Hairy House

Hairy House

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Music Medicine

I was going to post one of my stories today as, the mood I was in, I was afraid that if I wrote anything else, anyone who read it would end up slitting their throat.
However, I went round to my friend John's house this morning to have a play. We are planning a house concert in a few weeks, but we spent the morning reading through some stuff that I am considering for an Earth Hour gala that I am playing in with the incomparable Leslie Martin, soprano extraordinaire next month. (Details to follow)
There were a couple of pieces we were considering, one of which I had never heard and an arrangement of one of the pieces I love most in this world - the Leibestod from Tristan and Isolde, by Wagner. But much to our amazement, it was the far lesser known violin solo from L'Amico Fritz that turned out to be the true gem. It is not, perhaps, a piece of great musical worth, not on a par with the original Wagner, of course. But it is quirky and fun, dramatic, romantic and unashamedly sentimental. I came away from John's house feeling like a different person - due, in part, to John's general gorgeousness, but also due to the wonderful fun of discovery and experimentation that comes with playing a new piece for the first time. (I since sat down to eat my lunch with a few pages of Call the Midwife, so now feel back to throat slitting mood, but at least now I feel I can cope with it!)
Some of my favourite musical and childhood memories come from when I was around ten years old in Saudi Arabia; every Wednesday evening my family and a few others would gather at the house of two eccentric doctors - the Harland's - and spend the whole evening playing recorder music. Purcell, Schikhardt, Bach, Telemann of course, Praetorious, Dowland, Schmelzer, Biber. There were piles of music, for two recorders, three, seven; music for trebles, tenors, descants, bass - we never knew what was going to come out next but we all sat around in a circle, air conditioning humming away in the background, Malcolm, with his unruly beard and moustache through which you could hear the wind whistling as he blew, Ruth, who stuck her fingers high in the air like sausages and could never understand why she couldn't play the fast bits, Erasmus, singing out of tune as he played the bass parts on his guitar, my sisters and mother, eyes shining with excitement, my father, not playing anything, but sitting on the sofa, guffawing loudly over Private Eye magazines. And we would play for hours, music that was fun, music that was interesting... and occasionally, we would come across a piece which made our hearts quicken and our spines straighten. It wasn't always by the most famous composer, or published by the biggest publishing house, but even so we would all know that, oh yes, this was it - this was the golden egg that we had all been looking for.
Sometimes, we would play a piece that was okay, but nothing special, but then somebody would suggest that: "why don't we try it twice the speed?" or "half the speed", or "more piano", or "more forte." So we would try it and suddenly the piece would come alive and the music would grow, pouring out of our recorders and around the room, around and into us all - music written centuries ago by almost forgotten composers.
So, the point of all this waffle, is for those parents who have decided that their children should play a musical instrument but are a little bit hazy as to why, or for those who want to learn how to play as an adult. The gift you are giving your children, or yourselves, need not be the gift of talent, nor necessarily the gift of skill, or discipline. It is the gift of creation - the ability to take a scrawl of black notes on a page and give them life; to make something wonderful and magical out of nothing. And what greater gift can you give?
Well, don't answer that, but I, for one, think it's pretty cool.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Music and Lifestyle

Yesterday was a reminder of why we live in Australia.
The kids were all tired and lay around the house in a state of lacklustre. The HO in particular was hunched for almost the entire day, in front of a computer screen of some sort – either the family computer, his iPod, or his school lap top. But as soon as it got cool enough, I bullied them all outside – actually, the girls didn't need bullying, only the HO. For the next two hours they played in the pool and, after a quick dip to reassure myself that I was still brave enough to get in - even in less than 40 degree heat - I sat and watched them. The garden is rather overgrown at the moment, giving our pool a rather forest glade sort of appeal, so it was lovely to sit and crochet in the shade of the mulberry tree, whilst the rainbow lorikeets, the scaly breasted lorikeets, the sulphar crested cockatoos, the galahs and the Rosellas squawked and screeched and trilled overhead, watching my little darlings at play. (when they weren't fighting and calling each other names, that is.) But it reminded me that this was one of the reasons that we wanted to emigrate in the first place: in England when a teenage boy is hunched over electronic equipment, it is much harder to force them out into the drizzle/pouring rain/gale force winds/snow. Whereas here, most days of the year, I have no qualms about kicking mine out into the swimming pool.

Saturday night was a concert with Sarah Blasko and the Pops orchestra. I had never heard of Sarah Blasko before, but it seems that she is quite a big star here. The concert was completely sold out and there was a huge ruckus when she came on stage. I think though, that one must miss quite a bit, when one is sitting on stage. Either that, or one is getting old. I'm not sure what genre Blasko's music is - it is certainly not jazz, but not sure I would call it pop exactly or rock or punk. Long and deep and soul searching with lots of blackness. She has a lovely voice, and is very beautiful in a lovely natural way, I will give you this. But it must be quite exhausting to take oneself so seriously all the time. The audience, as I said, went wild, so, as I also said, one misses a lot, being on stage.
It was also an interesting concert, because the Pops orchestra has just been sold on to a new owner and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen. We are all feeling a tad uncomfortable about it, though of course, when there is more certainty, it could well be very exciting and a good thing for Brisbane as a whole.
The next Pops gig is in a couple of weeks and we will be playing for Glenn Frey. When I got the contract, I assumed that it must be a Scottish concert, a la Scotland the Brave. Then I googled Glenn Frey, and discovered that he was one of the founding members of the Eagles. Right, so no strathspeys, then. It's a good thing I googled properly and didn't turn up in my tartans, that's all I can say.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013


So. We are slowly getting back into our normal lives here in Brisbane. Actually, it's not been that slow. Kids started school last week and were straight back into all the soccer grading sessions, Ta Kwondo, Kung Fu and ballet. Choir starts this week and I am back to teaching and so we are in our normal headless chicken acts. Hmm - possibly not a good term to use, since I intend to get more chickens this weekend...
It has been unseasonably cool this last week, making my morning walk with The Even Hairier One a joy – the air is full of mock orange blossom and the chatter of a million birds and the kangaroos have been gambolling around the dewy grass – and kangaroos really do gambol, much more so than sheep. Snow and ice, hot muggy winds and the scent of sewage are all a thing of the past – I hope.
The trouble is that it's so easy to forget, to move on. People keep saying that “oh yes, Australia is a land of extremes, we have always had bad weather,” etc etc. I know that's true, but still, the 1974 floods were meant to be a once in a life time experience and then the 2011 floods were just bad luck; but they seem to have been followed awfully closely by the 2013 floods. And I may be misremembering, but back when I lived in England, only 14 years ago, we didn't always get snow in the winter and when we did, it was pretty short lived. I don't remember schools and roads closing – not in the London basin at any rate – and yet this seems to be a normal occurrence now. Then there's New York. Two floods in two years, in a city where they have never been flooded before.
Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here, as this is my blog so therefore it is my privilege! But maybe, just maybe this extreme weather is something that all the scientists have been warning us about for years. Maybe this is what Gerald Durrell and David Attenborough and highly qualified, brilliant minds like theirs have been wittering on about. Maybe this is what the weather is going to be doing for the next few years – getting worse and worse and more and more extreme, so that by the time my kids grow up, they won't be able to plan anything in advance and will have to make sure they always have a plentiful supply of toilet paper and candles and chickens and live on a hill.
Or maybe, on the other hand, I am just being completely paranoid. Maybe this is just part of a normal weather pattern and I should just start focussing my attentions on the Really important issues at hand – whether to vote for a man who believes that the world was created a few thousand years ago and that the Aboriginies should be grateful for the British invasion, or whether to vote for someone I don't particularly like or trust just to make sure that said lunatic doesn't get into parliament. Because this is what is filling the news at the moment, so it must be the most important matter, mustn't it?