Memories of Jane Cowan and the ICC by Emma Campbell:
I came to Jane through the Mrs
Pringle route. I think it was after one intermediate Saturday
afternoon masterclass on a Marcello sonata that she suggested that I
should come to her for lessons. My brother Richard would have been
away at school learning with Graham Smallbone by then and having
sessions with John Gwilt when back in London. I would have been about
10 I suppose and was with Jane until the ICC relocated fully to
Edrom. Life revolved around the wonderful flat on Ladbroke Grove with
its lift and timer light switches and the glorious communal garden.
My sister Sally, mother Jennet and I were all there for Chamber Music
on a Saturday morning often extending into a masterclass in the
afternoon. Tuesday night was my lesson and a History and Theory
class; a chance for Jane to regale us with stories of great musicians
and arm us with her lightly held views. Then came my favourite; Cello
Club on a Thursday night playing Jane’s arrangements of Schubert’s
Gott in der Natur Motet with Cynthia Isserlis on the piano, Caldara,
Isaacs and of course Casals’ Les Rois Mages.
During the time I had lessons with her, I broke my left arm and assumed this would mean no ’cello. Oh no. My hour long lessons were devoted entirely to bowing. The miners’ action in the winter of discontent meant scheduled one hour power cuts. My lesson was in the hour preceding a cut. Jane was concerned that I had not learnt Faure’s Berceuse from memory. The lights went out. We continued in the dark. We were still working in the dark when the lights came on an hour later.
At the Spring courses at Edrom in the early 70s there was more chamber music but singing was important too. We decamped to Chirnside hotel for our meals where we sang Aller Augen in German as grace at every meal. We sang at the Kirk – getting as much roll into our ‘r’s in ‘Surely’ from the Messiah as we could as soft southerners. Whenever I hear ‘Low born clods of brute earth’ from Dream of Gerontius I remember Jane telling us how ludicrous it sounded to her ears the first time she heard it performed with Received Pronunciation. Listening to the whole of Missa Solemnis lying on the floor in the music room was a yearly education. Each evening we gathered around the fire to sing Madrigals and to take us up to bed, with one of us lucky enough to be piggyback on Aunt Jane’s back leading the crocodile we sang Bona Nox round and round from every floor and corridor.
I remember clearly in one Saturday afternoon master class Jane telling a confident and precocious young cellist how envious she was of her as she still had so many years ahead of her to try to make sense of the particular movement of a Bach suite the girl had just trampled through. The remark, delivered with consummate charm, was lost on its hearer but not to those of us who had listened intently, almost religiously, to John Gwilt performing all six suites at Edrom or to recordings of Casals of course.
Jane inspired complete devotion. I don’t think she wanted to set herself up as a guru but for many there was something almost cultish about following her. She couldn’t help it – her energy and charisma were boundless but it was the music she cared about, not her own glory. For those without other strong role models (my father quite deliberately maintained a little distance) she could almost be dangerous. But she and Christopher and her family were immensely generous and knowing them enriched my family’s musical, moral and cultural life immeasurably.