Music & Dancing:
So began one of the most wonderful and memorable years of all my life. I was 20 years old, very young for my age, naive, totally inexperienced in the ordinary things of life, carried along by dreams and phantasies, and protected by a total innocence.
A very warm welcome awaited me from a maiden lady, Gracie Corbett, and also from the dear little housekeeper who had been with her for decades. Gracie was passed middle age, about my height with her thin grey hair drawn to the back of her head. She and mother had known each other for a long time (I don’t know how or when they had met), and a mutual interest was in hunting. Mother had had to give this up, owing to the break up of her marriage; in spite of not having a horse, Gracie carried on as an energetic follower of the hunt on foot! Whenever there was a meet reasonably near, off she would go, and be out all day. When I arrived, she expected me to join in and share her enthusiasm. This I did on a few occasions, but my lessons in London soon put an end to this activity, for which I was not altogether sorry!
But there was another and far more congenial outlet, and this was her membership of two different village choirs. There was then the famous Leith Hill Musical Festival, and both choirs were working towards it. I was invited to join both choirs, singing soprano in one and alto in the other. Both choirs had very good conductors and I enjoyed my time with them enormously. Another group was working to produce The Merry Widow, and I was also invited to join that.
My days in London became even more filled with study sessions taught by Mary Kanfman (as their name was at the time), and my Eurythmy lessons. My music teacher was Constance Elliott-Birks, a very brilliant eurythymist, but she soon left to go to America, where, after a year or two, she very suddenly died. Vera and Judy Compton Burnett took over – Vera for speech and Judy for music. The Compton Burnetts were both wonderful teachers, and it soon became clear that I had a natural aptitude for this challenging new art, so much so that I was chosen to be amongst a group that was to give a demonstration performance in a hall not far from Gloucester Place, our headquarters. Here I was privileged to meet the leading members of the Anthroposophical Society, and was able to have many talks with them. George and Mary Kanfman were kind and generous in giving of their time and amongst the eurythmists Dorothy Osmond helped a great deal. In fact, at one time she was anxious that I was absorbing too much all at once! I quickly assured her that there could never be “too much” as all that I was learning and absorbing was literally life substance. I also met the 60-ish D. N. Dunlop, chairman of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain who was a very well-known occultist and esotericist, a deep student of Steiner’s. His daughter Eileen was often my partner in Eurythmy. At one of these performances Schuman’s Papillons was being done, all the group taking part. Eileen and I were together in two of the pieces. I was also being given an occasional solo already.
I had not written home to say that I had arrived safely at Gracie’s and eventually my mother wrote to ask if I was all right! I answered with a very curt short note, and there was no more correspondence until I said I was not going home for the Easter holiday. But I could not have gone in any case, as we were so busy with all the choir practices and rehearsals of the Merry Widow. It was indeed an exhilarating time, and I was on top of the world because people liked me and my skills were appreciated. Happiness is a soul-condition!
Going up for my lessons twice a week was becoming too much, along with all else I was doing at Gloucester Place. So it was decided that I must find somewhere to live up there. Eventually Gracie remembered she had once been friendly with someone who lived in the Notting Hill area. And that woman, Mrs. Gadd, very kindly agreed to have me as a lodger. She was a widow with three or four children, all school age except one who was a leading dancer in the chorus of the current musical show – I can’t remember its name. Mrs. Gadd had lived in Argentina where her husband had his job, but on his death she came back to London. Her daughter, Renée, a beautiful dancer, quickly got a job in that chorus.
Living in London on a small allowance (mother paid for my lessons), I could join study groups on Anthroposophical subjects, which always met in the evening and was invited to join Mr. Dunlop’s Human Freedom group. He took me under his wing, always insisting that I sit near him.
The summer term came to an end, and I went on back to Hauxley. Diana had finished with school now, and was very involved with Girl Guides and Brownies, doing a lot actually with Dora. Joe, too, was at home for a time and spent a lot of time sailing in the cutter mother had bought for him. I went with him occasionally, but being the world’s worst sailor, didn’t much enjoy these expeditions.
After I left Surrey and came to live in London, I joined study groups, mainly the one run by D. N. Dunlop. Here I had my 21st birthday in May. There was, of course, no party, no celebration of any sort – no one cared to give it. But mother gave me a beautiful ruby and diamond marquise ring, which was a wonderful surprise. And Joe gave a very nice little clock in a leather case.
Work went on at a pace. All the other Eurythmy pupils had jobs during the day, and could only come for lessons and practise in the evenings. I was the only whole time student, and therefore was able to get on so quickly. As the term went on, it was decided that I should go out to Dornach, and be a full time student with one of the leading eurythmists, Ilse von Baravalle, as my teacher. Meanwhile, of course, we were working hard for a big performance we were to give in a local theatre at the end of term.
But also at this time, Vaughan Williams was getting together a choir for the first performance of his big work Sancta Civilis. In this there were small semi choruses of about eight voices each; and because of my prowess at the Leith Hill Festival, Vaughan Williams invited me to audition for one of the semi-choruses. Singers were needed who were, amongst other things, good sight-readers, and this I happened to be. I so well remember being ushered into Vaughan William’s music room, and how very kind and friendly he was, talking for instance about my love of music. Well, I was taken on, and told when the first rehearsal would be. But destiny had other plans for me, and I never got to rehearsal.