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Riviera Times Article by Claire Lathbury – January 2012

Riviera Times Article by Claire Lathbury – January 2012

The Bryan Forbes Moment

How a chance meeting in the corridor is helping one man fulfil a lifelong dream

Elton John’s mother wished her son could play piano like Robert Frost when he recorded his composition for Bryan Forbes’ Dame Edith Evans documentary, and performed it on Elton’s piano. That was in the early 1970s before marriage, children and a job running a finishing school came along.

Riviera Times

Forty years later, and a chance meeting in Monaco has helped Robert to finally realise a dream to record, launching a website for his own compositions.

Robert Frost met his Monegasque wife Martine in 1974 at the Paddock Wood Finishing School near London, run by Mrs. Rosette Savill (originally from Monaco and married to an English man). Martine was a student at Nice University and Robert was teaching piano, music appreciation and tennis, having returned from performing concerts of his own compositions in Columbia.

Martine came back to teach English at the finishing school and they were married in 1976. When the school closed in 1982, the couple created their own institution – the Campana (Martine’s maiden name) Finishing School, quickly filling the 30-plus residential spaces available.

The idea of young girls learning impeccable manners, cookery, sewing and playing piano seems rather quaint for the brash Thatcher-boom of the eighties. Not so, it seems, as Martine explains: “Our core business was teaching English and we had girls going up to the Cambridge proficiency exams (equivalent to A’ level), as well as flower arranging, cookery, music appreciation, piano, etc.” Channel 4 even did a documentary which involved following the girls for the academic year. It’s called Learning to be a Lady.

Constance Spry

In the early 90s they bought the famous Constance Spry Flower School and ran the two side-by-side. “A combination of the first Gulf War, recession and a boom in English language schools led us to close Campana in 1998.” explains Martine.

They moved to Monaco in 2003, but continued running the flower school until 2008. With their two sons now grown up (Bruce, 29 and Charles, 20) and free at last from the rigours of a “24/24-7/7-all-year-apart-from-Christmas” routine, Robert could finally concentrate on his passion.

After leaving school, Robert chose not to go to a music academy but rather study piano and composition under Alexander Way, “a wonderful teacher, very refined and well respected.” and transcribe music for orchestras. “There are thousands of fine concert pianists and that was not a road I wanted to go down,” he explains. “I found myself improvising and composing from very early on.” He also studied orchestration under Arthur Campbell.

The CD route

It was Martine who suggested he find a way to “put it out there”, considering he was constantly playing and composing. “Our first idea was to produce a CD but recording studios are expensive and we weren’t happy with the quality of the recording at the one we chose. Then we thought “why not put it on the web so people can download individual pieces? But the question was how.”

Robert adds: “Quite by chance, I met a Croatian guy called Miki in the corridor of our building, who worked in IT, and he advised me on the software I should use. He helped set it up and taught me how to record, edit and publish my music online. What’s more, his brother, who lives in Croatia, designed and built the website. Neither of them would take a penny! I can’t thank them enough!”

To date he has ten short pieces on the site, including a haunting eulogy entitled Forgotten Soul inspired by a news item on an elderly lady who died alone and had no-one to arrange her burial.

Repeating the ‘Bryan Forbes moment’ is an obvious route, and this is their next challenge: to find a way to target film, TV, video and advertising companies. But for now all he wants is for people to hear his music, which they can do on

Claire Lathbury