The sensation of having tenors and basses supporting our voices was unbelievable. There was also the added excitement of contact with boys

4th August 2006 at 01:00
I went to six schools because my father was in the Royal Navy. The last three - from the age of eight - were boarding schools because my parents were posted to Karachi. I don't remember having any angst about it; as a member of a services family, I just got on with it.

The only thing of note about Waverley Dame School in Crowthorne, Berkshire, where I went at four, was the eurythmics. It was just dancing to music, but I adored the word. Looking through some old reports recently I discovered the words "Has a nice singing voice" term after term. Nothing was made of it I'm glad to say, but it was good that someone noticed.

After one term in Malta, and a few months at the Park School in Yeovil (of which I remember almost nothing) I went to my first boarding school - Grittleton School in Wiltshire - which was run by some splendid eccentrics.

It was there that I started to learn Latin from the tall, lean and formidable Miss Cope, who padded around in sandals.

She kindled my love of the classics, which I went on to study at university and to teach. But she also ran the Brownies and helped us to make bamboo pipes in craft lessons.

Hanford School in Dorset was absolutely magical, a sprawling Jacobean mansion surrounded by ancient trees; it was girls only but had the feel of a boys' prep school. As proxy boys we wore proper shorts and spent our spare time climbing the cedars, full of cubby holes, whose branches all had names. Who knows what health and safety would make of that now! It was there that I started Greek.

Among a number of inspiring people there were Ronald and Meryl Kittermaster. Mr K got us reading Shakespeare. At 10, I and my classmates were so excited by it that he taught us history by reading the plays. Mr K staged two plays on the lawn (with piano hidden in the bushes) whilst I was there. The first time I was Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the second I contracted measles the day before playing Rosalind in As You Like It. It was my first performing disappointment - nothing ever felt so bad!

I will always be grateful to Mrs K, who ran the choir and taught music. She headed me off from taking singing lessons. She also insisted I sing second soprano because she said: "You will learn to keep to a part." It is an invaluable skill to me today. Mrs K got us enjoying music, although I did not shown any obvious talent throughout my school career, and didn't have my first singing lesson until I was 21.

I owe so much to Sherborne School. My classics teacher, Gwen Beese, really thrilled me about the subject. She was Welsh with a deep musical voice and she brought languages to life by coining funny, memorable phrases. When I left at 16, six of us were going to study classics at Oxbridge and I was set on a career path to teach it.

Although Sherborne was a very academic school, it was accepted that everyone did music as well.

Perhaps my greatest debt of all is to Miss Augusta Miller, who was a young clarinet and piano teacher then, but who has just retired as head of music.

She started a madrigal group with 12 of us girls, but then realised that the head of the corresponding boys' school was a Renaissance music lover.

She took us over to his drawing room and he picked six of us to form a madrigal choir with the boys.

I was stunned. The sensation of having the tenors and basses supporting our voices in Byrd's Four-Part Mass, and music by Morley and Dowland, was unbelievable. It felt like coming home. There were also the added excitements of contact with boys and tea at Miss Miller's house.

Even though it did not occur to me at that stage to pursue a career in music, when I arrived at Somerville College, Oxford, my madrigal choir experience ensured that I sought out the chamber choir Schola Cantorum. I did not get in straight away, but when I did, I realised that singing this kind of music was what I wanted to do with my life. This is where I made the links that kick-started my musical career.

I still keep up with Augusta Miller and have stayed with her when I am in Dorset. She was fun then and has remained so.

Musician Emma Kirkby was talking to Rachel Pugh

The story so far

1949 Born Cambridge

1953 Waverley Dame School, Crowthorne, Berkshire

1957 Starts Latin at Grittleton School, first of three boarding schools

1961-65 Sherborne School, Dorset

1966-72 Classics student at Somerville College, Oxford, plus teacher training

1967 Joins Schola Cantorum Chamber Choir at Oxford

1970 Takes first singing lesson

1971 Joins Taverner Choir

1972-76 Classics teacher at the Bulmershe School, Reading

1973 Starts long association with Consort of Musicke

1981 Makes Grammy-winning recording of music by Hildegard of Bingen, Feather on The Breath of God

1999 Named artist of the year by Classic FM

2000 Awarded OBE

March 2006 Duo recording with lutenist Anthony Rooley, Honey From The Hive, released on BIS label

September 18 2006 Performing with Anthony Rooley at St Asaph Cathedral as part of the North Wales International Music Festival.

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