I listened to my new C.D. (the one I bought second-hand at the coffee morning) the other evening while cooking. I have to listen to something while cooking as I find it calming. It would be so dull if all we human beings were the same, but I still find it amazing that some people cook to cheer themselves up or calm themselves down. If there is nothing on the radio I listen to music or the spoken word on C.D. I have an i-Pod but invariably as soon as I put it on someone comes in to the room and starts talking to me. My i-Pod is for when I am alone! If I can’t find anything to listen to I either get very grumpy or I start thinking of something – making plans or decisions etc. This is when things get a little risky! I sometimes get so caught up in my thoughts that I go off to look something up in one of my books or to ask someone a question, and then I might get distracted by something else. Before I know it I’ve left a half-prepared meal for ages and I have to rush to catch up or, even worse, something has got burnt and I have to start again. So, I listen to something that will keep me in the kitchen and stop me wandering off.
I listen to all sorts of music – I have an eclectic taste (to use an extremely hackneyed phrase). Classical, pop, rock, country, folk, world, religious, old, new – anything in fact, as long as it’s interesting/clever/tuneful/brings back memories and so on.
The new C.D. is a classical one; part of a Russian Masters series, it is of Sviatoslav Richter playing three old favourites – Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Sergey Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat major and Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto No.1 in D minor for Harpsichord but played on the piano. All recorded in the mid 1950s . Just because a recording is old does not mean it should be cast on the scrap heap and ignored. Richter’s playing is sublime and stands the test of time.
The Tchaikovsky was played too much during the 50s and 60s and then not played at all on the radio for a very long time – people had got bored with it. It is lovely and reminds me of when I was nine years old and a member of the London Youth Band. I had just started playing the clarinet and in our series of concerts I had to play a solo with other new members in a section in the middle of the concert. The rest of the time I had to stand on a chair at the side of the stage with other young children and play the tambourine. The tambourine had long ribbons on it and we all had to shake our tambourines and beat them in absolute unison or the band master would scream at us and go purple with apoplectic rage. He was an old army bandsman and treated us young people like soldiers. Everything was regimented – we even rehearsed in the barracks at Woolwich (where that poor young army bandsman was murdered last year). The band master (like Mozart’s father) always told the audience how old we were but always said we were younger than our actual ages. As if eight or nine wasn’t good enough!
This first year I was in the band, one of our oboe players, who was also a fabulous pianist, played the first movement of the Tchaikovsky No. 1 with the band accompanying her. I was entranced. By the following year I had been promoted to the ranks and played 4th clarinet and helped to accompany her again.
One of our regular pieces was the music from the film ‘The Dambusters’ and the band master used to get the father of the girl who played the oboe/piano to shout from the back of the hall, “What about ‘The Dambusters’!” as if he was a fan totally unconnected wih the band, at every concert for many years. I’m sure nobody was fooled!
Prokofiev’s music always reminds me of a girl I used to work with in South-East London. In the early 1980s advertisers on TV and the radio had just started to use classical music a lot in their adverts. We are used to it now but then it was really exciting and new. A colleague and I were discussing this in our lunch break and we were trying to name all the pieces we recognised. An electrical goods company had just brought out a new music centre (this dates it for certain!) and they were using Prokofiev’s ‘Dance of the Knights’ from his ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’. My colleague started singing the tune and I joined in and then we both said Prokofiev together. “Nah!”, said the girl, “Panasonic”. Which proves just how effective classical music can be in advertising.