FAO: Philip Shaw OBE

Dear Philip

A trusted source tells me you’ve retired.

I was surprised. Time has passed quickly.

I wanted to write. I couldn’t let you drift into retirement without wishing you well. The impact you’ve had me and on countless other individuals over the past thirty years as head of Suffolk County Music Service shouldn’t go overlooked. We owe you.

Your passion for music and your commitment to share it is highly-prized. It’s the kind of spirit that rubs off on people. In rehearsals you introduced us to a sense of drive, showed us what can be achieved with discipline, and pointed to the reward that comes as a result.

Suffolk County Music Service’s work has allowed young people the opportunity to exercise choice and pursue freedom. It’s promoted a sense of community too.

Your work has made Suffolk feel like home.

Much of that is down to your indomitable spirit; your unshakeable belief in the value of music education.

That this government rates music education so poorly must be galling for a man who has banged the drum and flown the flag for all of his career.

Do not let the short-sightedness of a handful of elites overshadow your achievements. Don’t underestimate the commitment of those you’ve inspired to continue to fight the cause for future generations.

You gave me a chance back in 1989 backstage at Snape Maltings Concert Hall. I have Rebecca to thank for introducing us, and you for saying ‘Yes, OK’. Suffolk Youth Orchestra sowed the seeds for my ultimate recovery. I will always remember that moment.

At SYO you were jovial, sometimes corny, always ready to share your considerable knowledge and experience.

You were nearly always grumpy. That made working to please you even more of a tangible prize. We all worked harder to perfect and finesse. That’s quite some strategy you adopted there. I’d like to think it was accident rather than design.

Know this: it worked.

None of us wanted to let you down. All of us feared that glance from the podium if a solo flopped or an entire section failed to engage with the very clear and distinct beat. The experience was terrifying and exhilarating. That was playing a concert.

You have the power to bring music alive just with a glance through your glasses. Just for the record, my own traumatic concert experiences as a teenager now render Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and that sodding clarinet solo in Danzon No. 2 unbearable to listen to now. I was shit at sight-reading. I think you knew that secretly.

More than this, you provided a context for the music. By making playing in a county youth orchestra an aspirational thing, you gave it and the music a much-needed relevance, and us a sense of purpose.

You legitimised a field of study that for some contemporaries of mine at least was a source of amusement or ridicule.

Sometimes I listen to pieces of music and I think of you. That’s a bit odd in some respects, I know. Probably a bit weird to read. Sorry.

The truth is that other human beings are largely responsible for those special moments in our own lives. You’re one of my list. Thank you.

You did us proud because we wanted to make you proud. We knew we achieved that when your smile was so broad that we couldn’t see your eyes.

I have absolutely no idea how I could possibly pay you back.

Enjoy your retirement. It is much-deserved.


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