Thirty nine years ago this month I was ‘starring’ in the Coatbridge High School production of The Pirates of Penzance: as one of the chorus of pirates! It was at this time that I was beginning to get to know about music – both the practical and the historical. For example one could not admit to friends that you did not have a clue what a fugue was –so one had to learn. Also, everyone else in the opera cast appeared to be able to sight-read and follow the score – so I had to get up to speed double quick.
Strangely, after all this time I can recall the names of the two sixth formers who played Frederic and the Major General: I can see in my mind’s eye their performances on the superb school stage. I can remember my pleasure and thrill in singing the great choruses 'Pour, oh Pour the Pirate sherry' and 'Come Friends who plough the sea.’ I remember Mr Radcliffe, the music master conducting the small orchestra – I always enjoyed the overture to this opera and was shouted at for peeping through the curtain whilst it was being played.
Two songs that were minor revelations to me have remained as part of my musical ‘heritage’ ever since are the great tenor ballad, ‘O is there not one maiden here’ and the patter song 'I am the very model of a modern major-general.’ I guess the first appealed to my developing sense of romance – I was about fifteen at the time! And the second, was my first introduction to a ‘patter song’. It was a form that I have always enjoyed and find immensely funny.
A few years later, the school gave up on G&S: I guess that it was felt that it was too elitist for a ‘grammar’ school that had recently become a comprehensive. Now the old school buildings have been demolished and a new school built on a different site. However, the ghosts remain...
I found two good examples of my favourite songs from this opera on YouTube. The first, is beautifully sung by a fine tenor and the second is a little creative, but great fun.
Oh is there not one maiden breast