Iconic trombone player, Maisie Ringham-Wiggins MBE, will celebrate her 90th Birthday in June this year. The life-long Salvationist, and former Principal Trombone of Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra, is still an active musician and an inspiration to many.
Maisie was born in 1924 in Woolwich, London, where her parents were the Salvation Army Commanding Officers. According to the Salvation Army archives, ‘on the morning of her birth, the band from Abercarn, Wales, were visiting the Woolwich corps and on hearing the news, they gathered outside the house to play the hymn tune Aberystwyth’.
Growing up surrounded by music, Maisie, then aged 6 taught herself to play the ‘C’ scale on a euphonium that ‘just happened to be lying about the house’. Some four years later, a trombone appeared in the house. Maisie played it, and stuck to it. Her father was her first teacher. In 1935 she took part in a Divisional Young Peoples Festival at Ipswich, giving an impromptu performance of Unfathomed Love. The solo was such a success that the ten-year-old found herself appearing regularly in Salvationist concerts and other events as ‘The Wonder Girl Trombonist’.
Family moves around the outbreak of war brought Maisie to Stockport. With her home in the North West, she was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal Manchester College of Music, as the Royal Northern College of Music was then called. While still a student at the RMCM, Maisie was featured as a soloist on three recordings, produced by Regal Zonophone Records, a British record label known for its releases of Salvation Army music. These celebrated recordings are currently available to listen to online via the Regal Zonophone archive.
Her studies complete, Maisie successfully auditioned to become Principal Trombone of the BBC Midlands Light Orchestra. Her tenure was short. As she explained to her friend, the journalist and trombonist Shelia Tracy:
‘I’d been with the MLO for just over a year when I got a telegram from Sir John Barbirolli saying they had a vacancy in the Hallé and would I like to join them? Not only was that a tremendous thrill, but it was the fulfillment of an ambition, because I remember my father taking me to hear the Hallé Orchestra when I was still quite small and my whispering in his ear, ‘Dad, I’ll play in that orchestra one day’. I never really believed it – but it happened.’
The Hallé Orchestra is the oldest permanent symphony orchestra in Britain and amongst the oldest in the world. On his appointment in 1943, John Barbirolli set about rejuvenating the players, a large task in the middle of a war. Maisie Ringham was one of the new faces. The new orchestra included 28 female players, an extraordinary change from the previous year when there were only 8.
The rejuvenation was a wild success, and led to Barbirolli taking the Hallé on their first foreign tours. Maisie features on the souvenir brochure to celebrate the orchestra’s 1948 tour to Austria.
Leaving the Halle after ten years to raise a family with her husband Ray Wiggins, Maisie remained in demand as an orchestral musician and soloist. She had solo works written for her including Erik Leidzen’s Concertino for Trombone and Band and returned as soloist with the Hallé to give the first performance of Fantasy for Trombone by Paul Creston. A recording conducted by Leidzen is currently available to listen to on the previously referenced Regal Zonophone website.
Maisie can also be heard on the sensational The London Trombone Sound (1995). Eric Crees highlights her presence in the CD inlay; ‘one of the real delights of the session was to see Maisie Ringham, Principal Trombone of the Hallé Orchestra from 1945-55, tucked away at the back of one side of the tutti group’. This recording session brought together six principal trombonists of the Hallé, spanning 40 years, shown in the photograph below.
In 2011, Maisie appeared on the list of recipients of the MBE in the New Year’s Honours ‘Mrs Maisie Ringham-Wiggins. Trombonist, for her service to music.’
With a list of successful past pupils, Maisie still teaches. I have been lucky enough to speak with a past pupil of Maisie’s, the young trombonist Isobel Daws (14). Isobel was one of five Brass category finalists of the BBC Young Musician competition, 2014.
Isobel’s family has known Maisie and her family for over 45 years through the Salvation Army. Maisie taught her father, her sister and herself, beginning on cornet at age 3.
‘We often bump into Maisie at various Salvation Army concerts and we also like to keep in touch as she is very special to us, as is her daughter, Susie. A few years ago Maisie had a shoulder injury so couldn’t play her trombone, but we’d been asked to play a duet at a concert in Staines so Maisie and I both played a pBone.
I am very thankful to Maisie for her inspiration, teaching and passion. She is so patient! I was a very loud cornet player so I’m very grateful to Maisie that at age 8 she let me try the trombone. After just 6 months of trombone lessons with Maisie I auditioned for a place at Purcell school and got in! It was very exciting but also a little sad as it meant that Maisie would no longer teach me. Maisie came with me to meet my new and current teacher, Rob Workman. She has always been and remains incredibly supportive and encouraging’.
My final question to Isobel was if she had anything special to wish Maisie for her birthday; her response was delightful. ‘On her last Birthday, I played Happy Birthday on the phone to her – she liked it and I will do the same on her 90th Birthday’.
I would like to thank the Hallé Orchestra, Maisie herself, and Isobel Daws and her family for their contributions to this article. Further acknowledgements towards writings by the Salvation Army, Shelia Tracy and Michael Kennedy’s writings on Sir John Barbirolli.
First published in the Summer 2014 edition of The Trombonist.