Edred Wright by Michael Morpurgo

30th August 2013 at 01:00
The writer remembers a man who was determined that music should enrich his students' souls

He was short, stocky and balding. He dressed untidily and smoked like a chimney. But Edred Wright, the music director at King's School in Canterbury, was a ball of energy who inspired me to love music and to sing well above everyone's expectations.

I had an ordinary voice and musical ability, but Edred, as we called him, was an extraordinary choirmaster. He taught me between the ages of 13 and 18, and when he was teaching me, I felt as if I was on fire. By the time I finished singing, I was breathless with the sheer joy of it. As with all great teachers, he lifted mediocre pupils like me to new heights.

King's was a very musical school, with several choirs, a choral society, three orchestras and a band. Music was probably what the school did best and that was largely down to Edred.

I was in the choir and choral society, a treble at first, then bass when my voice broke. We practised in Canterbury Cathedral. Edred conducted with energy and intensity, and introduced us to great church-music composers such as Bach, Tallis, Purcell and Parry. He had a way of enabling us to lose ourselves in the music, yet retain the discipline of a choir. He was tough, with high expectations.

Singing in that glorious cathedral with 50 other people gave me a sense of the beauty of church music at a young age. It's something I've never forgotten.

On Saturdays, we all had to go to singing practice. There were around 700 boys and most were not remotely interested in singing. Edred somehow managed to get us all going, although sometimes he got extremely cross, which amused and inspired us. But he succeeded in passing on his love of music: you could feel it in his passion and his temper. He was determined that music should enrich our souls as much as it had enriched his.

I later met up once or twice with Edred and his wife. He was head of music for around 20 years and established it as something special at the school, which has produced many successful musicians. He died in 2004 and the music school at King's was named in his honour.

But, from the age of 19 until about five years ago, I didn't sing. It was a long gap and one of my great regrets. I've since rediscovered the joy of singing and perform with a folk group - Coope, Boyes and Simpson - and even do the occasional solo.

I've been on the stage on Broadway and in the West End, to read and sing at theatrical performances of some of the books I've written, including War Horse, Private Peaceful, On Angel Wings and The Best Christmas Present in the World. It gives me much joy and it's a powerful echo of what I did all those years ago with Edred Wright. He would be very cross that I spent 50-odd years not singing.

Michael Morpurgo was the Children's Laureate from 2003 to 2005. His latest books, Pinocchio by Pinocchio and Of Lions and Unicorns, a collection of short stories, will be published in the autumn by HarperCollins. He is a judge for the Wicked Young Writers' Award, which opens for school entries in September (www.wickedyoungwriters.com). He was talking to David Harrison.

THE STORY SO FAR

Michael Morpurgo

Born: 5 October 1943, St Albans, Hertfordshire, England

Education: St Matthias Church of England Primary School, West London; Abbey School, Forest Row, East Sussex; The King's School, Canterbury; Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Surrey; King's College London

Career: Teacher, storymaker, writer, co-founder of Farms for City Children.

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