Back together once again

Dear All,

The wind is howling and the rain is falling but we are absolutely delighted to have our school community back together once again. Smiling faces and the excited chatter of friends who have been kept apart for far too long is the perfect antidote to the challenges of the last few months. I am incredibly grateful to our wonderful staff for ensuring such a smooth return to the classroom. 

Next week, we will publish the Rossall Roadmap 2021 which will outline the steps that we intend to take in order to ensure that school life gradually returns to normal. This plan will be driven by data rather than dates but it will provide all within the School community with a clear understanding of how we intend to progress towards our ultimate goal. Inevitably, it will be informed by the government’s own roadmap but there are unique aspects of school life which we need to consider very carefully. As we are all aware, consensus is not always easy to establish when tackling such issues. However, we are driven by the desire to minimise health risks and maximise educational opportunity. As parents, you should expect us to plan as carefully for the lifting of restrictions as we did for their implementation. 

I am sure that you will wish to join me in congratulating Grace Finney who has been appointed Head of the Pre-Prep. The redevelopment of what was the Infants building has continued throughout lockdown and we are incredibly proud of the fact that, apart from the structural shell, the building is essentially new. We cannot wait to welcome you into School to share our delight in what is now a state-of-the-art provision. Alongside the launch of the international piano academy and girls’ football programme, it is clear that our forward momentum has not been dampened by recent events. Rossall’s spirit is unstoppable! 

Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953)

I have become a little obsessed with listening to old vinyl records of late. The other day, I put on a 1950 recording of Kathleen Ferrier singing Brahms lieder. I have to confess that I knew next to nothing about Kathleen Ferrier other than the fact that she was an English contralto who achieved an international reputation for the rich beauty of her voice. She was born in Blackburn in 1912 and died at the age of forty-one in 1953. The German conductor Bruno Walter declared that, ‘the greatest thing in music in my life has been to have known Kathleen Ferrier and Gustav Mahler – in that order’. 

Kathleen’s career was very short for it only really took off in the late 1930s. Her father was the headteacher of a primary school in Higher Walton and her family were involved in amateur music-making. She was an accomplished pianist and entered local music competitions such as the Lytham St Annes Music Festival. She even recorded a short recital for BBC Radio in Manchester and she won a Cramer upright piano as a prize in a competition organised by the Daily Express. With no prospect of being able to afford to attend music college, Kathleen trained as a telephonist, moved to Blackpool and married a local bank manager. She still harboured a desire to sing professionally but such a career must have seemed a long way off when she auditioned (unsuccessfully) to become the voice of the GPO’s new speaking clock. Humphrey Burton wrote ’For more than a decade when she should have been studying music with the best teachers, learning English literature and foreign languages, acquiring stagecraft and movement skills, and travelling to London regularly to see opera, Miss Ferrier was answering the telephone and winning tinpot piano competitions’. However, she went on to have a staggeringly successful career which included recording with the New York Philharmonic and working with figures such as Herbert von Karajan, Benjamin Britten and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. She carried on singing after being diagnosed with breast cancer and she is feted by music lovers as much for her courage as the radiance of her wonderful voice. 

A generation or two earlier the wonderful conductor Thomas Beecham was fortunate enough to attend Rossall School. In terms of conducting, Beecham was self-taught but he was born into a fabulously wealthy family who was rich enough to fund his musical aspirations. In the early days, he bankrolled the orchestras that he conducted. The contrast with Kathleen Ferrier’s path to international stardom could not be more marked. Both were hugely influential figures in the classical music scene of the twentieth century and both spent plenty of time on the Fylde. However, the odds were most definitely stacked against the Blackpool switchboard operator who had had few lucky breaks before her mid-twenties.  Her early failures, meteoric rise to the very top of the musical world and her resolute courage in the face of desperate adversity makes her a really worthy source of inspiration for all young people who feel that they have yet to find their voice or that circumstances are frustrating the realisation of their dreams.  Blackpool and the Fylde should be very proud of her.

Wishing you all a peaceful and relaxing weekend!