Memories and a tribute to Mr Hughes of Robert Haining School, Mytchett

I started my secondary school life at Sutton East School in Surrey in the September of 1961 but after the untimely death of my father that year we moved to Ash Vale where my mother bought a hair dressing business. My nearest new school was some 3 miles away in Mytchett at Robert Haining. I took up playing the clarinet when I was 10 years of age so music was always going to be an important thing for me at school.

It is somewhat of a challenge to remember specifics about school some 49 years ago but of all my teachers Mr. Hughes will always be remembered above all other teachers because he has had the biggest influence in my adult life.

When I first arrived at Robert Haining my first question was always going to be what is the new music teacher like? It didn’t take long to find out. During the first few weeks at my new school Mr. Hughes was keen that I should not hide my light under a bushel and suggested that I play my clarinet in school assemblies with the pianist who was playing the hymns. This seemed like a good plan to me as I was surprised that Mr. Hughes did not actually play the piano in assemblies, so I helped out the regular member of staff who had the job.

School assemblies were always such musical events with Mr. Hughes at the helm. We had a recorder group that even had a bass recorder in it, a mixed four part choir, and of course a brass band. I also remember a very able group of 4th/5th form girls who sang beautifully at events such as Christmas and Easter etc. Mr. Hughes was always motivating us kids to produce music whatever kind to the best of our ability. He often used to record those events so somewhere tapes exist of our best endeavours. I remember the hours of rehearsals that were put in sometimes after school and sometimes we were whisked away from our normal lessons. Personally I must have missed so many normal lessons having been involved in almost every music activity (except the girl’s choir that is).

I have enduring memories of normal music lessons as well. Mr. Hughes would hand out song books and get our class to sing. Sea shanties were always sung with such gusto. “Up with the Jolly Roger Boys”, “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” to name but a few. It was a rare event for the blackboard rubber to be hurled during these lessons but was usually on hand just in case. Another thing Mr. Hughes did was tap out rhythms on the blackboard and see if anybody might recognise the song it belonged to. Unfortunately to the vast majority this was a mystery but eventually someone a little more musical in the class would have the answer.

At the end of one term Mr. Hughes came up to me and said that he had something to ask me, then seemed to change his mind. (I think this was a clever ploy as he knew that I would push for this elusive question). Eventually he came out with it and asked if I would like to join the school brass band. I thought this a brilliant idea so he gave me a Bb bass to take home to have a go on during the holidays with the fingering of the scale of C written down on a piece of manuscript. I quickly mastered that and on return to school became a member of Robert Haining school band. The band had a little badge to say that you were a member and on it you had three skill levels, 3 being the lowest and 1 the highest. You had to pass a test at each level to progress. I am sure that this was Mr. Hughes’s invention which of course made some keen folks very eager to get the badge with a 1st on it. Class 7, the music room, was always left unlocked at break times so we keen musicians could go and practise.

I loved brass and soon changed from Bb bass to euphonium and won the school music prize after two years in the band.

Mr. Hughes as always was keen to extend our knowledge of things brass and organised two quartets picked out from the school band to go and play at the SCABA quartet competition at Chobham. My quartet played Orpheus. I can’t remember where we came but do remember this other group from Camberley Band juniors playing impossibly good music with David and Alan Beck amongst their number. It showed us that we had a little way to go yet in our endeavours to be quality musicians.

One other subject that Mr. Hughes taught us at school was Algebra. I remember well Mr. Hughes marching up and down the three rows of desks in the music room checking our scribbling. I don’t remember much about these lessons but do know that it was not one of the subjects that I excelled in. We can’t be good at everything, can we?

Mr. Hughes left Robert Haining when I started the 5th Year. Things were never the same again. The music room with our new music teacher was locked during breaks and the Brass Band enlarged to include woodwind. Progress, I think not, although looking at school photos a couple of years later on the brass band seems to have re-emerged.

Of course Mr. Hughes was conductor of the Camberley Silver Band and some of the more able school band members were asked if we would like to go along to play with his band. We were encouraged to play solos of which I remember John Humphries and myself doing. Quite an experience for a 15 year old.

So it was that Mr Hughes, the man in the brown suit, changed the course of my life and many others forever.

Michael Levitt