Love Through Music: Bridget Halpé
By Rachithra Sandanayaka
Everystory Sri Lanka presents the first thirty stories from our ongoing work to create a compendium of Sri Lankan women’s stories — featuring those whose lives, work, and experiences have shaped and are shaped by Sri Lanka’s social, political, and cultural contexts.
From the Stories of Sri Lankan Women Archive —Bridget Halpé
Illustration by Natasha Wickramasinghe- email@example.com
Bridget Halpé is a woman who has touched lives through her teaching and is perhaps one of the most loved music teachers in Sri Lanka. Known fondly to generations of her students as “Aunty B,” she describes music as “a multitasking act” which develops your brain and your soul. Today, at the age of 85, she continues her role as the Director of the Peradeniya University Singers known as ‘Pera singers,’ the Kandy Junior Singers, and being a full-time Music Educator, while living in her beautiful home in Kandy.
Aunty B’s passion for teaching music continues to be her driving force. This is reflected in the artifact she shared — a printed book of her handwritten music notes called ‘Aunty B’s Gold Mine of Music Theory,’ gifted to her by one of her Australian pupils. She describes how this student “went all the way to England and got the software for music notation,” creating this precious summation of a part of her life’s work. Aunty B remembers her family fondly — “my family was really a very noble family that was always dealing with honesty and charity.”
grown up with three brothers, she always felt lonely. However, her grandfather made her play all his favorite music pieces, which was a challenge to her — “he used to come after mass, put a piece of music on the piano and then say, Bridget, play that. So that was a challenge, and I knew someone wanted to listen to me, quite unlike my brothers.” Thus was the start of her musical career at the age of 6.
Aunty B had the privilege of getting a well-rounded music education. She recalls that her parents could buy her the Marshall and Rose piano from England, a rarity in Sri Lanka. After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, in 1959, she went to England to pursue further musical studies with her beloved husband, Dr. Ashley Halpé. She remembers him with much emotion and love — “He’s one man who has worked so much for everything — art, poetry, literature, theatre and drama, and translations. In other words, a perfect human being, a Renaissance Man! I was so lucky to have married him.” They were married for almost 58 years, and he was her biggest ally along with her children.
About her music career, she says, “I never had resistance. It’s because, in anything, the most important factor is humility.” However, she did recall one instance where the orchestra rejected her western counterpoint for the Ragadari music composed by G.W. Jayantha for Professor Sarachchandra’s Prematho Jayathi Soko — “They rejected my music. But Professor Sarachchandra enjoyed it. However, the drama never took off because it was considered too verbose.” She also recalls how as a family, they had to go through many challenges and resistance during the university reorganization during the 70s due to “the politicizing of the Universities and the victimizing of Tamil students” which they were against. Aunty B’s warmth and kindness are reflected in how she responded to the many challenges she and her family had to go through — “it strengthened us more to love the people, despite their differences, despite their opinions.” For her, solidarity is “the most important part of civilization.” She believes that a person who doesn’t know to empathize with whoever is around them shows a lack of civility. She has experienced solidarity in several ways throughout her music career and also in her personal life. “People are quite often, very, very sympathetic, even famous musicians like Menaka, Ramya, or Soundari,” she recalls her fellow musicians.
Aunty B has been able to touch many lives with her loving ways and music. She believes she has helped to change the attitude previously held towards the teaching of music. Aunty B points out that the fundamental element in teaching music or any other subject is the bond you create with your student, the bond of love. “If fundamentally, you’re not bonded with love for the student, you’re not a success… So perhaps I have done a lot of changing of the whole attitude to the teaching of music,” she says with pride in her eyes. It was a challenge to come from a very western-oriented cultural background to the more traditional culture of Kandy and continue her teaching career. “I have managed to create a little niche of what music teaching is all about.” She articulates what gives her joy is the bond she has with all her students, saying, “I am with all humility, still a simple teacher, passionate about music, and passionate about creating great musicians!”
Aunty B looks at life in a very positive and spiritual way. She always sees the good in people and believes that everyone deserves a chance. In a time and age where everyone is distracted by the digitized world, she believes in discipline, moral values, and passion — “I’m a strong disciplinarian. Yes. Without discipline, you can’t do anything.” Her hope for the future is “that our country will be redeemed from all these unnecessary, immoral pressures” and for future generations to experience and enjoy the true sense of fulfillment and happiness through music, the way she has!
“The ‘mystique’ of love is the supreme sensibility of the spiritual, the sacrificial, and the selflessness, grounded in ‘truth’,” she says, reflecting on her life and journey.
(Rachithra Sandanayaka works as the Finance and Admin Manager at Everystory Sri Lanka and the maiden Curator and Coordinator of the Young Feminist Network and its newsletter. Before this, she was a Finance associate for two years in a corporate setting and moved into the development space in 2020. Her passions are Theatre and Music.)
Reference Links and Further Reading
Bridget Halpe: A Life of Music for 50 years, Sunday Times, 30th May 2010, http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100530/Plus/plus_19.html
The Music will go on, Daily news, 27th June 2009, http://archives.dailynews.lk/2009/06/27/fea20.asp
Remarkable Duo in Hill Country, Sri Lankan Theatre Blogspot, 16th February 2010, https://srilankantheatre.blogspot.com/2010/02/remarkable-duo-in-hill-country.html
The Sri Lankans: a portrait of a developing nation, Pieris. M., 2007
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