Music makes us one

Back in what was left of 2008 I made a short diary entry about reflections on childhood – mainly on my own upbringing, where people who had a big impact on me at the time were now, and my own personal shortcomings that meant I did not take nearly as many opportunities in life that presented themselves. Then I heard something on the radio which I tried to write down as much of it as possible.

“Music brings us joy and love; music deepens feeling.

Music feeds our hearts and minds.

Music brings us healing.

Music can be so profound, but music can be fun.

Music quickens all our lives.

Music makes us one.”

It was only this evening that I found out that it was Sir Roger Norrington who spoke those words about classical music.

My experience of classical music was one that could have been exactly that. Could have been.

But it wasn’t. The exams culture saw to that. My secondary school saw to that. Violin lessons in preparing for exams killed off any of the enjoyment that I had previously got from primary school. Lessons were there to be endured, not enjoyed. The pieces had no feeling. They broke my heart and dulled my mind. They were so profoundly lacking in emotion. They made no contribution to my life in a positive sense. Music ceased to be fun. I had become separated from those who may have made music fun.

Music should have been a major part of me during those formative years. It wasn’t.

It took fourteen years before I was able to play a musical instrument and make some sort of an effort to get back into music. In 2006 I purchased a cheap viola that was going for less than £100 with the intention that at some stage in the future, I would take it up. It took TWO YEARS before I was able to overcome the emotional and mental barriers to pluck up the courage and search out an evening class or beginners’ orchestra to get the feel of what playing a musical instrument was like. This was at the Mary Ward Centre.

I remember that first lesson – shaking the viola like a leaf – I was that nervous. The bow was bouncing off the strings as if it were me on a trampoline. Yet the nerves were to settle. Fortunately the technique came back fairly quickly – though I never managed to relearn how to do vibrato. Burning the candle at both ends in what ultimately ended up being an expensive but soulless existence in the big smoke (London) meant that my attendance was more patchy than it should have been. Much as I loved the opportunity to get back into music at a place that was close to where my flat in London was, and much as I loved the concept of the Mary Ward Centre, I couldn’t help but feel that the place lacked the sort of “buzz” that I described in my blogpost “Giving them hope” of what I saw of London back in 2006 – a buzz that I wanted to be part of.

I did try similar classes elsewhere later on within reasonable travelling distance, but again didn’t find what I was looking for. The ones I did not try were the East London Late Starters Orchestra (ELLSO) and the Duxford Saturday Workshop (one for Cambridgeshire people) – the latter of which I’m pondering over for this autumn term. I hope one day I’ll find what I’m looking for in classical music, but I fear nothing will be able to make up for my “lost” years.


6 thoughts on “Music makes us one

  1. Reading this makes me glad that we just let our daughter have ‘cello lessons and drove her to local orchestra. No exams. She plays in College orchestra now, through choice. Hopefully she will retain her love of the instrument & music.

  2. Hello Puffles’ Bestest Buddy,

    I didn’t feel qualified to comment at first but reading theredpenny’s contribution confirmed what I suspected that you’d had a bad teaching experience. (And doesn’t this just extend to the whole of education… a source of a lot of our problems in society.)

    I always find it really sad when people have had a bad musical experience because music can bring so much joy. And it can amplify or soothe other emotions too.

    I honestly don’t think that exams per se are the problem. The exams, as I was prepared for them, were about making the performance lyrical – it should be a good thing! Of course I had times when I wasn’t enjoying the practice, but the results of making progress were satisfying and ensemble work (by which I mean anything from duo to symphony orchestra) made it feel worthwhile in the end – if you weren’t given that opportunity that’s a real shame.

    I hope you are enjoying the viola – I bet you are doing better than you think!

    1. Hmm, is it bad to start four consecutive paragraphs with the first person singular nominative personal pronoun? EGO!

    2. I agree with your comment about the targets. I just think that a good teacher can get the best out of a pupil in the more general sense as well as helping them to do their best in an exam. I certainly don’t know anything about teaching except that I was lucky to have some extremely good ones, and they weren’t just good at getting good results out of ready-made good “inputs” either.

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