Phyllis Tate (1911-1987) was an only child born in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire. When Tate was 4, the First World War broke out and her father left his career as an architect to enlist and serve. He was dismissed for inadvertently shooting a fellow officer in the leg, and was transferred to a non-combatant role in the War Office. After the war the family moved to London, where Tate attended school until the age of 10, when she was expelled for singing a song which ‘lowered the standard of such a reputable and lady-like school’ at an end-of-term concert. She was virtually illiterate but did not further her education due to her parents’ views of women being ‘only necessary as potential mothers’.
Tate’s mother was particularly eager for Phyllis to make a musical name for herself, as she herself played some piano and sang. Phyllis bought a ukulele for 10/6’ and proceeded to teach herself, composing fox-trots and blues to her own lyrics. After some practice, she joined a Concert Party which travelled around performing in hospitals, old people’s homes and charity concerts. One of these concerts happened to be in the Conservatory of Music in Blackheath, where a professor sat in the audience approached Phyllis and offered her lessons in ‘proper music’. Tate agreed and studied composing, conducting, and timpani. By her own account, her conducting and timpani skills left quite a bit to be desired. She attempted to write a Symphony during her time there, as well as songs and a violin and piano sonata.
After leaving the college, Tate set about making a career for herself, and contacted Norman Peterkin, a man she had met who worked for Oxford University Press. He helped her and put her in contact with Hubert Foss. They saw potential in Tate’s work and promoted a small series of concerts of her works in their office. Through this, she made various contacts in the music world, including English composer and prominent member of the women’s suffrage movement, Dame Ethel Smyth with whom she met several times.
Around this time, Tate met a seventeen year old apprentice at the Oxford University Press. At first she intensely disliked him for giving her the first bad review she ever received in a musical journal, but they later got to know one another and eventually married, much to the dismay of her Professor. He thought that her composing career would soon be over once motherhood took hold, but Tate’s output actually increased after having her children. As she got older, Tate reviewed much of her early work and burnt most of it, sparing only a few works which she believed showed some promise. She set out to make a fresh start, and although being extremely self-deprecating, still has a significant surviving musical output.
Further information about Phyllis Tate's life and career can be found on the http://www.phyllis-tate.com website which was produced by Celia Frank, Phyllis Tate's daughter.