Memories of Bob Peel (CR 1960-91)

People have commented on how much fun making music was with Bob. It really was, and he was also a very entertaining man, a great storyteller and the warmest of people in his slightly shy way. He saw the funny side of life, and of people. And he used music to bring people together.

But he was also a really outstanding teacher.

As a nervous twelve-year-old with absolutely no interest in music arriving at the Master’s Lodge from a northern prep school for my scholarship interview, I was asked by John Dancy “Are you musical?” Not at all, I replied. “Well, you should learn the trombone. You don’t have to be musical to play the trombone. Shall I put you down for lessons?” (Yes, he really said this). Well, I couldn’t really say no. But I had no real intention of actually learning an instrument. I thought music held no interest for me.

In my first week at the school I didn’t bother to go for my lesson, hoping all would be forgotten. But then I was picked out in the Norwood Hall by a very, very tall and rather scary RHDP wanting to know why I’d wasted his time. “The first term is free. I expect you at the next lesson.” Gulp. Ah well, I’d only need to suffer this for a term.

What I then experienced was the very best of teaching: boundless patience, high expectations, clear guidance and – above all – belief in me. He showed me not only that I could do it, but also how. I didn’t want to let him or myself down. From him I learned not only to love and understand music, but also so much about how to encourage and inspire learners. Thinking about him now reminds me how important all of this has been in my life.

And Bob was inclusive. He had no snobbishness about forms of music: we could move from working on a Malcolm Arnold concerto to playing ‘Hey, Look me Over’ on the parade ground. He had equal respect and care for the one or two really outstanding musicians that he nurtured and for those of us who just enjoyed learning to play to the best of our ability and being part of that special experience that was Brasser which the rest of the school got a hint of every year when we played ‘Hootenanny’. He was never one of the Common Room ‘stars’ but we knew the secret of how special he was.
Great teachers live on in what they plant in their learners. Every time I enjoy a tune with understanding of what went into creating it, every time I’ve managed to enable a young person to find self belief, a bit of Bob’s legacy lives on in me. With his laugh and a knowing smile.

If we weren’t all in Covid 19 isolation, the brass section would have to rush out early to be first at the bar to down a pint in honour of a great teacher and a gentle but forceful spreader of joy.

Stay safe, everyone. And Bob, now freed as we remain locked down. Warm thanks to his family for all we owe him.

Martin Spafford
B3 1967-72