I have heard that of all the senses, it is smell that is mostly linked to memory, but I sometimes wonder whether it is actually your hearing? Or my hearing, that is....At any rate, sometimes I only have to hear the first chord of a piece and I am transported through time and space - generally to a time and place that has nothing whatsoever to do with the music.
For instance, take Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March. Though I have played this a zillion times, with many different orchestras, though I have sung it as it is surely meant to be sung – as one of the crowd in the Arena at the Royal Albert Hall at the Last Night of the Proms, I can't actually remember all those times. Whenever I hear it, I am instantly in Saudi Arabia again, smelling dusty air conditioning, in a huge room full of drunken, homesick ex-patriots, singing their hearts out, accompanied by a concert band of doubtful tunefulness, performing our own Last Night. And with those images, comes the emotion, the pride I feet in standing on the stage, one of the performers, the anticipation of morris dancing in the interval, the niggle of excitement because HE is in the audience, the niggle of worry that maybe HE won't notice me, won't see me sing, won't see me dance, won't actually care that I exist! (Yes, this is a memory that date back to my teens!)
Then there are three hymns – The Lord's my Shepherd, Oh Hear oh Lord, the Sound of my Prayer and another-one-I-can't-remember-the-name-of-right-now, but which take me straight back to a hot, steamy Cathedral in Liberia. It is lit by candles, blowing and guttering in the wind, whilst rain pours down outside, turning the earth the colour of blood in an emerald world and I am here, safe with my family from the flash and tumult of the thunderstorm.
Elgar again: Where Coral Lies, a song about the English sea, takes me to a world of bright blue skies and palm trees, the singing of Mullahs, calling people to prayer, a blare and bugle of car horns, Friday mornings in Riyadh, with trips to the British Council Library and a tape of Elgar in the car player.
Star Light, Star Bright is a well known verse, but put to music by my sister, Mary-Anne. I sing it often - whenever I am outside to see the first twinkling of twilight, in fact. But whenever I sing it, I am really back in a boat on Lake Shepherd, in Harper, watching the sun sink into the Atlantic Sea, ears full of the rushing of water from the engine, the whispering of the breeze, nostrils full of the scent of salt and fresh caught barracuda and petrol and water-weed and I hear us all, my sisters, Mummy, Daddy and me, singing it, over and over again.
Moon River is one of my favourites. I listen to it on Youtube whenever I'm feeling really sentimental, but though it may be played by an orchestra or string quartet, I am really hearing the sweet, full tones of my mother's harmonica. But sometimes, I hear it as she played it on the boat, chugging our way back over Lake Shepherd, sometimes I hear it as she played it, sitting beside a bright, golden orange camp fire, where the emptiness of the desert, beyond the light, hovered at the elbows, making your heart fill and break and fill again.
The other day I burst into tears when I heard the first few notes of The Lass of Bon Accord on the radio. I then had to try and explain to the dumbfounded Juliette, how it represented the days of my lost youth, (yes, I know, bring on Moon River!) dancing at ceilidhs on the British Aerospace compound or at events at the British Embassy.
Haydn's Imperial Nelson Mass, one of my favourite pieces, is the American Embassy in Riyadh, Bach's Magnificat belongs to the old British Embassy. Terpsichore is Ruth and Erasmus's house, soft orange lighting and sticky, custardy, danish pastries.
I could go on but, luckily for you, I won't....but I do wonder what pieces of music will remind me of Australia?
Will it be music I have played with The Queensland Pops Orchestra, the Sinfonia of St Andrews, the BCPO? Or any of the chamber music I have played with the lovely John, or my Wine and Olives piano trio? Will it be any of the songs I have taught to my Ladies Choir, or my pupils, or any of the wonderful music we have had here at our house for the many soirees we have hosted?
Hmm, maybe. But thanks to Juliette and her incessant iPod playing, I rather think it is most likely to be Ellie Goulding, or Christina Perri's Thousand Years.
We shall see.