Skip to main content

Sheila Oglethorpe, 1933-2020

Thursday 28 May 2020

It is with great sadness that we announce that on Tuesday 5 May, the great Sheila Oglethorpe, a key mover in the world of music and dyslexia and former Chair of the Music Committee of the British Dyslexia Association passed away aged 86.

Sheila was a true advocate for dyslexic musicians, an inspiring teacher and a member of the British Dyslexia Association Music Committee for fourteen years, along with other key figures in the field of music and dyslexia including Tim Miles, John Westcombe, Violet Brand and Peggy Hubicki.

She acted as Chair from 2008 to 2011 and upon her retirement, she was honoured as the ‘Special Educational Needs Music Teacher of the Year’ at the Classic FM Awards held at the Royal Albert Hall.

Following her attendance at Sherborne School for Girls, Sheila won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, going on to teach classroom music and piano. It was whilst teaching piano and classroom music there at the Cathedral School (amongst others), that she developed a particular interest in pupils who had musical gifts and, at the same time, academic ‘blocks’. Indeed, she became passionate about helping children with dyslexia to learn to play a musical instrument, with a particular focus on music literacy.

In 1993, rather than retire, she undertook the RSA Diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties and so began a new career as a dyslexia specialist. Her book Instrumental music for dyslexics: A teaching handbook was written in 1996, with a second edition in 2002 and an Italian version. It remains the standard in this field and reflects her endless creativity as a piano teacher.

Sheila lectured widely around the UK. Many past and present members of the British Dyslexia Association Music Committee owe their interest in and understanding of music and dyslexia to contact with her at one of these events.

In 2010 whilst Chair, she organised a hugely successful conference on the subject at the Royal Academy of Music, titled What’s the score? at which she delivered a session on multisensory instrumental teaching. Her opening address on that day pointed out that “we want to take stock of where we are in our work” and highlighted the Committee’s key aim of raising “awareness about music and dyslexia”. That is true to this day.

Many of those touched by Sheila’s work have contacted the present committee with reflections on her life and influence. Those currently involved in music and dyslexia speak of her “great legacy”; of her “insights”; her “tips and techniques”; of her “great compassion towards her ‘special students’” (those with dyslexia); of her actively sharing “her knowledge for the next generation to embrace”, inspiring others to further research in this field and “providing the inspiration to take forward the baton” in this area. Sheila’s mind was, as one correspondent puts it, “a veritable hive of knowledge, invention, interest, encouragement, enthusiasm and resourcefulness”, for which we are all grateful.

Sheila was glad to know that her work lives on through the efforts of the present Music Committee and others and was always keen to keep in touch with recent developments and activities. Her last letter to the committee, 18 months ago endorsed our work and commented that “it makes me wish I was still in the field”!

We hope to build on her encouragement in the future and to continue raising an awareness of music and dyslexia in ways that would make her proud. Thank you, Sheila.

Sally Daunt
Chair, British Dyslexia Association Music Committee