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The Lowe Down:

Arts of Life

Freddy Lowe Published: 02 March 2024

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Smiling young man

One hears all kinds of ‘getting-down-on-one-knee’ stories. Some of them end beautifully. Others, disastrously. One of my very favourites was my former RE teacher whose husband proposed without getting down on one knee, and was immediately made to repeat the proposal and do it properly.

There is a common thread, though: usually one is an adult when asking someone to tie the knot. (And alone with that person.) Whereas I can proudly boast of having already ticked it off my bucket list, in a teacher-sanctioned act of love repeated countless times in front of all my Year 5 classmates aged just ten. We were starring in a Cringleford Primary School production of Much Ado About Nothing. In lieu of the famous moment where Benedick (my character) finally kisses Beatrice, we decided to avoid any kiss-related playground awkwardness by having me do a clumsy, wordless down-on-one-knee gesture and leave it at that.

Frankly, I wouldn’t change a thing! As is the ethos of next month’s “Spring Arts Festival”, any chance to incorporate literature/theatre/arts/drama into young people’s experiences is a huge privilege and one they look back on for years, awkwardness and all.

Literature, music, theatre, and all the arts are hugely important. To paraphrase Robin Williams from Dead Poets’ Society: medicine, engineering, law, etc. are noble pursuits vital for maintaining life, and arts, literature, theatre, emotion etc. are what life is maintained for. This is borne out in practice. The fundamental root of my degree subject – English Literature – is the pursuit of empathy, through art, with people whose life experiences/political views/ethnic backgrounds could not be more different from yours, yet arts are not purely confined to humanities students. The majority of people, even those from hitherto totally non-humanities backgrounds, are known to say to friends, “this film in the cinema is great!” or “have you heard this album from [insert musician’s name]?” Almost everyone reads, or appreciates television, or listens to a certain brand of music – has something which connects them to art outside the confines of their own lives. If you’re a Maths teacher who never reads but occasionally watches Bond films of an evening, you are appreciating art! (And if you once had a Bond-geek student who would constantly ask you your opinions and rankings of the actors, that was me – hi Mr Scarborough.)

The former head of the Wymondham High Music Department, Kitt Garner, once said to us, “music is really, really important. It’s a primal need within us all.” I would argue the same applies to any form of art for someone; maybe it’s not music, but it will be something for you. (It can range from the everyday, seemingly unartistic, like – as said – watching the occasional action film to unwind, or popping on the odd Madonna song on a dog walk, to regularly rereading all of Shakespeare like quasi-religious YouTube lit commentator Benjamin McEvoy.)

Speaking of teachers, their role cannot be understated. A brilliant or terrible arts teacher (English, music, fine art, Drama, all of them) makes such a difference. I recently went to see the actor David Suchet live in Edinburgh; he was doing a theatre tour about his life and career. He commented, among other things, on just how influential his English teacher was to him. This teacher would be the one to get the class to perform Shakespeare, rather than solely read him. We probably have that teacher – whoever they were – to thank for Suchet’s subsequent career choice, and thus also to thank the best incarnation of Poirot we Agatha Christie fanatics have ever had before or since. (I spoke to him outside the stage door and he was a total gent, incidentally.)

Suchet’s story proves that these arts teachers can make a monumental difference. And they usually come and go from our lives, never seeing us or hearing of us again afterwards. That’s why my mother kept in contact with her former teachers.

And whilst my teachers have long since stopped replying to my emails, there’s no better time than the Wymondham Spring Arts Festival to raise a metaphorical glass to all of them: from David Suchet’s teacher, and all the Wymondham teachers like them, to my Year 5 Cringleford teacher – one Miss Maslin – who directed that mortifying proposal scene.

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