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From the Archives: A Liberation of Singing

Date Posted: Thursday 02 September 2021

Alumna and Former Teacher of English at Ashford School, Rosalind Field (née May, Alfred, 1967), wrote in to share her memories of music at Ashford School, and to encourage you, our community, to get singing again after a year spent in lockdown.

“Head of Music at Ashford School back in the 1960s was an outspoken and eccentric woman called Miss Linda Rowe. She taught singing to the whole school – a year group of 90 at a time – as well as giving individual piano lessons to some of us and “extra singing” to a select few whose parents were prepared to pay extra. She also directed FHODS (the Folkestone and Hythe Operatic and Dramatic Society), helped organise and pushed numerous pupils through diverse competitive classes at the Kent Music Festival, played the organ at Aldington church and, rumour had it, played jazz with various shady characters.

At that time Ashford School had a fearsome musical reputation. Never have choirs been so disciplined or well-rehearsed and every age-group ran away with top honours in competitions. But Linda Rowe really came into her own at the annual Prize-Giving. This was held in the art deco Odeon Cinema in the High Street (later to become Mecca Bingo, now also closed.) Standing at an upright piano below the stage, with the school, parents and teachers behind her and the School Governors in the wings, she would conduct the School Choir above in a rousing song, finishing with the School Hymn, “Glad hearts adventuring”, to which she had written her own rather adventurous descant.

In those days the school was all girls, and even the operettas Miss Rowe produced in Summer Term on the outdoor stage starred beefy girls in the male roles. I remember The Arcadians and Merrie England from my early years. And these were highlights for us poor boarders, counting the weeks till a brief return to “real life” in the holidays if we were lucky enough to go home then. But many girls were “abroads” with parents working overseas, who were packed off on planes once a year for the summer hols. In my Alfred House year, 13 friends went off to Borneo, Japan, Malaya, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam. For so many of us, music-making, and particularly singing, was a liberation and it was largely enabled by Linda Rowe.

Music outside the school was also accessible – The Ashford Music Society concerts were always posted on the noticeboard and you could sign up to go (an excellent way to get out of school in the evening, though we had to be in a supervised group.) But the one thing I longed to do was to sing with Ashford Choral Society, which did great works like Bach’s B Minor Mass and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, with massed voices and an orchestra. Some of the teachers sang with them – Miss Taylor and Miss Earlam, I remember – but for the girls it was impossible. Day girls, of course, could join after they had left school.

And this is the point of these ramblings. YOU, as alumni, male and female alike, are able to join this excellent choir that has maintained its reputation throughout the intervening years. I know, because I returned to the area some years later and joined ACS.

And then there was the pandemic. Singing was banned as the most efficient means of transmitting virus droplets. And didn’t we all miss it! Not just in choirs, but everyone. Singing is one of the greatest means of expressing ourselves and in choirs it is a satisfying discipline which enables us to become a single shifting harmony – a murmuration of voices, rather than starlings.

So now that singing is back on the menu, why not join the choir? The Ashford Choral Society meets at Ashford School on Tuesdays at 19:30 during term time. Find out more here:”