The world of classical music was a ‘man’s world’ in 1957

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THE world of classical music was a man’s world, according to Joan Cormack.

She told the Mail in 1957 that women conductors were not getting a fair deal: “This prejudice is deep rooted and it’s not just local, or even national, but international.”

After a lifetime in music she was eventually invited to conduct the Hartlepool String Orchestra, but “on approval”, for one concert only.

Fortunately the performance, six years earlier, was a great success and she was given the job full-time.

Joan, who was born in Stockton Road, in Hartlepool, began playing the piano aged just three, with encouragement from her father, who was conductor of the orchestra at the Picture House shortly after World War I.

After education at Oxford Road School and West Hartlepool High School for girls she won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, in London.

She was still studying in the capital when World War II broke out and one German bomb damaged her piano, which she brought back to Hartlepool later but still bore the scars from the collapsed ceiling of her flat.

When her call-up papers arrived, to serve in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), she was advised to take a teaching post at the exclusive Queen Margaret’s Boarding School for Girls, and the call-up was waived.

Joan told the Mail that the school was evacuated to Castle Howard, near Malton, in North Yorkshire, and conditions there – long before its restoration and famous appearance in the Brideshead Revisited TV series – “were rather Spartan”.

After a year she was glad to return to Hartlepool, teaching at Jesmond Road School and then the High School for Girls, where a number of her pupils would go on to successful musical careers including the soprano Joyce Lyon.

In 1957 the latest thing was rock’n’roll and Joan was asked her views on the music, which was viewed with suspicion and distaste by many.

She told the Mail: “I think rock’n’roll has been taken far more seriously by its opponents than its exponents.

“It’s quite natural for adolescents to be exhibitionists and try and score against old fogeys.”

But she said: “I find there is genuine love among young people for music that really matters.”

Do any readers remember Joan Cormack? Contact Andrew Levett by emailing or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.