Dorothy Ardern talks about the influence that the teachings of Dorothy Pilling of the NSM has had on her music teaching career.
Dorothy Pilling was very keen on what’s known as ‘keyboard harmony’. So, what she always wanted us to do was to be able to take a melody and harmonise it automatically at the keyboard, and that takes a lot of practise to get that ability to do that, but again, very, very useful. I used it all the time. Especially when I got out in schools. I can remember filling in for a local school where I lived at the time and where the person who did music was ill and the Headteacher asked me if I could… it was while I was off work… I wasn’t teaching in school for five years while Kate was a baby, but I went in to teach them and one lady to came to me. She said ‘I’ve got a song that I want them to learn’. So I said ‘well, do you know it?’ and she started ‘la la-ing’ it. I said ‘sorry I can’t say I recognise it’. She said ‘no, it’s an old folk tune from where I come from in the North East’. ‘Oh’, I said, ‘I’m not familiar. I like folk music but I’m not familiar with it’. ‘Oh dear’, she said. I could see she was disappointed. So I said ‘can you spare a minute now or sometime and come and sing it for me’. She said ‘yes, would that help?’ I said, ‘yes, I can write it down’. She said ‘you can write it down?’ I said, ‘yes, if you sing it to me, I’ll write it down’. I could see she was puzzled. I said ‘it’s quite easy. I’m just writing down what you’re singing’. So she started singing and I thought ‘well…’ I got the gist of it. I didn’t quite know what key to put it in but I thought ‘well, I’ll put it in G major’. So I wrote it out in G major and then I said ‘is this it?’ and she said ‘yes! That’s fine, but it sounds better when your left hand…’ ‘Oh’, I said ‘don’t worry about that, I’ll put the left hand in’. So, she said ‘I’ll come into the class if that’s alright?’ and I said ‘yes, do!’ So I went away for a few minutes and I sorted out the harmony and I came back into the hall. I said ‘how about this?’ ‘Marvellous!’ she said, ‘That’s great!’ So we got the kids in and she taught them this song. So, Dorothy Pilling was responsible for that. She used to make us able to put harmony to melody, mix the two together and you’ve got to have the harmonic knowledge, but then all that harmonic knowledge comes in handy when you’re composing. So, it all blends in, you see?
Part of the #NSM2020 project "A 20/20 Legacy: the centenary of the Northern School of Music" supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.