Memories of the NSM – Keith Robinson

Keith Robinson is one of many alumni who have gotten in touch to share their experiences and memories of the Northern School of Music (NSM). Keith studied classical piano at the NSM from 1967 to 1970.

‘I didn’t come from a musical family,’ he writes, ‘I started playing the piano at 5 years old with lessons from an Uncle who was 90 years old!’ After some lessons with a dance band pianist he was performing in pubs and clubs at 15.

‘I got bored and decided to take classical piano lessons in 1966 with Gerald Hind,’ from the Royal Manchester College of Music (RMCM) who encouraged him to apply to the RMCM and the NSM as a mature student.

Old photograph of the Northern School of Music building with Mini's parked in front.

Northern School of Music

‘It was a life changing moment for me,’ Keith remembers. As he left the NSM audition, Ida Carroll (the school Principal) asked him ‘Do you play another instrument?’ No, he replied. ‘Well get one and tell me what it is before September.’

He chose the trumpet despite never having attempted it. The trumpeter in his dance band showed him how to make a sound on it, and he spent the summer of 1967 learning some basic tunes.

Come September, he was under the tuition of trumpeter Cecil Kidd. ‘Let’s hear it,’ Mr Kidd said after the confession that Keith had only picked up the instrument a few weeks before. ‘I can’t remember what I played, but when I had finished, he walked slowly towards me, put his arm around my shoulders and said, Have you ever thought about playing the clarinet?‘ He couldn’t afford another instrument so even though ‘he was always very kind and chatty… for the whole of my 3 years he never let me play a tune. I only ever could play from Arban in his class. Just the studies in semibreves!’

Keith remembers coming to the Northern School of Music’s studies ‘like somebody who had just discovered a gold mine of riches,’ and fondly remembers the amazing opportunities that the school gave him.

He performed in the school chorus for when Sir John Barbirolli was rehearsing Otello in 1969. ‘It was fascinating to watch him work with the orchestra. They had only played the first note, when he stopped them, and then he explained to the trumpets how he wanted them to play it. Immediately you could hear the difference.’

A formidable character at the school was its Principal, Ida Carroll. She ‘seemed to be able to remember everybody’s timetable. It was risky to skip a class because if she saw you in the corridor she would say Shouldn’t you be in keyboard harmony class now, Mr Robinson?

Do you remember the school? We would love to include your experiences in this legacy project. Please get in touch with our Archivist, Heather Roberts, for more information and ways to become involved.

[email protected] (0161-907-5211)

Explore our ongoing project exhibition with the Manchester Digital Music Archive here.

Supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund