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Surrounded by Angels




24.04.20 – Darrell Priestley

I’ve been very lucky in my working life, for several reasons. My partner, Eileen, on whom I totally rely, is a rock solid ace; she is also the love of my life. I am further fortunate in that I love what I do, always have. And the cherry on the top is that this work has endlessly enriched my life by bringing me into the orbit of so many wonderful people, people like you. Now, amid the biggest change to our working and social lives that any of us have known, I find myself humbled, because here you still are. Almost to a man, the many students who were studying music with me in early March do so still, getting their music lessons online and continuing to light my day.

I have a lot of students, and it’s amazing really, but when teaching music it feels like every time I learn something new. Working together and thinking up new solutions to help students overcome their latest challenges, of course, as they learn to leap the weekly hurdles that have stood in their way, but learning also about people. People can be wonderful, and not even know it. Just yesterday one of my students, an NHS gem, was telling me how she is also helping out three of her self isolating neighbours. From what she tells me, she doesn’t enjoy going shopping for food right now any more than I do, but nevertheless she is doing this for others, as well as her own household. Plus of course her day job, working full time in healthcare. We are surrounded by angels.

In late 1987, shortly after the advent in our lives of our beautiful daughter, Jessica, my wife Eileen and I took the decision to expand my music teaching business, which frankly had outgrown our home. But the scale was something altogether different, with a lot of investment and associated risk, and it seemed like a gamble. We were safe, secure and happy. But we imagined more; a musical community, and yes, ultimately a legacy, something we could achieve in our lives of which we could feel justly proud.

It took a lot of planning, and not a little faith, but in January 1989 we opened our Yamaha Music School, as it then was. We had calculated and we had planned, running the numbers over and over. To succeed we would need a huge recruitment drive, as having taken on substantial overhead anything less would have left us in a slightly precarious financial position.

Finally, came the arrival of our big launch weekend, and we were nervous and excited. Would it work? In truth, we could not afford for it to fail, because by now I had burned my bridges, selling all of the cool instruments and equipment I had built up in ten years of working as a professional musician to raise the money to buy all the Yamaha pianos, organs and keyboards that now filled the studios.

Happily, our efforts were not in vain, and the hunch that we could make this grand idea work was rewarded as hundreds of people descended on us, deciding that yes, they did want music lessons. At the end of a mammoth three day weekend, tired but content, we had experienced the biggest recruitment event that Yamaha Music Schools UK had ever recorded.

So much has changed since then. We have considerably widened the range of instruments taught, becoming the Northern Music Academy in 1998 as the business expanded and developed beyond the original core instruments. By now, thousands of musicians can say they trained with us. Quite a number of them have gone on to success in the music industry, while many others have pursued quite different dreams, but together, all of our lives have been enriched not only by music, but also by each other. We are proud of all that has been achieved, happy to have had the opportunity to contribute to so many lives, and grateful for the quite wonderful friendships it has brought us. Thanks to the Northern Music Academy, we have the richest social life. To find that that richness continues now, as most of us hunker down in our homes, is amazing beyond measure. We are most humbled.

It’s good to see you all each week. I still look forward to giving music lessons. As I said before, and will say again, I have been lucky in my working life. Very, very lucky indeed. So much so, sometimes I wonder, did I choose it or did it choose me?