MIDDLE   “ C ” 

How well do we know the people around us? When you see older people, do you find yourself wondering what  they did in their  “previous” life?
“Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?”    That snippet of  conversation is Jesus talking to one of his apostles,  but it could be my neighbour talking to me.

My neighbour is a very small lady in her 80s dealing with challenges of health and age, but facing them  with the same focus, determination, diligence and resilience that  has served her over many years  in a life time of music, about which I knew very little. I decided to discover what treasure lay hidden behind what I could see now.

Back in the 1950s, in a tiny village beside the mighty Waikato River, lived a little girl whose mother taught her where to find middle C on the piano in the lounge in the home on the farm where they lived.

Mother had learned the piano for a couple of years and liked to play for her own enjoyment   in the little spare time she had as the mother of four. However, she  didn’t think it was a good idea for her to teach her daughter the piano, not wanting to put at risk the good relationship she had with her eldest child, so middle “C” was as far as she went .

Dad too had   had the opportunity to learn music for a few years. Those lessons  together with his natural talent gave him the confidence to play   for the local  dances as well as  accompany his friend who played the violin.

Growing up with parents who had that kind of appreciation for music obviously accounted  for  some of the little   girl’s  interest in music. But it had to be more than just an interest when that little girl, from knowing only where  to find middle C on the piano,  by the age of 10 went on to teach herself how to read and play music before taking   lessons  for a few months  from an older girl in the village. The new pupil worked her way through the two beginner  music books in the first two weeks  much to the surprise of the young woman giving her the lessons. The following year a small traveller boarded the train.  at Mercer each Friday  at 2.30 p.m to travel  to Pukekohe,with a half hour train journey and a walk of a mile or so to  reach the Convent  of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions to  have  music lessons, returning home on the old goods train to which were attached a couple of passenger carriages.

Sister  Alexandrine who taught her music  put her for her first exam in her first year, not grade one but grade 3, which the new pupil passed with Distinction.

That was the first of 6 years of lessons and music exams at the Convent where the now young teenager began boarding as a third former and remained for 4 years of secondary school at the end of which she stayed on to continue her music studies and teach  music for a year. In the third form year  Sister Hugh had replaced Sister Alexandrine as her music teacher remaining her pupil’s  well loved teacher for the next 5 years, and  what a perfect fit they were as teacher and pupil. The  years  at Pukekohe  finished with an  ATCL in piano

A new chapter was  about to begin  in the  life  of this young woman heading to Christchurch to train  to become a nun.  In the novitiate of those days it was an enlightened novice mistress, herself with her letters in music, who  gave the novice the opportunity to keep up her music through playing  for  the liturgy and by teaching music pupils during the second year of  her training.

Once professed,  the young missionary’s  first mission was  to the Hamilton community where she was appointed music teacher, joining the  small band of dedicated   Sisters   who took private music pupils teaching a variety of instruments, providing a much needed income for the community. These Sisters worked hard as the bread winners to put food on the table  and maintain the house for  the large community of  40 Sisters and an even  larger number of  80 plus boarders.

Those years saw our music teacher  not only teaching  music but under the kindly eye of other Sisters who taught music at that time continuing her music studies which had been on hold while she was in Christchurch.  Her studies in these years qualified her in violin  in  not just one but  two colleges of music, completing  ATCL and LTCL  as well as  LRSM . Schubert’s sonatinas  were some of her favourite violin pieces.

Now it was time to bring the piano qualifications up to the same standard  which resulted in   acquiring LTCL and LRSM all while continuing to give music lessons  up to grade 8 to pupils  of all ages.  Chopin became  her favourite composer of piano music, while  some of her favourite pieces of music included Beethoven’s compositions, in particular  a  Rondo she chose  to play for her Grade 8 piano exam.

A move to Auckland provided  the opportunity to study for her Masters in Music at Auckland University  all the while taking  private music pupils  at home  in  her  Remuera  community and the  Panmure Convent  to contribute to the community’s income . Scholarships were offered  to this promising young student at the end of  both her first and second year at university, those scholarships  covering the  tuition for her Masters degree. Sadly,  she was unable to accept an invitation  to apply for a scholarship to continue her music studies  at the Royal College of Music in London.

Auckland University  introduced our musician to the organ which was to become her favourite instrument,  and Bach her favourite composer of organ music. Her professor of music  and organ teacher who played such a significant part in her music career  as teacher, mentor and friend was Professor Douglas Mews, senior,  who had instantly  recognized the giftedness of his student and  did all he could to encourage and develop her inborn talent. Acquiring her letters in the organ  was a  natural outcome of the years under Dr Mews’ tuition.

At the end of the university years, private  music pupils in Stratford, Papakura, Fairfield and Hamilton were the beneficiaries of  the talent of this humble, unassuming  but highly  qualified music teacher. She then  went on to do her LRSM in the cello, the cello teacher  having to provide her with a smaller cello to fit the small frame of the cellist. Needing an accompanist  for the cello gifted  our music teacher  with a lasting friendship in  the person of  another Sister,Mary Richard, herself  a versatile pianist willing to share her time and talent with her Sister in community. Her role as accompanist provided support  for the cellist  to face the examiners on the road to the LRSM, not only in the cello but in the viola as well.

Throughout her life much time was given to organ playing  in churches of various denominations and  to conducting church choirs so that when it came time to pass the baton  on to a younger person,  a  well deserved papal award was  given in recognition of the generosity of time and service to Church music over many years.

What an amazing treasure I discovered. Imagine  all those pupils whose lives she’d touched, some of whom went on to greater things, others who in turn became music teachers and church organists. All  that in this little lady next door, Sister Colleen Morey. Who would have guessed?

What a  journey  from Middle “C” !     What a  lega “C” !

 Barbara Cameron

With Bishop Steve Lowe of Hamilton receiving the papal award for services to church music
Playing the church organ in the Methodist church in Papakura






Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions - Casa Generalizia Roma 00164 (IT) - Phone: 0039 06 6615 8400 - Email: gensec@rndmgen.org