Unlike so many of my colleagues, I didn’t come from a particularly musical background. As a small child, the only classical music I heard was whatever cropped up on The Light Programme – I remember that my mother had the radio on a great deal, as housewives did in those days. However, I had the great good fortune to be growing up in the enlightened years of the late 60s and 70s and was thoroughly caught up by the school and youth music movement which was such a glory of that time. From the age of seven, when the nice Mr Wilkens, our music teacher at Charlton King’s Primary School, told me that I wanted to learn something called the cello, to eighteen, when I finally and irrevocably turned from the paths of science or medicine which lay before my feet, I took the journey from a contented ignorance of music to a burning passion and curiosity and the beginnings of blissful understanding of what it offered. Perhaps because of this beginning, I’ve never really lost that sense of wonder and discovery which would perhaps not come so easily to one born into a house already familiar and comfortable with music. Over the years I feel that such people have occasionally seen my excited enthusiasm as naïve and untutored – I saw it so myself before I learned better and suffered an agonising sense of inferiority as a result, seeing myself as deeply gauche and stolid amid the comfortable sophistication of my peers – or betters, as I saw them. Of course, as one always does in these situations, I donned a self-conscious air of confidence and suavity – unimpressed and unimpressable – but I don’t suppose many were fooled.
Insofar as I did fool them I now regret it. Now, of course, I realise that this sense of revelation and the passion it engenders are precious and wonderful – to be valued in myself for sure but, more importantly for me now, to be encouraged, nurtured and celebrated in others. I will always remember an occasion when, as a student, I was employed by the wonderful Alberni Quartet at their summer course in Cambridge to be the “spare” cellist for the amateur quartets who were attending. Amanda Denley performed the same office as a viola player and between us we allowed the participants to explore the awe-inspiring repertoire for string quintet and sextet – 2 challenging but blissful weeks of Schubert and Mozart, Brahms and Schoenberg. At an evening recital, a group were about to play Mozart’s breathtaking Quintet in G minor K.516, one of his bewilderingly heartbreaking pieces in that key (one thinks also of the Piano Quartet K.478 and the 40th Symphony K.550.) I mentioned to the elderly lady next to me, a viola player herself, that this was a piece I didn’t know and her response startled me. Rather than showing any surprise or disapproval at my lack of knowledge – which is what I slightly feared – she gave me a look of pure delight and exclaimed
“Oh! How wonderful for you!”
She then added, rather sadly,
“How I would love to be able hear this piece for the first time again.”
A trivial exchange, perhaps, and one which she would no doubt have forgotten instantly but, to me – unconfident, inferiority blighted me – it was a true revelation. The musical ignorance which, hitherto, had been my guilty secret – a failing to be concealed, glossed over or bullshitted through by any means possible – now appeared to me as what it truly was; something to be accepted and savoured and which promised so much delight for the future, a promise which has since been fulfilled many times over.
Throughout our lives, there will always be unexpected moments which confirm and encourage and seem to validate our ways of thinking and the paths we have chosen; they open our eyes to some small but important part of the glorious truth. This fleeting fragment of conversation was just such a moment for me. I never even knew her name, this lovely lady, or if I did I have forgotten it, but wherever she is now I thank her and cherish the memory of her wisdom and her great kindness to a puzzled young man. May she be ever blessed.
© 2012 Philip Hesketh