– though I have no connection with the Muse of music who is, of course, called Euterpe.
It hasn’t occurred to me before now that music has always been a source of comfort to me at times of difficulty. I know it is nowadays, but I’ve just realised, as I listened again to that Adams piece on YouTube, that it could be a catalyst for a new appreciation for me of modern classical music. And then I thought back and remembered the record that introduced me to the operatic style of singing, which led to the realisation I’m talking about.
I’m thinking back to January 1970, when my father suddenly died. I was 16, my sister was 21 and my mother was 46. I don’t have to describe what it was like, you can imagine or you might know. The year didn’t get better, and one dreadful event piled on to the last and let’s not dwell on that, hey. I can’t remember on what whim my mother bought a record of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf singing operetta. Specifically, this. It was rather downmarket for this highbrow and magnificent artist, but as I never listened to opera, thinking it was a bit screechy, I didn’t know that. From the first hearing, I loved it. So did my mother. We played it over and over. We have always, as a family, been obsessive readers but she was no longer able to read books, finding fiction a trivially manipulative waste of her interest and more serious books impossible to give any concentrated effort to. I could still read, and took refuge in books (usefully, considering that I was taking A levels at the time) but it was hard to take an interest in the spoken voice unless it seemed relevant to us in some way. So we listened to music, and particularly to that record. I stopped listening to the popular music of the time as I couldn’t deal with anything too new or strident or annoying (can you imagine the effect The Osmonds and Slade, for example, had on my nerves?).
As time went by, of course I could enjoy other music too, and this now included opera.
The next time my nerves were in shredses was six or seven years ago, when things were going badly awry at the village school (and then the chairman of governors died suddenly and I had to take over from him), my mother was ill and had been both ill and desperately unhappy for quite some time, and then, simultaneously – that is, some of it literally and all of it within the same month, it all came to a climax at school (I made the right decision, the best possible and I so easily could have bowed to pressure and not done so, which knowledge gives me great gladness) and prospects picked up, my mother’s terminal cancer was diagnosed, Al bought the shop and Ro went to university 300 miles away. We coped, as one does, and I became aware that my children were worried about me. I think they thought I was likely to have a nervous breakdown, which I wasn’t, but I did become a bit intense. Ro suggested I listen to music more, as he thought it would sooth and calm me.
Most music irritated me though or was more than I could concentrate on. I couldn’t listen to ‘serious’ music at all. I listened instead, over and over, to Prokofiev, particularly the Lieutenant Kije suite, on this album. I also listened to jazz, particularly Bix Beiderbecke. Well, at one time, exclusively. After a while, I discovered that I could also take Mozart’s Requiem.
Furthermore, it’s occurred to me that getting completely over all that drama and less than cheerful stuff coincided with my exploration of different music again. I asked Ro to introduce me to some of the stuff he liked, and he was quite reluctant to. Eventually, after my having pressed for this for some weeks, he asked why. I explained, simply, that he had always been willing to come to music concerts with me and listened to them appreciatively, even if it wasn’t his chosen style, and that I respected his knowledge and would like to return the compliment; also that I would like to explore some new genres and didn’t know where to start. He got this, chose some CDs and put them on my iPod ready for a journey I was taking to visit my sister (this was 2 years ago last August). It all carried on from there.
When I get some new music, I tend to listen to an album (always the whole album, and I can’t be doing with Party Shuffle) over and over, particularly if I am unsure whether I like it. And now I’m in the mood to explore again which, I now realise, after this long explanation, shows I’m in a pretty good place at present. You know, emotionally and all that.