Aidan Roy Massey was born in Sheffield in 1953, and the family moved south when he was quite young. This made him a teenager during the mid '60s to early '70s when most discovered music depending on their leanings: reggae for skinheads and rock 'n roll for greasers. Massey had a hippy attitude, but embraced progressive rock "and I spent many happy hours with my friend Rick [Roberts] listening to everything by Bartok that I could get my hands on." But this wasn't his first exposure to music. "When I was a child, I don't remember when there wasn't music in the house and my great-grandfather and grandfather were musicians. My dad printed LP sleeves and I fell in love with records, especially those by the Beatles, before they were available in the shops."
Massey considered the violin as the most beautiful instrument in the world, inheriting his grandfather's [treasured] fiddle, starting lessons when he was ten. Eighteen months later, he outgrew the ability of his chain-smoking Irish teacher, and attended Junior Trinity every Saturday. "It was a great adventure, travelling on my own to London, and was privileged to mix with some very talented musicians."
Whilst attending mainstream school and due to the conditions of his Trinity scholarship, he was obliged to join the school orchestra at his mainstream school, "but it was more hip to be a guitarist, plus I wanted to be a girl-magnet, so at school that's what I preferred to play! Didn't work though!"
Leaving school at 18, having bucked the system, he won a place at Senior Trinity College of Music. "A lot of students teach to subsidise their grants and I deputised for a fellow student [Liz Turnbull] once a week at Poole Technical College teaching 6th formers. It was fun but I loved being a student more. At Senior Trinity, my violin tutor, the fearsome Hungarian violinist Nicholas Roth, turned me from a lazy sod with no direction into someone who could earn a living in music."
At age 19, Massey had to deal with the death of his beloved mother, who died after battling breast cancer for many years. He wished she could have seen her wonderful grandchildren. Aged 21, he married Liz, a year older than him and already a teacher. The Masseys moved to Maidstone where Liz worked. Still studying at Trinity but now with a mortgage, he had to choose between two jobs offers: teaching for Kent Music or working with the Roof Orchestra at the Hilton hotel. He took the safe option of the teaching job.
After two years, Massey yearned to play in an orchestra and resigned from Kent music school. Eighteen months later, after many nervous, unsuccessful auditions, Massey conceded his skills were better suited to teaching, and moved to Bedford High School for girls as Head of Strings. It was here he started composing, writing music for the school plays. Teaming up with Mike Jones, a local scientist and jazz guitarist, he developed his love of jazz violin, gigging locally.
In 1979 he returned to Saturdays at Junior Trinity as violin and viola tutor and in 1985 he returned south with his family to become county co-ordinator for Surrey County Arts in Redhill.
Massey acknowledged the influences of various musicians throughout his career. "Nicholas Roth was an amazing man and mentor, turning me from a directionless person into someone who could earn a living as a teacher or musician or both." He also met John Shaler at Bedford who taught under-privileged children for no fee. "John showed me how worthwhile and rewarding it is to be able to transform the lives of these kids." Massey was heavily involved with the Menuhin project founded by the late maestro, Yeheudi, where children in areas of social deprivation are given the opportunity to learn the violin.
Massey could not say what aspect of music he preferred, though he particularly loved jazz. "Composing is painful but wonderful when finished - a bit like giving birth I'm told! I enjoy teaching, to persuade people to be more adventurous, to go beyond the commercial stuff. And it's just as challenging to teach talented as untalented kids. As a conductor I love communicating with the musicians."
Massey was quietly proud of his achievements at Surrey, including the annual Melody Line concerts for Surrey schools, and his SCA Practice Notebook; he was responsible for its first 12 editions until his illness stopped his involvement. Every Surrey child learning an instrument gets a copy, "that's 12,000, each year. Surrey has a lot of pupils and our schools are still desperately short of music teachers
but don't get me started on things like funding," Massey said. At least nowadays, more children than in his day are able to enjoy more opportunities in music, including his own. "All my children play, though I didn't teach them. It's like teaching your own kids how to drive: best not to!"
Massey also composed, writing the incidental music for Surrey County Youth Arts Theatre productions of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In 2003, just before he became ill, he wrote a book of transcription solos by the late jazz violinist Joe Venuti, and despite its acceptance for publication by the American publishers, Mel Bay, Massey never really believed it would end up on sale: he died before it went on sale in May 2005.
During Massey's final year, only able to use his left hand and using his adapted computer, he painstakingly transcribed work by Eddie South, a jazz violinist from the 1930s. This project gave him a reason to keep going, surviving nine months longer than the doctors' predicted three.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair and the progression of his brain tumour affecting his lucidity, Massey still managed to transcribe and arrange several other pieces of music. Music kept him alive and even though he was so disable, his vast knowledge never left him.
His sudden illness shocked everybody who knew him, as he was transformed from a lively person, full of enthusiasm for his work to being disabled and not able to play his beloved violin. Many of his students came from near and far to visit him, helping to keep up his spirits.
Massey's whole life was music, spending most of his years either teaching violin or viola, or conducting Surrey youth orchestras or transcribing a score. He considered himself lucky when he was booked to play at a wedding, bar mitzvah or corporate function with fellow teacher and guitarist, Shane Hill with his jazz duo, Cordes en Bleu. "I come alive when I'm performing. Also it gives me the chance to sample some wonderful food, and drink lots of whatever's going, and get paid! Brilliant!"
Many of our children would not have had the benefit of Massey's musical skills if he had listened to his own school-teachers who never believed he would make a career out of music. Thank goodness their lack of encouragement fell on deaf ears.
He died peacefully on 12th January 2005 in St Catherine's Hospice, Crawley, West Sussex.
A memorial bench has since been erected in Mosses Wood, Leith Hill.
20th September 2005