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Maureen Brass, music lessons pioneer who loyally taught at same school for 42 years

103-year-old had been awarded the Benemerenti Medal during the special 150th celebratory service held at St Dominic’s Priory.

07 December, 2018 — By Cathy Cunningham Elliott

Maureen Brass

IF all of us have as long a life as Maureen Brass did, most of us would hope to have a few major achievements and possibly to have made an impression somewhere along the way.

This is more than the case with Ms Brass, who has died aged 103. She was a teacher, and latterly the headteacher, at St Dominic’s Roman Catholic School in Gospel Oak, from 1938 until her retirement in 1980.

She was one of the group of teachers who accompanied the children from the school to Kettering when they were evacuated in 1939 during the Second World War. Her long service in itself is an achievement worthy of note. However, it was her gift of nurturing musical talent for which she will be most remembered.

Put very simply, through music, she helped children learn skills and knowledge and develop confidence through performance.

She provided so many opportunities which further encouraged many young children to develop through music and whose talent might otherwise never have been realised. In 1952 she established St Dominic’s Music Group and under her leadership it became known locally and nationally as a centre of excellence whose reputation preceded it.

The music group and pupils were frequently invited to participate in events such as carols at Westminster Abbey and the making of schools television programmes. Members of the music group were able to take part in Thames Television’s Fanfare for Young Musicians in 1981.

The music group were also regular competitors and award winners at the National Festival of Music for Youth, performing at venues such as The Albert Hall, Fairfield Halls Croydon and the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank.

Ms Brass’s contribution to the National Festival of Music for Youth was rightly recognised in 1980 by the organisers of the competition.

She devoted so much of her own time ensuring that music and the music group was accessible to all, particularly those children from low-income backgrounds. She was adept at spotting talent and sought innovative ways to gain funds for scholarships or organising free tuition, purchasing instruments on which the children could practise, and ensuring the highest calibre music teachers.

Almost every year since her retirement, she facilitated annual reunions of the music group; gathering past pupils and teachers together for an afternoon of music and catching up. The music was also shared and enjoyed by many of the parishioners of St Dominic’s Priory through the music group and pupils having an active role in playing for services such as Midnight Mass and Remembrance Sunday. The school and church have always had strong liturgical and musical links. In October last year Ms Brass was awarded the Benemerenti Medal during the special 150th celebratory service held at St Dominic’s Priory.

The award is given by the Pope to members of the clergy and laity for long and devoted service to the Catholic Church. Possibly her most notable achievement was receiving the British Citizenship Award for the Arts in July 2015 – just a few days ahead of her 100th birthday.

The nomination was made and supported by many of her former students and was testimony not only her achievements, but acknowledgment of the admiration and respect afforded to her by many pupils. It is also a mark of her lasting influence on generations of children – she was a pioneer in her field, embracing and nurturing the talent she discovered – her influence and impact on many hundreds of children and young people is her lasting legacy.

Her requiem mass will be held at St Dominic’s Priory at 10am on December 11.


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