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Manchester High School for Girls

Taking Inspiration from Annie 'O' Warburton

Aidan Bradley, Director of Music, reflects on Manchester High's groundbreaking music teachers of the past.

It’s my ninth year at MHSG and I’m reflecting on what targets to set for myself, and the Music department, for 2020. I glance at my dusty copy of Annie O. Warburton’s Harmony 2nd Edition, and I ask myself, what targets would Annie ‘O’ have set herself?   

Dr Annie O. (Osborne) Warburton, or Annie ‘O’, as she was affectionately known in musical circles, was appointed Music Teacher at MHSG in 1925, aged 23 – and, in the words of the Head Mistress at the time, was considered “quite a catch”.

Things didn’t get off to the best start, though; on her first day Annie was mistaken by the Head Mistress for a pupil and told off for not wearing a school hat!  However, she quickly began to make an impact.  In her first year, she organised the delivery of a grand piano and all girls were taken to Hallé Orchestra concerts.  

In 1927, she published a fascinating article in The Music Teacher on the correct organisation of a school concert:

“The problem of the school concert is one that faces many readers of The Music Teacher at this time of year.  Perhaps, after it is over, many teachers wonder whether it has been worth the effort and how much good it has been to audience and performers” (The Music Teacher: December, 1927)

Have I ever had this thought? Of course! To Annie ‘O’ a good school concert was full of variety, not ‘overburdened with performances of no particular musical value’ and the audience should be given an opportunity for a good ‘sing song’ at the end.’  Food for thought!

In 1929, Annie ‘O’ was promoted, at the suggestion of the school inspectors, to conductor of the 24-strong orchestra, leaving her position as double bassist to a colleague. Repertoire that year included Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Holst St. Paul’s Suite and one of Annie’s O’s own compositions.

In the same year she was also awarded a BMus degree by Dublin University and rehearsals took place at MHSG for the famous recording of ‘Nymphs and Shepherds’ accompanied by the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Sir Hamilton Harty.  In addition to her teaching commitments, between1925 and 1946, she published no less than 16 books on music and music education, several of which are still in print. In 1935 she resigned her full time position, but not before she donated the Warburton Trophy to the school, an award for musicianship which is still presented today.

In her 21 years at the school (she continued to teach part time) Annie ‘O’ shaped a fantastic musical tradition that continues to thrive today.  Not only this, her many publications have had an enormous impact on the teaching of music nationally. Her achievements are inspiring, but also humbling.  

Annie ‘O’ was not required to go through a professional development review, but I do wonder what targets she might have set herself if she had?  I suspect some of the challenges she faced were not dissimilar to the lot of a 21st Century music teacher. Would she approve of the sounds of the samba band emanating through the walls of today’s department? I suspect she would. This year’s target – brush up my harmony!