‘Come Out and Dance’ for Ted Kirk

Edward Fielding Kirk, the lyricist of the two Fela Sowande songs central to Phase 1 of Singing Cultures, died last weekend at the age of 90.

A year ago at the start of the Singing Cultures journey it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Edward Fielding Kirk was still alive. I had registered his name from song sheets Juwon handed out to choristers in rehearsals. I ‘googled’ the name with little expectation of any positive leads. After all, the songs were written in the 1950s and Sowande himself had passed away in 1987 aged 82.

My search led me to ‘The Prescotian’ website managed by alumni of the Prescot Grammar School in the North West of England. Several posts from former pupils, many in their 50s, 60s and 70s, referred to an Edward ‘Joe’ Fielding Kirk their music teacher. I posted a message on the site which elicited responses from which I established their music teacher was indeed the lyricist of the Sowande songs and that he was still active as Music Adviser and Editor for the St. Helen’s Sinfonietta. A subsequent email to the Sinfonietta resulted in Ted phoning me personally. This was the only time we spoke on the phone though I can still hear clearly the measured warmth of his voice.

He relayed having to dig deep into his memory to recount his association with Sowande and the songs. It was Ted that had initiated contact after hearing The African Suite, one of Sowande’s best known compositions. At the time Ted was challenging his pupils to create their own ‘suites’ inspired by published music – one year they wrote The Scottish Suite, another The Welsh Suite. Sowande responded positively to Ted’s request for the score of The African Suite which Ted used as stimulus with his pupils for creating their very own Nigerian Suite.

Not long after their initial contact it was Sowande that got in touch with Ted indicating he was looking for original songs to compose music to. This time Ted obliged with the verses for ‘The Wedding Song’ and ‘Come Out and Dance’, both now part of the repertoire of the Singing Cultures Choir.

Ted was unaware that both songs were archived in the British Library and they had become a mainstay of choral singing in many schools in Nigeria for some decades. After our phone call I emailed him youtube links of Nigerian children (conducted by the Nigerian composer Godwin Sadoh) singing the songs, along with footage of the Singing Cultures Choir rehearsing the songs. Still incredibly astute at 89 years he sent minor adjustments to the lyrics which were incorporated in to the versions now sung by the Singing Cultures Choir.

Ted was unable to attend the choir’s first public performance ‘Music of Many Colours’. So I sent him a video of the evening that included clips of his songs. He responded,

“Thanks. Charming and interesting video. I like the new (slower) tempos for “Come Out and Dance” and “Wedding Song”. The choir sounds terrific.  When you credit me I’d prefer to be “Ted Kirk”, the name under which I’m professionally known now, but perhaps there’s a good legal/historical reason why it has to be as originally published, in which case OK.  All best wishes for the project. Ted”

In the months after my initial post on The Prescotian website there has been a trickle of memories shared by ex-pupils about their former music master. The recollections have ranged from ‘jazz sessions and performing Rhapsody in Blue’; ‘creating The Fairground Suite and playing first violin’; ‘listening to Ted expertly playing Chopin’s Polonaise in A’; and just this week in a post alerting me to Ted’s death a link to a whole series of tracks uploaded on Soundcloud written by Ted for the school’s rock band in 1972/73. In June, one former pupil posted their recollection of The Nigerian Suite:

“When Ted Kirk had written and then rehearsed the Nigerian Suite with the school choirs and orchestra, he arranged a recording session. A man came along with a portable recording desk and installed it in the hall/gym. This would have been in about 1958. No digital mixer equipment then – it was a directly-cut master disc. Clearing my house before moving in 2005, and wishing that some one would keep the discs for historical reasons, I gave them to Prescot Museum. Where they are now – who knows?” 

The posts are testimony to Ted’s incredible music talent and devotion to his profession as a teacher. How many of us can dig out archives from our school days that can match those Ted created for and with his pupils? I was privileged to see evidence of this in Ted’s meticulously hand noted score of his final re-working of The Nigerian Suite in 1967, a copy of which he posted to me after our last email correspondence this August.

I was very charmed by my brief contact with Ted, especially his love of music and desire to pass the joy on to others. The opening line of one of his songs “Come out and dance and hear the music” seems a fitting tribute and spirit for saying “Farewell Ted”.

10th November 2017

This blog post was written by Bilkis Malek.

Bilkis MalekBilkis is a consultant and researcher with particular interest in how people negotiate cultural identity and interethnic relations. She has led projects to promote diversity and inclusion at local and national levels. Bilkis has also published essays on race and cultural relations in Britain.

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