MM It is wonderful that you have an emotional, aural response to music as your default. It is wonderful that you will never get distracted by the intellectual, mathematical aspect.
WM Oh, no, no! For me, it’s all about emotional responses. That’s it. It’s not about the academic side of it, it’s all about the feeling, and that’s what’s so important. I mean, I don’t think I could be the musician that I have become if it wasn’t for that. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it the same way.
MM Tell us about your Chetham’s years!
WM Chet’s was an especially important part of my musical education. It was the foundation, the concrete. My whole journey there, from Junior A going through to Upper 6th, was so interesting. I was motivated and inspired by older, more experienced students. Listening to the senior organists, including David Hill, was inspirational when I was younger. Then when I was older, I played the organ myself on important occasions such as the Founders Day service and Speech Day. It was basically a journey.
I remember my first day at Chets when I realised that I was not the only person in school who could play the piano! I wanted to be as good as David Hill, who was higher up in the school from me: He played the organ magnificently, and I wanted to be like him! You know it’s funny. When you grow up, you have role models you watch as you progress to school and beyond.
Then suddenly, you get to the age of sixty-four and then there you are: You’ve arrived. You are the next David Hill. Then you find younger musicians saying they want to play like you and be the next Wayne Marshall! It’s interesting that the whole cycle continues from generation to generation.
MM Who were your main instrumental tutors?
WM Derrick Cantrell and Robert Vincent were my organ teachers. Both were organists at Manchester Cathedral. Gordon Fergus-Thompson was my second piano teacher after Donald Clarke, the teacher who also taught Peter Donohoe in his early years at Chet’s.
MM Gordon Fergus-Thompson is now based at the Royal College in London with a large class of students and came back to Chet’s for the piano summer school recently.
WM Gordon was amazing. I mean, a phenomenal teacher: rigorous, but it was great! We had a wonderful time. He’s not much older than me.
MM When you were at Chetham’s, did you participate in chamber music and piano duets?
WM Yes, I enjoyed playing duets with the pianist Nicola Jane Kemp. Do you remember her?
MM Gosh-there is a wonderful track on an old Chet’s black vinyl disc from the 1970s with you and Nikki giving a spirited rendering of Arthur Benjamin’s ‘Jamaican Rumba’ that I haven’t heard in quite a while!
WM Nikki and I used to play a lot of stuff together. But I also used a lot of chamber music too. I remember playing Brahm’s cello and clarinet sonatas and so much else! Of course, I was also busy over at the cathedral
MM In your journey, particularly at Chethams, were there times when you had to battle with things like practising or patience? How did you come to terms with the whole practice procedure? Because it’s a challenge to stay in a room or an organ oft, isn’t it, for hours alone?
WM Practising was my oxygen! For me, practising was never a problem. The problem was when I was told I couldn’t practise, that was the issue. And particularly at home. If I was at home and my parents said I had to do some work, that was always a big issue. And the same at school. I never wanted to do physical games and stuff like that: I’d much rather be sitting in a practice room!
MM I think there is a tremendous sense of enthusiastic energy about the way you describe your childhood, which is very inspiring, so presumably, you were always determined that you were going to be a musician from the start.
WM It was never an issue. There’s never a question of what it was going to be. Music was what I wanted to do, and that hasn’t changed at all.
MM Looking back on your childhood, is there anything you wish you had done or that could have been done for you that did not happen? If you could turn the clock back, is there anything musically regrettable?
WM Well, musically, I have no regret at all. In some ways, I just wish that I was probably a little bit more academically minded. I just wasn’t really interested in the academic side of it. It just didn’t do it for me. I mean, I was very quiet vocal in class with subjects that didn’t interest me: I would really make it known! I was quite arrogant in some ways. I remember being particularly unwilling to study history. For me, then, history was all in the past.
I was more interested in the present! Of course, my father was always onto me about mathematics and English. Homework was always something of a battle. But for me, it was all about music. I just wanted to do music. I needed to understand about having O-level geography or mathematics and what that had to do with playing a Vierne symphony on the organ!
But now, of course, now as a father, I have to be careful: I have two children of my own. They’re nine and eleven, and they’ve just started school in Cambridge. We’ve only just moved from Malta over the summer. So, of course, I had to be very careful how I conducted myself because I still don’t feel totally comfortable with homework and stuff like that. For me, when you’re at school, you’re at school; when you come home, you’re at home.
This idea of continuing school at home is still an issue, so I must be very careful with my children. This whole thing of exams for me was again a complete waste of time. This sitting, having to remember things, then going to a three-hour examination hall and having to remember everything. So, for me, nothing has changed: I still feel the same about academic studies. We are all different.
MM Thank goodness. Indeed, we are all different. You are such an incredible, positive musician! There are so many other really talented musicians that are very academic- and that is fine. But your story shows that there are other ways of developing. It will give much hope to many people. Thank you so much for sharing your memories and thoughts.
WM, It has been an incredible journey. And for me also, to be awarded the OBE in 2021 was a great honour, really, and I am immensely proud of that.
MM Long overdue, I would say.
WM And it was just wonderful to be at the Palace in July. It was amazing to be there. And now, of course, watching the television, seeing the funeral and everything else. And it is an incredibly sad situation, but it’s very special. Yes, it’s historic.
MM You just cannot imagine life without the Queen.
WM That’s the thing. It’s like a light has gone out. The things that were unfolding last week were incredible. The new Prime Minister, the Queen, passed away. New King. Extraordinary times.