Music and Me (2)

A few weeks ago, I posted the first in an occasional series of memoirs based on the music that has influenced me. In part 1, I wrote about how my love of music came from my parents. This time, I’m going to continue with the theme of family influences.

When I was growing up, every evening meal was taken, all together, seated in the dining room, Dad at the head of the table; Mum at the other end. My two sisters and I sat between them. As the eldest, I had a side of the table to myself. Our meals started and finished with grace. We sat until everyone was finished. No-one left early, or disappeared to their room to listen to music or watch television. These were joyous, occasionally fractious, times. We discussed and argued, never noticing the level of noise. A boyfriend, visiting for the first time, surprised me by commenting on the cacophony of sounds and the difficulty of making himself heard. And in the background, the radio would play. Occasionally we were told to hush so my father could hear a news item of interest. Total silence was required at six forty-five, when Barwick Green heralded the arrival of the folks from Ambridge.

Sundays were different. The radio was replaced by the record player, brought home unexpectedly one day by my father. Our record collection was meagre. I bought The Last Waltz by Engelbert Humperdinck and Keith West’s Excerpt from a Teenage Opera (remember Grocer Jack?); I saved biscuit wrappers for a free EP of John Barry music. But pride of place went to the LP of famous arias, belonging to my sister, Margaret. We played it every week and joined in lustily with the loud bits.

A particular favourite was the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Plenty of melody and gentle build-up interspersed with a rousing section, complete with hammered metal. Every week, Margaret, born when I was eight, but old beyond her years, begged us to remain quiet so she could enjoy it in full. Every time we promised—and every time, we broke that promise. One day, Dad turned to Sheila, my youngest sister, and me as he took the record out of its cardboard sleeve, looking sternly at us over the top of his glasses. No one could do stern quite as well as Dad.

‘Now I want you girls to behave today,’ he said. ‘No singing or making noise. Let Margaret enjoy the music.’ Crestfallen, we sat in silence, until the crescendo of The Anvil Chorus, when Dad, with a huge grin on his face, started conducting and singing along at the top of his voice. We joined in—and normal service was resumed. Margaret just crossed her arms and sighed in disgust.

I have never forgotten those Sunday teas and other mealtimes. I believe that families, whatever their occasional differences, are strengthened by coming together in that way and I am grateful to my parents for instilling this behaviour in us.

Over the years, my taste in music widened and next time, we’ll relive some great moments in rock history, But for now, Readers, it’s over to you: what family memories do you cherish and how have they influenced your life?

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