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.


Anonymous said…
Although I clicked on your link thinking you were wanting to commit to writing from a SONGwriting perspective Ross I enjoyed reading your work..

Nothing beats a good biography and knowing what makes others tick and you captured and shared a significant chunk of your life with clarity and colour, so to ye I say keep it up! Well done.

Will check in & read more from time to time : )))
captain mission said…
have you ever read 'fingerprints of the gods; by graham handcock - it's a great read and the first section has some incredible maps, made well before the earth was circumnavigated and yet incredibly accurate which graham handcock suggests could only have been made from above the earths surface, yet the maps are ancient.
redgrevillea said…
Thanks for this link. It looks fascinating so I've ordered a copy. I look forward to reading. Becoming more interested in ancient cultures: just watched a fascinating documentary on the Maya and I'm keen to learn up more about them.

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