Music then, as now, was a great passion. Already I was collecting instruments. I had a concertina, an autoharp, an occarina, a set of recorders, a tenor horn, two harmoniums, and a one valve military bugle.
Once we were travelling the four miles to Leominster on a train which was entirely crammed with soldiers. One of these was playing a piano accordion and from that moment I was smitten with a love for that instrument that still remains with me.
The can-can chorus from Orpheus in the Underworld was the first tune I learned. I took the accordion my parents bought me back to school with me and was beaten for playing it. It was considered an inappropriate instrument to be played at a public school and I was channelled in the direction of the clarinet, which was felt to be safely classical and orchestral.
Of the few 78 rpm records I had, the following were important to me; Butterworth’s song cycle ‘On Wenlock Edge’ and especially the song beginning, ‘On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in turmoil’; A song called ‘Outward Bound’ supposedly sung by mariners on their way to the new world; ‘Crossing the Bar’ with an extremely nautical flavour. ‘I won’t dance’, sung by a gentleman who feels that his proposed partner is so explosively attractive that he could not be responsible for the consequences of ‘holding you in my arms’, which is going to get him too dangerously close to ‘those delightful charms’ and, as he explains ingenuously,
‘Heaven rest us
I’m not asbestos
And that’s why
I won’t dance’ - a very responsible person.
There was also a saccharine violin solo, accompanied by nightingales, plainsong as relentlessly sung by the monks of some abbey or other, and
‘Underneath the spreading chestnut tree
I loved you and you loved me
Now you ought to see our family
Beneath the spreading chestnut tree.’
At school my musical orientation was more classical as I pursued the works of Mozart and Brahms on my clarinet with the help of a director of music who, whether in the organ loft perched high above the school chapel, or on the sofa in his comfortable apartment, would enthuse about music, telling me of the lives of Mendelsohn and Schubert, and how to interpret figured bass or decipher a sonata’s structure, breathing deeply with his passion for music and also because his fingers had deftly unbuttoned my trousers and were wandering around my thighs and bottom, and another area, never for a moment halting his conversation or his wandering fingers or for a moment referring to what was happening and later gentle friendly hands would button my trousers up again and he would look at his watch and remark that he hadn’t noticed how late it was.
Never once did he refer to these sexual activities but just kept talking throughout, though I did later hear he’d been sent to prison for his wandering hands problems.
Amongst the boys it was a matter for comment and interest how some boys would receive such a lot of coaching from him, and others very little.
I never remember any sort of value judgement being made about it. The wandering hands experience was something one went through in order to get a musical education and since he was such a good musician, worth every stroke, or so it was generally felt.
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