Mystery Music March in April

God Be With You Till We Meet Again – Ralph Vaughn Williams

At the Liverpool Blue Coat, the then all-boys, mostly a grammar school, officially a comprehensive school, that over seven years shaped some of who I am, assemblies were very important. Every morning the school would unite either in the main hall of the school chapel for the same routine – organ voluntary, reading, hymn, prayer and school messages – what club and society activities there would be that day and whether anyone in particular was doing something worthy of a telling off. Every Tuesday, a charity speaker would attend and tell us exactly why we should give our pennies to Amnesty International, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth or the PDSA. Randomly what can best be described as an evangelist would turn up and give us a sermon, which these days would be considered very curious indeed considering it wasn’t what modern jargon might be labeled a faith school.

Being a contrary person, even though I’d dabbled with Christianity in my first year but rejected it soon afterwards, I really appreciated these assemblies – the voluntaries were often spectacular, the collective experience of singing hymns and being able to hear the appalling notes drawing from nearby teachers and the readings, which through some bizarre twist of fate (and volunteering) I managed to give a hell of a lot of in the sixth form (once an exhibitionist etc). I even helped to pick the charity speakers as one of the class representatives who bothered to show up for the termly meeting to look through the box of leaflets which had been sent pleading for money. We’d always seem to end up choosing the same ones and often on the basis of who would be speaking. Friends of the Earth always did well because their visitor had a funny name.

At the end of each year there would be a final assembly at the close of the last day. The format was roughly the same as in the morning, but the aspects were rather more fixed – the same reading, the same voluntary (I think) and the same hymn, no 740 in Hymns Ancient and Modern, God Be With You Till We Meet Again. It was a school tradition which fled across the decades and happened each and every year. The words, by Jeremiah E. Rankin, cumulatively inspired one sentiment. Take care, and I’ll see you soon. Even though I was bullied horrendously for years at the place, habitually had a horrible time all told, and leaving the discussion of what I thought 'God' meant in this context, I often choked up during this part of the assembly because I was still intensely proud of the fact that I went to that school and that once you were a Blue Coat boy, you were always a Blue Coat boy.

Inevitably after seven years I was sitting in the final ever assembly in the school. I remember it oddly just being my year group and for some it being quite a chore (they wanted to get to the pub, which was predictably called the Coffee House). By then, girls had joined the school, there we no longer borders living there, and some of the other traditions had fallen away but we were still singing this hymn, and yes I did get as emotional as I’d hoped. This had been my final proper day at a school I’d worked so hard to get into at the beginning of my teens letting me loose towards the end. Just exams to go and then hopefully university. We were finally becoming adults (!) and there certainly would be people here we wouldn’t see again (until the invention of FriendsReunited and Facebook) and yet we still sang those lyrics – and loudly – it sounded like a soccer chant. But it still seemed right to say take care, one more time.

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