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July 02, 2004
Mr Catlow's Opus

Yesterday in the London Underground, I picked up a stray copy of the Camden New Journal, and found myself reading an article about a music teacher. Today I was able to find it in linkable form:

MR MUSIC at Camden School for Girls, John Catlow, is preparing to retire this month after 18 years explaining the mysteries of sharps and flats.

Catlow.jpgA distinguished former cellist, Mr Catlow, 63, played with the London Symphony Orchestra and was first principal cello with the Hallé Orchestra and English National Opera before becoming a teacher at the school in Sandall Road, Camden Town.

As well as his classroom work, he is currently preparing for a piano and cello recital the day after term ends.

And he is busy doing research before conducting Beethovenís Eroica Symphony as part of the schoolís third Reunion Orchestra Concert, performed by past pupils, on July 11.

Mr Catlow says of his mid-career move to the classroom: "I needed to get out of orchestras.

"I was experiencing stress in my bowing arm and the music profession is littered with former great players just serving out their time. I wanted to avoid that.

"And playing orchestral music isnít at all demanding intellectually."

So, rather than simply becoming a peripatetic cello teacher, he decided to go the whole hog and teach music across the secondary age range up to A-level.

"Turning to teaching was a shot in the dark," he admits.

"A school isnít a glamorous environment, and sometimes you donít really feel like youíre winning. But it was definitely more fulfilling for me in the long run."

And so on. No criticism here. Here's how the piece ends:

Ö it was Rosemary Cumming, from the school office, who paid Mr Catlow his most significant compliment.

A former temporary receptionist told her he was quite simply "the nicest, friendliest person at the school".

I suspect that there is a direct connection between extreme competence and extreme niceness. It doesn't always happen this way, of course. Many extremely competent people exploit their indispensability by being extremely nasty. But if you are extremely competent, and everyone knows it, you may not feel that you have to demand respect from people by chucking your weight around. You have respect already.

I further suspect that Catlow was a whole lot better at teaching for having done other things first, and at a high level of accomplishment. God save us from schools where the only thing the teachers have done is either teaching at school, or, before that, learning at school. Schools need variety on the staff, and people like Catlow provide it.

I bet he had some stories to tell. The LSO in particular is a famous storm centre of anecdotage.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:10 PM
Category: This and that
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