“It was a home where we regularly entertained with evening gatherings ending in an informal concert or jam session. Encouraged by my mother, I improvised on the piano from a young age. I am not sure how, but I just played notes and if they didn’t sound right, I changed them until they did! There was never a question as to whether I was musical or could improvise, that’s just what we did in our house.
I was always at the forefront of musical activities at school. At my junior school, I played for assembly when the teacher was away. My friends said they liked it when I played because it was “made up”, jazzy and different (not good… different).
When I was twelve, my father died. My mother had booked for me to go to the “Avril Dankworth National Music Camp” the following week and, with much heart searching, it was decided that I would still go. It was a week that changed my life. The next few years was a time of being influenced by a very broad minded and liberal style of music making . I like to call it the “Dankworth Allmusic Philosophy”. Avril Dankworth was a well-known music Educationalist and travelled around the world lecturing and adjudicating. She was a great promoter of the Carl Orff method of teaching music, and she took me to the teacher days and workshops she ran. Avril’s music camps were for anyone who loved music. It didn’t matter what style of music they played or how good they were, it was an exciting environment in which to learn. John Dankworth and his wife Cleo Laine inspired me with their Allmusic courses and gave me many opportunities to play in concerts with them. This was a musical environment where there was no snobbery or barriers in musical style. It was all very inspiring and liberating and shaped my musical thinking.
At the age of nineteen, I went to the Royal College of Music in London to study the bassoon and piano with a view to becoming a performer. It was a time of wonderful experiences and formal classical training, but was punctuated with jazz bassoon playing and creative excursions into other styles of music.
When I left the college, I played the bassoon, saxophone and flute in ensembles and orchestras, but had also found a real love for teaching. A PGCE year opened my eyes, and I found I had a real desire to share music, and make it accessible to others.
I still attended the music camps that first inspired me and I had now become a tutor and director and was writing pieces and musicals for performance there. The Dankworths were still a great inspiration. Avril was my music education mentor, and John inspired and encouraged me in my writing and playing. At that time, I was already combining playing and teaching, so had the best of both worlds.
In 1985, I married my husband Chris, and we have two daughters Chloe and Martha. Chris is a chromatic harmonica player, and both girls are making careers in the arts. We have always had a “creative home”, much like the one I was brought up in.
I love composing and especially enjoy writing music that will be useful for other “educators”. My desire is to write music that makes people want to play. I am best known as an educational composer, but I have written for all kinds of ensembles. My works include a mass, a large piece for bassoon and orchestra, musicals and choral pieces, and chromatic harmonica music. Some of my most popular Educational books are the “Razzamajazz” series, The “Red Hot” series, “Class Act”, “Band in a Book”, “Two at a Time” and “Piano Pizzazz”. The “Red Hot Recorder Tutor” has been translated into three languages. All these have been exclusively published by Kevin Mayhew, who himself has been a great encourager and inspiration.
I now spend much time writing music, teaching and presenting teacher workshops and inset days in the UK and in America. I enjoy mentoring and adjudicating, and am the “artistic director” of the National Youth Music Camps which Avril handed over to me in 2002.
I really believe we are the “product” of the people who influence us, so we as music educators have a great responsibility to influence and inspire others.” – Sarah Watts.