Brien Masters

Many have been inspired by Brien Masters. His work, especially as a teacher educator enabled him to express the range of his talents – as musician, story-teller, raconteur and sage. A photograph of teachers at Michael Hall (in the 1950s, I believe) captured him as the image of a young Oxbridge graduate in tweedy jacket with the look of mildly bemused idealism. One could easily imagine such a young teacher featuring in a boarding school novel of the period, teaching Divinity and Latin perhaps and playing the organ for Sunday service. But Brien was far more complex than that and his many achievements are testimony to the range of his talents and to the intricacy of his character. In addition to working for many years at Michael Hall, he spent some time at Pottersbury Lodge School (a residential Steiner school for boys with special needs).

My first meeting with Brien took place at a conference for people working in (independent) Steiner home-schools for children with special needs. Brien gave a lecture on music which included many of his favourite stories. I remember being spell-bound by his humane authority and rich vein of humour. Later, I worked with him for as part of what was then called the “steering group” of the Steiner Schools’ Fellowship (Waldorf was added a little later). With the retirement of Ron Jarman, Brien became Chairman (definitely Chairman), taking his own idiosyncratic minutes in tiny handwriting, usually on large used brown envelopes, slit open along two side for the purpose. Not infrequently we only found out what Brien’s view of an issue was when the minutes appeared in typed form. He had very strong views, but tended to reserve their expression for a lengthy missive after the meeting. During this time he began to spread his interests internationally and, in typical style, gave an amusing and elaborate report as SWSF Chairman to a meeting of international Waldorf educators on his travels in South America and Israel (there was some puzzlement, as those attending were expecting a report about schools in the UK and Ireland!). Throughout, he continued to edit ‘Child and Man’, later re-titled ‘Steiner Education’, with the help of a small team of trusted collaborators. The magazine, partly funded by the Fellowship, was the longest running title of its type in Anthroposophical publishing, continuing even after its circulation began to wane (with the advent of electronic media): Brien had persistence! His retirement from the SWSF was not the happiest but enabled him to concentrate his energies on his increasing foreign visits and on developing the London Waldorf Teacher Training Seminar at Rudolf Steiner House, and for a time, the seminar at Michael Hall alongside it.

It is perhaps as a teacher trainer that Brien was able to expand into a role that fitted him as well as a good pair of gloves, or perhaps well-worn gardening gloves (he had extensive knowledge of wild and garden plants). Among the students his was a magisterial presence and he could often be seen at break-times engaged in intense conversation with an individual student. Having gained a doctorate during the time he worked for the Fellowship, Brien gave increasing attention to his writing, publishing several more books including ones on Mozart and Marie von Steiner-Sivers. His educational books, stories for children and the two ‘Waldorf Song Books’ are admired by many, But it was in leading a seminar and as pianist Brien seemed most at home with himself. His soul eased itself into the music he brought to life; his playing had a finesse and responsiveness (especially in accompaniment) that was worthy of some of the best exponents of the instrument and his composition was often very fine. He once said that he had never read Anthroposophical authors on music. He probably did not need to. Just as a superb performance of music continues to resonate with those who heard it long after the last notes have died away and grows richer in the memory, so too Brien’s contribution to Waldorf education.

Kevin Avison