Obituary - Bob Peters, 1944-2010

11th February 2011 at 00:00

When a young man, Bob Peters swore that he would not go into teaching. As a trainee teacher, he felt underqualified to specialise in music. And yet, by the end of his career, he was not only teaching music A-level, but had written a degree course in the subject.

Robert Anthony Peters was born in the Welsh town of Tenby in April 1944. Though the family had moved to Cornwall by the time he was seven, he retained a strong sense of Welshness: his rugby allegiance was always with the Welsh team.

His father was a maths teacher and had hoped that his son would follow in his pedagogical footsteps. This, however, merely motivated the teenage Bob to pursue any career apart from teaching.

Musical from an early age, he left school and joined a rock 'n' roll band. Not long afterwards, he took a short-term contract at the local library. It was while working here that a friend backed out of a canoeing trip, forcing Mr Peters to abandon his plans. The young librarian looked so disappointed that a colleague, Vivienne Hooper, offered to accompany him instead. The couple married eight months later.

Feeling that he ought to have a stable job before asking for Vivienne's hand, Mr Peters found work as a bank clerk. He quit to work as a herdsman not long after her father said yes.

By 1966, however, the couple's first son had been born, and Mr Peters again felt the need for a steady career. He therefore enrolled in teacher-training college in Exmouth. Music would have been the natural subject choice, but he was stymied by a lack of formal qualifications: he did not have even an O-level in the subject.

English was an easy second choice, however. He was an inveterate grammar pedant: he and Viv would repeatedly bemoan others' misuse of the comma and the apostrophe. In later years, he was always pained by pupils' tendencies to spell his name "Mr Peter's".

He did not, however, work as an English teacher. After a brief spell in Colchester, the couple moved back to Cornwall. Mr Peters' first job was at St Mewan Primary. There, he quickly established a school choir, giving his pre-pubescent choristers a set list of Carole King and gospel numbers.

This tendency to subvert the norms of the school band continued as he moved on to several secondaries across the county. In the 1970s, he took over a brass band; school concert-goers were subsequently treated to Stevie Wonder's Superstition, arranged for trombone and cornet (his own three sons, all enthusiastic musicians, used to complain about his preference for soul over the latest pop hits).

Such arrangements were his forte: he would spend hours studying - and learning from - orchestral scores. In 1982, he established the Cornwall Youth Jazz Orchestra to provide local teenagers with an alternative to classical ensembles. Here, he demonstrated a talent for spotting innate ability in pupils with little formal training.

Many of his orchestra members came from disadvantaged backgrounds. He demanded time and effort from them - there was no doubt as to the importance of regular rehearsal attendance - but in return he gave them new pride in themselves and their own abilities.

In 1993, he was appointed musical director of the newly established Truro College. Here he was asked not only to teach A-level and BTEC courses, but also to write and deliver a jazz degree. This terrified him - after all, he had no formal musical training. But he was also a man of immense enthusiasms: when he was engaged with a project, it was often an effort to persuade him to stop, even for meals. His degree course was subsequently ratified by Exeter University.

He retired shortly before his 60th birthday: "Thirty years of teaching is enough for anybody," he said. Viv retired at around the same time and together they took long walks along the Cornish clifftops.

He also enrolled in a course in joinery at the local technical college, the only sexagenarian in a class of 16-year-olds. Here, he learned to carve cupboards, tables and chairs; he subsequently refitted his bathroom single-handedly. The college, meanwhile, waived his fees after he agreed to coach two dyslexic boys through the course.

Even after the cancer diagnosis, he attempted to live a normal life. Despite ill health, for example, he insisted on taking his grandson to Cardiff for a rugby match. "I couldn't bear not to," he said.

In October, doctors told him that treatment had proven unsuccessful. He died on 2 December.

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