My friend Jean Middlemiss, who has died aged 94, was a distinguished musician and teacher. Profoundly inspired by Dr Shinichi Suzuki’s innovative method of music teaching, through which even very young children learn to play instruments by ear, she drew on Suzuki methods in the UK and made a major contribution to British musical life.
She was born in Winchmore Hill, north London, the second daughter of Fred Middlemiss, a chartered accountant, and Eva (nee Tate). She lived in London for most of her life.
At Malvern girls’ college in Worcestershire she excelled at music, and also sport: she played mixed doubles at Junior Wimbledon when she was 17. After school, Jean studied the piano and viola at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and went on to teach in London and New Zealand.
In 1957, she was appointed head of music at South Hampstead high school (SHHS), which was an enormously productive and enjoyable time for her. Victoria Bingham, the current headmistress said: “Many owe Jean a lifetime of playing and singing. She was an inspirational teacher and friend to staff and pupils. Her standards were high but she encouraged even the most musically challenged pupils. Many of the innovations she introduced remain in the school today.”
Jean left SHHS in 1971 to take up a Churchill fellowship grant to study with Suzuki in Matsumoto, Japan. On returning to the UK she became music adviser for East Hertfordshire, which she remained until her retirement in 1989. Due to her innovative approach, drawing on Suzuki, Dalcroze and Kodály methods, East Hertfordshire became a leading light in music education.
Countless tributes tell of Jean’s generosity of spirit, and her love of life, music and people. Her participation in a music camp, passion for quartet playing and singing, and commitment to community music in care homes and day centres all continued until shortly before her death. Her sparkly eyes, joyful choice of clothes, deep laugh and infectious enthusiasm and energy always lit up the room.
The tenor Michael Solomon Williams spoke of Jean’s “passionate interest in the lives of others, that came from a selflessness the likes of which I have never known”. The harpsichordist Maria Boxall wrote: “I do not know anything of the musical arrangements in heaven, but I do know that the aspiring musicians on earth will be the poorer without her.”
Jean was a longstanding friend of my family – she was at school with my mother, and later became a warm and attentive godmother to my brother Christopher, who has Down’s syndrome.
She is survived by six cousins.