The free, church summer concerts are on again. Seems like they only just finished. Time is up to his old tricks again. I went along last Thursday with my Christian friend. The performers were a duo; a Japanese violinist accompanied by a pianist with four Masters’ degrees in piano, harpsichord, conducting and composition (four Masters) and a Bachelor’s degree in Physics, which he knocked off whilst finishing the Masters. The programme began with a violin solo by Bach.
The audience was comprised of the retired and the church going. I fitted right in, with my white hair and my M&S elasticated slacks (from their Classics section for frumpy old women.) In fact, at 56, I was alarmed to find how seamlessly I fitted in (mind you I’ve always been middle-aged in my head.) As the violinist began I adopted a pose which I felt suited the rarefied pursuit of listening to ancient classical music. I sat bolt upright (this wasn’t difficult in a rock hard wooden pew) my hands clasped together in my lap, my head slightly raised and my eyes closed, as though in rapt concentration.
The first few notes were drawn out and pure, rising up to the church rafters, and then the violin bloke launched into a typically rapid Bachian melody. I opened my peepers to see that many audience members had adopted my pose of the intelligent, thoughtful person caught up in the dream-like beauty of listening to a bit of Bach. Closing them again, the violin made a sudden sweeping screech, in which I definitely heard what sounded like a duff note. This was followed by what seemed to be a run of duff notes. Now, I’d never heard Bach’s violin music before and immediately surmised that maybe Bach had churned out some pretty crap violin music and that this bloke was merely following a score in which Bach had temporarily lost the plot. I opened my eyes, to see how other people were reacting to what could only be described as the alarming juxtaposition of watching a semi-professional violinist repeatedly playing the wrong notes – for surely one of the greatest composers who ever lived would not have written something which was beginning to sound like two cats having a fight.
But no, the audience were as one in their rapt attention. Must be me then, thought I. The Bach solo finished to polite applause, the kind you get at the more cerebral entertainment venues, along with much appreciative nodding of heads. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps I’d lost my musical sense and had been hearing ear wincing notes where there were none.
The second piece was another violin solo written by the player himself. It went by a Japanese title so I have no idea what it was supposed to be about. But imagine, if you will, the worst school kids’ concert you were ever forced to sit through, where some star kid violinist scratched his/her way through ‘Twinkle, Twinkle little Star,’ whilst its parents looked on in adoration. You recognised the tune but it’s as though someone put it through a clothes mangler, and it came out all flat (off key) with the life taken out of it. And so it was with this little self-penned ditty. The whole thing seemed to be made up of surreal notes from an alternate violin playing universe, finishing so suddenly on an unexpectedly short lived, sort of high pitched ‘plonk,’ that the audience sat stupefied and forgot to clap. Ah, maybe I’m not the only one, thought I.
The third piece was an altogether more enjoyable affair as the pianist joined in. We were on much safer ground here, as he effortlessly bashed the keys in all the right order – those five degrees had not gone to waste. But even here, the violin occasionally introduced a jarring note into the proceedings, but I was determined to enjoy it and equally determined not to be snobbishly critical.
There was a time, in my younger days, when I would be critical of just about everything. But oh how I’ve mellowed with age. Now you can throw anything at me. You can sing off key. You can knit the most revolting garment. You can bake me a rock hard cake. You can write me emails, or texts, full of spelling and grammar mistakes and I won’t bat a non-critical eyelid.
Afterwards the friend and I ran for our pot of tea and cake, in order to beat the masses close at our heels. ‘Go grab a table,’ she screamed at me from the counter, and ‘what cake do you want?’ Five minutes later we could be found chatting away in a corner. Well, my friend chatted whilst I dutifully listened. There was a time when I used to monopolise conversations but the further mellowing effects of age mean that I’m now a very good listener, even if the eyes do sometimes glass over.
My friend had recently come back from a religious tour of Israel. At 68 I marvelled at her bravery and keen interest in life. Of course, the talk was full of her close personal friend Jesus and how she’d visited the lake of Galilee and did you know that you can even hire a boat, which is a replica of the exact one Jesus used when he calmed the storm! Suppressing some mirth at the idea of all those gullible Christian tourists forking out a few quid to ride on the same boat as Jesus, particularly since the Jews don’t believe he was the Messiah, I ooh’d and aahh’d in all the right places. My friend had a particularly well-told tale in which she had turned in the boat, to look back at the shore, and could have sworn she saw Jesus sitting there cooking some fish over a fire! I asked what Jesus looked like in this vision. ‘You know, how he always looks’ was the reply. That being the long haired, bearded and very white Western version. Many years ago I would have pulled her up on this, noting that Jesus was middle eastern and would therefore not have been white, or even had long flowing locks, but my friend was in the midst of holy raptures and not open to rational suggestion.
As we talked, I raised some pertinent questions, whilst stressing that I understood her feelings, and put into words some of the things about her religion that she couldn’t quite explain. Towards the end of tea and cake she suddenly sat back in her chair with a look of revelation on her face; the sort of look I fancied comes over her when she’s engaged in nightly prayers.
‘Susan! I do love these discussions we have after the concerts! You ask questions that nobody else asks. Nobody questions anything in the church because we’re all Christians and we’re all sure, but you make me think about things. The way you explained blah blah blah is what I’ve been thinking for years! Can I tell my friends on Sunday?’
Feeling pleased and clever re: my powers of religious exposition, but still somewhat surprised, I gave her my blessing to spread the atheist’s word.
Our other topic of conversation was the music. ‘What did you think?’ my friend seemed to tentatively ask. I took the plunge. ‘I’m not sure, I think the violinist was off key for a lot of the time. I’m thinking maybe he didn’t tune up properly or something. But he was playing like he knew what he was doing so I kept thinking the problem was me.’ ‘Phew,’ my friend said, ‘I thought I was the only one.’ So, it turned out the violin player was a bit rubbish but, due to a friendly politeness, we’d all clapped like he was the best thing since sliced bread. Well, at least the concert was FREE.
In other news, I’ve started painting the lounge with, what is called to those of us in the know, a mist coat. This is watered down matt paint to seal the new plaster. The problem with that is that it splashes everywhere, and the second problem with that is that I wear my normal clothes whilst painting, so I currently have an M&S top covered in delightful splatters of paint. I should wear overalls but it’s just too hot for that kind of thing.
I’ve also been emailing Will Self….. as you do (well a thread of 4 emails to be exact.) My current obsession with the highly political, controversial, opinionated Mr Self led me to finding his email on the ‘world wide web’ (as he likes to call it.) I fired off one of my lengthy missives without expecting a reply and good old Will replied. What a nice, previously drug addled person he must be. In the manner of Henry Root (from years ago) I’ve got into the habit of contacting famous people, seemingly for the hell of it.
I have also been persuaded to become a member of the Committee on one of my choirs. I explained that ,with my stammer and my lack of knowledge of, well, anything that I’d be a pretty useless Committee member and most likely a spare part, but they must be desperate.
In two weeks we’re off to Wales. I must hope that the heel pain I suddenly developed two days ago will have eased by then. I looked up heel pain on the world wide web to find something called Plantar Fasciitis, which can last up to a year. The husband had a bout of that, he said, a while ago, which lasted 4 months, and what’s more had it in both heels, years ago, when his ankylosing spondylitis had been at its torturous peak. That episode had lasted years.
Putting worries aside of a more sinister cause of the heel pain (and that it could go on for years) I must get back on the ladder and apply more of that mist coat.