My mother, Sheila Oglethorpe, who has died aged 86, was a respected specialist in the field of teaching music to children with dyslexia. After nearly 40 years of teaching the piano, frustrated by the lack of resources, she decided to acquire a more formal understanding of dyslexia and ended up writing the book that she and her colleagues had so badly needed: Instrumental Music for Dyslexics: A Teaching Handbook (1996). It remains the standard in this field.
Sheila was born in Halberton, near Tiverton, Devon, the third of four children of Molly (nee Freeth) and Arthur Miller, a civil servant in the Indian education service, and brought up in Devon and Hampshire. She attended Redvers school, Tiverton, and then Sherborne school for girls.
She won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, graduating in 1954, then taught at St Michael’s school for girls, Petworth, West Sussex. On a skiing holiday she met a solicitor, Bill Oglethorpe. They married in 1956 and had three children in Caton, near Lancaster. In 1966 the family settled in Downton, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, where Sheila and Bill lived for 48 years.
With her children at school, Sheila resumed teaching the piano, and was on the music staff of Salisbury Cathedral school for more than 30 years. There she started to develop a repertoire of alternative methods as the “go-to” piano teacher for musically gifted children with dyslexia, whose difficulties with printed music mirrored the problems they experienced with the written word.
A member of local choirs and staunch supporter of Salisbury music and musicians, Sheila was a familiar figure in the city’s musical circles. For 32 years she was the honorary secretary of Salisbury’s Saturday Morning Concerts, which brought world-class musicians such as Jack Brymer and Evelyn Glennie to local children.
Rising 60, Sheila studied at evening school for the Royal Society of Arts diploma in specific learning difficulties, acquiring a formal grounding in her specialist interest. Her landmark book soon followed, and she was then much in demand, lecturing widely around the UK.
She sat on the British Dyslexia Association music committee for 14 years; while chair, she oversaw a hugely successful conference at the Royal Academy of Music in 2010, herself delivering a session on multisensory instrumental teaching. Ever modest, she was proud to be honoured as Classic FM’s special educational needs music teacher of the year on retirement in 2011.
In 2014 Sheila and Bill moved from Downton to Salisbury, and then in 2018 they both went into a care home. Bill died last year.
She is survived by her children, Justin, David and me, by six grandchildren, a great-granddaughter, and her siblings Nancy and Tony.
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