Jane Cowan as I knew her (aged 16-21) by Justin Anderson
I spent 5 years from 1976 - 1981 at Edrom House studying with Jane and her son Francis and husband Christopher. They were in some ways the hardest, but in many more ways the happiest years of my life. Jane was a truly amazing person, musician, scholar, philosopher and saviour of lost souls (mine amongst many others). I have put together a selection of letters from Jane to my mother whilst I was at Edrom along side some extracts from 'letters home' that may give a little further insight into life at Edrom and the incredible woman who made it the place it was. Jane Cowan was without doubt (along with my mother) the most influential person in my life and I will always remember her with a huge amount of love
Letter to Elizabeth Anderson, 1978
I said something right!
"I said something last night about phrasing in a piece which upset Mrs Cowan - she said "I hate it when Justin is right because it means I have to believe in him". She makes a lot of comments like this so she must think I'm improving!"
The man with the golden flute
"Christina was in Switzerland with James Galway the night he was run down. Apparently a motorbike came round the corner and went straight into him and another girl. He was conscious and someone asked him if he was OK and he said "I'm fine apart from two broken legs". He could tell they were broken there and then. Anyway he must spend 3 months in hospital. Also his gold flute was bent in two!"
"Mrs Cowan is very pleased with me (at the moment). I learnt Pamela's piece by heart in less than a week and played it in a class. She described it afterwards as 'fanbloodytastic' and said she had a good mind to phone you but I'm sure she won't."
"You say you don't know when you met anyone you liked as much as Bronwen (Naish - Double bassist) - what about Jane Cowan? .... She got a letter from Stutschewsky this morning - it's funny seeing letters arrive from all sorts of well-known people - Imogen Holst, Sir Adrian Boult, Gian Carlo Menotti etc."
"Last night we had a discussion about Schweizer and Thomas Mann, who were friends of Mrs Cowan and Goethe and all their philosophies - I didn't really understand fully but I picked up a fair bit. Mrs Cowan went for long walks with Thomas Mann in Salzburg and she feels very strongly about the travesty of his book, Death in Venice' the film is (sorry my word order was a bit mixed up there!) As usual the conversation ended up on the corruption of Newspapers and TV."
Doom and gloom
"The health of the villagers isn't very good at the moment. The Minister has had another stroke and is in hospital at the moment and is expected to die. So is the woman whose horses we used to ride in Abbey St Bathans. She fell off one of them and broke her neck and has been paralysed ever since. She has just developed a kidney infection and is expected to go any day. It's a pity she is a very nice woman and still only in her fifties. The 85 year old post mistress (Nettie) is also very ill and not expected to live much longer. It's really just a matter of which goes first. It means quite a lot to the villagers as there are only about 10 of them."
Especially for Dawn!
"Thank you for the underpants - quite wild I would say. It was a good job I opened the package in private! I did however show them to Dawn (Gwilt) and she was quite taken with them .... on Sunday we had a Quaker meeting instead of going to church. I never realised sitting in silence for an hour could be so interesting!"
"Mrs Cowan is going to London tomorrow and John Gwilt is in Glasgow so we aren't going to get many lessons. Christopher will be here but he can't really teach cello!"
A Classic ... sorry Steven
"I've been playing on Steven Isserlis's £30,000 Italian cello. He's not satisfied with it and JC claims that it is his technique that is at fault, not the cello, so I had to play to George and Cynthia Isserlis! God knows what they felt; I felt terrified with someone else's £30,000 in my hands."
Another remarkable Harvey-Webb - Or gullible me?)
"Mrs Cowan's brother came to stay - he's got a legion of honour and is remarkable (family resemblance!) He can speak 14 languages and has written innumerable history books, has won art competitions and has been hired by the bomb disposal team for his help with the use of his second sight. He can dowse, find hidden objects, ghosts etc.. Apart from all that he has supersonic hearing. He can't stay in a house with stringed instruments playing, without being tortured by the upper harmonies which normal people can't hear. That's why he is staying with Jean in the village. What's more his wife can call him from 3 miles' away with a high pitched dog whistle!! See what I mean? Another 'odd' member of the Cowan family."
More praise ....
"This morning we played a movement from an Eccles Sonata in church with Christopher on the organ; JC's reaction was a hug and a kiss and a complimentary comment! "It was heaven". Very apt after a church service! When we've finished in the evening I usually nip down to Jean's in the village and watch TV for an hour or so; the best part of the day!"
"JC is going down to London this weekend so we'll have a bit of peace - she's been pretty cool this term though. She seems to have lost her wildness but kept her peacefulness and vigouressness (if there is such a word) which is a very happy balance!"
Little does he know
"JC has been flapping about this girl from the Menuhin School who wants to come; she only wants to come for a year and JC considers such a short period to be a waste of time but she hates saying no to anyone; the Head of the Menuhin School has phoned twice about it, but little does he know that he has NO influence as far as she is concerned."
"JC has said she will teach Nancy and I every day until term starts. I feel rather bad asking her to pay me for cutting grass etc. when she is teaching me, but if I don't I will have to eat the grass after I cut it."
Sorry John ...
"Mrs Cowan lectured us on sacred tones today and John Gwilt is gardening with the sun reflecting from his scalp! I have to teach theory to a little boy soon, and chime bars and he is a wretch - he prefers to bash my fingers than the chime bars."
High praise but so true
"I received a letter from Claire Jolivet (Violin student at the Julliard). She writes: "I missed Jane Cowan. Do you realise this is the first Summer in about 5 years that I haven't seen her! She gives me so much inspiration. I don't know if I can get through this coming year without my annual 'dose' of Jane!" High praise from the Julliard."