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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” !