Katharine McQuillin

Katherine worked as headteacher of Heriot school for many years. She grew up in Newtongrange with a strong musical influence from both home and school.


Adam and I came to Heriot in the last few days of December 1983, so 34 years past. I came to be the head teacher of Heriot Primary school. I started in the January of 1984. Brenda Dreghorn was here before me and she had been here for a few years, and before that there had been an interim person and then a Mrs Smith who had been here for quite a long time before that.
My first memories of music would be when I was very small singing with my mum and my sisters. I had aunts and my mum played the piano so very often we would be through ‘The Room’ and my mum would play, and we would sing. At New Year the family would be through The Room, which was a bedroom, but that’s where the piano was. I grew up in Newton Grange. It was a mining village and we were a mining family. The house had a big long lobby… we would all be there, and we would be round the piano singing. I was diddled when I was very small. My grandfather diddled me on his knee. I absolutely remember that. We sang quite a lot of scots songs. My mother was a lovely player. We had lots of arias, lots of little operatic things going on which we enjoyed and of course as I grew up we had lots of hymns, The Redemption Solo Book was a great favourite because it had parts so we could sing in parts. We used to make up parts for other things too. So there was a lot of singing round the piano.
I remember the usual nursery rhymes …..Mary Mary quite Contrary etc. and this more local one:-
Clappy clappy handies
Mammy’s at the well
Daddy’s away tae Edinburgh
Tae buy (child’s name) a bell
I don’t think there was anything peculiar to our family. In the school playground the rhymes were mostly skipping ones I think…See saw Marjory Daw….alphabetical ones in a big circle doing naming…
My mum and an aunt played the piano, but they all sang and recited, that was very big…. At special occasions there was always a recitation and quite often a family member penned something. I remember at the golden wedding of my grandparents there was something penned. At New Year, once the singing started everyone had their song that they sang. My song when I was young was ‘Bobby’s Girl.’ My dad was Bobby so this was his song. I had an uncle and his song was ‘Ae Fond Kiss.’ Over the years probably songs changed but these are the wee things you remember.
I was at Newton Grange Primary School and there was a choir going, not all the time, but it was for the Edinburgh Fringe as the local schools all took part in those days. They worked towards the Edinburgh Fringe Festival maybe in primary six, so you were a wee bit further on by then. But also, by the age of ten I was a member of the church choir. At secondary school I had a huge musical influence there from the music teacher who I’m still friends with. She sadly lost her husband quite young and remarried and I was her bridesmaid at her second wedding. She’s just had her ruby wedding, so we’ve been in touch over the holidays. She and her husband were great influences not only in school but out of school…we did singing for Burns and there were choirs and music clubs. They took us to Edinburgh. It was the first time I’d ever been in the Usher hall. They took us to see the Vienna Boy’s Choir which blew me away at the age of 13. They started a music club which my younger sister and I became involved in and we did musicals and things like that. We did Oliver and I played the part of Nancy, age sixteen which was quite a big thing for me. We knew lots of musical songs from my aunts and my mother. We did Papagano, the shortened version of The Magic Flute too.
When I went to teacher training college, I joined the Musical Society there at Craigie through in Ayreshire. We did Viva Mexico and a couple of things like that. I was a teenager when the Beatles first came out. We didn’t have much access to music. I think I got my first transistor, I can still visualize it, red leather and all that, when I was maybe 13 or 14. We had a television, but it was just what our parents put on that we saw. I had an elder brother and sister and obviously their music was slightly different, so it was theirs that we heard if any. At college I got into folk music because you could access that very readily in the seventies. There was Archie Fisher and the Corries were big. I listened to the Clancy Brothers too as there was a big Irish connection.
In Heriot the Panto was the big thing and it’s still going. Fran Bennet, Iain Hall and maybe John Green had something to do with it. It was just a few of them decided to do that first one and then it grew. There are many new people involved now. Adam used to be what they called ‘Curtains McQuillin.’ He did it for a long time. Fran is very much the director. She really drives it forward. For me I never thought I could do that because Christmas time at school was always very busy. We had the Rural, the WRI, which would every now and then do a variety concert in the village hall and I would be part of that and do a bit of singing. There wasn’t a church choir here at that time. There might have been one in Stow, I’m not sure. Then that changed as it became one congregation, but I think it was more in Stan’s time that a small choir started. There was an organist, I think he was the manager from Dryburgh Abbey - he took us for a while and we came together to do something for Christmas and then from there, Alan Buchan came, and we met every week.
We always had somebody coming into school to do music, if not all the year round we maybe had somebody coming in for a term. I do remember there was a period of time when it was blocked. We were always quite strong on the musical side in Heriot. I had an interest there and the other teachers too and it was very valuable. When I went to secondary school we were asked if we wanted to learn the recorder and I more or less picked it up overnight. It was basic stuff, but I kept it up and when I went to college, I used to play tenor and treble and even now, if I’m doing choir stuff, if I get stuck it’s my recorder I go for and if the range is okay, I just do it with my wee descant recorder. I taught recorder in the school as well.
I now sing with the community choir. I feel my voice has changed in range. I’ve been alto for a long time but also breathing is not good, I have a kick of asthma here so for me that’s never very good but as long as I think it’s sounding okay, I will continue because I do enjoy it. I love the parts coming together. That’s what’s really lovely….. and the shared experience.