The Sounds of the Suburb on Holiday
Someone’s house alarm is whittering.
Post slips through mail slots,
onto passage carpets.
The crack and fizzle of fireworks on New Year’s Eve;
the sky-bright still of hangovers on New Year’s Day.
Leading up to New Year’s and the party eve just passed, I house-sat for some lovely local folk I know. They are both retired orchestral musicians, so on their walls is an impressive collection of framed posters and programmes. I was particularly taken by the sketched ‘family tree’ outlining the lineage of Italian violin makers which caught my eye as I re-filled Quaver the cat’s water-bowl.
In that street facing room, often with bay windows, where most houses in this neighbourhood have a lounge, these musicians have a tranquil music room. For the season, a Christmas tree, resplendent and fine, had been set up next to the fireplace. But my excitement rested on the shiny, black upright with a bright and strident tone.
They had left out some music for me: Haydn, Mozart and Clementi piano sonatas. My fingers took a while to register the key we’re playing in is no longer D major, but rather G – or even more hilariously, they leapt to add F#’s in a simple C major passage. An Adagio movement in f minor was painful, but I made it to the final double bar-line. For three days, my attempts at Haydn, Mozart and Clementi gave me such pleasure. I’m not sure, though, what the neighbours thought.
Each passing year is another added to that long ago time when I played – that is, practised – with any seriousness. It has been thirteen years since I did this on a regular basis, I keep thinking to myself. After all, I only started playing when I was on the better side of seven and I wasn’t spectacularly good, but all those hours of practising must have left some scaffolding. Despite the inaccuracies, fumbling, muttered choice words of frustration, both my brain and fingers still had an idea of what to do. I am still slightly astonished.
All this has set off some thinking about solid foundational skills and their endurance beyond a period of hibernation. In the face of frustrations about my writing progress and capabilities, I wondered how my recent stint of piano playing might reveal some insights. The truth is I turned a little melancholy. I don’t play anymore. I don’t. This was a bout of sight-reading. It was simple self-indulgence. Hardened, perfectionistic music teachers would decry it as messing about.
“When will you stop being lazy and write something other than short poems,” someone said to me. Through most of 2012 I asked myself that and tried producing some other pieces.
Well, I guess, perhaps I am still merely messing about.
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