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Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

From flahs to restless waves

“Yes,” says V, “the introduction of We’ll Gather Lilacs is rubbish.”

Not just a repetitive melody but banal words:

Though you are far away,
And life is dull and grey,
I have a scheme, a dream,
To try.
I’m thinking dear of you,
And all I meant to do,
When we’re together,
You and I.
We’ll soon forget our care and pain...

“But,” says V, “it’s a simple duet for you to start with.” I, the beginner, am less likely to be “pulled” off my line when V, the expert, sings something different. A technical matter, then.  Except the score I had downloaded and rehearsed the week before only had the main line, not the second. Which V now requires me to sight-read from her complete score.

Musical chaos, not least because I fail to “jump” the alternating main line. We both agree I need more work. So what next? Shyly I mention I’ve been singing the deliciously mournful Tom Bowling recently; I have the score, might we sing that together but in unison, not as a duet? V doesn’t know Tom but is game.

And thus another musical epiphany . Each time we re-sing Tom’s first verse, V leaps ahead in learning the song, not the lyrics which she tends to improvise but as her glorious soprano frees itself to expose more of the song’s wonders. From the keyboard V shouts out detail that has escaped me and I breathlessly adjust, always for the better. We end up laughing our heads off.

I drive away still chanting: “Here a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling, the darling of our crew.” wishing everyone I liked could have shared that lesson with me. Next week Lilacs, with other epiphanies lying in wait.


  1. Sounds like a wonderfully rewarding and invigorating teacher/pupil rapport

  2. Natalie: It was as if the whole process of learning (learning anything!) had been squeezed into that final fifteen minutes. I'd known the song Tom Bowling for several years and for a short period our roles was reversed, V was the student. But what a student! Within minutes she'd overtaken me and guided me - very willingly - into all sorts of corners and byways of this lovely and beguiling piece of music I hadn't suspected. The speed at which V did this was exhilarating, as was my ability to pick up instruction on the hoof. My laughter at the end wasn't a comic reaction it combined relief with self-regard, a contempt for ignorance and tardy understanding, an elitist - even cruel - sense of being briefly at the heart of an art form that has meant so much to me and will, I trust, continue to do so. These were not humane, this-kiss-for-the-whole-world sensations, they were the musical equivalent of an athlete doing his bit and punching the sky. Shameful, really, but secretly not.

  3. Obviously exhilarating for you, RR. I suggest you repeat a similar session once a week, bottle it and give the result to the NHS in an act of generosity. It would save a great many of the usual prescriptions!

  4. Avus: One is entitled to one's triumphs, provided they are outnumbered by the grind and the things that went wrong. But there are dangers. Discipline brought me to this ecstatic moment and I have to remind myself of that; to be worth anything epiphanies must be hard bought. Also, the more I learn the harder it gets. If I ever get to sing a duet in a fashion that satisfies me I hope I'll remember the effort it took.

    And there's another thing: hinting at the effort (in a performance) completely undermines the whole point of singing. The utimate aim is to please, not remind the listener of the abbattoir of rough tones and false notes that lay along the route.

    Natalie: I've just realised: triumph - justified triumph - is essentially selfish. It is : Me,Yes! Me, Yes! I can't help thinking that inner modesty must almost always lead to modest performance. Triumph is also fleeting; tomorrow's problems tend to stuff today's happiness into the dustbin.

  5. ♪ ♫ ♪ ♪ ♪ Herzliche Glückwünsche, lieber Robbie! An die Musik, und an Deinen Geburtstag!!

  6. Well, it can be labelled 'selfish' if one takes a moralistic, punishing approach. Or it can be seen as constructive self-reinforcement - no blame implied whatsoever. I agree that inner modesty is not the best recipe for high achievement. Look at those Olympic athletes punching the air...of course struggle and pain are the pre-essentials to those triumphal moments. I'd say go ahead an punch the air as often as possible, even if the next day, the next moment is dustbin day.

  7. 'We'll gather lilacs' will always remind me of my grandparents. A pleasant tune, but why gather them at all? They smell far too ticklish.

  8. RW (zS): I'm interested how you knew. I no longer announce that particular event, believing it's hardly an achievement.

    Natalie: Well, you know me well enough. Always the moralistic punishing approach - mainly because it's more interesting to write about. A bit like the fact that actors (real ones; not those who could quite easily have been TV games hosts) prefer playing the baddie rather than the goodie.

    In fact it was back to earth when I had the subsequent music lesson. More hard work sight-reading Lilacs with little success; rather sadly the final ten minutes were devoted to Tom Bowling (a treat, as a respite from Lilacs) and revealed problems of pitch which weren't apparent during the epiphany. As I said, triumphs are fleeting, and those in music depend rather heavily on that elusive quality called confidence.

    Blonde Two: I'm not at all surprised; I'm sure I'm closer to your grandparents in age. Way, way back Lilacs was played regularly on BBC Home and Light radio programmes as token "classical" music. Always sung by Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, now gruesomely exhumed on You Tube. You say it's a pleasant tune but that's only because it normally appears in a shortened version, ie:

    We'll gather lilacs in the spring again,
    And walk together down an English lane...

    The part I cite in the post is usually avoided on the grounds I mention: banal words and much repetition, like inferior operatic recitative. However for me, keen to be able to sing a duet, it's the bit that blends two voices. And this is not bad taste on V's part; Lilacs is far easier than the glorious duets I list in the earlier post, The Dark Of Light, and V is deliberately letting me down lightly.

    And, yes, it's true. Lilacs do smell of old ladies. As to ticklish, I'm not sure.