Dorothy Pilling, Composer, Musician, Teacher (1910-1998) – Before We Forget To Remember…and a little about Gertrude Riall

Dorothy Pilling, composer and musician. Her name may not be well-known, yet she taught and inspired many students.  (This article also contains some information about Miss Gertrude Riall and Mrs Lavena Wood, pianist, accompanist, teacher and composer – see below)

Dorothy Pilling was part of a most remarkable musical phenomenon – the Matthay School of Music, later The Northern School of Music – that existed in Manchester before 1972. Here is a link to a photograph of the Northern School of Music, Oxford Road, All Saints, Manchester. (The photograph is part of the Manchester Digital Music Archive).

Dorothy Pilling was born at 1, Alma Street, Walsden, near Todmorden on 25 May 1910 to Tom Lord Pilling (former Cashier and later Cotton Mill Manager) and Ada Pilling. There were also two older sisters, Kate and Gertrude and an older brother, William. They had a domestic servant by the name of Maud Curtis, who came from London. Tom Lord Pilling was born in Todmorden and his wife was born in Burnley. All the children were born in Walsden. The house still stands.

Growing up in Walsden, Dorothy Pilling became a great friend of Lavena Wood (nee Holt) (13 April 1897 – 24 March 1979). They opened a school of music together in Todmorden in 1931 and shared great similarities in their studies and qualifications.

Both Dorothy Pilling and Lavena Wood were piano pupils of Mr John Crowther F.R.C.O., of Todmorden for several years in the 1920s before becoming pupils at the Manchester Branch of the Matthay School of Music. There was much music in Todmorden and the surrounding district from the 19th century. This included Glee and Madrigal Society, an Orchestral Society, as well as the many church and chapel choirs. The orchestra would later reach new heights under the baton of the ex-Halle violinist, Dr. Ben Horsfall.

Whilst at the Matthay School, Dorothy Pilling and Lavena Wood came under the benevolent influence of its Principal, Hilda Collens who in turn introduced them to specialists. Dorothy Pilling came under the influence of Stewart Macpherson,  1865-1941, a member of staff at the Royal Academy of Music and later, Dean of the Faculty of Music at the University of London. Macpherson encouraged Dorothy Pilling to compose. Lavena Wood was introduced to Archie Camden of the Halle Orchestra with whom she studied conducting.  Their careers meshed for a while and then diverged somewhat later. More information about Lavena Wood can be found at the end of this article.

By 1931, Dorothy Pilling held three separate Licentiate diplomas from the Royal Academy of Music in London. These diplomas were for (1) Pianoforte Teaching; (2) Class Teaching, Sight Singing and Aural Training; (3) Harmony, Counterpoint and Composition.

In September 1931, Dorothy Pilling and Lavena Wood opened their own music school – “The Rhythmic School of Music”, which used the premises of the Todmorden Spiritualist Church, then in Eagle Street, Todmorden (for more information, see below).  In addition to individual piano lessons there were larger classes in General Musicianship, including Aural Training, Musical Appreciation, Rudiments and Theory of Music, Harmony and Rhythmic Dancing, whilst on Saturday mornings, there was a Kindergarten Percussion Band and Conducting Class. (See the article, also below, written by Dorothy Pilling).

The Manchester Branch of the Matthay School of Music was incorporated in 1943 and renamed The Northern School of Music. After a short period of part-time work there in the early 1940s, Dorothy Pilling was appointed full-time member of staff there in 1946-7. She remained a teacher at the Northern School of Music, Oxford Road, Manchester until it amalgamated in 1972 with the Royal Manchester College of Music, whereupon, she worked at the new college, nowadays known as the Royal Northern College of Music.

My Mother was one of her students in the late 1940s early 1950s and was pleased to speak fondly of “Pill” whose duties at the Northern School of Music included the teaching of Composition, Harmony and Counterpoint, Musical Dictation and Aural Training “to Five” – this was the highest level taught in the Northern School.

Dorothy Pilling also taught Dalcroze Eurhythmics to full-time students. Music and Movement was important in schools until the 1960s. When teaching Dalcroze Eurhythmics, she played piano for her own lessons. She was a very gifted Dalcroze Eurhythmics teacher and everybody liked her classes – except so it seems, male students. Many of these were gifted musicians but may have felt that the Dalcroze Eurhythmics were “infra dig” and more appropriate for girls or children. My mother said that the men became taxed too easily by these studies and left the lessons early, to which the female students would laugh. (In 1947, many of them had been in the services or on active service and the attitudes reflect those of the times).

Dorothy Pilling would select movements from Sonatas by Mozart or Beethoven for interpretation in Dalcroze Eurhythmics. She would demonstrate gracefully to the class and wore kid leather dance shoes without points to do this. The venue for these lessons was the Concert Room. In the same room on Friday mornings, Hilda Collens – Principal of the Northern School – would teach Appreciation of Music and Aural. This was done by applying analysis to the works in a technical way.

Between 1947 and 1951, my mother was Dorothy Pilling’s only piano student. She would often say to my mother – when a knotty pianistic problem occurred – that she should see “a real piano teacher”. By this she would mean, that my mother should seek advice from one of the Northern School’s first study piano teachers like Doris Euerby or perhaps Beatrice Rollins or Constance Kay.

Dorothy Pilling died 13 January 1998 in Manchester, England. This link will lead you to a page with a photograph of Dorothy Pilling in the 1980s. The photograph is the one at the top lefthand side of the page

Dorothy Pilling was a composer, pianist, flautist and dancer.

Here is a link to a photograph of one of the Northern School Summer outings in 1950.  The photograph is part of the Manchester Digital Music Archive. Dorothy Pilling (centre top row), Beatrice Rollins (2nd row, 3rd from right), Doris Euerby (5th from left, front row) (I think).

Dorothy Pilling born on the edge of the Lancashire and Yorkshire moors, loved to walk in her beloved hills. She was well liked and respected by her students who were all pleased to be in her classes.

She also played the flute in the college orchestra and was also especially fond of the works of Debussy and Leo Livens.

Dorothy Pilling composed many piano pieces; duets and solos, as well as songs and other works. Her music remains fresh and light; characterised by strong melodies and late romantic harmony which she improvised well and the pieces are in the main, short. In particular, two sets of piano duets; “Pageantry Pieces” and “Rural Rhythms” are both well worth a performance. Instantly appealing to players and audiences alike, most of her work shows a high degree of compositional craft. Her music remains on the syllabuses of many festivals.

Dorothy Pilling’s songs have been recorded and form part of a CD which also includes music by others. Her book “Harmonising Melodies at the Keyboard” has been a standard text on the subject since it was first printed by Forsyth and Co. in 1950. As a text, it deals with a difficult subject in a most sympathetic way. A second book was printed subsequently, with a Key to the exercises in a third volume.

Dorothy Pilling was bright, pleasant, personable, alert, energetic, effective and efficient. She had very sound knowledge of musical technique as well as classical piano music and modern English piano music.

Material has recently come to light which expands on aspects of Dorothy Pilling’s early life and education. Much of it is from the newspaper archive of the Todmorden and District News. Dorothy Pilling was an enthusiastic member of the Inchfield Bottom United Methodist church, at Walsden, near Todmorden. Dorothy Pilling was also a dancer from a young age and eventually held three LRAM certificates, gained in three consecutive years. She was totally committed as a musician and dancer and throughout her younger years, before she permanently removed to Manchester, she was active in her church as concert organiser and musician. The reviews from the Manchester Guardian are also of interest, referring as they do to a young musician, finding her way on the concert platform. She made some broadcasts in the 1930s from the Manchester studios of the BBC.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 26 August 1921
Letter from W.R.C.C. stating that County Minor Scholarships (Entrance) tenable at the Todmorden County Secondary School had been awarded to…Dorothy Pilling, Roomfield Council (Girls) School

Todmorden and District News – Friday 23 December 1921
Inchfield Bottom U.M. Church
…a splendidly sustained concerted programme included…Miss Dorothy Pilling piano soloist.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 29 June 1923
TRINITY COLLEGE OF MUSIC – Further to the list of successful candidates already published, we have to anounce the success in the Intermediate Division of Miss Dorothy Pilling, Cloughside, Walsden

Todmorden and District News – Friday 2 November 1923
HALLOWS E’EN REVELS – A tremendously successful affair under this heading was promoted by friends of Inchfield Bottom U.M. Church on Tuesday night. There was a good attendance and the many attractions were very novel, including witches’ brew, love balm, magic flight, and dances by fairies and elves, Mrs A. Taylor was the accompanist, and the evening’s programme included an opening speech by the chief witch, songs, witchcraft, a fascinating dance by Miss Dorothy Pilling, the whole concluding with the thrilling ghosts’ entry. All had a real good time.

Todmorden Secondary School – 4 September 1925 – Dorothy Pilling obtained School Certificate of 3 credits and distinction in English.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 19 March 1926
Last Saturday and Tuesday evenings, there were crowded audiences in Inchfield Bottom U.M. schoolroom to witness performances of the operetta “Sylvia.” The operetta (composed by William Rhys-Herbert 1868-1921) was organised by the Girls’ Guild, who were assisted in the training by Mr. J. Crowther (choirmaster) and Mrs. A. Kingsbury. It would be impossible to single out any particular character, for all the performers carried out their parts with the utmost credit, and contributed to an enjoyable time. The operetta is in two acts, and the eurhythmic dances were a special feature, and were prettily and gracefully executed. Miss Dorothy Pilling was the principal dancer…

Todmorden and District News – Friday 19 November 1926
Examination Successes – In the higher school certificate examinations of the Northern Universities…Dorothy Pilling passed in two subjects at the subsidiary standard.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 11 January 1929

We have pleasure in offering congratulations to Miss Dorothy Pilling, of Walsden, on her recent success at the Royal Academy of Music examinations for the licentiate’s diploma in piano teaching.

Miss Pilling gained the diploma at the earliest possible age, and with a very high percentage of marks, being bracketed with Mr. Jack Davis*, the brilliant young Manchester pianist.

Both are students at the Matthay School of Music, Manchester, where Miss Pilling went two years ago after being a pupil of Mr. John Crowther F.R.C.O., for several years.

We look forward to further successes from Miss Pilling in the not far distant future.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 15 March 1929
Musical – Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M., of Henshaw, was one of the artistes at a concert which was given on Tuesday afternoon in Messrs. Lewis’s Ltd., Manchester, in aid of the British Sailors’ Society. The concert was given by the Matthay School of Music, of which Miss Pilling is a pupil.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 1 November 1929
LOCAL PIANIST’S RECITAL – Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M., appeared in a recital at the Tudor Galleries last Friday. “The Manchester Guardian,” in a notice on the recital, says that Miss Pilling “showed a clean touch and a fluency that made, for instance, the latter part of the Bach F sharp minor fugue given very pleasant to hear. Where there were fewer notes to the bar, she was less successful, rhythm and phrasing seeming to need velocity to keep them quite satisfactory.”

Todmorden and District News – Friday 9 May 1930
We are pleased to note the further success of Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M., at the Easter examinations at the Royal Academy of Music, London, in gaining the diploma of L.R.A.M. in the aural training examination. This examination comprises class teaching, aural training, pianoforte playing, etc., all of which combine to make a very thorough test in musicianship.

It is only about a year ago since Miss Pilling gained the L.R.A.M. diploma in the pianoforte teacher’s class, and we now wish to offer our heartiest congratulations on her distinction in gaining this diploma a second time, and especially in such an important branch of work as aural training.

We understand that Miss Pilling is still continuing her work at the Matthay School of Music, Manchester, where she has been a student for the past three and a half years, and where she has received her training in connection with the above examination.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 19 September 1930
Inchfield Bottom Church – Another Musical Treat

Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M., of Henshaw Road, Walsden, on Tuesday evening organised her second concert on behalf of the funds of Inchfield Bottom U.M. Church, and once again one felt much indebted to her. Not only was the concert a noteworthy success musically, but it resulted in the substantial profit of £7 10s.

The concert was enjoyed by a large and enthusiastic audience, and so great was the applause that the artistes had to respond time after time with encores. Miss Pilling and Mr. John Davies, L.R.A.M., of the Matthay School of Music, Manchester (who in the near future will leave this country to further his musical studies in Germany), were pianists of fine technique, and in Mozart’s Sonata in D for two pianofortes, excelled themselves. Such playing by artistes so young had rarely been heard in this district.

Miss Dorothy Fielden, a pianoforte pupil of Miss Pilling, gave a performance of distinct promise, while the vocalists, Miss Mary Fielden, soprano, and Mr. W. Sutcliffe, baritone, where heard to effective advantage. Variety was introduced by Miss Pilling’s class of rhythmic dancers, whose work was distinguished by gracefulness and smartness, while a pleasing number was an action song by a kindergarten class.

(Programme follows). Sonata in E Flat (Beethoven) 1st mvt, Dorothy Pilling; Andante and Scherzo, Sonata in F Minor (Brahms), John Davies; Piano Duets – Gipsy Suite (Edward German), Dorothy Pilling and John Davies; Piano solos Rigaudon (Arthur Hunton) and Hobby Horse (Leo Livens), Dorothy Pilling; Piano solos El Puerto and Tango (Albeniz) and Capaneo (Stanford), John Davies; Sonata in D for Two Pianofortes (Mozart), Dorothy Pilling and John Davies.

Todmorden and Ditrict News – Friday 15 May 1931
Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M. –
We are very pleased to note a further success of Miss Dorothy Pilling, of Henshaw Road, Walsden, who has gained the L.R.A.M. in harmony, counterpoint and composition at the Easter examination of the Royal Academy of Music, London. For some years now Miss Pilling has been a student at the Matthay School of Music, Manchester, and has now the distinction of holding three L.R.A.M. diplomas, viz., pianoforte teaching, aural training, and for harmony and composition. We congratulate Miss Pilling on her success.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 25 September 1931
Musical Feast at Walsden – Concert at Inchfield Bottom

Concert promoters are not always able to cater for the serious lover of music without incurring, to a certain extent, the displeasure of those usually described as “average listeners.” Although the concert given in Inchfield Bottom U.M. School, Walsden, on Tuesday night was not of the definitely “highbrow” type, it was obviously appreciated by the musicians and keenly enjoyed by that large section of the community that lacks the technical knowledge to understand most of the technicalities of musical art. Few concerts succeed so well in satisfying the two demands as did Tuesday’s event. Perhaps this was due largely to the fact that the artistes, for the most part, were local people, who have establishes a sound reputation for themselves in the district. The programme was admirably arranged and might be taken as an example by promoters of similar events who believe that the only way to assure a good audience is to put on third rate material. The event was arranged by Miss Dorothy Pilling L.R.A.M., on behalf of the school funds, and the attendance fully merited the venture. Some disappointment was caused by the fact that Mr. John Davies*, the eminent pianist, was unable to fulfil his engagement as he was detained on the continent by urgent business. In Mrs. Lavena Wood, a deputy whose skill as a pianist never fails to satisfy the critical listener, was secured.

Pianoforte music constituted the greater portion of the programme. Wireless and gramophones have caused pianos to be badly neglected in recent years, and it was a pleasure to hear such brilliant artistes as Mrs. Wood and Miss Pilling. Both in execution and interpretation they revealed a cultured musical outlook and in their duets there was an unmistakable balance and sympathy. The two pianists neglected none of their opportunities in three of Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances,” with which they opened the programme. The items chosen were the dances in G Minor, E Minor and C. Later Miss Pilling contributed a solo with Mrs. Wood as accompanist. The duet for two pianofortes, “Variations on a theme by Beethoven” (Saint-Saens), was played with imagination. Miss Pilling scored a success with her solo, the finale from “Carnival Scenes in Vienna” (Schumann).

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter – Friday 25 September 1931
The Rhythmic School of Music TODMORDEN. Principals: Miss DOROTHY PILLING, L.R.A.M. Mrs. LAVENA WOOD. (Students of the Matthay School of Music, Manchester Branch). CLASSES to be held at the SPIRITUALIST CHURCH, Eagle Street, Commencing OCTOBER 5th, 1931. Circulars may be had and Enrolments made either by post to Miss D. PILLING, 14, Renshaw Road, Walsden, or at the SPIRITUALIST CHURCH, on SATURDAY, September 26th, from 11 to 12 a.m.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 25 March 1932
MISS DOROTHY PILLING L.R.A.M., on Tuesday night took part in a recital in the Milton Hall, Manchester, by students of the Matthay School of Music. “The solo in Mozart’s work,” wrote G.A.H. in Wednesday’s Manchester Guardian; “was undertaken by Miss Dorothy Pilling, whose clean touch and style should make her an excellent exponent of this master. The opening movement rippled along pleasantly, and the andante found the player ready with sensitively controlled fingers for the romantic passages they had to portray. It was good to find the pianist so absorbed in the poetry of this unique movement. The finale was accurate in notes, but was scarcely made as living as the previous sections; the effect was a little bit ‘square.’ The performance as a whole merited high praise, for on its own level it was assured both in execution and expression.”

Todmorden and District News – Friday 30 September 1932
Concert at Inchfield Bottom –
The concerts which have been organised for several years by Miss Dorothy Pilling L.R.A.M., at Inchfield Bottom Methodist School have come to be regarded as affairs of unusual interest by local music lovers. Last Tuesday night, when Miss Pilling, along with a number of other well-known artistes appeared in a well-balanced programme, which included pianoforte solos, duets, songs, recitals and rhythmic dances, there was a large and thoroughly appreciative audience, many visitors coming from other parts of the district. The items had been admirably arranged, and the artistes gave a performance that was gratifying in every detail. The programme opened with pianoforte duets, Miss Millicent Webster L.R.A.M., and Mrs. Lavena Wood, L.R.A.M., playing Rustic Dance and Jig from “Merrie England” (Edward German). Later, Miss Webster played a study in D flat by Chopin and Mendelssohn’s Scherzo in E minor. Miss Dorothy Pilling was heard in two notable pianoforte items “Toccata in C” (Schumann) and the last movement from Mozart’s “Concerto in A,” Mrs. Wood playing the orchestral accompaniments on a second piano.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 25 November 1932
Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M., who has figured prominently as a student at the Manchester branch of the Matthay School of Music, was one of the artistes who took part in the branch’s annual concert on Tuesday night. Miss Pilling, stated G.A.H. in Wednesday’s “Manchester Guardian,” gave a movement from Beethoven’s Concerto in C Major, and Miss Dorothy Hague followed with the first movement of the Grieg Concerto, both players exploiting a neat style in music demanding continuous velocity. Neither has yet attained to the exuberance of sentiment, which is the one quality that gives driving force to these solo parts when they are engaged in embroidering the orchestral material; but if sensibility is present freedom of utterance should not be far behind.” Dr. Walter Carroll, who presided over the fifth annual distribution of awards which preceded the concert, congratulated the school on its work and commended its youthful energy and progressive spirit.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 23 December 1932
Messiah at Mankinholes Methodist Church –
…In the evening, in accordance with the usual custom, members of the choir paid a visit to Stansfield View (Todmorden Workhouse), there to render selections from “The Messiah” for the benefit of the inmates. Supporting the choir were Miss Lavena Wood L.R.A.M., and Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M., who played pianoforte solos and duets.

Todmorden and District News – Friday 16 December 1932

Tuesday 20 December 1932 – Miss Dorothy Pilling as accompanist in the Todmorden Glee and Madrigal Society Lecture Recital; Lecturer John Crowther F.R.C.O.

Wednesday 20 April 1932 – BBC North Regional – 6.30, Northern Studio Orchestra, directed by John Bridge; Dorothy Pilling (pianoforte); John Fanshaw (tenor).

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter – Friday 28 July 1933
Principals: DOROTHY PILLING, L.R.A.M. Diplomas in (i) Pianoforte, (ii) Aural Training and Sight-Singing, (iii) Harmony, Counterpoint and Composition. LAVENA WOOD, L.R.A.M. Diplomas in (i) Pianoforte, (ii) Voice Culture and Class Singing, Aural Training and Sight-Singing.
PRIVATE PIANOFORTE LESSONS are given at Eagle Street by either of the above named teachers.
GENERAL MUSICIANSHIP CLASSES, including Aural Training, Musical Appreciation, Rudiments and Harmony and Rhythmic Dancing,
SATURDAY MORNINGS: Kindergarten percussion band and conducting class.
Particulars may be had from: Lavena Wood, 13 Heather Bank, Walsden. Dorothy Pilling, 14,Henshaw Rd., Walsden.

Articles by Dorothy Pilling:

The following article appeared in the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter Friday 29 September 1933:
Music for Children

The Percussion Band as an Aid to Music Teaching

By Miss Dorothy Pilling, L.R.A.M.

As a result of the introduction of mechanical means of reproducing music, there is much less music-making in the home than was the case twenty years ago. This fact raises a difficult problem for the music teacher, who finds it much more difficult to awaken and hold the modern child’s interest in learning to play a musical instrument. Enterprising teachers have, however, adapted their methods according to changing conditions, i.e. pianoforte teaching has been developed enormously; and another powerful factor which is invaluable in raising enthusiasm in children has recently been introduced – that is, the Children’s Percussion Band. This is the jolliest affair imaginable. It is a band consisting of drums, triangles, tambourines, cymbals and other percussion instruments (that is, instruments which are played by means of hitting). The band is played in conjunction with the piano; really attractive effects being obtained, and, more important still, the band is a source of real interest to the majority of children.


What, it may be asked, is the use of letting children play these instruments, none of which can produce a tune in itself? Why does it arouse so much interest? Why is it reckoned so important from an educative point of view by all the more enterprising teachers? Let us consider the first two points. It will be readily understood why the band has such a fascination for children, for do not most of them love to play tin whistles, mouth-organs, and anything which wakes a noise. In the percussion band this love of noise which is in every child is disciplined and used to obtain really artistic effects.

And now to take our second point – the educational advantages of the percussion hand. To begin with, any concerted performance calls for concentration and alertness. Teachers are complaining that the modern child lacks concentration; surely, therefore, any device which stimulates this power should be grasped. Another very important advantage is: children are encouraged to listen; and since music is absorbed through our ears, is it not most essential that our ears be trained and developed to their fullest extent? Again, the band develops a child’s sense of rhythm, for to play together well, all must feel a splendid rhythmic swing; and since good rhythm is the life and soul of musical performance, any device which fosters a feeling for it is of the utmost value.

Another point in favour of percussion bands is the fact that little children of three and four years of age can take part in them, long before they are ready to play the piano. The average child has no sufficient mental and bodily control for pianoforte lessons till he is about seven. Consider, therefore, the joy of letting a child of three actually make music, leading him to listen intelligently and alertly, and fostering in him a real love of his music. When he is old enough to begin piano lessons, think how far in advance he will be mentally and actually of the child who has had no previous experience of music until he begins to learn the piano.

In these difficult times in which we are living, many children who would otherwise have taken pianoforte lessons are prevented from doing so by financial stringencies, and so miss the joy of making music for themselves. Here, again, the percussion band is a great boon, for a child can join the band and take part in the music for a much smaller fee, and may thus be able to take part in musical performances.

Finally, through the medium of the band, children can hear, understand, and take part in music which would be too difficult for them technically for years to come. How many children of seven to eleven are sufficiently advanced to play on the piano extracts from the symphonies and sonatas of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven or the harpsichord pieces of Bach or Scarlatti or the pianoforte pieces of Schumann, Grieg, Brahms, or MacDowell? Yet, in the percussion band, children actually do take part in band arrangements of these and other pieces, which are played on the piano by the teacher or an advanced pupil, and thus they get to know and love these gems of our musical literature by having them presented in a form which they can understand. The writer feels that there is a great future for the children’s percussion band, and by employing this useful and fascinating device which turns to educational account the natural restlessness, the love of rhythm, noise and companionship which is in every child, a great advance is made in the music teachers’ effort to develop in the children of today a real, intelligent love of music.

Broadcasts by Dorothy Pilling:

Wednesday 20 April 1932 – North Regional – 6.30 – The Northern Studio Orchestra; Dorothy Pilling (Pianoforte), John Fanshaw (Baritone)

Wednesday 31 August 1938 – Northern BBC – 6.op.m. – Lily Allen (soprano); Dorothy Pilling (piano)

Tuesday 16 May 1939 – BBC Regional – 1.15 – Manchester Midday Concerts Society: Recital by Dorothy Pilling (piano) and Vida Hartford (soprano), accompanist Dora Gilson; from the Milton Hall, Manchester

Compositions by Dorothy Pilling:

The Hills of Fairyland – Seven Pieces for Pianoforte (1935) 1. Light on the Hills 2. The Horns of Elfland 3. River Magic 4.The Hounds of Spring 5. Moonrise 6.Forest Whirlwind 7. Silent Hills
Snowflakes – (piano)
The Nymphs Tread Out Their Ground – (piano)
Lament – (piano)
Summer Wind – (piano)
River Mist – (piano)
The Wind Stirs The Pines – (piano)
The Woodfire Burns Low – (piano) (1957)
Music for Clarinet – Seven Simple Pieces with Piano Accompaniment
Pageantry Pieces – Piano Duet
Rural Rhythms – Piano Duet (Duets of Equal Difficulty)
Playtime (piano) – written for ABRSM (Copyright Oct 4 1938)
Philomela (piano) – written for ABRSM
Roundabout (piano) – written for ABRSM
Minuet in G (piano) – written for ABRSM
Vignettes (for Piano) 1. Idyll 2. Mirages 3. Promenade
The Junior Book – 34 Original Rhythmic Games
Three Sketches for Clarinet – (1963 Forsyth and Co Chappell and Co)
Five and Twenty Rhythmic Games (Piano music for the development of free movement, for use in Nursery and Junior School) Forsyth 1936
Collected Songs (including one with Recorder obbligato) – Forsyth and Co:
Three Jolly Gentlemen
Jenny Kissed Me
The Splendour Falls
Silver Point
Harmonization of Melodies at the Keyboard Bks I II (Book III is the key to the exercises)
Eleven Tests of Musicianship and Intelligence – (For piano teacher’s diploma)
The Junior Orchestra – Music for Flute

(*John Davies (1910-1940) born and died in Manchester. Possessed of a phenomenal musical memory, John Davies took a scholarship at the Matthay School of Music. Leaving Manchester, he studied in Berlin at the Musikhochschule. Subsequently he became a private pupil of Frederic Lamond (1868-1948), a former pupil of Franz Liszt. He gave many recitals in Switzerland before he returned to England. At first, he gave many concerts and frequent broadcasts from Belfast and then came to be known in England. He made his debut in England with the Halle Orchestra in February 1939 under William Rees. With the same orchestra and under Sir Thomas Beecham in 1940 he played a Mozart concerto. Having played, he took a seat in the body of the hall to listen to the remainder of the concert. The Manchester Evening News reported (Tuesday 28 February 1939) “…his technique was breath taking . . . there is no other word for it.”)

About The Matthay School of Music, Manchester (The Northern School of Music)

From wikipedia: When the Matthay School (Manchester Branch) opened in 1920 Hilda Collens (Principal) and Mildred Esplin were the only teachers – they had founded in 1919 a summer course, which had become an annual occurrence and was to last until 1971. In the school’s second year Gertrude Riall (see below) – later remembered as the teacher who taught the children in the world famous Nymphs and Shepherds record – (singing) and Kathleen Forster (violin) were appointed. Full and part time teacher numbers subsequently increasing.

Notable teachers included Maurice Clare, Conductor of the 3YA Orchestra, New Zealand and later Leader and Concert Master of the Australian Broadcasting Commission Orchestra (violin), Reginald Stead, Leader of BBC Northern Orchestra (violin), John Wilson (piano), Archie Camden Principal Bassoonist BBC Symphony Orchestra and later Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (bassoon), Irene Wilde (piano), Eileen Chadwick (piano), Sydney Errington, Halle Orchestra (viola), Ellis Keeler (also Guildhall School of Music and Drama (singing), Adelaide Trainor (speech & drama) and Dorothy Pilling (piano).

About Gertrude Riall (1895-1979)

Reading through this article again prompted a search – after seeing an admirable play with music by Victoria Wood. The search was now on for Gertrude Riall, of whom I had heard my mother speak many many times – “Miss Riall” she called her. Having unearthed the following material via and some old newspapers that only led to more questions, for what it is, here is the information:

(Elizabeth) Gertrude Riall lived in Manchester, in an area of the city called Victoria Park. This information comes from the Manchester area GPO Telephone Directories from 1929 to 1939. Here are the details as written in the book: “Riall Gertrude , 2 Langdale rd, Vic park Rusholme 611” (1929). The details again which mark the changes in numbers which came about with the automation of much of the city’s exchanges in the 1930s: “Riall Gertrude, 2 Langdale rd, Vic park 14, RUSholme 4611″ (1931, 32, 33, 35, 36, 37, 39). After this period, Gertrude Riall may have moved out to Altrincham.

Gertrude Riall was appointed assistant to Walter Carroll when he was adviser in Music to Manchester Corporation. Together, they visited at least Bristol but possibly other towns and cities in England – Carroll lecturing on “The Choice and Teaching of School Songs” and Gertrude Riall singing the illustrations. Such a visit was reported in the Western Daily Press of 25th October 1924. This visit however was to give a lecture run under the auspices of a private body; in this case “The West of England Musical Education Society and Froebel Society”.

The story of the formation of the Manchester School Children’s Choir is well documented. Recently the making of the record with Hamilton Harty and the Halle Orchestra in 1929 was the inspiration behind Victoria Wood’s play with songs, “That Day We Sang” . The play is everything that it set out to be and is well-constructed and the whole entertainment is thoroughly enjoyable.

The 1929 record itself is also wonderful – and if you have not ever heard it, you must now. Here is a link.

There Are Two Sides to a Record…
It is often overlooked too that the children that day also recorded the “Dance Duet” from Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”. Here is a link. This is – as my mother pointed out many times – a much more difficult song than “Nymphs and Shepherds”, wonderful though it is . “Dance Duet” has many changes of key and the intonation of the choir – as well as the many rubato and two-part passages – is exemplary for the period. The singing is musical, lithe and accurate. In fact, this jewel of a record should be heard as often as the other side. It stands as a testimony to the great work of Miss Riall.

If you listen carefully, there is a helping voice from Miss Riall at 0.41 exactly – a little later too – and who could blame her? This is a lady who knows that the conductor had little sympathy with her choir and so she joins in to reassure her children. It was exactly the correct thing to do. The result is magnificent! Her singing voice says to the children “Trust Me and All Will Be Well” and in doing so, together, they bring off the performance of a lifetime!

Although the recording was a “first”, the choir idea was not original however and if you read about The Maia Singers, you will see that there was a major precedent for this work, already happening in the neighbouring borough of Stockport. Here is a link.

The Manchester School Children’s Choir continued to meet and make the occasional broadcast until the outbreak of the second war in September 1939. The choir was not reformed after the cessation of hostilities however. Here are some details of broadcasts.

Here are some details of broadcasts made by the choir in the 1930s.
Thursday April 21st 1932
North Regional Programme (626 kc.) (479.2m.).
6.35 pm The Northern Studio Orchestra directed by John Bridge;
The Manchester School Children’s Choir conducted by Gertrude Riall ; Edna Jamieson (accompanist).

Thursday April 6th 1933
North Regional
(624kc.) (480m.).
6.30 :- A Concert by the Manchester School Children’s Choir and Orchestra:
musical adviser, Dr. Walter Carroll ; chorus mistress, Gertrude Riall ;
accompanist Edna Jamieson.

Monday May 7th 1934
North Regional
(668kc.) (449.1m.).
7.10-7.55 :- Music out of school, by The Manchester Elementary Schools Choir and Orchestra,
conductors Gertrude Riall and Eric Fogg; accompanist, Edna Jamieson*

Saturday June 5th 1937
Northern (668kc.) (449.1m.).
7.45pm Ladies’ Choir of the Manchester Matthay School of Music, conductor, Gertrude Riall,
accompanist Bessie Hales

A small memoir of Miss Gertrude Riall

At a distance of seventy years, few people can remember their teachers and their sayings, however, mother did try and remembered the following details about Miss Gertrude Riall. During mother’s time as a student at the Northern School of Music (1947-1951) Miss Riall ran the college choir, one year this included studying and performing “Hiawatha” by Samuel Coleridge Taylor.

“Miss Riall was not tall and she never lost her North East of England accent (she was born in South Shields area) – she never tried to fancy herself up with a posher accent. She worked with her stick (baton) in her hand; and when it went down, she said the truth “We have a few cats over there.” She was something to be reckoned with and the staff of the Northern School knew that. The whole Northern School sang in that choir on Friday morning. The job was to come to the choir and that was that.

“We performed ‘Hiawatha’. Certain things were done; she was a very particular teacher. She knew what she wanted and also welcomed people who were not first or second study singers. She called the tenors and basses “Gentlemen” and they knew she was THE lady and that she did not miss anything. Everybody did their best for her.

Miss Riall was always very businesslike – greeted at the front door of the NSM by ‘Griff’ with “Ah! Miss Riall,” she would answer “I haven’t got time to talk.” She was not about ‘making friends’ but rehearsals would start with a funny story and a laugh for as she said, “A laugh makes you sing better.” She did not undertake any of the one to one vocal teaching at the NSM, that was done by Miss Irene Wilde.”

Mother felt that Miss Riall might not have been properly valued by some. “But there were no dissenters at choir and everybody came week by week.”

The old Northern School of Music in Manchester fronted Oxford Road, one of the main routes into the city centre from the south side and always heavy with traffic. Memorably one summer term morning, Miss Riall asked “…and can we have some windows open? But, we don’t want too many because they’ll be listening and if you do it like that, there’ll be an accident.” (MJM 2017)

Gertrude Riall’s brief within the City of Manchester was ultimately as a Music Adviser to the Education Committee. She oversaw the standards of music teaching in the classrooms of secondary and primary schools. She visited both heads of music in schools as well as those who were training to become music teachers. She was interviewed for BBC Look North news programme (from Manchester) on Tuesday 17 June 1975 by Richard Duckenfield. He interviewed her along with Stanley Rose about the 50th Anniversary on 18th June 1975 of the making of the historic recording. It is not clear whether this interview still exists. Gertrude Riall married in 1957 and died in Hereford aged 84 in 1979 and her name was entered in the Memorial Book of the Friends of the Musicians’ Chapel. Here is a link.

*(Edna Jamieson, the accompanist to the Manchester School Children’s Choir later became a music mistress at Stockport High School for Girls became Music Director for the Maia Singers in 1962 having been associated with that choir since 1954).

About Lavena Wood, Accompanist, Pianist, Teacher, Composer

Lavena Wood (nee Holt) was born on March 13 1897 at 11, Alma Street, Walsden. She attended Walsden Council School. She is mentioned in the local paper in 1909 for having had full attendance. She married Reuben Wood in the December quarter of 1920 in Todmorden. Her last address in Todmorden was 1, Hammerton Terrace, where she died on March 24 1979.

Lavena Wood was a very practical musician and worked as pianist at the Todmorden Hippodrome and at the Olympia Cinema also in Todmorden. As was customary at that time, she used her maiden name as her professional name early in her career and is listed in some concert reports as Madame Lavena Holt.

Here is a notice from the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 05 March 1926

“Madame Lavena Holt fulfilled the duties of accompanist in the very excellent way anticipated. She is a pianist whose style is particularly adapted to the work of accompanying, and it was pleasing to hear her so much in sympathy with each of the soloists.”

At the same time, Lavena Holt was teaching piano pupils in the area, the following notice appearing in the Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 29 October 1926
WALSDEN. – MUSICAL SUCCESS.- At the local examination held recently under the auspices of Trinity College of Music, London, Miss Hilda Wood, 3, Beech Street, Walsden, was successful in passing with honours in the junior grade tests, having gained 80 marks out of a possible 100 marks. She is a pupil of Madame Lavena Holt, Heather Bank, Walsden.

We gain more insight with the following report, not only with regard to Lavena Wood but also to other music makers in the Todmorden locality:

Todmorden and District News – Friday 10 December 1926


The Todmorden Orchestra and the Glee and Madrigal Society combined again on Tuesday evening in giving a concert in the Town Hall with the happiest results. Although not crowded, the Town Hall was nearly filled, and a very high-class programme was submitted, and highly appreciated. One hears much in these days of the decline of concert going due to the development and widespread use of the gramophone and wireless transmission, with the convenience of listening to the great artistes while sitting at one’s own fireside, but after a course of these mechanical expressions of music, interesting and wonderful as they are, it is a delight from time to time to hear again the direct tone and to come into personal contact, as it were, with the performer. We are moved to these observations after listening to the magnificent programme submitted at the Town Hall on Tuesday evening by our two leading musical organisations, the effect of which must have been strongly reminiscent to older concert goers of the palmy days of the old Musical Society. The combination of the vocal and instrumental is so natural and inevitable that one wonders if a more direct and permanent union is not possible. Be this as it may, it is joy to all music lovers that both societies are at present in such a high state of efficiency, and that the relations between them are such that they are able to combine and give local concert goers such a rich musical treat as was provided on Tuesday evening.

The Orchestra has been much strengthened recently, and has made enormous strides since Mr. Leach took control. Highly efficient as it has now been for many years, it is safe to say that it never performed as brilliantly as on Tuesday evening. Every section of the orchestra is manifestly completely master of its work, and under the direction of Mr. Leach, and with Madame Barrett as leader, the performance of the several items, extremely difficult as many of them were, left practically nothing to be desired, while the combination with the Glee and Madrigal Society produced ensemble which has rarely, if ever, been equalled in the musical history of the town.

The selections given by the Orchestra alone were the overture from “Oberon” by Weber, some very dramatic excerpts from the “Damnation of Faust” “by Berlioz, and the first movement of the “New World Symphony” by Dvorak, the two last-named bring heard for the first time in Todmorden. They were all brilliantly performed and some wonderful effects were produced.

The choir of the Glee and Madrigal Society was also in excellent form, and gave very fine performances of their several items. They gave four items with orchestral accompaniments, these being conducted by Mr. Leach. A.R.M.C.M., namely “It comes from the misty ages” (Elgar), Beethoven’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” “Lullaby” (from the Bavarian Highlands) by Elgar, and the “Bridal Chorus” from Cowen’s “Rose Maiden,” and three with pianoforte accompaniments, conducted by Mr. Jno. Crowther, F.R.C.O., namely, the chorus “Song of the Vikings” (Faning), the part-song “The Maiden” by Brahms, set to words translated from the Serbian, and the madrigal “Come again, sweet days” (Dowland). These were all splendidly given.

Although not entirely a novelty, the two wood-wind quintets were a pleasing variation, and added to the interest to the programme. The performers were Mr. Warburton (flute), Mr. G. Shuttleworth (oboe), Mr. A. Nuttall and Mr. W. Haskell (clarionets), and Mr. J. Maden (bassoon), and the items were the first movement of op. 11 by Sobeck. and a scherzo, op. 23 by the same composer. Although the music was unfamiliar to most of the audience, it was a very delightful innovation, and both compositions were played in musicianly style.

The vocalists were Miss Renee Farrell, of Todmorden, soprano, and Miss Adela Taylor, contralto, and both with great acceptance. We have had opportunities of speaking very highly Miss Farrell’s concert appearances, and on Tuesday she equalled if she did not surpass all her previous records. Her selections were “Nightingale of June” (Sanderson), and “It was a lover and his lass” (German), and in response to encore for the latter she gave a delightful little song with the curious title of “Piggesnie” by Peter Warlock. Miss Taylor, who has a lovely contralto voice, and a charming platform style, sang “O May Night” (Brahms), and (a) “All Soul’s Day” (Strauss), (b) “A fairy story by the fire” (Merikanto), responding to an encore on her second appearance with “Boat Song” by Villiers Stanford. It only remains to be mentioned that the pianoforte accompaniments were very tastefully and skilfully given by Madame Lavena Holt. Altogether the concert was a thoroughly successful and enjoyable one from every point of view, and music lovers will look forward to any future concerts under similar auspices with pleasurable anticipations.

Lavena Wood, in common with many musicians during the inter-war years and afterwards took part in many of the great music festivals in the North of England. This significant notice is from 1929:

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 18 October 1929
Success of Madam Lavena Wood

At Blackpool festival on Monday, Mr. Julius Harrison adjudicated upon the open pianoforte accompaniment sight reading class, in which he gave second place to Madam Lavena Wood, of 13, Henshaw Road, Walsden. He awarded her 87 marks as compared with 89 to the first prize winner.

At the last seven festivals at which she has competed since May 1928, Madam Wood has been successful on six occasions, having gained three firsts and a gold medal, one 2nd and two 3rds. Her successes are: Wallasey, October 1928, 1st Pianoforte accompaniment; 1st and medal, piano solo, October 1929, 3rd; Keighley, November 1st; Blackpool, October, 2nd; and Ilkley, May 1928, 3rd.

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 10 April 1931
MUSICAL SUCCESSES. – At the recent Trinity College of Music examinations the following students were successful in pianoforte playing: Miss Hilda Wood, higher local division; Master Frank Taylor, junior division (honours). Both are pupils of Madam Lavena Holt, Heather Bank, Walsden.

In September 1931, Dorothy Pilling and Lavena Wood started a music school in the Spiritualist Church, Eagle Street, Todmorden.

Todmorden and District News
Friday 23 September 1932

MRS. LAVENA WOOD. Mrs. Lavena Wood, L.R.A.M., of Heather Bank, Walsden, passed in the examination for voice culture and class singing held the Royal Academy of Music, London, on September 9th and 10th. This examination, which demands a high standard of all-round musicianship, includes among its requirements, the preparation and presentation of nine unison and part-songs, giving a lesson to a class of singers on suitable exercises for breathing, voice production, diction, etc., conducting, pianoforte accompaniment, score reading, transposition, sight singing and aural tests. The examiners were Dr. Stanley Marchant, organist and master of choristers. St. Paul’s Cathedral, Mr. Leslie Regan, Mus.Bac., A.R.A.M., and Mr. Ernest Read, F.R.A.M., the well-known musical educationist.

Mrs. Wood is well-known locally as joint principal of the School of Musicianship, Todmorden, also member of the Glee and Madrigal Society, and this is her second diploma, having previously gained the pianoforte teacher’s certificate at Christmas last year. Formerly a pupil of Mr. John Crowth’er, F.R.C.O., Mrs. Wood for the last two years studied at the Matthay School of Music, Manchester, under Miss Hilda Collens, L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M. (principal), and Miss Gertrude Riall, L.R.A.M. (singing).

The value of her work there was recognised too, as the following notice shows:

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 21 October 1932
At the request of the Vicar of Walsden, the (Education) Committee (of Todmorden) gave the necessary sanction for the acceptance of the offer of Mrs. Lavena Wood, L.R.A.M., to assist with the musical instruction of the children on one morning per week. Mrs. Wood is already giving similar help at Cornholme Council School. and the committee expressed their appreciation of her services.

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 05 May 1933
LOCAL MUSICIAN’S SUCCESS.-We are pleased to report the further success of the well-known local musician, Mrs. Lavena Wood, who was successful in passing he examinations held during Easter at the Royal Academy of Music, London. The subject on this occasion was aural training and sight singing, and this constitutes the third diploma gained by Mrs. Wood during the past fifteen months, her previous diplomas being for pianoforte teaching, and voice culture and class singing. The aural training examination, which is a searching test of all-round musicianship, includes doing other subjects playing and singing at sight, improvisation, keyboard harmony, class teaching, conducting and the teaching of musical appreciation. The examining board consisted of Miss Nellie Holland, Mr. Ernest Read, F.R.A.M., and Mr. Leslie Regan, Mus. Bac., A.R.A.M. As many of our readers will no doubt remember, Mrs. Wood was for some years pianist at the Hippodrome, Todmorden, and later she often served in the same capacity at the Olympia Cinema. Coming later under the influence of Mr. John Crowther, F.R.C.O., she had many notable successes at leading musical festivals. For the past three years, she has been studying at the Matthay School of Music, Manchester, under the principal Miss Hilda Collens, L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M., and Mr. Archie Camden, of the Halle Orchestra for conducting. Mrs. Wood was some months ago appointed deputy conductor of the Todmorden Glee and Madrigal Society.

By 1934, Lavena Wood was expanding her work and the following appeared in the local press:

Todmorden Advertiser and Hebden Bridge Newsletter
Friday 05 January 1934
Mrs. Lavena Wood. – The Associated Board of the Royal Academy and the Royal College of Music, London, have accepted for publication a number of pianoforte compositions by Mrs. Lavena Wood, L.R.A.M., of Walsden. Mrs. Wood is well known among local music teachers as the secretary for the Rochdale and Todmorden districts to the Trinity College of Music, London, and also as the assistant conductor to the Todmorden Glee and Madrigal Society.

Compositions by Lavena Wood

Compositions by Lavena Wood
– Summer’s Wonderland; 9 pieces, an Album for Piano Solo containing In Lilac Time, The Blacksmith, Come Follow Me, The Surf Rider, The Woodpecker, By Dimpled Stream, Ducks, South Wind, Tom the Piper’s Son. (pp.13) (Published by Banks and son., Ltd. York, copyright Oct 14 1938). Edition No.244

– Summer Rain (Associated Board) – still in print.



2 thoughts on “Dorothy Pilling, Composer, Musician, Teacher (1910-1998) – Before We Forget To Remember…and a little about Gertrude Riall

  1. Just like to say: thanks for this article. I bought a copy of Dorothy Pilling’s “Three Sketches for Clarinet” [and piano] in Oxfam today. They look just about within reach for me on the clarinet, and I wanted to know something about the composer. I was delighted to discover that she was such an interesting person whom I would have loved to have had the opportunity to meet!

    1. Well I really hope that you enjoy playing them! I am certain that Miss Pilling would be very pleased to know that her music was being played. The music itself is very approachable and appealing to performer and listener alike, so do enjoy practising – and if you can, try and persuade someone to accompany you. Her harmonies are very good too. I was very fortunate to meet her on many occasions and I wish now that I had some pictures – the one where she is at the Northern School of Music day out in the 1950s is much more typical than the later one in colour. I think there are other pieces for Clarinet and Piano too, so keep a look out!

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