7:00 a.m. July 31, 2022
There was a gathering earlier this month in a very special building, where two talented musicians were commemorated and honored… Sarah Glover of yesteryear and Mary Rae of today.
Sarah, born in the city in 1786, later developed Norwich’s tonic sol-fa musical notation system – Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti and the rest.
Who could ever forget the timeless The Sound of Music? These hills were alive. She had a music school in what was Black Boys’ Yard and also taught at the Diocesan Training College in Colegate.
Sarah would have changed lives. And how the children, many of whom were very poor, loved him.
News of his revolutionary ways of teaching music (which involved using it using his ‘Musical Scale’ published by Jarrold) became famous and caught the attention of Reverend John Curwen who was looking for new ways to to teach people in schools and choirs to sing. music.
He came to Norwich, met Sarah, which led him to found Tonic-So-fa College.
In 1857 she was at the Crystal Palace to hear a choir of 3,000 children, using her notation, sing before an audience of 30,000.
Curwen College of Music is now an examination board offering various degrees and awards. The Dean of Studies is Dr Nicholas Groves – a Norwich-based musician, writer and lecturer who is also organist at the Octagon Chapel in Colegate, near where Sarah worked.
So when college members arrived at the Octagon to hold their general meeting, it was the perfect opportunity to honor our famous music teacher today…none other than Mary Rae.
It was Nicholas’s honor to bestow an ‘honoris causa’ scholarship on Mary for her work as a teacher, performer and concert host for so many years.
“The scholarship,” he said, “is awarded because of three areas of his musical life: teaching, performance and promotion. We normally award it for the achievement of only one of them.
The Octagon, described by John Wesley in 1757 as perhaps the most elegant meeting house in all of Europe, has been a second home for Mary since 1984 and we all have much to thank her for.
The 27-year-old former music teacher at Heartsease High School and member of the Norfolk Opera Players was approached by Betty Rathbone and challenged to fill the Octagon with people listening to great music.
She accepted and began to create a large network of musicians who work for love (at no cost). The rewards were to perform for charities dear to the artists’ hearts in a building which the BBC said had better acoustics than Wigmore Hall.
The choir became the Octagon Singers, performing a wide range of concerts – from Handel to Simon & Garfunkel, and introducing generations to the unique Octagon Unitarian Chapel.
A few weeks ago the 348th gig took place and the amount raised to help others now stands at over £300,000. An extraordinary achievement.
“What’s amazing is that all the artists who take part in these concerts offer their services for free and all the money raised goes to various charities,” said Nicholas.
“I’ve been playing the organ here for about eight years now: originally just to help out, but Mary got her claws on me, added me to the rotation and somehow , I became the principal service organist.”
“She’s truly a pleasure to work with,” Nicholas said…and I know a lot of people would agree with him.