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I’m not writing a blog today.* I ran out of time…
You see yesterday, I spent all day listening to youngsters participating in the National Festival of Music for Youth – talented children from all walks of life, making music of an incredibly high standard for appreciative audiences and adjudicators.
I heard wind bands, jazz bands, orchestras, folk ensembles, rock bands and a diverse range of choral groups, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry once. There’s just something so intensely moving about seeing dedicated children achieving a beautiful thing – a performance. When children pour their hearts and souls into music, it ceases to matter if the end result is slightly flawed or not quite ready – what matters is that they created something out of nothing.
It is one of the few types of genuine magic we have left in this world.
Listeners can sense the hours, weeks, months of rehearsal that have gone on behind the scenes – the effort from teachers, taxi-mums and taxi-dads and, of course, from the children themselves. And if one of those children is your own, well – then you better have a spare packet of tissues. My son performed on percussion in 3 different ensembles yesterday. One of them, he'd only been playing with for a couple of weeks, and yet he looked supremely confident on stage. I looked at him with new eyes - with new respect.
I admire anyone who can present themselves on a stage, and open their souls to an audience. I don’t think it’s melodramatic or exaggerating to say ‘open their souls’. It takes a certain type of courage to proffer one’s efforts for the scrutiny of others.
Maybe playing a solo is the most intense type of performance experience, but playing in a group also requires a special attitude from every single participant. The product is always more than the sum of its parts. A band cannot be carried by one or two players alone – there has to be a collective sense of willingness, cooperation and camaraderie. Playing music in a good ensemble is the closest you will get to experiencing mental telepathy.
I spent every spare minute of my teenage years playing in many different orchestras, and it was probably the most influential, formative experience I could have had. I learned to play within a group – and that’s more than merely keeping time, or playing at the same dynamic as everyone else. It requires unbelievable levels of multi-tasking.
We performed some unforgettable concerts, gloried in adrenaline-fuelled highs, and suffered miserable lows – but always together. The friends I made then, were so important to me. I may have felt the need to present a bogus personality at school, but I didn’t have to put on any false faces in front of my musician friends.
We went on memorable tours – France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Edinburgh. How many teenagers get to experience the world in this way? We played in converted barns, historical cathedrals, gilded palaces, dreary sports halls, velveteen theatres and many of the prestigious London venues – the Albert Hall, the Festival Hall, the Barbican.
We took part in competitions, festivals, massed concerts, busking – we even played on a famous TV show once with Julian Lloyd Webber.
Looking back, I can’t believe how much living I crammed into 7 or 8 years – more living than some people manage in a life-time.
I realise now how much commitment my parents had to put into my musical career. It was obviously ruinously expensive, but money alone can't buy these experiences. I had to be ferried somewhere almost every single evening after school, and every weekend was spent in rehearsal. My parents even had to buy a new, 7 seater car, because I'd sometimes play both double bass and cello in the same concert, and no amount of teasing and arranging could fit a double bass, a cello in a hard case and 4 people into a Mitsubishi Colt saloon. My parents accompanied most of the orchestral tours so that they could attend our concerts, and they were very active in the fund-raising committees that enabled us to subsidise some of the tour costs.
I feel that 'my turn' has come around. My chance to facilitate the wonder and excitement of ensemble music making for my children. Yes, I know it will involve long hours driving from A to B, and that sometimes my brain will blow up trying to deal with the logistics of getting two children to opposite ends of the city at the same time... but it is a task I take on willingly.
I am so pleased that my children are enjoying their adventures with their new bands – I know for a fact that they will never regret a single minute they spent playing with them.
*Hm… I seem to have written a blog.
Disclaimer: I have never been to Hawaii. Chance would be a fine thing.