On a Positive Note by Trevor Plumbly
The Piano Lady
Looking back, I’ve decided that I’ve been a bit curmudgeonly lately and I feel it’s about time I strayed to the positive side. Being a grumpy old git suits me most of the time, but I like a bit of variety and, of course, I’ve got what I prefer to describe as my avid readers’ interests to consider as well.
I’ve just finished watching a documentary on Pavarotti and it occurred to me how little thought I’ve given to the importance of music in my life. Mercifully for the general public, I was neither singer nor player; I got music in a sort of second-hand way. In my infant years, music largely then consisted of a faded spinster banging away on an equally tired upright piano, exhorting 15 or so snotty nosed urchins to merge into some semblance of harmony. Of the vocal obstacles we attempted to climb, I vividly remember ‘All things bright and beautiful’ and ‘While we were marching through Georgia’: the former perhaps because if the good lord regarded any of us in that light he must have had worse eye problems than I’ve got currently; the latter because encouraging little English urchins to chirp away at an American revolutionary song illustrates the intelligence of the British education system at that time. This exercise in total futility occupied two hourly lessons per week and was grandly mistitled ‘The Music Education Periods’.
The Guitar Man
Once free of the school’s strictures, I fed on music like an addict. Rock and roll totally failed to either interest or amuse me; I preferred Hank Williams to Bill Haley so it was a natural progression from country music to the folk scene. I don’t think it was born out of a sort of pseudo-intellectualism; it just seemed a bit more real somehow. The 60s arrived like a thunderstorm and for the first time there were real choices: for my part Elvis’s plastic personality didn’t do much and I just couldn’t take The Beatles seriously. Dylan, of course, had the words rather than the music, but what the hell, they were bloody good words, and Crosbie, Stills and Nash had both words and music. It was the decade for questioning authority, social conscience and marching for just about anything; it was a decade of projected image, long hair (yeah! I had it…then), cannabis and free love. Musically it produced the real individual heavyweights of the ‘message’ scene: Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, Don McLean and Neil Young. All in all, a dreamtime when reality had short hair and authority was a dirty word.
The 80s bought the end of the dreamtime; the new groups seemed to be in too much of a hurry, technology moved concerts into huge stadiums and the performer/audience relationship relied on giant TV screens. Maybe it was an age thing, but I found it all a bit remote, almost as if they were there to entertain themselves. Classical music surprised me in that it wasn’t as boring and serious as I’d previously thought; I’ve never come to terms with grand opera or major orchestral works, I find soloists and chamber music much easier to relate to. Having arrived at this point musically, I can see little benefit in retreating back down the popular music paths – if Mick Jagger can’t get no satisfaction after five decades of pleading, I don’t like my chances either. In my new non-curmudgeonly, music loving role I shall be a less opinionated person, sitting quietly along with The Angeles String Quartet, Jascha Heifetz and Jacqueline du Pré, artists playing music that still entertains after over two hundred years and will I reckon last another two hundred, by which time Eleanor Rigby will have croaked and the Yellow Submarine will have been scuttled permanently. Bugger! There goes the new image.