Lives Remembered: Pamela Spofforth
Thursday 02 April 2009
Pamela Spofforth was an extraordinary and inspiring teacher of the violin and, with the cellist, Elizabeth Hewlins, brought about nothing less than a transformation of the playing of chamber music in this country. Pro Corda (the National School for Young Chamber Music Players), which they founded in 1969 and which continues to flourish, has inspired two generations of young musicians with the joys and challenges of playing string quartets and "Spoff", as she was known by many pupils and friends, gave unselfishly of her time, energy and money to that end throughout her working life.
She was born on 18 January 1924, granddaughter of the great Australian cricketer, "The Demon Bowler" Fred Spofforth. Brought up in Surrey, she went to boarding school at Bexhill. She started the violin at the age of 14 and had lessons with Eda Kersey and Sascha Lasserson and played chamber music at home with her cellist sister, Anita, and her mother, who played the piano. She did some freelance orchestral work but her main passions were for teaching (tennis, art and maths as well as the violin) and chamber music. Betty Hewlins joined Pamela on the teaching staff at the Sarum School in Weybridge in 1947 and their friendship was soon formed.
In the 1960s and '70s Pamela was the violin teacher at Woking County Grammar School for girls. Her frustration with the low standards of string-playing and lack of support for talented students within the state school system led to the formation of Pro Corda, and the first course of approximately 25 students took place for a week at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Stoke D'Abernon in the summer of 1969. Other schools were subsequently used and the number of pupils grew until in 1977 the Trustees managed to raise sufficient funds to purchase Leiston Abbey House in Suffolk for £14,000. Pamela eventually sold her much-loved house in Guildford and moved to Leiston.
As well as taking private pupils she travelled to London once a week for some years to teach at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music. In 1996 she received an MBE in the Queen's 70th birthday Honours for services to music. She continued to oversee the growth of Pro Corda after the death of Betty Hewlins in 1990 but a debilitating stroke brought a close to her working life. She died on 4 December 2008.
She was a formidable lady who was somewhat reluctant to show the gentler side of her character, and her forthright opinions, such as her strong belief in the superiority of chamber music over orchestral playing in the training of young musicians, were trenchantly held. Yet she had a passion for excellence, a complete dedication to music and a deep affection for her students, an affection which was strongly reciprocated by her pupils. The astounding number of former Pro Corda students who are active in the profession today as well as an equally large number who, though not active professionally, have been inspired with a lifelong passion for music, is her marvellous and enduring legacy.
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