Once upon a time I had an Uncle who asked me, “How can anyone not like music?” The question was immediately followed by the emphatic statement, “Without music you’re nothing!” We were standing in a crowded London pub at the time and the conversation was no doubt accompanied by the sounds of someone playing “Boiled Beef and Carrots” on an untuned piano.
My Uncle was rumored to be the son of a famous singer who, rather than tarnish his reputation with a messy divorce, had declined to marry my Grandmother and left her to bring up her son with the help of a very understanding family, so in a way it wasn’t surprising that he held such passionate views about music. Uncle Bert later enlisted in the army during World War II and, with the assistance of a troupe of fellow artistes known as The Valley Vagabonds, entertained the troops in Africa.
My Grandmother’s family included numerous brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins many of whom had true musical talent and, according to my mother, when they all got together for a party, which was quite frequently, would perform their own special party pieces which might be a song or poem or a tune played on the piano or violin.
I was still very young when the family began to split up and move further afield so I only remember one or two of these impromptu performances which included my Grandfather singing some rather risqué songs that he had learned in the trenches during World War I and a couple of uncles doing a comedy number wearing grass skirts and cocoanut shells.
They were rather a rowdy bunch when they got going but there was, however, a classical element introduced into the evening’s entertainment when my great-uncle Freddie sang ‘Vesti la Giubba’ from Pagliacci. Not only did he have a wonderful singing voice but he was also a brilliant concert pianist. He too had entertained the troops during World War I.
Not to be outdone by her siblings, my Grandmother would give her rendition of the song ‘My Hero’ from The Chocolate Soldier, a show in which her erstwhile lover had apparently performed, and at the conclusion she and her four sisters would all inevitably break down in tears, evidently remembering her doomed romance. This had a domino effect as it would invariably cause my mother to cry whenever she heard that particular song and when I took her to see the show, just a few years before she passed away, we both sat and wept through almost the entire thing. We are an emotional lot!
There had been an attempt to teach my mother how to play piano when she was a child and for a brief period she took lessons, but Mum wanted to do things her way and eventually her music teacher told my Grandmother that she could no longer continue to waste her time on someone who didn’t want to do as she was told. Although she couldn’t read music, Mum had a good ear and played by that method and Dad frequently told the story of how he had gone to visit her in the maternity hospital, when she was expecting me, only to find her entertaining all the other expectant mothers by playing the piano in the visitor’s lounge.
I, on the other hand, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. I have absolutely no aptitude for either singing or playing an instrument. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love music. Music plays a very important role in my life. In fact, it’s probably helping to keep me alive at this point. In order to prevent further blood clots from becoming a problem, I usually go walking at the indoor track several times a week, especially during the winter months. It’s not something I particularly enjoy doing. It’s not that I can’t handle the exercise but the boredom of walking round and around in circles is more than I can stand or it would be if not for the trusty iPod.
My taste in music is eclectic. Everything from Tchaikovsky to Rod Stewart, with a bit of Django Reinhardt, Luciano Pavarotti and David Garrett thrown in for good measure. I love listening to marching bands and symphony orchestras, The Rolling Stones or Renee Fleming. Whether it’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or my Grandson playing in his father’s band, it keeps me going when I would otherwise give up.
So yes, Uncle Bert! How right you were! Without music I probably would be nothing.