Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Library

Part 5:

I've been with the same job for over 16 years now.  I'd never have dreamed that I'd be looking down the barrel of sixteen-plus years when walking into that job back in January of 1996.  Just couldn't have conceived it.  Even 2000 seemed a long way off back in the mid-nineties.  And here we are, spiraling towards the finish line of 2012..

January 1996.  I hadn't heard of the word 'internet'.  Paul Keating was Prime Minister.  I was living in the Cross.  And I scored a job at a reputable theatre training institution in which I'm still immersed, still enjoying.  The aim of undertaking library work was to do something 'professional', earn enough money to pay the bills, and to have the time and energy to pursue music.   Today, there's a less time for the music, but I find the job to involve a good level of stimulation or creativity nonetheless.

I suppose I had three jobs in all the time I've been there: there was the 'old' library, the move to the new library in early 2002, and the promotion to manager towards the end of 2009.  What amazes me is how significant changes or events within the job or within the organisation itself reflect directly on my own circumstances.  Without fail, whenever there've been periods of upheaval at work, I find these parallel my own personal upheavals.  The work 'family' is reflective of my own personal journey, they are really one and the same.  This suggests in a way that I will be at the organisation for as long as I'm meant to be, and when the time comes to leave, I'll leave.   I like living like that, allowing circumstances to take over.  It's like allowing the big hand of life to pick you up like a chess piece and moves you to the square you're meant to sit at, it's a nice thing.  You meet the right people at the right time, you live at the right place at the right time.

I've met loads of terrific people at this institution.  Curiously I've made no lasting attachments despite meeting so many people, many of whom I get on well with.  I feel the reason for this is that I'm not a theatre practitioner, and that I'm somewhat 'excluded' from the zone, albeit on a subtle level.  I find that the only cluster of folk I'm easily at home with are the 'songwriters' despite no longer taking an active interest in songwriting.  The ukulele folk are a good bunch too but I sense a slight element of obtuseness when I'm with them.  For me, theatre is something to enjoy and love but I've not a clue regarding the craft, training or technicalities of it, other than what I've come to learn in my job.  I prefere it that way.  It allows me to concentrate on my job while at the same time cultivating a cousinly code of understanding with fellow performing artists.  The sense of detachment I have towards theatre serves me well as a technical employee, and tickets are free for staff. :)

Fascinatingly, I encounter doppelgangers in my workplace.  I find that students 'repeat' themselves over the years.  You get to observe bodily and constitutional likenesses in many little clusters of people.  You notice how one student looks and talks and behaves like another student from the same course who was at the institution a couple of years ago.   This happens often, and it has taught me to observe psycho-physical characteristics in people at large and learn to "read" them better.  I can't help but conclude that people follow 'types' although I realise this is only a relatively true hypothesis, and not an absolute one.  The same applies to the course streams as a whole where the behaviour and character of the students within these groupings never changes despite the influx and outflow of individuals, whether these be acting, design, costume, production, and so on.

Being at this institution has taught me a lot, a hell of a lot really.  I've learned people skills, management skills, and a variety of bits and pieces in between.   I count my blessings, it's been a good gig.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ludwig




Part 4:

1988.  New university, new freedoms, new experiences, new friends.  New learning curves, and plenty of mood swings.  Yet amidst all this exciting new activity, in a strange way I realised I missed playing the trombone.  Not so much the trombone itself, but more the experience of sitting in with ensembles and reading charts and being part of a larger group of musicians.  So I started learning clarinet and taking lessons.  And sure enough, I was soon back into it, rehearsing with concert bands and starting to do the odd gig or two.

By 1989 I decided to change my degree from Social Science to Arts to which I readily took up music again.  Luckily, thankfully, in 1989 one could study music at this institution without being particularly good at any instrument, which I wasn’t.  I had dabbled and spread myself around musically, but I was no trained monkey.  And just like at school, I enjoyed having a base where I could feel at home and be myself amidst a wider institute of anonymities and curiosities, like commerce and mechanical engineering.  Possibly having music as a base – back then – was the only reason for me to get through my arts degree.  In retrospect I would have studied something a little more useful, more highbrow, like physics or pure mathematics.

I recall playing the clarinet at the beginning of 1989 for the music teaching staff during my induction into the faculty.   As usual I was being ambitious; after eight months of playing I decided to give them Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.   I must have stumbled and faltered enough for them to advise me that I wasn’t up to playing with the orchestra just yet, but that if I kept going as I had been, I’d be in there “sooner rather than later”.  Well, that wasn’t good enough for me.  I quit playing clarinet immediately.  I still played the electric bass in bands etc, but even that wasn’t quite enough to quell my sense of musical exploration.  Playing the guitar seriously was out of the question in 1989: acoustic guitars were out of vogue and electric guitars were built for shredding.  1989, the year for pop-rock-shred, the Cure’s Disintegration excepted.

It was through my studies with the Music course that I discovered my ‘next big thing’.   We had to listen and learn a variety of classical pieces as part of our listening exercises.  These were enjoyable enough; at first, I glanced at these lists and groaned thinking that this stuff is of no interest to me, but as I came to listen and memorise which piece was which, I found I liked it all, just like at school with Stravinsky and Bach.

The one piece that really got to me, and blew my mind and whole body over, was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and specifically the third movement.   There I was, sitting in that listening booth with the old tape deck and headphones, where I found myself knocked over by this fast-paced final movement: impetuous, aggressive, yet nevertheless marked by overarching melancholia.  The movement’s taut anxiety is one key representation of the great artist Beethoven opening up a new phase in European civilisation, retrospectively known as the Romantic era, by beckoning forth a hitherto unexpressed manner of communicating music.  This music was not clothed in conventional forms by any means, it wore its emotion on its sleeve, thus being the hallmark of Beethoven’s influence on the following era.

I played this tape over, and over, and over again.  I must have listened to it around a dozen times that afternoon, coming to the point where I was almost banging my fists on the table, so personally taken by this music that had reflected so much of own inner state.  I was suddenly fascinated by the piano’s possibilities, and in me grew the germ of wanting to play piano, wanting to learn to play this magnificent instrument.

It wasn’t until July 1990, age 20, that I decided to take steps to become a piano player.  I hired a piano and had it moved up to my room at my parents’ house.  How the removalists got it up there I can’t recall, but it must have been a finely delicate (and heavy) operation, going up those thin stairs and twisting back around at the top of the stairwell.  Anyway, I had my piano.  But to my dismay, I found I couldn’t play any of the Beethoven Piano Sonatas.  In fact, I couldn’t play two notes.  I realised that my only option was to take piano lessons, and through a mutual friend I discovered that an Italian teacher lived around the block from me, and I signed up with him.

He was a good practitioner, was Nino.   He taught me the old fashioned style, ie, the more conventional European early/mid-20th century method of learning piano.  This meant I had to study a Czerny exercise, a Bach piece, and a Clementi sonatina for each lesson, amidst the usual scales and other finger strengthening exercises.  The Clementi sonatinas would over time, thankfully, graduate to the much better Haydn sonatas, leading to Mozart and then, of course, to Beethoven.

Nino’s house was around our block.  He was on Henry Street and his house overlooked a cliff-top on Queens Park that enjoyed a magnificent westward vista over Queens Park, Centennial Park, and much of the flatlands west of Sydney’s eastern suburbs.  There’s a sea of lights overlooking the cliff-face at Queens Park at night.  His house, very ‘wog-a-rama’ (Aussie-Italian) mind you, was impeccably looked after.  I recall walking past one large room one when I had to enter the front way to see a grand piano in the main room.   The differences between his living arrangements and ours were not lost on me, and it always made me feel pensive being around his house.  Our house was on the main street, was noisy, adjoined to houses on either side, and needed renovation work.  Nino was a Milano boy who’d done good.  Good for him.

He had a huge German Shepherd called Chopin.  He adorned Chopin with a bow-tied pink ribbon to supplement her collar, perhaps to bring forth her innate femininity?  Who knows.  That pink ribbon did absolutely nothing to quell the dog’s innately vicious nature.  You sensed the grizzling menace from the dog when she was with us in the lesson room.  Frankly, the dog didn’t approve of these strangers – these pupils, who were paying her master good money which of course translated into food for the dog.  The dog just had to gruffly secede to her master's wishes.   And as our mutual friend once pointed out, just say if Nino had an accident or heart attack while the dog was around; it would have been a very dangerous proposition.  Nino himself seemed to treat his pink-ribboned German Shepherd as if she were a gentle lamb, oblivious to the apprehensions of his paying students.

I studied piano for two years and two months and suddenly stopped, in September 1992.  Being 22, I found there were too many other influences coming into my life to concentrate solely on piano studies.  I found I had to revolve the intensity I’d been previously foisting on my piano studies over to other things.  I was dead nervous announcing my giving-up intentions to Nino, who told me ‘I’d regret it’.  I never did.  I’ve kept on playing with enough skill to be at the level I wanted to be at, and still do, to this day.  Besides, I got back on the “teach myself” wagon when I started playing piano in a rock-blues band, from 1999-2003.  I became quite good at the piano by this point again, this time fusing more contemporary influences into my style of playing, particularly those of the late Kate McGarrigle, and Don Walker from Cold Chisel.  And I continued on with practicing Bach preludes on a daily bases which I especially enjoyed.

I still play the ‘Adagio Cantabile’ from Beethoven’s Sonata no.8 on the piano from time to time.  I play that because it’s relatively easy and because it encapsulates all that I love about Beethoven’s music: its beauty, its plaintive expressivity, its urgent need to communicate.  Beethoven is my musical hero.

Back in around July 1992, a month after my father passed away, I woke up to the sound of my piano crashing to the ground.  The piano by this point was living downstairs.  I was horribly shaken and dismayed as I sprung out of bed.  I didn’t know what to do with a broken piano with stings and keys and wood splintered everywhere.  The way the crash sounded I knew I was going to witness an awful mess downstairs.  The time was around midnight, 1am.

I trawled downstairs.  The vibe was “full” – the feeling was the piano had crashed down from its standing position and that there was a mess all over the dining room; after all, I’d heard it crashing down.

I opened the light.  To my astonishment the piano was utterly intact.  I’d only imagined the piano falling down and making an awful crashing noise.  But the pregnant atmosphere in the room suggested something else. 

It was my dad communicating with me.  He was angry with me for ignoring him and dismissing him and putting the piano before him.  Which I did. Totally.

And I realise that this was something Beethoven would have done, too, crashing down the piano after midnight. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cracking

Part 3:



While 1985 may have been the year of ‘Choose life’, 1986 seemed altogether more subdued.  It was an auspicious year for me as I, at 16 and in year 11, found myself seeking, discovering, and then assimilating more enduring, character-shaping influences.  I’d made a decision during the previous year to give up on the sciences.  I kept on with maths but my study load otherwise delved around the humanities.   I needed the succor of the arts to nourish a being thirsty for muse, for inspiration, for love.

My favourite subjects were Ancient History and English.   I topped Ancient History at my school and believed that it was teacher bias as to why I didn’t get the Ancient History prize.  I loved Ancient Greece in particular and took great pleasure in dissecting Cicero’s speeches and writing essays about them.

English was another bombshell.  Having not been much of a reader as a child I came to love reading and exploring all this new literature handed to us in class.  It was an inspiring, imagination-expanding time.   I loved ‘1984’, ‘Wuthering Heights’ and even ‘Pride & Prejudice’.  We studied ‘Emma’ for our final year and I recall groaning when I got to chapter 35 knowing there were 20 more chapters of the book to go.   I wouldn’t read Jane Austen now, but when I was 16 it was very much an eye-opening excursion into this amazing world of English literature.

My musical explorations similarly traversed a deeper, more intellectual-emotional route.  The next big thing for me after the Beatles was to discover the songwriting of Paul Weller with the Jam.  I liked the Style Council so I was happy enough to take a taped copy of the Jam’s compilation album ‘Snap’ off a friend, once I found out that the Style Council’s Paul Weller was previously in a band called ‘The Jam’.  I really knew nothing of the Jam other than the song ‘A Town called Malice’, so that was the tune I listened to over and over on that cassette.  But I slowly began to discover and listen to all of the other songs on the tape. 

The Jam was probably every bit as impactful as the Beatles were for me.  But whereas the Beatles had opened up for me the possibilities of what music can do in the fullest sense, the Jam honed in on my personal proclivities and attitudes that were maturing during this period.  Here was this smart guy writing songs with a sharp, poetic lyrical bent but with a cutting, dry, ‘fuck-you’ attitude.  That his dad was a brickie and his mum a cleaner, like my folks, appealed to me no end.  I began to love words, lyrics, verbal expressions that allowed me to project who I was, and what I felt.  I may have grown up dumb but that was a changing fast, as even my school results testified.

My sister bought me a copy of Paolo Hewitt’s biography of the Jam (‘A Beat Concerto’) and I grew to love the bio as much as the music.  Hewitt’s colourfully descriptive yet incisive style of writing appealed to me.  If I was ever going to be a writer, I thought, this book would be my template.

During this time I continued to play the trombone in the orchestra.  I enjoyed it enough, and it kept me out of trouble.  I continued to study music as a subject all the way through to year 12.  Music was simply a period of release for me, away from the ordinariness of my other classes and peers.  I ended up scraping a narrow pass in Music to which I was grateful for given that it was my designated class for putting my feet up.  Yet I was interested enough in the subject to listen to and absorb into my psyche some of the pieces we were studying in class, enough to say that I enjoyed those pieces by Bach and Stravinsky in that they made me feel good.  It was all very creative and dreamy.  They touched subtle pulses I felt existed in me for forever, even though I was only 16.

Similarly, while I loved the mod-rock sounds of the Jam, I couldn’t help but gravitate to softer, more reflecting music. Suzanne Vega’s debut album was one of the first “gentle” albums I ever got into.  It had an immense influence on me, both musically and personally.  It had to do with those cool textures and icy-sharp lyrics; stories sung with a sharp-minded precision yet coated in evocative textures and tones that personified New York City.  At 16, I was fairly captivated.  I loved ‘Cracking’ and those lines “…through the park in the afternoon” and “…dizzy golden dancing green”.   The album widened my musical perspectives and my musical vocabulary.  I studied the album and attempted to the best of my ability to work out the songs on my guitar.  Upon reflection, I could gauge the album’s influence in future years when I took more to songwriting, hearing how much Vega’s textures and tones shaped and influenced my own.  And like any of those classic Woody Allen films, the album holds a very dear space in my heart and mind.

Suzanne Vega first toured Australia in 1987.  She played the Sydney Town Hall in September of that year.  I didn’t attend that concert, but on that very night before Vega’s gig, at the Town Hall, I played in a combined orchestra concert.  I scrawled a note on the wooden floorboards of the stage, something like “I love you Suzanne”.  I don’t think she would have seen it and I was disappointed not to have attended Vega’s concert the following night, after my trombone soiree.  I did go to see her at the State Theatre five years later, with Mitchell Froom backing her on keyboards. 

And that September 1987 concert at the Town Hall – I can barely remember it – was my last trombone gig.  The world remains a better place for that.

Leaving school is one of those obvious rites of passage to impending adulthood.  It was at this point, soon after my last exam and finally free of the interminable shackles of school, a song came onto MTV that lifted me way above anything I’d heard before, up from the ground and into a hitherto uncharted universe.  It was fresh and inspired and very much of the time.   This was The Church’s ‘Under the milky way’.  I saw the Church play it probably for their very first time, at the Tivoli that December.  I recall the rapturous, quite exalted applause after they performed this brand new song, with the band looking quite pleased onstage.  The song has travelled well since then, since 1987.

And as I reminisce and think of Suzanne Vega’s debut album, and ‘Under the Milky Way’, and their impact on me back in the day, I realise for me these were magic times, magic times.   I can’t traverse the universe with music the way I did back in the 1980s.   Now, to traverse the universe, I need to go within.   You go so far out you inevitably come back into yourself.  This is what meditation or the universe-within state is.  This is death, this is life.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hey jude


Part 2:

I laboured with viola lessons throughout 1983, guiltily aware that my parents were forking out their precious work-for-a-crumb (beer: dad) income for an instrument I found onerous to play.  Alternately, as an antidote to this tedium, and being terribly bad and bored by viola, I discovered pop music with all of its refreshing charms. Simple, contemporary pop, straight from my little transistor radio I kept at my bedside table.  I’d taken scant notice of pop music in earlier years.  I did recall the video to ABBA’s ‘Fernando’ closing Countdown for about upteen weeks in a row during 1976.  There were other songs that may have come through my brother’s radio that I’d taken some notice of – the one that went “…January, sick and tired you’ve been raining on me…” but that was it really.  No real interest in pop, and no demonstrable facility either.

I enjoyed the Top 40.  Luckily, in late 1983 into 1984, Top 40 music was plentiful and – for a 13 or 14 year old kid - enjoyable.  It was probably consistently better than 60’s pop.  The best of the Sixties stuff may have scaled the heights, but much of the remainder was a little on the embarrassing side, maybe.  Eighties pop was probably the second great era of chart music, after the sixties, in its own way. 

Anyway, my interest in the Top 40 didn’t last too long.  This was rapidly supplanted by an overwhelming love for a newly discovered group, The Beatles.   Late in 1983 I borrowed by sister’s early-80s style ‘KTel’ 8-album LP compilation Beatles set and taped these LPs onto cassettes.   The compilation worked out to be about 65-75% of the entire Beatles catalogue.  It didn’t matter that every Beatle track wasn’t included; as a Beatle novice, it was more than enough to whet my appetite for each distinct era of Beatle music.

The discovery of the Beatles was the most singularly impactful event of my life.  It wasn’t unlike ‘The Wizard of Oz’ film where the scene changes suddenly from black and white into technicolour.  I instantly loved the Beatles and soaked their music in like a love-thirsty sponge.  And I was into all of it too, not just the middle or late-period Beatles.  The vigour and energy of the early Beatles music just totally dazzled me.  Never in my life had I experienced such intoxicating bursts of joy, and delight.  Having this music, too, pulsing through my psyche for the remainder of my life served as a huge confidence and ego-booster for me.   It was the one tsunami of all the external life-long influences coming my way.  Suddenly I had something to live for, an inner-code, that by its genius and universality also encouraged individuality, the joy of being one-self however unconventional or counter-culture this may appear to be to others.  My psyche fast-tracked into a thinking, sharp-minded adolescent.

I recall one evening around early 1984 where I was lying on my bed and ‘Hey Jude’ came on the radio.  At this stage I knew of the song but only really knew the opening line and the long sing-along coda; I hadn’t yet encountered the song on my Beatles compilation cassette-tapes.  So, for the first time, I had an opportunity to listen to ‘Hey Jude’ in its entirety from my tiny little transistor radio sitting by the bedside.   And, as the song twisted its way through those labyrinths of delightful modulations and bridge-sections, I distinctly remember the physical sensation of feeling my brain twitch with these new sounds, this new musical knowledge that amazed me and stilled me to the point where even my brain felt that it was physically restructuring itself.  I was stunned, captivated.  The Beatles were my new master and I was the loving, devoted student.  And something in my musical brain chemistry altered irrevocably with that inaugural experience of hearing ‘Hey Jude’ that night, neurons were fired up and connected in a way they hadn’t been before or since.

I started reading up about the Beatles in earnest.  A new book came out by Brian Epstein’s assistant, Peter Brown, ‘The Love you make’.  I bought that and devoured it in three days.  I became particularly interested in John Lennon who became, and remains to this day, my favourite Beatle.  I bought up books about John Lennon and rued and mourned his passing like the rest of the world had.  Even within the Beatles, as much as I love McCartney’s work, it’s Lennon’s songs that continue to have the most impact for me.

Another group I came to love alongside the Beatles back in 1984 were the Hoodoo Gurus.  I loved their debut album ‘Stoneage Romeos’ and still enjoy a play of the album every now and then.  Dave Faulkner was a very clever songwriter.  ‘Stoneage Romeos’ was one of the best examples of updated 60s garage punk, with all the attendant comic-book themes, mixed with classic songwriting sensibilities. The album’s carefree Australian 80s innocence still appeals to me.  It reminds me of how Sydney was back then, particularly places like Rozelle and Balmain: creaky sun-motted verandahs, grunge, beer, musos.  I lost interest in the Gurus sometime after their second album when aggressive surfer crew suddenly took to them, and it was difficult to be at a gig to see them when surfers would be threatening to ‘bash your head in’.  It’s a pity that, given that they were so quintessentially underground just a few years previously; the sort of band that surfers would want to mug and bash.

For someone who hadn’t encountered music as a child, I did remarkably well to soak in so much in such a short time.  So much so, that the natural, logical course of action to take was to learn guitar.   It was 1985, there was live aid, there were mullets (mine included), there was Madonna, and there were the oversized ‘Choose Life’ T-shirts.  It was a good time to be 15, and I enjoyed the commercial pop scene for what it was.  Finally, on one weekend back in September 1985, I asked the music department if I could borrow a guitar.  It was a cheap nylon string.  I had a page of chord shapes to work with; these were taken from my year 7 ‘Introduction to Music’ book, the same book where all those hip recorder tunes that first inspired me were to be found; and that was it.  After a weekend of around the clock practice I’d learned the chords.  And aside from learning up some fingerpicking from a book some 11 years down the track, influenced at this point by Nick Drake, I remain self-taught.  I don’t think I improved too much since that weekend back in 1985, just learned new ways to play lots of different chordal shapes and fingerpicking styles, too.  Probably got a bit jazzier with it over the years.  I had to return my inaugural nylon string guitar to the music department as it belonged to a violin student in the year below me, but I ended up nicking other guitars from the department.  Cheap, nasty nylon strings.  And I’d smash them up.  I wouldn’t do that now.  But I was 15, 16 then.  I was kooky, and strangely aggressive.

The problem with playing guitar in the 1980s was that the scene was overwhelmingly electro, pedal-centric.   I only found my natural home with the guitar a good 12 or so plus years later when the acoustic movement came back into popularity.  I’m an acoustic player, not an electric player.  I felt vulnerable, a little naked even, when playing just the electric guitar, unless I was playing mod-style guitar.  But this was already a done thing, the Jam, the Who, etc.  I just wasn’t comfortable with the whole show, so I turned to bass.  Part of me resented this move at the time because I felt that some of my talents were being quashed, but I also discovered that I had a very particular ear for the bass.   The instrument’s understatedly cool intellectual appeal also attracted me to the instrument.  So I became the bass player.  I would slowly grow to love the instrument over the years, and I play it on-and-off to this day.  And so it remains that the only electric guitar I play live is the bass, and not the six-string.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Recorder

Part 1:


Music for some is a means to making money.  For others, it attracts fame, or a steady job.  In many ways music has been a saviour to me.  Sometimes, a stress and a strain.  But mostly, music has been a joy, and my life’s journey has been a series of ever contrasting and changing musical scenes of different varieties and colours.

As a child I demonstrated zilch aptitude for music.  I didn’t particularly demonstrate an aptitude for anything in fact, and nothing was encouraged of me in any way either.   I recall loving geography books and maps, and I still enjoy maps to this day, but in hindsight I see that my childhood interest in maps stemmed out of intense boredom – aside from my summer trips to my cousin’s farm in the country, my parents weren’t that interested in going anywhere, so maps were a lonesome substitute for my travelling imagination.  Any outing however small was always a major event for me.  My natural childhood curiosity mostly remained perpetually snuffed in the household I grew up in.

I did receive a toy kiddie piano for Christmas, I think it was either 1977 or 1978. I banged around on it haphazardly for a bit, as kids do; I can remember my cousin wincing at the cacophony I made that Christmas day.  I smashed the piano soon afterward in the back garden using a hammer that was lying around.  I was bored and needed to release some pent-up energy.  I used to smash my toys for pleasure, partly because I never really liked toys, and also because I was bored.  I don’t do that kind of thing anymore, smash stuff.

We had this music teacher in year 6 called KL.  He carried himself with a television-exec air of importance with his suit-jacket and a ‘bog-brush’ hairstyle to match; a style so redolent amongst men of the late 70’s, like Billy Joel’s hair on those album covers with the puffed up bouffant and the hair growing down past the ears and over the collar.  Mr L was a renowned sound designer and technician I seem to recall, and I wonder why he taught music part-time at our school, and to juniors no less.  He probably liked the money, and the money was probably good; he wouldn’t have taught little-uns for altruistic purposes, he wasn’t that type of guy.  I do remember that he gave us a lesson in synthesisers, with all of us taking a turn at playing the synths.  I remember moving and twisting all sorts or knobs and levers randomly and then pressing a key.  The note wobbled and wavered like a movie ghost and everybody laughed. 

He made me write out a thousand times lines or something, that took me all weekend to do, just because I didn’t do some shitty homework.  I’ll never forgive him for that, the highfalutin twit that he was.  And I don’t recall he ever checked up on the lines anyway.  So if I ever run into him again I will throw those lines in his face.

But Mr L was the first person to ever mention the ‘recorder’.  He told us we all needed to go out and buy a recorder.  My immediate understanding of a ‘recorder’ was a taping device, and I wondered why K wanted us to go out and purchase little tape-recorders.  It took me some time to realise that a “recorder” was a plastic flute-like instrument and not some kind of miniature tape-deck.

By year 7 KL was in the past and I faced a new swag of music teachers who travelled with me throughout my high school years.  I was 12, music class was a joke, a period where we could relax, muck around, and let off some steam from the rigours of the more demanding subjects.  I was no more interested in the subject than most of my peers.  But something curious happened in my 7th year, in 1982.  I started to really enjoy playing the recorder.  So much so that I learned all the songs from our song book and even took to transposing Greensleeves in different keys.  The head of music, Hanka Zavodnik, told my mum at student-teacher nights in that sharp Polish accent of hers, that the boy has talent and should study music.  To Hanka I remain grateful – she was the first teacher who saw something of value in me.  For all her faults – volatile, calculating, domineering - she was sharply insightful, and that she took the time to begin to nurture my talents is something I’ll never forget.

Hanka had a tendency to persuade and manipulate people into doing what she wanted them to do.  She convinced me that I should learn the viola.  So I spent most of year 8 studying the viola at which I was fucking woeful at the best of times.  It wasn’t my thing.   My parents couldn’t afford the lessons, anyway.  So to the rescue came Chris Blenkinsopp, one of my favourite teachers at the school.  He gave me free lessons on the trombone which I carried on with through to the end of high school.  I wasn’t very good at the trombone although I did demonstrate scant degree of promise.  I was good with my intonation, or so he told me.  And I enjoyed playing in the orchestra and big band.  But my heart was never in the trombone, so after my final exam, which I bombed (and had stopped caring by that stage), I gave up the instrument, never to return.

One lasting legacy from my teenage trombone playing remains – I often find I play the bass guitar like a horn instrument, such that I phrase bass patterns in the way trombone passages are phrased.  I’m glad these aspects of my horn-playing have stuck with me.  I wasn’t much of a horn player.

A sadder legacy stems from a discussion I had with a work colleague a year ago.   We’d just discovered that we attended the same school.  After much bitching and groaning in general about the alma mater, I discovered that he also studied music and he played violin in the orchestra, but because he was three years older than me, we don’t remember each other from school at all.  We reminisced about the music teachers and I remember feeling pensive when discussing Hanka Zavodnic.  I pondered her whereabouts with my colleague as I’d sensed she’d passed away.  My suspicions proved correct when, a few weeks ago, an old school friend returned from Germany with the definite news that she passed away sometime over the past couple of years.  My intuition also tells me that it was an unhappy passing, and that there was much loneliness in her life.  


Whatever may have been, may she - like all of us - travel well.

Al-Anon

enjoying a bevvy Awakening to the ‘good’ in our lives and to the fulfilling sense of gratitude which follows often comes to us via ...