[From Manx Quarterly, #9 1910]
Miss M.L. Wood
With the number of " The Musical Herald " dated October 1st is presented a very excellent reproduction on toned paper of a capital photograph of Miss M. L. Wood, by Harrison, of Onchan. The photographer has caught the veteran teacher of the science of sweet sounds in a characteristic position, and with a facial expression at once natural and pleasant. In connection with the presentation plate is a sketch, some five sand a half columns in length of Miss Wood's career. The following are extracts from the sketch: Miss Wood has been called the mother of music in the Isle of Man. She is affectionately known by every Manxman and woman. Her pioneer work in the cause of popular music deserves to be recorded. Two years ago she completed fifty years of work as a teacher of music in Manxland. A resident in the Island has kindly written for " The Musical Herald" some notes about Miss Wood's career.
" I am quite sure no one has done so much for so long a period to further the cause of music and bring it as far as it was in their power to do so within the reach of all classes of the community as Miss Wood. Her chief aim and object through a long life seems to have been to make every man, woman, and child in the Isle of Man do something musical, either by singing in a class, or choral society, or choir, or at least taking an intelligent interest in the art. Her influence and kindly encouragement are felt in every part of the Island for no hamlet or village is too small or insignificant for her attention, and she has started singing classes with the most unpromising material and persevered until surprisingly good results are very often obtained. I well remember accompanying her on her first essay to start a singing class amongst a company of soldiers. We arrived at a tumble-down dark, dismal barrack-room [fpc - ? Castletown - troops left by 1896] to find about twenty men sitting, on benches curiosity and suspicion writ large upon their faces.
A more unpromising 'singing-class ' I never saw. 'Can you sing? ' said Miss Wood to the men. They looked at each other as though they thought the question a queer kind of joke. This was all the answer.
Now, I am sure you can sing something; sing anything you like any song you sing when you are by yourselves.'
" At this the men began to show a little interest and forgot their shyness. After a consultation with each other, they started and roared out some music-hall ditty, with very raucous, unmusical voices. Well, this was a beginning, at any rate. Then a Tonic Sol-fa modulator was unfolded and hung on the wall, and Miss Wood started to teach Tommy Atkins to sing from a notation to moderate his voice, and produce something of a musical tone. The men grew interested when they found it possible to guide their voices according to written signs and soon got from the modulator to exercises and songs. Unfortunately the soldiers were taken away from the Island before any advanced results could be obtained. This is only one of many singing-classes I have known Miss Wood start from the raw material. Many acknowledgments of indebtedness to her come from pupils who are scattered up and down the country. . The Manx competitive festival owes its origin to Miss Wood, who some twenty years ago journeyed over to Grange to consult the late Miss Wakefield as to plans of working a musical festival of the competition class, and from Miss Wood's report and suggestion the musical competitions first came into existence in the Isle of Man. Manx people, feeling how much they owe to the large-hearted devotion and enthusiasm of Miss Wood, have tried at various times to express their appreciation, and in 1908 presented her with an address and purse of two hundred guineas."
Miss Wood was born in Doughty-street, London, and went to school there, but learnt very little music. Her father was secretary of one of the philanthropic societies promoted by the Earl of Shaftesbury. Her parents wishing to find a quiet, economical home in the country, migrated from London to the Isle of Man. Her early music lessons were received from the late Mr C. E. Willing at the Foundling. Miss Wood has always been an enthusiastic organist. Afterwards she took lessons in harmony and the organ from Dr E. H. Turpin, whose genial personality attracted her very much. A man of such general culture was naturally of much assistance to her. When she was being coached for examinations she stayed in his house, and much appreciated intercourse with such a fine thinker.
When Miss Wood began to teach in the Isle of Man, she came across the late Dr S. McBurney ; he was then quite a young man, and she was inclined to join the numerous scoffers at Tonic Sol-fa, of which he was so earnest an advocate. He persuaded her, however, to be examined for the Elementary Certificate. She, too, became enthusiastic, and attended one of the summer courses for teachers in London, and soon found the system of immense value in her popular work. Although she went to the Isle of Man to reside in 1857, it was not until 1867 that she held her first popular Tonic Sol-fa class. .
Miss Wood is organist of Braddan Church. Formerly for eleven years she was organist at Peel, where there is a fine three-manual organ in the church. The choir was a good one, and performances were given from time to time of Stainer's " Crucifixion," Bridge's "Rock of Ages," selections from " Messiah " and " St. Paul," etc., etc. A large Tonic Sol-fa class met in the town, numbering at one time 114 members.
Miss Wood retains her life-long interest in church music; she is fond of travelling, and takes every opportunity of hearing good services. Her ideal of a beautiful service is that of St. Paul's Cathedral.
She is a devoted member of the Church of England, and observes with regret that church music in many places in the Island does not improve. A good deal, she thinks, might be done if a diocesan festival were instituted. Manx services are not ornate; the people like the minimum of trouble, and if the singers are not up to the mark, they slang the poor organist. She approves of the Canticles being sung to simple settings in which the congregation can take part. Her criticism of church services must not be taken to refer to all the churches in the Island, where there are some able musicians. One of these is her friend, Miss McKnight, F.R.C.O., organist at King William's College the great public school for Manx boys who has a good musical service every morning and twice on Sunday. There are also good musical services in the Douglas churches.
We asked Miss Wood her strongest musical opinion.
Gratitude to Tonic Sol-fa ; I have never swerved from my allegiance to it; it is an admirable system. I have found no difficulty in passing on my pupils to the Staff notation; if they have a thorough grounding in Tonic Sol-fa, the transference is a natural one. I have never found it a good plan to start beginners with the Staff notation at once. I would like to make sight singing compulsory in admission to choral societies, and especially in competitions."
How do you account for the wonderful success of the Manx choirs in competitions ?"
" It is due to natural aptitude as well as enthusiasm. We have some very good conductors, and their successes are well known. I have had a good male-voice choir in the competitions, and have taken great interest in preparing secondary and elementary school choirs for the tests. Our choirs are mostly of mixed voices in the churches. I prefer boys when they have good voices, but we must have women in the choir in many places. In my own church choir I have a dozen boys, supplemented with women."
The strongest musical impression of Miss Wood's early days is her hearing Jenny Lind. Her singing in " Elijah " was an experience not to be forgotten. On another occasion, too, Jenny Lind impressed Miss Wood not only by her intellectuality, but by a subtle emotional quality which held the hearer spell-bound. In those days in London, Miss Wood often heard Titiens, Sims Reeves, Carl Formes, and particularly remembers Clara Novello's singing in " The Creation."
We have said sufficient to show what an active life Miss Wood leads. She is the friend of every inhabitant of the Island. She is a prophet honoured in her own country, and there is no more popular figure at any musical function in the Isle of Man.