Gaynor M. Leigh
Gaynor Moira Leigh (b.1893, Seaton Snook; d.1957, Knayton, N. Yorkshire) was a much loved piano teacher in Seaton Snook, who regularly composed works for various local events such as the opening of buildings, visits by notable dignitaries, and local festivals.
She was the only child born to Archibald and Alma Leigh in one of the original "Pity Me" cottages, as Archibald was a worker at the Zinc Plant. Alma was a self-taught pianist and often played in the zinc workers' social club. It was she who gave Gaynor her first piano lessons. As a girl at Seaton Snook school she proved to be very bright, and at age 11 she received a scholarship to study at Henry Smith Grammar School↗ in Hartlepool. At Henry Smith, she was given more formal lessons in music, being particularly inspired by a lecture given by Scottish composer Euphemia Allen, composer of The Celebrated Chop Waltz (better known as Chopsticks) in 1877 under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli. After completing her studies she started training as a schoolmistress at St Hild's college, Durham (now College of St Hild and St Bede↗). Sadly, her father Archibald passed away suddenly in 1911, and her mother Alma found herself overwhelmed with grief. Gaynor suspended her studies at St Hild's to return to Seaton Snook, and worked at the newly established Seaton Snook school as an "uncertificated assistant" until its closure in 1938. She was popular with the children, but was never fully accepted by adults on her return from Durham.
Although Gaynor often composed small pieces and studies for her students, she only officially published six works for piano, two of which I have managed to track down, and are discussed below. Other sketches and unpublished pieces will be added to the site as I decipher them: as demonstrated below, her manuscripts were often very difficult to read.
Her death in 1957 during the 'Asian Flu' pandemic ensured some of her more mysterious compositions would never be fully explained.
Waltz of the Graces - 1925
Performed by the Archivist, EastWest QL Piano
This charming piano piece was written especially for the Seaton Snook Carnival of 1925↗. A reproduction of the sheet music has been uploaded to the International Music Score Library Project, and is available at this link↗. It was performed by Leigh herself at the Mayor's Gala Dinner, an annual event for community leaders and various invited guests of supposed importance.
Although Leigh had composed pieces for the carnival in other years, this piece proved particularly popular, and several years later was even converted to be played on the Grande Carousel at Seaton Snook fairground. I was lucky to unearth a recording of the carousel (albeit in a severely dilapidated state) on the 1990s ITV Meridian magazine show, Look At Brookwood, during a segment on the Woking Fairground Museum↗.
Audio recovered from VHS tape
The Gaynor Leigh Piano Primer - 1931
In 1930, Leigh wrote to a friend in Yarm saying, 'I have been asked time and time again by my pupils to write my own book of piano exercises, and I believe I am finally working up the courage to do so. What fun it would be for the children to have studies and exercises to play, that relate to the people and places they see every day here in The Snooks!'
Leigh completed the primer in 1931 and it was published that year by West Hartlepool printer B. T. Ord. Several unbound pages from the primer, in no discernible order, were discovered in a music shop in Redcar, and have been reproduced here↗.
As Leigh wrote in her letter, the primer contains numerous references to people and events in the history of Seaton Snook. In addition, several of the exercises force the player to manipulate their whole bodies in unusual ways. It does appear that Leigh was interested in developing a "whole body" technique of musicmaking when it came to the piano. Perhaps she was influenced by Euphemia Allen, whose Celebrated Chop Waltz was to be played with the sides of the hands?
Click on the titles for individual pages dedicated to each piece. The recordings have been made by some of my own piano pupils, between the ages of 6 and 10, of a similar level to that at which the primer appears to be aimed. Each recording was taken during the course of a normal lesson, played on a Yamaha U30Bl upright piano, and recorded on a Zoom H2N recorder.
Gaynor was not known to be gregarious, and several figures in the Seaton Snook establishment took against her unreasonably for having left the town to study. Despite this, she was of a positive demeanour, especially when working with the schoolchildren and her own piano pupils. She did, however, have her melancholic side, which seemed to have played out in her compositions on occasion. Several events in her life appear to have affected her in this way, too. Her father's early death, and the curtailing of her possible life and career outside Seaton Snook, for example. There is evidence that one of her pupils died in a tragic bonfire accident in 1921, although I have not managed to confirm this. Early readings of some of her personal letters hint at a romantic involvement with a German worker at the Zinc plant, who was transported to a concentration camp at the outbreak of the First World War.