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.