Trying to pick the theme for a new series of blogs, I did a word association exercise with my husband, Michael, starting with ‘kindness’ and ending fifty words later at ‘drugs’ and ‘cough’. Not sure that was much help, I thought. But one group of words jumped off the page at me: ‘theatre’, ‘musicals’, ‘music’, and ‘singing’. Singing has become a big part of my life, lately. At one point last year, I was involved with six different choirs at the same time. And thinking back, music in one form or another has always been part of my life and is associated with so many memories. So I invite you to join me this week on the first part of a meander through my musical memories, entitled Music and Me.
I come from a musical family. Sister Sheila is Musical Director of an amateur theatre company. Both she and my other sister, Margaret, have sung in or directed many choirs over the years. My niece is pitch perfect and plays umpteen musical instruments. I reckon it’s in the genes.
Both my parents were fond of music. Mum played the piano. Dad, who was born 102 years ago today, always wanted to play a musical instrument but never progressed beyond rudimentary harmonica, although I heard him give a fair rendition of a tune with comb and paper on more than one occasion. They introduced me to Mario Lanza, Gigli and Al Jolson. They let me stay up late when The Beatles appeared on Sunday Night at the London Palladium; thought the Rolling Stones were noisy and tuneless – but were happy to queue with me for an autograph when a young singer called Tom Jones gave a free concert in our local park back in 1963.
When I was eight, my nan gave us her piano and my parents suggested I take lessons. I jumped at the chance and every Saturday morning for the next seven years, I headed off to the appropriately-named Mrs Tootell’s house. She marked every lesson out of ten, depending on how well I’d practised and done my homework that week, and woe betide me if I returned home with less than nine. I still have the certificates for the five grades I passed. I’m afraid I can barely pick out a tune these days on my electric keyboard – and co-ordinating both hands at the same time, or playing anything with more than three sharps or flats in the key is pretty much beyond me.
But I did learn to read music. I learned terms for soft, loud, fast, slow. It’s helped me many times over the years, not least when we’re doing a General Knowledge crossword. And it’s made being a choir member so much easier and more satisfying. In fact those foundations of love and hard work have resonated throughout my life, as I hope will become obvious as this series, Music and Me, progresses.