I took up clarinet playing about twenty years ago. Weeza had had lessons, but hadn’t greatly taken to it, and had given up after a couple of years. The clarinet was my grandfather’s – he loved playing woodwind and my mother always said that, when she was a girl, she played the piano, he the oboe (at that time) and they used to have friends round for music sessions in the evenings. It was an odd thing, the things she spoke of with fond memories were very much in the past, there was no question of them being done in our family. She had completely turned her back on her girlhood, even the good parts, when she married. Maybe she thought those pleasures were unsophisticated – country walks, cycling, playing music with friends – and wouldn’t suit the relatively upper-crust family she had married into.
Anyway, she did continue to play the piano, but preferred not to be heard. It took me years to take on board that making music was something I could do with other people, or at least in front of them, and it was only when I found myself offering to play the organ in church (my sister calls it mouth overtaking brain) that I had to overcome my nerves about it.
When Ro was at the village school, one of the other mums, who was a music teacher, set up a Saturday morning music club, with lessons given in several instruments by three or four instructors. Ro was five or six at the time and started with recorder and piano, later dropping them both to play the alto saxophone. I rather hankered after trying a new instrument, having long realised that I would never play the piano again as well as I did in my teens (which wasn’t all that well, in all truth) and that the organ was far too difficult for me to play well at all. Hammering out a few tunes is fine, but it’s fairly complex, playing with both hands and feet, and I found that I could only manage three limbs, maximum. If I was using my feet, I forgot my left hand and when I had a difficult bit of melody, my feet had to stay still or I lost my way completely. And I didn’t enjoy it anyway (still don’t, I’m dutiful though).
So, I had a clarinet, I could get sound out of it (which is more than I can from a flute, most of the time) and reading one note of music at a time would be a doddle after the organ. So I asked Cheryl if she could teach me. Her instruments were oboe, bassoon and piano, but she reckoned that she would be able to help, as long as I accepted her limitations and was reasonably self-reliant – which was fine, of course.
I loved it and worked hard, and made quick progress, although I was never going to be a really good player. Still, I was good enough to enjoy what I was doing and make the effort worth my while. I also played Ro’s sax, which I enjoyed and found much easier than the clarinet, the only problem being the weight of the instrument hanging from my neck. Cheryl wanted me to take exams. “You could go straight in to Grade 5, you’re way better than that, all you have to do is master all the scales.” I reminded her that I’d told her right from the start that I was never going to take another music exam. I loathed them as a child and they seemed to dominate my piano playing, stopping me from real enjoyment of the instrument.
I’ll digress a moment here, in case you’re wondering why, in that case, I didn’t give up the piano in my teens. I don’t give up. It’s that simple. If I really can’t do something, then the time will come when, having given it my best shot, I’ll bow out. But if I can, and it’s just a matter of tenacity, I’ll hang on.
However, after several years, I was getting pretty busy, overstretched and over-stressed for various reasons. Never mind all that, the point is that I wasn’t working that hard on my music. And Cheryl’s marriage had broken up and she was moving house. We agreed that she’d take a few weeks out for the move and then we’d start the lessons again. But somehow, it wasn’t quite agreed who would phone whom, and the whole thing petered out because neither of us made the call. She’s still got the piano parts of most of my music, unless she’s had a turn-out and chucked them out by now. And, I realise, one has to have an end purpose or one will not continue to work hard at something. So, if I persevere with my playing, I should take lessons. But then, I think I’d have to seriously consider (sorry if a split infinitive offends) joining some sort of music group, to give me an incentive. But that seems quite frightening, and also time-consuming. So, I dunno. While I mull, I’m keeping up my daily practice.
I never did let it lapse entirely, there’s an informal church service once a month where I play clarinet rather than the organ. So at least I didn’t forget all I’d learnt.