musical memories

Generally I have a poor memory. But oddly (or perhaps not) I have very strong, formative memories linked to music. So I thought I'd share them.

Piano #1: barenboim, 1989-ish

I started learning the piano when I was 8; my Mum informed me that I was going to have 6 weeks of piano lessons, after which I could quit if I wanted to. I've always been tremendously grateful for this; even though I threw an almighty tantrum when she told me, I came home from that first lesson utterly excited and talking endlessly about how amazing the piano was.

After a couple of years, my Mum took me to see Daniel Barenboim playing the piano in concert in the Royal Festival Hall. Must have been about 1989ish. I remember two things. Firstly, this guy came on stage on his own, and started playing the piano. I leaned over to my Mum and whispered, "He's amazing! Is that Daniel Barenboim?", to which she whispered back, "No darling, that's the piano tuner".

Secondly, whilst I can't remember what Barenboim played (I think it was Beethoven), I remember watching him with this feeling that I was watching someone do something which was physically impossible. From my 10 year old perspective, I was watching this man's arms and hands fly about as if the laws of physics didn't apply to him, thinking, "I could never do that!", but at the same time feeling uncontrollably inspired to try. I had to have a go, to try and emulate this ...wizard... 

And THAT, my friends, is why I teach. If all else fails, the one thing which will always keep me teaching (cello, piano, whatever) is knowing that the little person facing me has the potential inside them to feel that same, wondrous feeling of unlimited possibility. It's the most magical thing in the world, and I'm the luckiest man in the world for both being able to watch Stephen Isserlis and still feel uncontrollably inspired, and having the chance to try and give that feeling to others.

Well that got a bit heavy...

Krzysztof Penderecki - "Threnody for the..."

In the office, back in the 9 years of sitting in one. Probably early 2011. At the back of my mind was the memory of someone having recommended a piece... Threnody... something to do with Hiroshima... This particular day the memory surfaced and, since the office was informal and I had earphones, up came the youtube search box.

I had no idea what to expect, and fortunately(?) my earphones were turned up quite loud.

I'd never heard music which to this extent was just one texture, one incredibly dense, caustic texture. More so than with any music before, my beleagured brain was completely defeated in its attempt to find a pulse, melody, rhythm or motif of any kind to follow... my preconceptions were torn open.

Outside the earphones: quiet sounds of typing, paper-shuffling, the odd phone ringing. Trying to look busy, inconspicuous. Inside the earphones: ear-shredding string chaos and overwhelming sound. Loud and liberating.

Nine Inch Nails - "The Downward Spiral"

Must have been early 1995. Secondary school, year 11. Someone at school whom I didn't really know had spotted me doodling "NIN" on my pencil case (I'd recently bought "Broken" on a whim). The next Monday she handed me a tape copy of "The Downward Spiral". That weekend, my Dad had given me a book of Salvador Dali's paintings. On the Monday evening, I sat on my bed, with my Walkman in my ears, and the book on my lap. There was so much going on, so much I had to escape from, and invariably I escaped into music: either playing or listening, both

in isolation.


I listened to that album from start to finish, while seeing melted clocks, giant thumbs and elephants with telescopic legs; all for the first time. It was like nothing I'd ever heard - or seen - before. I still remember what an experience it was: transcendental is the only way to describe it, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it opened up a new wing of awareness. At the end of the tape, all I could do was

sit in silence.

Opera, #1

"The Pearl Fishers", my first opera. Must have been about 1985, so I was about 6. Sitting next to Dad, both in shirts and suit jackets. He had explained all the etiquette of the theatre, making it sound like some wonderful ritual. Silent and spellbound.

The singing, the acting, the orchestra, the rituals... it all made a sort of magical world, one which I never left.

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