Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Music Assembly: The Liberty Bell

When I was at school, Wednesday's assembly was always the music assembly. Quite apart from being later in the morning than other days, for timetabling reasons, it also meant that 650 boys got to listen to classical music once a week. Our unfortunately-named (but who shall remain nameless) camp music teacher would take to the stage, bang on for a bit about the composer, or Glyndebourne, or some such, then introduce a piece of classical music which we would more often than not endure, before staff notices and an assistant head boy announcing that the detention list would be "up by break" and that "all boys should check to see if they are on it."

At this point, I should add that I loved my school - it gave me an enviable education, seven fantastic years, and my best friend.

That said, music assembly would invariably be terribly dull. The aforementioned Wednesday timetabling anomaly as least meant that the music would be playing at 11am so, boys being boys and this being the mid-80s i.e. peak-Casio, some would amuse themselves by ensuring their watches' hourly chime would go off during whatever classical piece was being played. I know, I know... and when the camp music teacher later read a piece from a Glyndebourne programme reminding the audience to switch off any digital alarms, well, that only made it worse, of course. What can I say, it was a different time - a different, wonderful time.

Anyway, all this serves to introduce a new and very occasional series in which I'll introduce a piece of classical music and, since I know very little about that subject, the context by which I came to know the piece. To kick off the first Music Assembly, I'm going to draw on the most memorable actual music assembly from my schooldays, in which there was a guest presenter: one of the French teachers. I won't name him either - let's just call him Board-Rubber. He had been my form tutor in my first year at the school, was still my French teacher, and I thought he was excellent. Board-Rubber took to the stage to give a dry and straight-faced introduction to The Liberty Bell, explaining that it was written by John Phillip Sousa at the tail-end of the 19th Century. Perhaps he also spoke briefly about the bell that gave the march its name, I don't recall exactly. I do recall that it was an uncharacteristically serious presentation. All of which changed as his speech concluded, and with a nod to the sound booth stage-right to cue the music, Board-Rubber pivoted on his heel and marched off in an elastic-limbed silly walk that would make Cleese proud. Here is The Liberty Bell in context...

...and in full.


  1. I too feel blessed that the school days you refer to were some of the best days of my(our) lives. I always feel bad for the significant number of people that say they hated school, for any number of reasons.
    Board rubber was one of several great teachers that could always pull off a great comedic turn for an assembly or play, not sure we really appreciated their talent at the time. Sad that he recently left us-I hope he is sitting up there in a tres belle jardin sipping on a verre or two of the finest vin. I think I've still got one of my old Casio watches lurking in the loft somewhere-might did it out to hear once more the nostalgic "beep beep" every hour.

    1. Well said, mate. And agree that we probably didn't appreciate the talent of our teachers at the time - probably just assumed all teachers were like that and, if so, how wrong we were. Yes, will raise a glass to Board-Rubber, who taught us more about France and the French than the Jean-Paul, Marie-France et Claudette of the textbook ever could.

      I have moved on so little that I'm wearing a Casio watch as I type this. Don't think I've used an hourly chime since the 80s though.