As part of Brighton and Hove Women’s History Group and a member of the Orpheus choir, I interviewed Muriel at her home at the end of last year. Her musical career had come to an end, and she had many stories to tell. She was a well known woman of Brighton and I wanted to capture her history so that she could be celebrated for her lifelong contribution to the music of the city. 

Muriel Margaret Hart MBE 1924 -2023
Music teacher and pianist

Muriel was born in Grantham Road, Brighton in 1924, daughter of George Hart and Kate Cooper. George was a Carpenter who had his own furniture shop and her mother a Clerk and Shorthand Typist. She was an only child. Her grandmother owned a well known Fish and Chip shop in Trafalgar Street, which, according to Muriel, tourists used to flock to on their way up to the station after a day out on the beach. Her father was a leader of the Salvation Army based in Park Crescent Terrace and Muriel’s memories of her childhood seemed very focused on this time in her life.

Muriel started to learn the piano at the age of 5 and she was taught by Dora Houghton, who in the 1921 census was employed as an Assistant Teacher Under the Brighton Education Committee. 

As a teacher, Muriel taught music at Patcham Junior School for 20 years. She was highly respected for her personal musical abilities, and especially for her methods of music teaching. Music grew in importance in the school under her guidance and she created a legacy for the subject which still lasts to this day. At the first concert held by the Brighton Youth Orchestra for children in the town, 33 of the 80 musicians had once attended Patcham School. 

Muriel wrote a short piece for the school after she’d left, which represented the love of her pupils and her dry sense of humour.

My remembrance of the twenty years I taught at Patcham is, after a further twenty years, somewhat patchy. Mostly I recall isolated and disconnected occasions such as the time when the girls in the needlework class having their lesson in the canteen burst spontaneously into song whilst they were sewing and sang rounds quite beautifully in four parts with no help from me: then there was the unknown V.I.P who came to the musical play ” The Magic Fishbone” and thanked me for “tinkling the ivories” i.e. playing the piano, when in fact I had taught all the singing, helped Mr Geerts with the acting and production, and indeed helped to make several of the costumes! “

Muriel appreciated that music was valued by the staff as well as the pupils at the school. She said that it was the Headmistress Miss Horsely who had given her an insight into true professionalism and dedication which had been invaluable to her throughout her career. Muriel was also partly responsible for the musical success of various pupils who went on to become high achievers in their art. One such musician is the viola player and violinist Susie Mészáros. Susie studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and is a member of the internationally renowned Chilingirian String Quartet.

She won the Gold Medal at the Royal Over-Seas League competition and was a string finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year. She has appeared as a soloist on Radio 3 playing both violin and viola and Susie has also been leader of the Fitzwilliam Quartet, Prometheus Ensemble and concert master of Kent Opera. 

Following her years at Patcham Junior School. Muriel became a lecturer at Brighton College of Education. Her role was to train student teachers to Teach Music in Primary Schools. Her techniques and ideas for inspiring the students to deliver their subject in a creative and enjoyable way, were well known. She expected and achieved high standards from these young music teachers.  So much so, that she became a music adviser for primary schools. She also trained young musicians within local orchestras.

Back in 1945 the redoubtable Muriel Hart became the Brighton Orpheus Choir accompanist, a role she carried out for 71 years until retiring in 2015. My first experience of Muriel was at my first rehearsal with the Orpheus. It was in 2014. I had joined the choir to sing the Verdi ‘Requiem’ and when I saw this elderly lady sitting there as the accompanist I wondered how she would deal with the introduction to the Dies Irae! I needn’t have worried. She coped admirably.

Muriel was deservedly awarded the MBE for services to music in 2005. During her very long lifetime, she was one of Brighton’s most loved and respected musical characters.

Jenny Stroud