Jeffrey Vaughan Martin: A legacy in Music Education

Since coming back from my hometown of Maidstone on Sunday, I have been unable to shake off an overwhelming feeling of mixed emotions which are clearly of a result of getting together with so many musicians of all ages to celebrate the life of Jeffrey Vaughan Martin, who played such a key part in so many of Maidstone and Kent musicians’ music education.  As I sat on the front desk (reunited with my front desk buddy and general idol from 22 years ago, Jo Johnson) ready to play Finlandia and Crown Imperial, everything from my MYMS days came flooding back.

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I remember the first time I sat at the back of the 2nd violins in the Maidstone Youth Orchestra (part of the Maidstone Youth Music Society – MYMS, a musical linchpin of my youth), I didn’t really know what was going on. There was a woodwind and brass section behind me (I had never known this before) and I am not sure how many notes I really played in that rehearsal. I clearly found the whole thing really overwhelming, which reminds me of the new Year 7s and 8s when they come to Concert Band or Orchestra for the first time. Every week I played a bit more, watched and listened to all the older students around me (many of whom I completely revered) and by 1996 I became leader of the orchestra, and led for what was one of the most memorable tours of my life – Poland, Czech Republic and Berlin.

Every Friday night, Jeffrey would generally shout at us. Usually for talking too much (or throwing polos at the ‘cellos), but often doing is utmost to bring out the musicians in us. Over the years, we all became so fond of the “Jeffrey Repertoire”: Gadfly Suite, Soirées Musicales, Finlandia, Crown Imperial, Elgar Pomp and Circumstances and many more. As strings, Jeffrey introduced us to Handel’s huge output of Concerti Grossi, as well as Holst’s St Paul’s Suite.  I will also never forget taking a Vivaldi Concerto for 2 violins on the 1996 tour and playing this with my then (and still) best friend, Sarah.

Alongside the musical memories, Friday nights were also a social high point for so many of us. We would all rush from school across town to Invicta Grammar School for Girls (massive rival school) and make a start separately as Strings and Wind Band at 4.45pm. We would break at 6pm and hang out in the school canteen (with a great tuck shop) together. So many musicians of all ages from different schools all coming together. Some firm friendships (and romances!) were made here and still remain strong (the romances not so much?!). At 6.30pm the strings and some of the woodwind, brass and percussion would then rehearse as the Maidstone Youth Orchestra until 7.45pm or thereabouts. Once we were old enough, socialising would continue into Maidstone town centre, where you would find many of us in Muggletons, Strawberry Moons, Gabriel’s or anywhere that would let us in.

A large proportion of us were also involved in Kent Centre for Young Instrumentalists and Kent County Youth Orchestra, also experiences which I am sure have had a huge impact on us all. All the music in which I was involved (I was also fortunate to have also grown up in a thriving school music department) in my formative years has certainly influenced the kind of musician and music teacher I am now. I would never pick out one as being ‘better’ or more influential than the others, but Jeffrey’s legacy in Kent Music is certainly special. Not only the founder of MYMS and numerous other groups and choirs, Jeffrey believed that music was for all. He set up music centres across the medway towns and set up free instrument schemes to support families who needed it.

For me, Jeffrey introduced me to a whole orchestral repertoire which I still call upon now when planning music for the school orchestra. In fact, having been rehearsing Walton’s Crown Imperial (arr. David Stone) ready for our school’s Easter concert, I sat down to the same arrangement on Sunday morning for Jeffrey’s memorial concert. The musical world he created for us all, I aspire to create for my own students.  So it was with utter pleasure that I got to go back to Maidstone and offer my thanks and tribute in the most fitting way possible; a memorial concert for Jeffrey mastermind by Tommy Pearson. The moment I set foot into Mote Hall, the years fell away as I met up with some ex-MYMs players from my generation and from many others, both older and younger.  United by one person, the event was emotional. Chatting to other people during the day, everyone had their own special memory of Jeffrey to tell. One viola player showed me her programme of the 1992 performance of Noye’s Fludde in Mote Hall. She had sung the role of Mrs Jaffett. I found my name in the programme – aged 12 in the Invicta Strings!  Moments like this happened throughout the day to the 300 performers there, and the emotion and nostalgia we all shared was really quite gripping. As well as the orchestral works, the All Stars’ Wind Band’s rendition of Woolfenden’s Gallimaufry was heart-wrenching, and by the time we got to the West Malling Singers’ performance of As long as I have music and You raise me up, I (along many others) was in tears.

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So whilst we met up in the saddest of circumstances, Jeffrey’s legacy will live on somehow in us all. He shaped my view on music education, introduced me to a wealth of music, and really demonstrated what it is to be passionate about music and how much he cared for us all. Thank you, Jeffrey and rest in peace.

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