My old school pastime – opera at Unley High
Ken has just found this old photo buried in his desk ! At the Unley Town Hall, August 1951, a scene from the Unley High School production of Gluck’s ‘Iphigenia in Aulis’, musically directed by Duncan McKie, with a22 piece orchestra (unphotographed) below and I was at the piano for the main accompaniments. Queen Clytemnestra (with crown, left) was played by Beryl Pfeiffer (Powell), pianist-singer who became the conductor of Lobethal Harmony Club, Princess Iphigenia on steps was Jennifer Andrews. In the chorus was my family friend, 14 year old Janice Hearne from Year 9, who as Janice Chapman has since become a Professor of Voice in London, an opera singer of renown, a teacher and writer on holistic voice training. Leaning on the wobbly mock marble pillar was my shy boyfriend at the time, Don Worley alongside Dick Gluyas, both became known Adelaide dentists. In the centre was (I think) David McKie as Calchas the high priest. Most of the boys listed in the programme went on to become professional engineers, doctors, teachers, a priest or two, musicians. On the Unley Town Hall stage we just had to imagine the temple in ancient Greece, even though the papier mache giant pillars stopped short of the overhead proscenium. Physics teacher Bill Boundy was an energetic producer always, and the props and backdrops were constructed by woodwork and art teachers Fred Hawkes and Victor Adolfsson.
The hero Achilles (not pictured) was tenor John Worthley, brother of famous Max, brought in as guest by Mr McKie. He wore a short tunic which showed his knobbly knees, I remember, but had a good voice. Bass singer Brian Holt (old scholar, another boyfriend of mine) played King Agamemnon. Mr McKie was also a composer himself and would write out by hand in faultless manuscript all his orchestral arrangements and any recitatives he wished to insert. When I was there (1948-1952) his Unley High productions included King Arthur (Purcell), Orpheus (Gluck), Hugh the Drover (Vaughan Williams) in which I began my repetiteur experience from Year 10 onwards for the next 4 or 5 productions – Iphigenia, The Bartered Bride (Smetana), Oberon (Weber), The Emperor’s Nightingale written by McKie himself (1953) with Jan Hearne singing the lead, The Black Tulip (1954) ditto, helping as old scholar and co-pianist. I still have the scores presented to me with inscriptions from the production team. A privileged training.
Bit of history there. McKie was an amazing music teacher, expecting the students to rise to his expectations as he introduced us to forms of music we would never have experienced otherwise. He looked like an absent-minded professor, down at heel shoes, same suit for the whole year, scruffy, eccentric, but a brilliant arranger and mentor to many students like me who learnt so much about classical music from his teaching and extra-curricular activities like madrigal groups, appreciation (after school listening to records), orchestra in which I played violin for a while, SATB choir, opera productions. And he was paid the lowest of teacher salaries for this pioneering work in secondary music education. I believe he was the brother of William McKie the Royal Organist, their parents were missionaries in China at one time. Mr McKie wrote a reference for me to get into Adelaide Teachers College for music teaching training but it never happened, home circumstances changed my direction and I eventually became a cadet journalist. But amazingly, another set of circumstances brought me into music teaching anyway, in the country ……. but that’s another story.