Contrasting her peers, and predecessors (the Liz Lutyens generation), Betty Roe (born 1930), grew up in modest surroundings. Her father was a fishmonger in Shepherd’s Bush Market, her mother a book-keeper in the local butcher’s. Her early piano lessons, in the years leading up to the Second World War, were with one ‘Madam Dorina’. In 1942, despite her audition pieces (Ketelby) being judged unsuitable, she gained a Junior Exhibitionership to the Royal Academy of Music. At the RAM proper (from 1949), she studied piano with York Bowen, cello with Alison Dalrymple (Jaqueline du Pré’s first teacher), and singing under Jean McKenzie-Grieve. Later Lennox Berkeley gave her some composition lessons. From 1968 to ‘78 she was Director of Music at LAMDA, the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Her website interestingly reflects the way she sees herself: ‘Musician, Composer, Performer, Teacher, Adjudicator’. A jobbing professional skilled at anything from playing the organ and directing choirs to session singing and working with Cliff Richard and Cilla Black. Church hall to intimate review to Top of the Pops. Pantomime to showsong, opera to ballet. Songs from the Betty Roe Shows
(the school stage) to Noble Numbers
(the concert room). ‘I recognise myself as a miniaturist,’ she writes, ‘and have been described as a natural word-setter … My composing life started by accident, around the people I was singing and playing with at the time. I loved the music of Peter Warlock, Benjamin Britten, Bach, Monteverdi, Purcell, Quilter, and eventually recognised my love for English music, particularly of the twentieth Century. I don’t enjoy big music—I find large-scale orchestral works overwhelming and frightening to my ears, so it is unlikely that I will ever compose a symphony. Strangely enough, I do like jazz and the big-band sound … I do not like vibrato in voices; well, just enough to keep them interesting, but not so much that I cannot define the actual pitch of the note … I aim to entertain’ (October 2008). A Londoner all her life, she lives today next-door but one to the house where she was born: in North Kensington near Ladbroke Grove.
from notes by Ateş Orga © 2009