage stubble increased into the back rows. Many boys who had been talented singers in their early years had to learn how to mime successfully for the latter years after puberty had ravaged their voices.
Mr Bolton spent laborious winter months writing musical arrangements for us to perform. He was dealing with some dangerously faulty parts in his choir, boys like myself who found reading music akin to Cyrillic script. He had spent thankless long hours hunched over the school piano into the small hours, trying to work out a complicated musical puzzle that was going to be made harder to solve by some of his members.
The non musical amongst us never could empathise with his frustrations. As adults we have realised that this was a skilled artist teaching some of his slower students how to paint by numbers. Sometimes we couldn’t even follow the numbers. Thrown music stands and chairs became unsuspecting victims at times of great stress. They were studier than trebles.
Still, this highly talented man persevered. Bound to a career promoting music to a large group of philistines in the M block. Weeks before large school concerts there was normally a crisis of sorts. We didn’t know the arrangements and a star treble invariably was in the middle of his voice breaking. But somehow, the well oiled parts of the machine conspired to help the rustier cogs and it clicked just when it seemed we wouldn’t make it on stage.
There were months of stress for both the boys and primarily Mr Bolton. His expression at the end of each successful concert seemed to say never again. Yet, he always thanked us profusely.